James Harper

I entered high school in the mid-1970s when photography and 35mm cameras were taking off. Ansel Adams and his work were everywhere. I took note of; Paul Caponigro’s Running White Deer, Jerry Uelsmann’s composites were so innovative for the time, Edward Weston’s still-lifes, Helmut Newton’s high-society erotica images, and then came Pete Turner’s vivid color to only contrast with Joel Meyerowitz soft color images of his Cape Light series, and others. It wasn’t until the summer after I graduated from high school in 1976, that I bought my first SLR camera.

In elementary school, I was that kid on the fringe of the playground, the one who stood there watching the others play. I observed. I am dyslexic which inherently separated me from my classmates. Many dyslexics compensates by being visual. Compound this with a mild dose of Asperger’s and some ADHD. For me, being on the spectrum revealed itself by being socially awkward. I love being in groups, and working on projects or activities, but if there wasn’t any activities, I tended to blend into the background and observe. However, I often have great one-on-one conversations. What this mixture provided was the ability to notice and be hyper-aware of many things at once, an attention to detail. I believe these elements were the reasons why I was drawn to the camera.

I left my first college to pursue photography because the college denied me a major in their School of Arts because I could not pass my foreign language requirement. I spent my twenties pursuing photography. I apprenticed to wedding & portrait photographers, commercial photographers, and even freelanced a bit. Wishing to be in a photographic mecca, NYC, Chicago, or LA, I rode my motorcycle to LA with no other plan then to learn color photography. Within the first 24 hours in LA, I, by luck and pure guts, landed a job working in a graphics lab building Cibachrome photo-composites for the movie and music industry.

David Travis was my manager and mentor. He taught me to go beyond what’s in the chrome, the captured image, and pull the best image that lies within. This would be where Adams would say “The negative is the score, and the print is the performance.” Dave also printed for many well know art photographers. I got to print the images of and meet, Helmut Newton, Lucien Clergue, Herb Ritz, Paul Caponigro, Eliot Porter, and other known photographers. I even helped print images from NASA’s space mission’s 4×5 roll film (Swann Galleries 02/14/2017). It was a dream job and it trained my vision.

In 1988, after working at the graphics lab for four years, computers and Photoshop began taking over the work I did. I wondered how much longer I would have this job. I loved the complexity of photo-composites so doing straight prints did not interest me. Besides, I preferred to be behind the camera capturing the images. The LA life style was not fitting to my true nature as a person, and a desire to achieve a college degree caused me to leave LA. I felt very satisfied with what I had accomplished and basically said, “I can go back to photography in retirement” and after the digital transformation. Covid has hastened my retirement and I find myself with the opportunity I’ve been waiting for.

Artist’s Statement

My photography has been evolving for over 45 years. At age 10, peeling the back off my first Polaroid Swinger print grabbed hold of my spirit. I’ve been pursuing the photographic image ever since. During the 1980s I worked in Hollywood building photo-composites for the movie and music industry. There I met and got to print the images of several notable art photographers.

I often create series of images, usually consisting of 6 to 12 photographs. The series are the results of exploring where I find myself. I quiet my mind. It is just me and my camera. My eye is looking for a balance of light and shapes to emphasis the mood of the surroundings. The styles of the photographs are generated when I edit the image. When I am photographing, I am so “in-the-moment”, that it is often after the fact that I discover what I have truly captured. The next step is to develop the style for the image(s) as my mind’s eye saw it.