His work is as subtle as its pulsating with energy. Poetic as its strong, it has a rhythm to it which makes you settle down and just stare. James Hervey is one of my favorite photographers and I am really happy to present a conversation with him on Constellation Cafe.
James, tell us a little about yourself and how you were introduced to photography.
I never really wanted to become a photographer, but rather wanted to keep travelling, and to start justifying the trips by doing something! At 28 I met the friend of a friend who was a photographer – Jean-Marc Lubrano. I became his assistant and he introduced me to his dark room where i learnt to develop film and print as well as meet other photographers. I came back from a trip to Burma and felt confident enough with what resulted that I continued.
You have been working a lot in India (as even now). What attracts you to this specific country?
There is no country that I have been to, nor I imagine is there one, that offers what India does. Conventions and rules are ambiguous to say the least – there are those that suffer as a result, and yet the beauty and joy encountered there are also abundant. Things are changing rapidly in India and it is not for me to say for better or worse. The advent of television though , cell phone, and computer has changed the way in which people meet and share. India was very authentic in her expressions – there was no falseness, no cosmetics. For me, coming from Paris where all that pains and is unsightly is banished from the day, India did not refuse pain. Pain is!…and inquiry into it`s existence, with all India `s various spiritual traditions, paved the way for a beauty that the greatest minds could not conceive. Television seems to have dulled the inquiring mind and now acceptance seems to be of a different kind.
There is a deep emotional tonality and quietness in your work, almost poetic. What inspires you to create such images?
Which leads to this…seek stillness yourself and your “song”, in this case photography,will be quiet; seek noise and it will be noisy. The poet does not dwell on ideas – they abandon themselves to a state devoid of concept. Recognition today /fame, seems to be the validator of art and look at art today!…lots of ideas; nice ones sometimes, but still ideas, which ask you to think about it. The poet asks you to meet him in a familiar realm, not to raise him to some heights as if he has something that you do not!! Believe me, photography is pretty straight forward – forget about what a good photo is or what you want and abandon yourself to life….the images will come, and they will NEVER be as powerful as the experience!
When I look at your images, there seems to be a sense of curiosity mixed with fascination when it comes to religion, faith and human condition. What drives this feeling in you?
It is, I believe, the reason why we were born!…this life is, as far as I am concerned, to inquire into such matters. Institutions will never bring about peace – it would be suicide. Hope and lasting peace reside in the hearts of all, and we are forgetting – very dangerous! India`s strength and beauty was precisely in regards to this heritage. Still it is present, but less. For example, 10/15 years ago in Kashi, every man and woman of all ages, before embarking on the day would spend some time in the temple, Ganga or both – this HAD an effect, a very powerful one! Now few do and the first words of advice for the day is some stupid commercial or newsbite on tv!
Why film? And why sepia?
Film is perishable and limited – if you have 6 months and 600 shots your selection has to be pretty sure. In fact, in 1998 i took 1200 shots worth for 3 months and 600 shots worth two years ago for 6 months and came back with 240 shots worth. It is true that many shots used to be either cliches, repeating a photo seen before (uninteresting), or feeling obliged to take photos because thats what you were there for…and so over the years you refine your choice – notice and nourish the difference between a moment of inspiration and a moment thinking too much about the image. At the end of the day,30 good shots that make a nice story only need two rolls of 120 film!….is it possible to get to the point where you just take two rolls of film!!haha! The pleasures of printing too, are indescribable – unfortunately labs are shutting and the choice of papers these days is a sorry affair! They are not really sepia. I used to print on a wonderfully warm paper called agfa 118 – it gave the image a naturally warm tone – the images on flickr just use a pantone in photoshop (dont ask which one!) to reproduce that same warmth.
One advice which you’d like to give other photographers?
Let your images illustrate your life. Do not judge yourself based on what the photos do or dont do for you. Enjoy it. You might not get a world press award or a great income but it is a wonderful way to discover not only yourself but this wonderful world of ours! Men may have carved it up but it is yours and you are entitled to it! Know what it is that you want! -be honest to yourself…and then go get it!