Last Updated: December 2, 2014
In this showcase series we feature the medium format landscape photography of James Watts.
James, how did you get started in photography?
Even before I could walk I was backpacking through the mountain ranges of the Pacific Northwest. As a young couple my parents moved from southern California to northern California in order to have easier access to the many beautiful lakes and mountains. They sought to instil in their children the importance of experiencing the natural world.
At a young age my father sparked in me an interest in photography, which led to a desire to pursue filmmaking. Because my small hometown had limited opportunities in this field I moved to Los Angeles to attend film school. Working as a video editor I picked up a camera as a way to explore my own creativity independent from the ideas and conjectures of creative directors, clients, and peers.
Three years ago I went on my first outdoor trip since I was a teenager. Everything was different, the natural world became dynamic and alive to me. I returned with a passion to experience the natural landscape and explore methods of expressing my perceptions of it.
Can you tell us more about this medium format landscape series?
I work by putting myself in locations that I find intriguing during times of the day and weather that will provide interesting conditions and light. This means waking up long before the sunrise and usually a drive, and or hike, in the dark. I try not to arrive at a location with predetermined ideas of images as I feel it closes me off to the opportunity of discovering something personal.
Rather I work to keep an open, receptive mind which is fuelled by a personal desire to experience and “discover” the location. When I come across a scene I am drawn to I work at solving the “puzzle” of translating my perception into a composition that expresses what caused me to stop and take notice.
As a painter must determine what to include in his painting to make the image successful, it is opposite for a photographer. All the form and detail exists for the photographer, it is their job to exclude what is not needed, to make the image successful. Sometimes that last piece of the puzzle, like the right light or cloud, may take hours to fall into place and only last a minute.
There is a quiet and surreal beauty to be found in the simplistic reality of nature. I strive to express that beauty in a way in which the photograph is less conscious of itself, allowing the viewer a more direct experience.
What equipment do you use for this series?
For my landscape work right now I’m using a Pentax 6×7, which is a medium format film camera. I shoot mostly Kodak Portra 160 for color and Kodak Tri-x for black and white. The lenses I use are 45mm f/4, 105mm f/2.4 and 200mm f/4.
For me, stripping away the technological aspects from the photographic process creates a more physically and emotionally immersive experience. Additionally, I find the aesthetic properties of film complementary to the style of photographs I create.
My image processing techniques are very basic; I have my film developing and scanning done by lab because of my processes need for consistency. The digital processing of my scan files is minimal so I have found Adobe Lightroom to be well suited to that task. In the same way that RAW camera files are not directly ready for print or web, “raw scans” need slight color, levels, and sharpening adjustments.
Photophique has express permission to publish these images and James Watts retains full copyright to all photographs featured in this showcase series.