FROM STU­DENT TO PRO SHOOTER

We talk to grad­u­ate ’gra­pher James Black about his jour­ney to a var­ied ca­reer across prod­uct, fash­ion, and event pho­tog­ra­phy

New Zealand D-Photo - - EDUTION | WHITECLIFFE -

To go where the wind blows is a ro­man­tic no­tion, evok­ing an un­bur­dened, free, and spon­ta­neous way of be­ing. It’s also one of those phrases that sounds a whole lot eas­ier to pull off than it is in prac­tice. Just ask pho­tog­ra­pher James Black: he’s up for mov­ing in what­ever photographic di­rec­tion the world might pull him, but that state is the re­sult of a lot of hard work, heavy re­flec­tion, and bold de­ci­sions. James is one of those peo­ple who felt the artis­tic call­ing early on — he first gave voice to want­ing to grow up to be a pho­tog­ra­pher at young age, fol­low­ing chuffed suc­cess with an in­stant cam­era. But even those for­tu­nate enough to have a sense of their des­tiny of­ten find the way barred by the world. “At high school, you get to choose your classes, but, at the same time, they sort of push you in the di­rec­tion they want you to go in,” he re­calls. “I was told, oh no, don’t waste your time with pho­tog­ra­phy, go learn some­thing else, like cal­cu­lus or clas­sics.” Luck­ily, James also knew from an early age how to put his foot down, and a suc­cess­ful high-school art portfolio even­tu­ally led him to a ful­fill­ing ter­tiary ex­pe­ri­ence, study­ing for a four-year Bach­e­lor of Fine Arts (BFA) de­gree at Auck­land’s White­cliffe Col­lege of Arts and De­sign. White­cliffe now of­fer a three-year op­tion for the BFA, with one in­take per year in mid-Fe­bru­ary. In his first year, James was of­fered a smor­gas­bord of dis­ci­plines, which in­cluded the likes of de­sign, draw­ing, vis­ual the­ory and cul­tural stud­ies. From the sec­ond year he be­gan a spe­cial­ized pho­tog­ra­phy ma­jor. “The fan­tas­tic thing about White­cliffe is the teach­ers are all prac­tis­ing artists them­selves,” the pho­tog­ra­pher says. “They knew the chal­lenges you face in de­vel­op­ing your own prac­tice, be­cause, at the same time they were teach­ing the course, they had their own prac­tices go­ing.” As his study pro­gressed — from term-based projects in the sec­ond year to two ma­jor projects in the third and a year-long project in the fi­nal year — James was learn­ing much more about not just his own cre­ative self, but his class­mates and tu­tors as well. The in­ti­mate pho­tog­ra­phy-class size — 12 stu­dents at year two, down to six by year four — made for the ideal hands-on learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment. “It al­most felt per­son­ally catered, be­cause it is such a small com­mu­nity,” he ex­plains. “Over those years, the tu­tors re­ally un­der­stood what we were try­ing to achieve, and they were able to tailor read­ings, or artists, or themes and topics that would en­rich what we [were] … do­ing in the mo­ment.” Once grad­u­at­ing White­cliffe, James wasn’t sure where his next des­ti­na­tion lay, an uncer­tainty he both en­joyed and found con­fus­ing. It was his tu­tor, Becky Nunes, who set him on the right track. “She said, ‘Don’t worry about where you are go­ing or try­ing to get into fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion — just go out and as­sist, that’s go­ing to be the best way to take the next few steps’.” As though be­ing handed from one men­tor to an­other, James took Becky’s ad­vice and picked up an in­tern job at Process Fash­ion + De­sign PR stu­dio, where fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher Stephen Til­ley worked. One half of the work­place was ded­i­cated to PR, where James spent his time shoot­ing clothes and prod­uct, all the while gaz­ing across to the full stu­dio on the other side of the build­ing, where he longed to work along­side the ac­claimed pho­tog­ra­pher. “I’m not sure if I has­sled Steve, or if he just saw some­thing in me, but he asked me one day if I’d come along and as­sist him on a job,” James re­mem­bers. “The rest is his­tory … He’s a wicked pho­tog­ra­pher, and he’s re­ally easy to get along with, re­ally onto it; a bloody ge­nius.” That as­sist­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, com­bined with his White­cliffe ed­u­ca­tion, has con­ferred in the pho­tog­ra­pher the con­fi­dence and skill to take on any num­ber of di­ver­gent jobs. He has tack­led full­stu­dio shoots for im­ages in Mind­food magazine, shot ed­i­to­rial por­traits for the Lu­miere Reader web­site, and doc­u­mented the vogu­ish chaos of New Zealand Fash­ion Week. But per­haps most thrilling of all so far: he was the event pho­tog­ra­pher for su­per­star sci­en­tist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s re­cent Auck­land visit. “It was mind blow­ing: here’s me run­ning around Vec­tor Arena, get­ting all the shots, and I just had to stop for a mo­ment and think, I’m the pho­tog­ra­pher right now with how many thou­sands of peo­ple here for this?” he says with a chuckle. “It was in­sane.” It’s the kind of in­san­ity that comes along for those who are open to go­ing where the wind blows them. But, as James will tell you, you can only fully take ad­van­tage of those op­por­tu­ni­ties if you’re will­ing to com­mit to the learn­ing, gain the ex­pe­ri­ence, and — when you’re not sure or be­ing told no — take those risks any­way.

JAMES BLACK

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.