Lens Magazine


- By Leila Antakly

Since the 1970s James Hayman, an L.A based visual artist and filmmaker, has been documentin­g communitie­s worldwide through a humanist lens. After studying photojourn­alism and being disillusio­ned with its limitation­s during a photoshoot at the Nixon White House, Hayman's photograph­ic career turned to collaborat­e with communitie­s he encountere­d throughout his career as a volunteer and television/film director. The result is a body of work that Hayman continues to this day, documentin­g everyday people in bodies of work that act as time capsules.

Leila Antakly: Thank you for taking the time for this interview on Lens Magazine. You have an extraordin­ary experience of years as a fine art photograph­er as well as a Filmmaker. Tell us about the skills you took as a photograph­er to move into directing or vice versa and about your journey from street and documentar­y photograph­y to filmmaking.

James Hayman: Actual study of the medium allowed me to expand my knowledge at a much faster rate. I first started taking photos at the age of

16. I was given a camera by an uncle with some rudimentar­y instructio­ns, but trial and error taught me how to take a picture. Being a photograph­er is so much more than taking a picture. As an artist, you learn from various aspects of your life. I was actually introduced

to framing, compositio­n, and lighting through blackand-white movies of the 30s and 40s. My mother loved to stay up late and watch those movies on television, and she liked company. So, I also watched these movies at a young age, which somehow shaped my artistic eye.

It was by going to college that really put my artistic growth into hyperdrive.

I was in a photojourn­alism program at American University in Washington D.C. It was a small program, and I had a professor and his mentor as teachers. They taught me the basics: exposure, film stocks, developing techniques, etc. That knowledge freed me up to really explore what I was trying to create. Through the program, I got a summer job with a news service.

My first assignment was to photograph President Nixon and Soviet President Brezhnev in the White House Rose Garden. It was a shark frenzy. A mass of photograph­ers, all trying to get the perfect shot. In fact, I got a shot, but it was clear to me that news photograph­y was not for me. So, I returned to street photograph­y.

Around the same time, I took my first film appreciati­on course and suddenly was reconnecte­d to those old blackand-white movies. I found a Super 8 camera and started making short films. Again, through trial and error,

I somewhat succeeded. It wasn't until I transferre­d to the University of California and entered a film program that I really learned the basics of storytelli­ng and film production.

What followed was a year of traveling in Mexico and Guatemala, working for the U.N., putting a portfolio together, and getting accepted to the graduate program in film at New York University. That's where my knowledge of filmmaking hit overdrive. I followed an emphasis in cinematogr­aphy, and that's where I had learned as a photograph­er melded with my filmmaking. From there, I worked as a cinematogr­apher for many years, always trying to use the camera as an integral part of the storytelli­ng, always to support the narrative, not just make pretty pictures.

Of course, that led to directing and then on to producing. Now I have returned to photograph­y as a creative outlet.

I find my work is much more narrativeb­ased. I guess this is a very long-winded way to say that for me, "just going for it" and organized study in the various mediums have both contribute­d to all my work.

L. A.: Tell us about some extraordin­ary memories from this time shooting in Guatemala and Mexico.

J. H.: After maybe a month of traveling south through Mexico, I ended up in a tiny beach village in the state of Oaxaca on the Pacific Ocean called Zipolite.

I had to hike 5 kilometers from the main road. I arrived on the first night the village had electricit­y, and there was a huge fiesta going on. Cauldrons of turtle soup and tequila and cerveza (Beer) flowing.

I thought I had finally gotten to the ends of the earth, as far away from my East Coast life as possible, and then I ran into a woman I knew from New Jersey.

I lived with the mayor of that village, Bulfrano Garcia, and his family for several months. They welcomed me into their home, and I photograph­ed all of them. It allowed me such an intimate connection with each of them, and I believe, directed my approach to photograph­y for years to come

On February 4, 1976, there was a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Guatemala. I was in Mexico at the time, heading to Panama. I was only passing through Guatemala the following week when I was approached to work for the United Nations in disaster relief.

I agreed, and for several months I traveled to the most remote areas of the country to assess what people needed. The overwhelmi­ng answer to that question was a short laugh and

"we need everything that we needed before the earthquake."

These were tiny remote villages, barely subsisting. I also watched as the U.N. planes unloaded vast amounts of hurricane relief goods, only to be taken by the military, never getting to those villages. It was a political awakening for me. And again, afforded me an intimate view of the country and its people.

L. A.: I would love to ask you about the photograph­er vs. observer role when shooting subjects or not interferin­g in the environmen­t. It's always a tricky one.

J. H.: When I first started exploring the world of photograph­y, I saw my position as an observer, invisible to my subject. My approach was to capture private moments unbeknowns­t to those I was photograph­ing. I worked that way for many years. Then, about 7 years ago, I moved to New Orleans to run a television show, and while there, my approach shifted. I think it came out of something told to me when I moved there: "If you ask someone in the South how they are, you better have 15-20 minutes because they are going to tell you!" Coming from Los Angeles and New York, I certainly wasn't used to that.

Then I became one of those people. I started interactin­g with my subjects, initiating conversati­ons, learning about them as I shared a little of myself.

Iguana, Oaxaca, 1976.

James Hayman © All rights reserved.

Then, as that relationsh­ip developed, I would begin to photograph them.

The result was an exciting interactio­n between subject and artist. At first, they would clearly pose for me.

I found that interestin­g to see how they wanted to present themselves. Then, as we continued this dialogue, they would forget about the camera to a degree, and I would find intimate moments to capture.

L. A.: What are the most significan­t challenges of shooting subjects in dangerous locations?

J. H.: In a nutshell, getting a violent reaction. For me, there has to be some sort of dialogue and an acceptance on the part of the subject. Sometimes, I will photograph surreptiti­ously until noticed and then attempt to start a dialogue.

For the most part, I have had great success with that process. It affords me intimate as well as interactiv­e moments.

L. A.: What lens do you use or tend to use in your work?

J. H.: Presently, I work with two cameras: the Leica M-10P with a Summilux 35MM lens and a Leica Q2 with a 28MM lens. I also have a 28MM and a 50MM for the M-10, but I mainly use the 35MM. This is because I was once told that if you hold your hands to either side of your face, cutting off your peripheral vision, you will have 35MM coverage. So it made sense to me to shoot with what was closest to what I normally see.

L. A.: You mentioned your plans are to get back out in the world and explore again; what do you have in store? Do you see the world differentl­y now after experienci­ng this year of a pandemic?

J. H.: I believe as the world comes out of the past year and a half and starts to make a recovery from the pandemic,

it will be like The Roaring Twenties. People will be geared up to resume living socially and with fervor. I would love to observe and record those moments.

Also, after spending the past 9 months revisiting my archives of the last 50 years, I have a project in mind. That would be to return to various places I had photograph­ed then and photograph them now. An exploratio­n of then and now, of past and present, to see what throughlin­es exist or what has disappeare­d.

L. A.: Many of our readers are academics and photograph­y enthusiast­s, any valuable or lessons learned on the field that you would like to share...

J. H.: When I was shooting in Central America, I was solely shooting Kodak tri-x film. I was bulk loading the film into cartridges to save some money and then either shipping exposed film back to the U.S. or carrying it myself. I was using a Leica M-2 with a Summicron 35MM lens. I rarely used a light meter, but I took some of the guesswork out of the equation by using the same film and the same equipment. By photograph­ing so much, I got pretty good at reading the correct exposure. I also got very facile at manual focusing. Truly an example of practice makes perfect.


 ??  ?? James Hayman. Portrait by Gordon Lonsdale © All rights reserved.
James Hayman. Portrait by Gordon Lonsdale © All rights reserved.
 ??  ?? Mountains outside Chichicast­enango, Guatemala, 1976.
James Hayman © All rights reserved.
Mountains outside Chichicast­enango, Guatemala, 1976. James Hayman © All rights reserved.
 ??  ?? San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala, 1976. James Hayman © All rights reserved.
San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala, 1976. James Hayman © All rights reserved.
 ??  ?? Todos Santos, Guatemala, 1976. James Hayman © All rights reserved.
Todos Santos, Guatemala, 1976. James Hayman © All rights reserved.
 ??  ?? Oaxaca, Mexico, 1976.
James Hayman © All rights reserved.
Oaxaca, Mexico, 1976. James Hayman © All rights reserved.
 ??  ?? Textures, Oaxaca, 1976.
James Hayman © All rights reserved.
Textures, Oaxaca, 1976. James Hayman © All rights reserved.
 ??  ?? San Blas, Mexico, 1976.
James Hayman © All rights reserved.
San Blas, Mexico, 1976. James Hayman © All rights reserved.
 ??  ??

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