Guest Post: James Collier on his photography inspiration

Today, we are happy to be sharing a guest post by James Collier who will be one of our presenters tonight at DELVE: Food + Art at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP in Dumbo. Get tickets here if you haven't already!

James Collier is a commercial and fine art photographer, and is naturally curious about the intersections between people and what they eat. A recent transplant to Brooklyn, James spent the last 10 years in California's Central Valley, where he explored food's role in cultural storytelling, historic preservation, and driving local economy. Much of James's work in California focused on making food approachable, which led him to a series of projects documenting food at its source. He currently splits his time between commercial assignments and personal projects - both often involve farm visits and sharing food with friends. 

Below, James shares some of his inspirations as a photographer. It's an interesting and eclectic list- check it out!

Photograph by James Collier

Photograph by James Collier

I was encouraged as an artist at a very young age; my family kept me supplied with paper, pencils, ink – anything I showed interest in, really. But that interest was always fleeting. Nothing I tried could accurately hold express my curiosities. So I gave it all up and pursued other creative outlets.

Then, a couple of years ago, I was asked to show some of my photography. I had been using a camera to document events and stories in the food community around Fresno, California, but I didn’t consider myself a real photographer, let alone one who would print and show work. I consulted with a friend to select 10 images – it was the first time I had printed any of my photos outside of a Wal-Mart photo lab.

Now, in additional to commercial work, I produce art somewhat regularly, and I find myself continually fascinated by the work of others – even more so by their curiosities, and how those are explored through photo and illustration. The more I consider myself an artist, the more I want to see and understand the work of others.

Below, I’ve shared a few recent muses:

Edward Weston
I discovered Weston’s work only after that initial show, when someone compared a print of mine to work he’d published 90+ years ago. Back in the 1920s and ‘30s, Weston studied light and form through a series of black and white photos of seashells, peppers, and a variety of vegetables. His work also includes a wide selection of nudes; there are many similarities between the series.

Matt Black
Black is one of only a handful of modern photographers I know who consistently documents agriculture and farmworkers. His work is textural and intimate, and he regularly captures people and places that the rest of us tend to gloss over.

Bob Carlos Clarke
I photographed the kitchen of a small restaurant in Brooklyn, and before the shoot, the chef-owner handed me a book about by Marco Pierre White, who’s credited with influencing many current chefs/celebrities; Bob Carlos Clarke photographed the book. Clarke’s portfolio consisted mostly of erotica (read, models in latex), and from what I can find, this is the only food-related work he did – it has a very distinct, gritty feel, which I find oddly refreshing, given the polish and posed nature of most current food photography.

Tadao Cern
I’m fascinated with photo series, especially when they explore something I’m not comfortable with. Something like, let’s say, the comfort zones of complete strangers. Or ways in which we all adapt to and find comfort in public spaces. Tadao explores both in “Comfort Zone.”

Catherine Chalmers
Speaking of uncomfortable, Chalmers focuses her work on subjects that can make anyone a little uneasy: insects, rodents and the food chain (in action). In a recent interview with VICE, she speaks to her curiosities: “The reaction people could, should, or might have doesn’t figure into the creation of my work. The visual arts are a toolbox I use to investigate what intrigues me and I utilize whatever medium best suites the expedition. The resulting work is a record of my discovery.” That strikes a chord, especially with some of the work I do around animal husbandry, slaughtering and butchering. 

Alyson Thomas
I discovered Alyson’s prints at a craft fair in the Bay Area, and was instantly drawn to the simplicity: simple (food) subjects, simply illustrated, and paired with a good sense of humor. Most of Alyson’s prints focus on meat and cocktails – two of my favorite things – but I recently attended a food retreat with her, and watched as she illustrated her notes throughout the weekend. I’ve found myself sketching more of my thoughts since then.

                                                                                 -James Collier

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