Travel and Documentary Photography

About me and contact info

Machu Picchu by James May
Machu Picchu

I have been doing travel and documentary photography for many years and enjoy it more than ever. You can read my tongue-in-cheek or not Artist's Statement about Documentary Photography and the fall of fine art photography in general here.

The work outside the documentary section is simply travel stock photography. With the exception of India and Egypt which are all digital, the rest are scans from 35mm slides. Needless to say, I like digital much better; it makes travel work so much easier in terms of seeing and using the work right away and no film to carry about. I can't tell you how much I had to ration my photography on these trips which were usually months long. Now, instead of stuffing 200 rolls in a backpack, I have an infinite number of shots thanks to a laptop and external harddrives and DVDs I sent home as back-ups. I find however that I don't really shoot a lot more. I don't like stories of wedding photographers who shoot 10,000 photos of one event; I'm not one to throw darts at balloons and I wouldn't shoot 10,000 photos in 5 months of traveling.

Documentary photographs: The section about the Minneapolis Aquatennial Torchlight Parade is shot with a medium format Pentax 6x7 with flash and film and 35mm digital with flash in 2008 and entirely at dusk. They, along with most of my documentary work, are not meant to be clever photos but to be rather straightforward looks that take on a patina with the years.

The section of black and white photos from 1977 to 1999 were mostly shot in Guatemala in 35mm, all using film.

The Carnaval photos in Rio de Janeiro were all shot in 1988 with a Pentax 6x7 and on film. Again, I wanted to leave myself out of the equation and simply shoot straightforward documents of a year now lost in time.

The shots of Las Vegas were almost entirely shot on Fremont St. in the old downtown area over a period of 2 days when I was visiting family on my first trip ever there and the first body of work I attempted using a digital camera.

The 2 years of photos of the Minneapolis Gay Pride Parade were once again an attempt to simply show what I saw without editorializing too much, instead letting the event and passage of years do the talking. They are all shot in 35mm digital.

The same can be said for the 2 years I shot the Hopkins, MN Grande Day Parade. Even more so since these types of events are often used by documentary photographers to look down on the people who participate in such parades. My interest as an artist was to try a subtle and for me elusive use of scale and also color and light. When such a use of scale is achieved, the resulting photo can be really something to see. The problem on a website is that these photos need to be 1000 pixels wide to reveal how the scale works; 1000 pixels pretty much fills up one's computer window with no room left for captions or links. The pix are all shot in 35mm digital.

The shots of Indian children from 2009 was an attempt to do some fast and loose street photography using a 35mm digital camera which I had a lot of fun doing. The kids in India are really nuts and great fun to be around. I really didn't have to go anywhere since they constantly came up to me laughing and joking.

The medium format documents are a grab bag of people shots done on film across 3 decades with a Pentax 6x7 and flash, done both in my home town of Minneapolis and around the world.

The Las Vegas RollerCon was done with digital 35mm. I just wanted to archive some informal portraits for future generations to see.

The last series of documentary work is by far the most important to me and the most nuanced and manipulated in terms of putting myself into my environment. These so-called 'Urbanscapes' are all shot on film with a Pentax 6x7 and are meant to challenge perceptions among the fine art photography community. I do every thing I can to manipulate the viewer's perceptions of these photographs but without showing my hand. I attempt to do this by juggling subject matter, color, light and contrast. Although fairly casual looking, I tried my best to make all these scenes look as if they were present in a world entirely my own. My opinion regarding this body of work was that a type of persistance of vision is the true way for an artist to show they know what they are doing. I further tried to manipulate the viewer by using our own biases and prejudices as human beings in terms of what we expect to see as opposed to what is really there and how such biases can blind us to what is in front of us; good things are where you find them and not where you expect them to be. The traditional ideas of cartoons, soda pop and the West as stupid and fine art films, wine and the East as automatically superior are bankrupt notions and I find that the very fine art photographers who attempt to 'reveal' a type of truth more often than not succumb to this banality rather than overcome it. Sorry, that's just my opinion.