James Steele ~ Artist’s Statement
First and foremost, I photograph what interests me. I photograph what interest me until it no longer interest me; then I photograph something else. Most of my work is landscape and figure studies executed with both traditional and digital materials.
I grew up in a small farming community in Missouri and started photographing around the age of 12. Since I wanted to process my own film (in my mother’s baking dishes, no less) I shot black and white film. Over time I migrated towards color through color slides but it was always black and white that really drew my interest. Maybe that was because those were the days of great picture magazines like Life and Look.
As I became more aware of photography as a fine art medium I was drawn to the work of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. I was struck by the magnificence of Adams’s Western landscapes and the exquisite beauty of Weston’s nudes.
I love work that has a sense of light. Great photographs have a depth and luminosity that makes them come off the paper. Regardless of the subject, that is what I try to achieve in my work.
Photography is a combination of vision, craft, and editing. As photographers, we take far more photographs than will ever reach the walls. One of the great strengths of the photographic medium is the freedom to explore a subject much as a painter might create sketches. How we select the images on which to work is a very personal journey. Sometimes it takes years for me to understand or explore the possibilities of an image. I have to wait until they are ready to speak to me. Sometimes I’m listening and sometimes I’m not.
Since craft is the language of the arts, I started to study craft in order to better explore and convey my personal vision. I studied with some of the finest photographers and printers in the world including Cole Weston, George Tice, Martha Casanave, Joyce Tenneson, Christopher James, and Carson Graves. These masters grounded me in the craft of fine printing and inspired me to explore my own vision.
Over the years there have been many changes to the technology. Papers and developers have come and gone. The emergence of digital imaging and all the accompanying technology that goes with it have had a fundamental impact on the world of photography.
Today I photograph in both traditional and digital imaging processes. Steele’s Law states that you can’t fight technology. Digital is here. It’s only going to get better, faster, and cheaper. Get over it!
While I come out of a strong traditional darkroom background, the vision that resulted from my traditional work has made it possible for me to easily incorporate digital workflows into the creation of my work. I’m very glad I have both technologies available to me.
Digital techniques have made it possible for me to create images from negatives that would have been impossible to print in the darkroom. In many cases, the extremely fine manipulation of tone and contrast in minute parts of the image necessary to make the fine print are not possible in the traditional darkroom. Today, these subtle changes can be created digitally with a degree of control that would never have been possible before.
In the end, it’s not about the equipment and the process; it’s about the image. It either works or it doesn’t.