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Interview with photographer Naomi James

Lockdown Decay; All Our Landscapes Reimagined

F-Stop Magazine: How did you first become involved in photography and what led to you working in this medium as an artist?

Naomi James: My father was a portrait photographer. He would emerge from the darkroom covered in chemicals and this fascinated me. My mother bought me my first camera- a bright red 35mm compact. I discovered that I loved taking photographs but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I started to learn more about the photographic process. A friend lent me an SLR and it was only a matter of time before I had set up a darkroom in my flat.

F-Stop: The current issue of F-Stop Magazine includes images from your project “Lockdown Decay; All Our Landscapes Reimagined” can you tell us about this project?

NJ: Lockdown came very suddenly and I remember worrying that I wouldn’t be able to get hold of any photographic materials. I knew that it was an ideal opportunity to make work but that I would need to use what I had in the house. I gathered some recent Polaroids I had taken – scenes from my everyday life. We were all being contained in our houses, so to replicate this, I placed groups of images in boxes and filled them with cleaning products… products that had taken on a particular significance during Covid-19. I started to remove the images as restrictions were lifted.

F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images or your creative process more generally?

NJ: A lot of my work is the result of experimentation. When I set up this project, we had no idea how long the lockdown would last or what the future held so this unpredictable process felt appropriate. Over time the chemicals react with the emulsion of the photograph which fragments and the colours alter. The process became a metaphor for what I was experiencing. My life had completely changed and so had the images which were largely unrecognizable. There was a cellular quality at a time when something microscopic had us in its grip. And yet, there was also beauty and I experienced this too. Nature flourished and there were wonderful acts of humanity.

Lockdown Decay; All Our Landscapes Reimagined

F-Stop: How did you choose the images you transformed for this project?

NJ: I wanted the images to represent the different stages of the lockdown period and the lifting of restrictions; from the more vibrant Polaroids that were removed in May, to those with a more subtle palette which came out in September when I returned to work.

F-Stop: How does this project relate to other work or projects you have done? Did you approach this work differently? Did you discover anything new that you will carry forward into other projects?

NJ: Although I have done a lot of work with Polaroid film, this is the first time I have experimented with Polaroid decay. My previous projects have been quite personal and whilst this has personal elements, it does feel quite different. There is also a boldness of colour that is new in this project which I am carrying forward in my next series.

F-Stop: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most?

NJ: I think this changes with my mood. Today, I am drawn to images 5 and 7. Image 5 has a vibrant optimism- a sense of looking upwards through the branches of a tree. Image 7, on the other hand, conjures up the excitement of looking in a microscope for the first time. At a time when I am incredibly busy and working out which jobs to prioritise, the labyrinth of pathways definitely has something to say to me.

Lockdown Decay; All Our Landscapes Reimagined

F-Stop: Are you working on any other projects currently?

NJ: Yes. I have a second series of this project linked to the second lockdown in the UK. The images were all taken in October whilst I was on holiday in Wells, Norfolk and each photograph is of a beach hut. At the time, I knew another lockdown was imminent and that I wouldn’t be going anywhere again for a while. These images will be removed on Christmas Day. I made this decision when I heard a news announcement telling us to prepare for a digital Christmas. Suddenly, everyone seemed to be talking about this one day in the year. It now seems we will be able to see some of our loved ones on Christmas Day and my Polaroids will be joining us!

F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?

NJ: Annie Leibovitz, Elliott Erwitt, Sally Mann, JR and Elsa Dorfman have been huge inspirations. However, seeing David Hockney’s photo collages at the Hockney Museum in Saltaire probably made the biggest impression on me.

 

To see more of Naomi James’ work, visit her website at www.naomi-james.co.uk or check out the Portfolio 2020 issue of F-Stop!


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