Wood Nymphs and Art Basel – Spotlight on Artist James Weber
March 8, 2016
This past December I attended Art Basel in Miami and was pleasantly surprised to find James Weber in the “Scope” show featuring his collection, “Wood Nymphs”. I immediately fell in love and began a conversation with James. I love Art Basel for this! Being able to view art from around the world and speak directly to the artist themselves is beyond exciting. I learned that James shoots his work on an old wooden camera and well what could be cooler?
Who are you?
I’ll be honest, this is the hardest question that you can ask.
I’m a mid-west boy that joined the Navy to be a photographer. At the time, I was in college and wanted to be a writer, but I had no idea of what to write. I was creative, but was thinking that maybe the writing career wasn’t for me. Long story, short, I did 6 years in the Navy as a photographer. I did three years in Japan and three years in Hawaii shooting, processing, and printing film, in a time where digital had not even formed yet. It was great. You really were creating something from nothing. The darkroom experience was amazing.
We were told to go out and shoot on the government’s dime anything we wanted on nights and weekends…to explore and to learn. Shoot anything you want, then come back and process and print your results. No one in the world had the freedom to do what we did back then…for free. Shoot as much film as you want, then take it back to the lab and process and print whatever you like…on the government dime.
Of course, being in the Navy, we had duties to attend to, but what the allowed me to do was to…on my own time, explore being a photographer and what that meant to me. Getting lost in Japan’s beautiful landscape was a treat. This is waaaay before google maps. I literally had a “map” and said, I think northeast is good. Then I would set out in that given direction and see where that would take me. More often than not, it would take me to some beautiful Japanese culture that still resonates with me to this day…There is a much longer story in the soon to be told biography….lol.
Today, I make my living shooting Portraits, Fashion, Beauty and shooting advertising campaigns for a variety of clients and brands. I love my work as it’s not the same thing every day. I get to bring teams of hair, makeup, wardrobe stylists, and a host of other creatives together to make beautiful images. I couldn’t be happier as I really do get to do what I love for a living.
Clearly photography is your passion. When did you really connect to art and when/how where you call to create the nude series “Forest Nymphs”?
The wood nymphs take me waaaaay back to the time when I was a teenager and I was playing Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, I was that nerd that was rolling 8 sided die figuring out how many hit points my character had and working to make the best character out of the mythological realm that we happened to be in. It was exhilarating. The entire world was in our minds, but controlled by what we wrote down on paper. It was fabulous…Fast forward 25 years to now and I still love fantasy. Now, I get to make my living in this wonderful creative world. Sometimes it’s in Fashion, or Beauty imagery that I create with my other talented artist friends, and other times it’s using the Wet Plate Collodion process to give me a completely different look and feel. I’ve been wanting to create a project that had something to do with a story on the environment and mix it with my love of fantasy that I had in my childhood. Back in those days, where my imagination created all of these worlds in my head, it was fun. I wanted to get back to that. So the Wood Nymph’s were goddesses of the forest that were protectors of the land and lived in the trees. I loved the idea that there were these lovely, yet deadly creatures in the forest that were it’s protectors. Given the state of our environment now, I think we could use a few goddesses protecting our forests.
How did you get started with wet plate collodion?
I think it’s safe to put all the blame squarely on Sally Mann for getting me into this crazy world of dangerous chemicals and wood cameras. I grew up in the world of film cameras starting back in 1994, so my love of chemical photography started early on. I have to say that in recent years, where my commercial photography has of course been all digital, I missed processing my own film and printing my work. The turning point for me was when I found, Sally Mann’s, “What Remains” documentary. I’ve been an admirer of her work for some time. The documentary is wonderfully put together. I think the scene that did it for me was where she’s out working in the field, shooting glass plates, and using her car as the darkroom. At that moment, I had no idea what I was looking at, but the images were incredible and I wanted to know more. That was my first introduction to the wet plate collodion process. After watching that, I was hooked. I had to learn how to make these beautiful images on glass and metal. Thanks for complicating my life, Sally.
When I decided to pursue it, I went all in. I got to work researching everything I could on wet plate. I searched the web looking for videos and blogs featuring wet plate. Eventually, I found a few videos that had been done featuring John Coffer and his work in upstate New York. John is an amazing individual. His life story and work are very compelling and John is an amazing individual. Once I found out he did workshops, I knew that I wanted to learn from him. It’s a little crazy up at “Camp Tintype”. He has no running water, very little electricity(a little solar), and no phone. He only communicates via U.S. Postal Mail. He basically lives just like a man in the mid to late 1800s. When I was there, I asked him why he only built his log cabin 12’x12’. He said, “because that’s how tall the trees were at the time”. J His farm in upstate New York is a wonderful place to learn. It was just me and three other guys, so the class felt almost one on one. John is a wonderful teacher and I really enjoyed the experience. One day, I was out in the woods setting up a shot in the trees, when I got chased out by one of his cows. Luckily, the cow only knocked over the stool I was using for a tripod… I hadn’t put the camera there yet. That’s how my journey into chemical photography started.
What is your process behind the scenes shooting with the old wooden camera?
I love the connection you have in your work with nature’s elements. How was the Wood Nymph Series received at Art Basel?
First of all, I love Art Basel. At the show I was showing the work, “Scope”, I truly enjoyed seeing all of the work and meeting many of the artists creating such great art. My work in particular was almost the elephant in the room as much of what was showing was pop art of one kind or another. Myself and a few others at Scope were the only ones still showing photography based art. I was the only one showing wet plate collodion based work which is nice. I’m experimenting with different mediums to print to. In this case I was printing to sublimated aluminum which takes the work back to it’s roots. The original images were all 8″x10″ tintypes shot on aluminum, so I wanted to keep the reproductions of the work as close to the originals as I could. The series had a great showing at Scope and I can’t wait to go back next December to show again.
Please include anything else you feel called you to share and photographs.
Well, I’m new to the art world, but I’m loving being a part of such a vibrant, fun community of artists. My Gallery is located in the Lower East Side, Castle Fitzjohns, www.castlefitzjohns.com. I’m looking forward to having a group show with a few other photographers in the gallery sometime soon. I’ll keep you informed as to when that might happen. Thank you so much for sharing my story.
I can’t wait to share. Thank you for creating beautiful art.