When I was living in Missoula during the summer of 2007, I had the pleasure of meeting Marcy James who is a talented photographer with a creative and inspiring vision. Also during this time, she had her show “No Man’s Land” at Gallery Saintonge which was great to see and experience. I had the opportunity to ask Marcy some questions about her work and inspiration and have included these below as the f/22 photographer profile for the month of May.
What was it which got you interested in photography?
Hmm. It all started with a yashica mat camera I found at the goodwill. I never thought that i would be able to afford a ‘real’ camera…and the point and shoots….well, they just turned out images generically. They didn’t have enough options. but then I found the yashica and was transfixed by my lack of control and a love for looking down into the waist level finder, and not knowing what was going to come of it. I still have my first image etched into my mind…. I am a meanderer of sorts so the yashica in conjunction with extended time renting videos for a living and thus watching up to four movies a day…well, I guess that somehow sensitized my eyes in a way that made me curious. I found my language in images. I spent so much time trying to express my ideas with words and it just didn’t cut it. Working with images allowed for an open ended conversation, like poetry. No need to be succinct or make logical sense. you can run around in your own logic and others found it to be refreshing.
The name Marcy James is known with the photographic work you have done on Butte, Montana even being mentioned in the book “Butte Trivia“. What inspired you to concentrate on the town of Butte, especially after growing up in the eastern US and spending time in larger cities?
Oh these are such big questions, Neil. I visited Butte once long ago…I was in search of Evel Kneivel. I didn’t find him that day (that encounter came much later), but I did notice that Butte looked like a place lost in time. Like a museum where time, as I used to say, ‘was left to its own evolution.’ That day remained in my thoughts for years until one afternoon I awoke from a nap with a strong sense that I needed to move there and make a book about that place before it all changed. I knew that it was a time sensitive matter so I moved there within a month. and it has changed. and it continues to inspire me…its resilience, its stark beauty, its authentic and kind people, its land, its buildings, its sad commentary on how American society disposes of important things and places without much consideration. I could photograph that place for a lifetime but I think that I have said all that I need to say there for now. Photography helps me to reflect, process and comment on what it is like for me to live in this time. I draw from everything around me, the evolution of small towns, industrious cities, the family farm, the American landscape are all subjects that I connect with and that are in the midst of change that may be irreversible for our history as Americans. It is a big subject and one that I will probably be fascinated with for my lifetime.
With your Butte work you explored some abandoned buildings as well as the city in oft hours. Were there any concerns you had with safety and anything you did before hand to ensure it did not become an issue?
Everything I did in Butte dealt with facing one fear or another. I had a good system though for keeping myself somewhat safe..it was home made but thanks to people who loved me, it worked out really well. and safety did become an issue a few times. I think that the one event that really opened my eyes though, beyond the average dangers that go along with the type of project that I was doing was that the building that I owned and lived in was attacked by arsonists…twice in one week. that really had a lasting impact on me for awhile.
You have done plenty of work with alternative processes. With darkrooms being phased out at schools and the push more to a digital education as well as from the manufacturers will this impact how you create work in the future?
This does not impact my work in the least. I use whatever tool suits the idea that i am working on…so whether I am using a 4×5 camera, a scanner as a camera, a pinhole camera or my digital video camera…my studio just grows in its potential. I have a wonderfully eclectic tool box. I think that I would be upset if the day came that I was not able to print my own work. I don’t think that I would respond to that well but who knows, lot’s of people have kicked and screamed their way into the digital world…and what a shame it would be to not have access to the immense technology that is available to us now. Personally, I have been wanting to work in 3D for nearly a decade.
I know there is a long list of photographers which you follow. Could you tell us what photographers inspire you to shoot in your style?
I have been pretty fond of Sarah Moon and Masao Yamamoto lately. I love Annie Leibovitz‘s work. Maggie Taylor and Julianne Kost make me want to master compositing. and I think that most of all, the students that I have had the great pleasure of working with throughout the years have been my most active and influential process-oriented inspirations. I love to watch them explore themselves through their work. I miss that and find reasons to continue to work with them even though I don’t teach anymore.
Lastly, do you have a piece of advice you picked up along the way which helped you with your career that you would like to share with our readers who are interested in moving forward in photography.
It’s not my advice, but it has guided me well. “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Confucius. In addition…Virginia Woolf taught me that everyone needs to have a room of one’s own. my studio is where my world is wide open…everything is possible there. do you have your own room, Neil?
Excellent question Marcy. While I do have an area which is somewhat like a room of my own I do think that I need to solidify this location so it is indeed my own room. This is something which I will be working on in the next couple of months.
The following images are a few which Marcy shared with us…
You may find more of Marcy’s work at the following sites:
Thanks to Marcy for taking the time to be the f/22 profile for May, and look for a new profile in June.