James McCracken '19 is an MFA Visual Arts student in his first year.
What themes or subjects are you currently addressing in your work?
People in communities or cultures I have an intimate connection to. All of my pictures, whether involving some planned effort or simply taken “on the fly,” reflect my immediate environment and a particular social relationship or multiple, interwoven relationships. And the pictures represent—are synonymous to—my emotional response to this environment/social sphere. Each picture has its own backstory, based on my relationship with the subject(s); the relationship spawns and nurtures the image (or series of images), forming its emotional core.
What materials are you working with at the moment?
Black and white photography.
Are there any themes or materials you’re interested in exploring in the future?
Themes yes, but I would rather make the work before I talk about it. I find that if you go into a project with too concrete of an idea, you begin illustrating, and as a photographer photographing people that is a slippery slope I am not interested in.
What challenges do you face in your practice?
My basic premise is this: creating intimate pictures requires genuine intimacy—personal/emotional investment in the subject. Relationships take time to build, and I am not a morning person...
Who are artists or works of art that inspire you? Who are contemporary artists that are doing interesting work now?
Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Gordon Parks, and Helen Levitt are a few inspirations that I am always thinking about. And obviously Tom Roma. I would not be a photographer if it were not for his work and some of the people he has taught and mentored over the years. Not to be a softie, but my MFA photo peers are contemporary artists that are all doing very different and interesting work now.
What has been your favorite class at Columbia so far?
Photogravure with Craig Zammiello. Craig is a great artist, passionate teacher, and full of knowledge. Plus his stories are great and the photogravures we make are beautiful.
How do you think artists can continue growing as artists?
Don't get comfortable.