Emerging London-based photographer Alexander James’ moment of epiphany came when he witnessed an overdosed lover, stone cold dead. Today, his oeuvre deals in romance, tragic loss, birth and death. James is fascinated with the concept of vanitas, a 17th-century Dutch art term for the transience of life and death that emerges again and again as a theme in his work. James has garnered acclaim from Tokyo to Sydney, and viewers can expect “dreams and poetry” at his first major UK solo show, “Intersection,” opening tomorrow at Peter Simon (of retail chain Monsoon)’s West London studio space.
“Intersection” represents a culmination of James’ work, presented on a 2m scale format; in this immersive exhibit, James’ meticulously controlled photographs achieve a balance between voyeurism and intimacy, by way of his underwater-oriented technique. Housed in his studio—alongside a peculiar array of old dried fruit, tulips, and 16th-century baroque collectible props—are big black tanks filled with highly purified water, in which James constructs ephemeral sculptural installations, finishing by photographing the scene.
James uses no post-production effects or digital editing, relying instead on his timely instincts. Between the object, light, and lens, plus the distortion from the water, he achieves a painterly effect—leaving a viewer initially uneasy. Is it a painting or a photograph? “My work is deceptively simple, but on inspection has many layers,” James says. “It isn’t meant to be macabre, but a poignant celebration of life and elevation of the banal.”
Lately, James’ “madhouse” has acquired a group of a particular breed of South American butterfly, which has caused him to turn entomologist for his most challenging work, the Morpho Amathonte series [see slideshow, above]. Locked in his studio for four months with the specimens, James found a temperature that sent them into a natural coma without causing lasting damage. From there, he has 10 minutes to capture them as elaborate, mythological icons, underwater (“otherwise the wings go too floppy”) and extract the deep blue azure colour, flared out by direct light or sunlight.
Unsurprisingly, James’ future projects promise to hew in another direction altogether and will likely include 1860s tombstones. One constant? “A sense of authenticity,” James says, “is of most importance to me.”
“INTERSECTION” IS ON VIEW THROUGH MAY 23 AT THE STUDIO BUILDING, 21 EVESHAM STREET, LONDON. FOR MORE ON ALEXANDER JAMES, PLEASE VISIT HIS WEBSITE.