James Mason: Nostalgic for Cars

James Mason is a UK-based photographer.  After obtaining his fine arts degree from Camberwell College of the Arts in London, James discovered photography was far more rewarding than drawing or sculpture. He loves to travel, walk around cities, and take in the environment around him which feeds his visual storytelling instincts. He has traveled to multiple countries across Asia, Europe, and North America capturing everything from simple street scenes to the delightful interplay of light, shapes, and style.  This week atlas speaks to James about his love of vintage cars and what inspired him to start shooting them.

Your collection of car images is masterfully brilliant yet fun and whimsical. Tell us a bit about this collection.

I’ve been photographing cars for about nine months. The first was a green Moskvitch that caught my eye in Sofia, The boldness of the green paintwork and cars elegant form stood out against its muted backdrop. Since then,I have been photographing similarly attractive cars with the same approach to technique as and when I see them.

Did you originally have a project in mind to photograph cars or did you start taking random photos of cars one day?

This was never supposed to be a project. The first image I produced was on a whim just to see how it would look. Since then, I have produced around 40 such images.

What was your creative approach with these unique images?

I am drawn almost exclusively to vintage cars. Unlike modern cars, vintage cars tend to have very distinctive forms that are evoke sophistication and the promise of a certain kind of lifestyle that may be synonymous with owning such vehicles. In this sense, they are historical objects with deeply inscribed meanings that go beyond their everyday usage.

I produce these images with an eye towards making these cars stand out, so the relationship between color and backdrop is important. It is not satisfying for me to merely photograph a car that I like.

What is it about cars that motivates you to photograph them? Were you big into cars when you were little?

I have never owned a driving license or even driven a car but have always been drawn to them as objects, specifically their aesthetics and connotations. As a child I was obsessed with drawing sports cars. I would sit and fill entire sketchbooks with pictures of an imaginary red sports car with pop-up headlights. These drawings were all near identical and would be composed side-on just like my photographs. They even included details of the cars setting such as curbs, walls, and street lamps. I had never considered the connection between this and my photographs until now.

How was are these images of vintage cars in line with your other photography work? Is it more of a departure or getting out of your comfort zone?

Most of my photography centers on the act of walking. For me the cars function as a kind of habit or exercise that takes place in-between what I think of as my ‘real’ photography when I am on these walks.  I never set out to look for these cars but will just photograph them when I see them whether in London or traveling elsewhere.

While I will not always find interesting subject matter, there is a good chance I will see a car that fits this body of work. It is reassuring to have this one thing that I will always photograph irrespective of what project I have in mind and to come away with something I like.

What is your favorite car?

I really love the Porsche 924. I would love to own one in black.

What direction, if any, do you want to take this collection of images? How do you want to further this project?

This is very much a personal collection. I think of these images as souvenirs of my walks and the cities I have visited. I like to print the photos and to have them around. Ultimately I want all my projects to become zines or photography books but I do not think there is anything compelling enough about these as a body of work to warrant a zine or a book. For now I will just continue to enjoy collecting them with no end goal in mind.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, James!

For more information about James, visit his Instagram.  All images © James Mason.

James Mason: Light, Shapes, and Style

James Mason is a UK-based photographer.  After obtaining his fine arts degree from Camberwell College of the Arts in London, James discovered photography was far more rewarding than drawing or sculpture. He loves to travel, walking around cities, and taking in the environment around him which feeds his obsession about architecture. He has traveled to multiple countries across Asia, Europe, and North America capturing everything from simple street scenes to the delightful interplay of light, shapes, and style.  This week atlas speaks to James about what he loves about photography, why architecture appeals to him, and the one photographer he would love to accompany on a photo shoot.

How did you first get started in photography?

James Mason: I attended art school in London when I was producing a lot of drawings and sculptures. A large part of my process involved walking around the city and using snapshots to document architectural details that caught my eye. I would later incorporate these details into my artwork as abstract geometric forms. After completing my degree, I began to realize that I did not actually have a lot to say with the mediums I was working in at this point. More significantly the idea of working away in a studio all day outside of the art school system felt very boring and isolated. I continued to walk and record the things I saw using photography but as an end unto itself. It became clear that this was what I found most rewarding so I started taking photography seriously. This was around three years ago.

Are you self-taught or do you have a formal education in photography?

I was always familiar with photography from going to art school as well as seeing the work of photographers in books and at galleries. However, the only formal instruction I had was when I was 17. I had a few compulsory classes in 35mm photography and B&W darkroom printing as part of my Art & Design course at college. I am grateful to have had this opportunity to experiment with film since this was right before darkrooms began to disappear from UK education with the transition to digital. Although the fundamentals I learned have stuck with me, I was not hugely taken with the processes at the time. Learning exposure tables and creating lighting diagrams felt very dry and technical. Now having photographed a lot, I regret not pursuing this further while I had access to these facilities and the time to use them.

What did you love the most about photography?

I love photography because it allows me to document my everyday life while producing something that is very subjective via the decisions I make in framing and editing. I feel like photography offers the perfect balance between reflection and personal vision. Furthermore, photography is an excuse to do lots of things that should not really require an excuse — to seek access to interesting places, to hang around, and to start different conversations with people.

Just looking at Instagram, you photograph a lot of architecture in cities around the world and capture the interesting interplay among light, color, and shapes. What about architecture appeals to you? Did you want to become an architect? 

I have always been obsessed with architecture. I like to spend a considerable amount of time walking and the built environment conditions the experience of these walks. Specifically I am interested in large cities; architecture forms a kind of palimpsest whereby the new is incessantly layered on top of the old, constantly creating new meanings and relationships to be explored.

I have lot of friends involved in architecture and take more than a casual interest. I always loved the idea of being an architect myself however I know enough to realize that I would not enjoy practicing architecture.

Can you tell us a bit more about these spectacular images and maybe a bit about your creative process?

The works you see here mostly reflect a particular process whereby I would travel a lot to different places and seek out architectural details that I felt could fit in with a particular aesthetic I had in mind. The best way I can describe this is to say that I was looking to monumentalize the buildings and spaces I depicted in a way that emphasized their density and scale in relationship to the human being.

I have since changed my way of working somewhat. The problem I had was that what I was doing felt very finite. I would go to a city and look for everything that fitted into a pre-conceived look and then photograph all of these features when the lighting conditions were most dramatic. In a way, this is quite a touristic approach to photography. However, I have now begun to focus on transient details within the urban environment, things that only reveal themselves by chance and for a short time. I wanted to be able to make photographs all of the time wherever I am so this shift in perspective means that I can regularly re-photograph familiar places.  I moved to shooting exclusively in film, which has has forced me to slow down and really look at things in a new way.

You shoot mainly in color. Why do you prefer color over black & white?

To me, it just makes sense to work primarily in color. It is one of the means we have at our disposal to describe the world so to forgo it entirely would not make sense to me.

That said, I love black and white and many of my favorite photographers are working this way exclusively. As far as my own work is concerned, the hesitation in not shooting B&W comes from the fear of getting a shot and wishing it was in color. This fear extends to only really using one type of color film (Portra 400) since I want my main body of work to all have the same look and feel to it.

Though not the same, I have been experimenting with B&W conversions of my color photographs in post-production. I want to produce zines and small books that bring together work on a particular place or subject. I see the act of sequencing and putting together a book as a separate act whereby I can manipulate all that I have at my disposal in order to create something new. Though I’m thinking primarily in color, I really like the feel of B&W for this purpose. A cheap color print looks awful but satisfying results can be achieved very inexpensively in B&W.

Are there any photographers whose work inspire you?

I look at the work of a ton of different photographers and my taste changes quite a lot. At the moment I am particularly fascinated by the work of Japanese photographer Junko Yonezawa. Yonezawa is able to find extraordinary beauty in the everyday. The work he produces is extremely subtle and requires a long time to absorb.  I find this very inspirational and would love to be able to achieve such depth in my own work.

If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (living or deceased), who would it be?

This is a very difficult question to answer. In my own work, I tend to take a snapshot approach — walking around on the street, and shooting whatever takes my eye.  If I had the opportunity, I would love to see how a photographer at the total opposite end of the spectrum approaches a photo shoot. I guess this would be somebody like Gregory Crewdson. Crewdson applies extreme scrutiny to every element of his image making process and runs sets that have the most elaborate levels of production. I think it would be great to see what kind of lessons I could take away from this way of working.

Thanks for being our photographer of the week, James!

For more information about James, check out his Instagram.  All images © James Mason.


Patrick Warner: Creating Brilliance in the Ordinary

Patrick Warner is a talented Montana-based photographer. A self-taught photographer, Patrick’s works range from Montana’s beautiful landscapes to the ethereal or ordinary subject matter scenes that hint of David Lynch or William Eggleston. He is inspired by photographers such as Robert Misrach, Alex Soth, and Thomas Prior to name a few.  His works have been featured by numerous online magazines across the country. Patrick is currently working on a project focused on the Hi-Line Railroad in northern Montana and works part-time as an emergency medical technician.  This week Patrick speaks to atlas about how he got his start in photography, what he loves about his craft, and which photographers he would like to go on a photo shoot with.

How did you first get started in photography?

Patrick Warner: I started taking pictures when I was 19 because I liked movies, but I did not have much ambition to get any better. A year later, I signed up for Flickr and got exposed to various types of photography and that captured my interest in trying to get better. Years later, after taking many bad pictures, I started to shoot film and be inspired by photographers on Flickr and others like Alec Soth. I would like to think I have gotten better than when I first started, but I still feel like I can always do better or try something different after the fact.

Are you self-taught or did you have a formal training in photography?

I am pretty much self-taught, a bedroom photographer if you will.

Your photography work is spectacular with great composition and beautiful light. Some of your images have an ethereal quality to them while others have a clean and simple order and yet others are William Eggleston-esque.  How do you describe your photography? What do you love most about photography?

That is definitely something I’ve been noticing recently. Whenever I do go back and look at some of my work (which I really try not to do so much), if I see a pattern of composition or perspective, my instinct is to find a new way of shooting or composing an image. I am still kind of stuck in that thinking —  looking for a different way — and that is what I love about photography. It is all about perspective for recording light. And there are so many different perspectives with all the photographers out there.

You live in the beautiful state of Montana. How has living in Montana influenced your photography?

It is all about the landscapes. Most photography in Montana centers around the beauty of its landscapes. But if you look at the history and culture of Montana, it is strange: Lewis and Clark routed through the state, Native American tribes were decimated here, the Unabomber lived in a cabin in Lincoln, David Lynch was born here, and Richard B. Spencer, founder of the alt-right, lives in Whitefish. So after living here all my life, I kind of gravitate towards the darker side of the state and stray away from wanderlust photography because it just seems weird and hollow to me.

You work part time as an EMT so you interact with people all the time on your job. However, it appears you photograph everything but people. Can you explain?

Well, I see the interactions as a bit more mutually exclusive. As an EMT, you have training with how to communicate with people in emergency situations and you’re playing more of critical role one-on-one. The interaction is private, meaning any kind of conversation or patient information cannot legally be shared. As a photographer, it is much more open-ended and public. You can ask them to take a picture and they could say yes or no, but may not get the picture I want. I have photographed people before and I intend to keep doing it again, but I am generally very shy and quiet so asking someone if I can take a picture of him/her is not easy for me as assessing someone for a medical condition. Plus I really do not have the balls of the street photographer lot yet.

Can you tell us a bit more about these images you shot in Montana?

These pictures cover a broad range of Montana, geographically and seasonally. The car parked in front of the yellow house is in Butte, an old mining town on a hill. The mountain is taken from Mt. Jumbo in Missoula, and if you look closely, you can see the remains of burned trees from wildfires in the 80s. The El Camino is in Cutbank, along US Hwy 2. The brick house and grainery are near Collins, which literally feels like the middle of nowhere, in the summer. And the 50,000 Silver Dollar Gift shop is a truck stop near the Idaho border in winter.

Are there any photographers whose work inspire you?

There are many photographers who inspire me — Richard Misrach, Alec Soth, Thomas Prior, Robert Adams, Raymond Meeks, Bryan Schutmaat, Benoit Paille, Patrick Joust, and too many others to list here.

If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (living or deceased), who would it be?

Probably Eggleston or Thomas Prior just to watch their process and see the final product.

Are you working on any new projects?

Yes, I am working on a project about northern Montana, specifically US Highway 2 where the Hi-Line railroad is. I am not sure if that is what the final project will focus on or if I will incorporate something about all of Montana. Either way, it is a project I am still trying to figure out.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Patrick!

For more information about Patrick, visit his website.  All images  © Patrick Warner.