After the highly successfully opening of his immersive exhibition of meticulously-constructed, exquisite underwater photographic images, Alexander James speaks to The Positive about his artwork and career to date.
TP:This is your second major UK solo exhibition. Tell me about the experience so far.
AJ: I have been living in many different places around the world and have exhibited in all of them. I only returned to my birth town London 4 years ago. During that time I have been intensively locked into new bodies of work; so exhibiting got overlooked. This show in particular is important to me as it contains such important works in the development of my process.
TP: The process involved in creating such exquisite pieces of photography is undoubtedly complex. Could you explain the basic principles of your process?
AJ: You are right, it is very complex; in brief I create sculptural works or installations underwater, then document the final piece usually in just a single exposure before the work is destroyed. I paint directly onto the surface tension of the water. I want to cross out the boundaries between sculpture, painting and photography; the more obscured they are, the more you will want to explore.
TP: How many people assist you in the process?
AJ: On the larger works I have up to three studio assistants, they are each young artists all in very different fields. On Glass and Swarm I worked alone, locking myself in the studio for months in total solitude with the work – the flow process, completely immersive.
TP: The process involved in the making of each series of images is innately different. Talk me through the process relating to the butterfly images.
AJ: This is a very complex series to define in one question. The butterflies are photographed underwater alive but in a coma which is a natural occurrence in the wild for the South American species that I work with. Their heart rate stops completely; their respiratory system shuts down – they are completely unaware and unharmed by the process. The butterflies then go on to breed in the studio so it’s a wonderful cycle to be involved in.
TP: Talk me through the process relating to the singular flower images. They appear ghostly and ethereal, drained of pigment. How does one achieve such an effect?
AJ: The glass series is a scientific process that takes days for each specimen, exploring a process formulated in the studio that naturally removes all the pigment from the capillaries in rose petals. It is a complex procedure that over a period of days replaces the pigment with highly purified water leaving behind only the skeletal fibre and plant structure visible; all while the plant still lives and grows.
From the outset I wanted to take this instantly recognisable subject and re-present it in an entirely new and significant way. Originality of process is paramount, even with something as common place as a rose.
TP: What is the intent of your image? What do you hope to communicate through your photography?
AJ: My works appear at first glance to be deceptively simple, but once you explore a little deeper the dialogue of momento mori is ever present.
My work is directly influenced by my personal life experiences. It is very sad to think long on my driving forces; lost love. Something we can all connect with; but I use it in a very positive and celebratory way through my work.