Creators, Makers & Doers: James Talbot
Posted on 7/8/15 by Arts & History
We often fail to see genius in what makes us uncomfortable. The lives that bring flavor and uniqueness to the world are the very things that set us apart. James Talbot has dedicated almost half his life to relentlessly documenting those who surprisingly go unnoticed. Brightly colored interiors, lined with obsession, become extensions of his subject’s identity. Much like the people he photographs, James Talbot has followed his passion, always remaining true to himself.
What is your preferred medium?
The only medium I have ever worked in is photography. The reason I like photography is that my talent in painting or drawing is very questionable. The thing I like about photography is that it draws and colors the image for me. All I have to do is frame it. I have always just been fascinated since I was a little kid with photography and movies.
How long have you been pursuing photography?
Probably, 30-35 years. I started in 1982. I was serious in 1982, but the seriousness has grown since then. The seriousness has grown, but I was as serious as I could have been when I started.
The other mediums just don’t interest me. I think my talent would be minimal in them. I have tried drawing and it was very hard for me. I just don’t have any desire to do anything else. I have always been drawn, psychologically, to photography so I thought I’d give it a try seriously in 1982.
Where do you find inspiration?
I am fascinated with the working class people. I am fascinated with the older lifestyles. I am fascinated with a more rural lifestyle because I was brought up in that environment. I am fascinated with Americana of yesteryear, so to speak. I am fascinated with the human condition. I draw a lot of energy from these areas, but I also draw a lot of energy from the dark side of the human condition. My photographs, as I look at them, have a lot of these elements in them. My real passion is ignited in these areas. I don’t do pretty landscapes. I don’t do a lot of social stuff or environmental stuff. That stuff doesn’t interest me.
Is there any specific inspiration for exploring these areas?
I have had to explore my own dark side and while I was doing that, I became very fascinated with it. I get very passionate when I explore these areas in my subjects. If you look at my photographs, there is a dark side to them. The people that they relate to see it. It’s marinated in that.
What are you working on now?
Anything I want to.
Can you speak about your working process?
I just finished a piece called “Jesus Christ meets Ruby Beaudreau.” So in this image, there is a house and a yard. Some of the subjects you see here in the image were not in the original picture. It was just a basic front yard. I drove by it one day and I knew I could create something around it. It just jumped out at me. I like to do a lot of compositing now. Take an image and put things into it, to create a story. I went back to the house at night to take the picture and I used high dynamic range. I took 5 exposures one at normal, two above, and two below. So that gives me 5 exposures. I then put it in the processor. It takes the best part from each image and combines them into one. It gives the image more latitude for me to work with. I then get an idea. I think about it. Then I think about it more. I can do things here and there and work towards the original scenario I had in my head. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do when I start, but a lot of times when creating art, ideas are wishful thinking. When you try to make them reality, they don’t work. I start on a basic thin fabric of an idea and then I keep working and working and working.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
I know. Sometimes I miscalculate and I will go back and change it even after I have shown it to people. There are no rules here. I know when they are done. I am usually so sick of working on them that I am totally nauseated by looking at them. When I start getting to that point, I know it’s done. That’s sort of a signal that it’s getting to the end. I just know.
Can you talk about the transition to digital from film?
I put up a big fight against working with digital. I am not the best guy technically, to learn technical things. I can do the creative process, but the technical stuff is really hard for me to learn. I knew I had to learn. It was like being in a foreign country. I had to learn a whole new language. I really resisted it, but then I knew. There came a time when I had to learn it. I had to learn Photoshop. It was very difficult for me to learn it. It was something that I would not want to go through again.
It would take something horrific to make me go back to conventional photography. Having said that, I have nothing against conventional photography. I love to look at it. I did it for many years. I have no animus and no prejudice against people who want to do it. I just love digital. I can do so much more with it. I can do it sitting in front of a 27 inch screen with surround sound system. I can sit in this therapeutic chair and I can just float out into space while I do it.
What does your work schedule look like?
I do what I want to do. I’m retired. I do what I want to do. I work mostly in the afternoon or at night. I can only take about 4 hours a day. I try to work every day, but I might take a couple of days off. I love it. It’s like getting drunk. It’s like getting rummy. I love to do this. I absolutely love it. I would not trade my life for anything else in the world. I’ve done some things in life that I have been very passionate about, but this is the most passionate I’ve been. I have learned this late in life, unfortunately, but it is what it is.
How would you describe your work?
When you are doing art you can only bring your life experience to it. That’s all you can bring. I can’t bring yours. When I photograph I don’t follow trends. There is nothing wrong with following trends, if that’s what you like. I just do what feels right when I sit down in this room to get rummy. That’s what I do. I don’t care what other people are doing. In fact, a lot of it bores me. But that’s just me.
I have a distinctive style, but there are a lot of other people with their own distinctive styles. My imagery is not for the normal person. People that like my photographs are a minority. They are not people who want something over their couch. It’s what feels right to me. Sometimes I think to myself, why don’t do what everyone else is doing, but then it would feel like I was working for someone else. I don’t want to do that. To me it’s like going out and putting a new roof on my house on a beautiful July afternoon in a hundred degree temperature. Why would I want to do it when I don’t have to do it?
I wish everybody had something like this. It doesn’t have to be photography or the arts, but just something that they are passionate about. It’s important that they do it out of that passion. Not for any other psychological reasons, but just purely out of the passion to do it. I just find that there are so many people in life that just do what they do to get by. I was one of them in my early years in life. I had 3 good jobs that I got on my own. I enjoyed every one of them, but when I was around 40 years old I started thinking. When I was 43 or 44 I was a salesman. I was traveling the highways before the cell phones and computers and all that. I had a lot of time to think. I used to think to myself, at best, maybe I’ll live to be 85. I’ve got a good job, making good money, or decent, I’ll have a nice retirement program. Do I want to do this for another 20 years? I was thinking this when I was first getting interested in photography. The answer to this question kept coming up, no. I though on this, it didn’t happen in an afternoon. I thought on it and made a plan. It was a big step for me. It was a humongous step. It was like jumping off the Empire State Building and hoping to be alive when I hit the ground.
I was a salesman and I would go around to the other guys in what they called the bull pens, where you go in and wait to meet with the buyer to present your products. I would talk to these other guys and tell them my dreams. You would get to know guys out on the road. They would always say, “whoa what a dream.” Cause I kept thinking and dreaming of being a photographer and being an artist. They would say, “God, what a dream.” They all hated their jobs. I was actually at the point where I enjoyed my job, but I wanted to move on. I kept thinking about photography. The other guys always came up with excuses for why they didn’t move on. I did too. I’m too old, I’m too this, and etc. Eventually I wanted to do it bad enough and I was pushed towards it. Not by anyone, it was like a force. I could not, not do it. It was one of the most horrifically frightening things I have ever done in my life. Everything has worked out wonderfully. There have been pitfalls here and there. I had to trust it, because I was pushed towards it. I just had to jump off the Empire State Building without a parachute. My life has been wonderful.
Have you been able to make a living as a photographer?
No. I have never been able to make a living at it. My pictures are a very hard sell. I am trying to get in galleries now. I have never gone the conventional route. I have never done a lot of shows. I have done some stuff around here, though. I started to do them and I got bored doing them. I was in my fifties at the time and I said the hell with it. I don’t regret doing it. My pictures are an extremely hard sell. I’m trying to send them to galleries now to see if I can get in. I don’t know whether I will or not.
I thought about how I want to die. I have more years behind me than in front of me. So, sometimes I think about death. To me, the ultimate way to go is to obviously have my health, but to have you come over to do an interview and my wife opens the door and I’m dead with my forehead on the desk. Dead doing my passion.
Creators, Makers, & Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.