James Needham is an Australian photographer, who currently lives and works in New York City. After graduating from the Photography Studies College in Melbourne in 2005, he spent several years working in London and Paris before heading to the United States in 2011. Needham first began working in fashion photography, but was mesmerized by America’s urban landscapes, which he began to document. Struck by how empty an overcrowded city could often appear, he was captivated by the quiet, isolated spaces tourists often travel through, rather than to. Utilizing the bright and saturated style of urban landscape painters such as Edward Hopper and Jeffrey Smart, Needham set out to photograph New York through a different lens, rendering it almost unrecognizable once stripped it of its most notable characteristic – the inhabitants. As his focus expanded beyond the city, the graphic aesthetic remained. The calming composition of shape and color combine to form a hyper-realist portrayal of urban scenes, while the addition of a solitary figure or vehicle disrupts this tranquility and injects a sense of loneliness. The combination of both creates a calming beauty.
“The focus of my work varies a lot, but the aesthetic is the connective tissue. I’m interested in line and shape and color, all of which combine to make up my subject matter.
My desire to create imagery is what drives me, rather than a need to document. This has led to a process of combining elements from different images – sometimes taken from the same scene and sometimes lifted from completely different locations and times. Foreground and background are interchanged in order to create the most visually pleasing image. It’s equal parts shooting and editing. Once I find a location I like, I’ll post up and photograph it for a while, making sure to capture different examples of composition, traffic and shadow movement. Then when I’m reviewing the images I see which elements work best, eliminating and combining to create what is to me the most visually satisfying image.
I find inspiration in film and paintings more than other bodies of photographic work. I like to translate aspects of those media to photography, such as the careful composition of a painting and the storytelling of cinema. I think the most interesting thing about any type of visual media is how the person who created it chooses to frame their subject. There’s a limited amount of space within a viewfinder and what you choose to fill it with says a lot about you and what you were feeling at that time. It’s like a Rorschach test that you create yourself.” - James Needham