Things changed for Jim Graham when he took a workshop with John Paul Caponigro, a photographer who is known for the sensitivity and subtlety of his images, but also for the emphasis he places on creativity. “I’ve always taken workshops,” Jim says, “but what I found with Caponigro was someone different. He kind of reverse taught me. I’d started as a photojournalist, and essentially I was told that my pictures belonged first in the newspaper and then in the cat’s pan. I was told I wasn’t shooting art.”
But Caponigro taught him that it was art; or, at the very least, it could be. “I’d always had the desire to picture things in unexpected ways, and he opened my eyes to creative possibilities and showed me that the potential was there. He said, ‘It belongs on the wall, so shoot for the wall.’ Once I accepted that possibility, all the limits were off.”
The Caponigro workshop marked the end of Jim playing by everyone else’s rules. He began to think about taking the photos he wanted to take in the manner he chose. He began to follow his own ideas and to tell the story his way, and what you see in Jim’s images today is certainly technical skill, but beyond that, a whole lot of thought—about the right time and the right light; about position and lens choice; about shutter speed and camera motion; about achieving goals beyond making pretty pictures.
What I’m able to do with the tools I have is amazing, and with them I’m able to follow my own rules.
The ideas are the currency of his creativity, but his gear plays a vital part, especially in those images that use blur and motion. “The beauty of being able to make images with motion, or images that are about motion—images that didn’t exist until I moved the camera—is having a lens that has the contrast and the sharpness that will let you do it. If you don’t have that building block, all you get is an out-of-focus photograph. What I’m able to do with the tools I have is amazing, and with them I’m able to follow my own rules.”
Jim says that the essential elements he works with in creating his photographs are light, moment, form and spirit. The last one he defines as “...the thing about the image that touches you and you hope will touch others. Get all four and you win.”