Some of the coolest and most creative things in the photo world are often done with analog cameras and film– and some of the work of photographer James Wigger is a big testament to that statement. He was born in Farmington, Missouri in 1957 and has had work exhibited in Scotland, France and the Netherlands along with a number of galleries in the US while also having been featured in numerous magazines and books. James lives and works in Brooklyn, New York–which I guess you can say makes him one of the cool kids.
James has a very interesting method for what he calls his Liquid series. He would shoot an instant film photo, cut it open, spray liquid inside while it was developing, and look at the really cool and almost painteresque results.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
James: I have always dabbled in photography, though I made a career as a graphic designer. In most ways it was my first love, I just didn’t know what to do with it at the time. What got me where I am today was actually two things. Moving to Portland Oregon where I had a good friend that is also a photographer. We used to go to all of the thrift stores and buy up all of these classic Polaroid cameras of every sort. It was the early 2000s and everyone was dumping their old “crappy” analog cameras so you could pick up some pretty amazing cameras for dirt cheap. Polaroid film was still available at the time so it was a time of experimentation: cutting, crumpling, soaking, spraying, microwaving, fire, you name it. It was liberating.
Phoblographer: What’s so appealing about large format instant film to you?
James: The ability to manipulate it. I get to see it right now too. Some of my first meaningful experiments were with Polaroid Spectra film. I loved cutting any and all integral film apart, but with the Spectra, after cutting off the edges I would peel the developing image apart and spray a liquid on it, put the pieces back together and let it finish developing. Of course Spectra and Polaroid were all discontinued and with it, so was this technique. For large format discovering that there is a negative hidden in the goop side of the Fuji FP-100 C45 pack film was a turning point for me. I experimented a lot with the negs while still shooting the Polaroid pack film cameras, and when I started shooting 4×5 in a studio setting, it just took off. It was an intense amount of work to extract the images out of the negative due to their thinness, but it was that much more rewarding when it worked out. That all went well until that film was in turn also discontinued.
“Some of my first meaningful experiments were with Polaroid Spectra film. I loved cutting any and all integral film apart, but with the Spectra, after cutting off the edges I would peel the developing image apart and spray a liquid on it, put the pieces back together and let it finish developing.”
Phoblographer: So where did the creative intent and idea for this project came from? Were you just messing around?
James: I’m always messing around as it turns out. I love seeing how far I can push a process and then try and use that to my advantage. For the Liquid Images project, Pieces of Me, I was initially seeing how and what I could do with the new at the time Fuji Instax film (way different than Polaroid – it is a black messy goo developing in there).
While taking experimental shots, sorting out the techniques, I realized that I could shoot pieces of myself and piece them together later. The bigger project, Genderfication, is still a long ways from completion, though I have shot two other models for it. For the Extracts From the Wasteland project I just loved the idea of taking random shots off of the tv and turning into them “art,” attempting to take them further than just having them be an image off of the screen. They’re all extracts so it allowed/allows me to shoot anything that catches my eye. It makes you realize just how many amazing images there actually are streaming by us in one constant blur.
Phoblographer: How do you think this process helps you to actually get your feelings and creative vision across to the viewer?
James: I’m never sure about that, I just try to make images that speak to me, though I’m not usually very sure what it is that they are saying. I try to capture strong images that can capture a viewer’s attention, but laced with a certain amount of mystery. I like the viewer to see what they want to see within the image instead of me telling them what to think. I think the feelings and vision are wrapped up in each of the images, for good or bad – they are all what I like, or I would bury them in the archives never to seen again.
Phoblographer: What questions went through your head or what conversations were you having with yourself as you were coming up with the concept?
James: With the Genderfication project it was “how much film is this going to take?!” (It’s a lot.) Then how am I going to process, print and hang the finished pieces, and where am I going to find some male models (female models are everywhere, but not so much for the males). Other than the nuts and bolts I really wanted to explore the duality of humans, the mix of male and female in each of us. I want to represent that duality in images as a sort of puzzle that can be sifted through and re-ordered.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear. What cameras and film are you using?
James: Every style that I have is based on the camera and film that I use. Camera-wise I use the Polaroid 420 pack film camera; Spectra; Fuji Instax 200 (not a good camera, which is limiting); Diana (plastic 120 film camera); and now the Calumet C1 8×10 camera.
Film used is, or has been: Polaroid 667; Polaroid Spectra; Fuji Instax Wide; Fuji FP-100C and FP-100C45; expired 4×5 film (b&w: 50s – 80s; color: mid 80s to early 90s); wet plate collodion (no more discontinuing of this “film”).
Phoblographer: So what are you plans for these projects?
James: I’ve had a show with just the Extracts project, though I would love to have another, more massive show that includes the Genderfication project. I just need time. And a lot of it, which is really hard to come by.