James George Potter
‘Back then, I could only afford basic digital cameras, but I’ve been moving into using analogue film more and more. In doing so, I rediscovered the most rewarding part of photography – capturing a moment of life and seeing the final image develop.‘
James is a portrait photographer and filmmaker from Croydon, South London. With his father playing in bands throughout his childhood, the musicians James met growing up were the first inspirations for his photography.
‘It wasn’t long before I picked up a camera and began documenting the people who came through the house as a kid – soul singers, rock guitarists, jazz musicians, each and every person with their own interesting story’
As James developed as a photographer, he moved from digital to analogue cameras, but his passion for documenting musicians remains, as his biggest inspiration is Dutch music photographer Anton Corbijn, describing his work as ‘beautiful, bold and honest‘.
Studying film invigorated James’ passion for telling stories of people from all over the world, collaborating with like-minded creatives he met while studying. His short documentary films tell the stories of many fascinating people – migrants who had travelled across Europe, people who had given up their lives to help them, detectives, criminals, campaigners, politicians and other young people.
The lockdown of 2020 initially challenged James and his work, there was no way of meeting people and finding stories to document. He then reimagined the circumstances, and began to find inspiration from his immediate surroundings, and the people around him.
‘In the past few months, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the town where I’ve grown up. The people walking by me on the street, who are they? What’s their story? I’ve travelled all over the place meeting interesting people, but lockdown has shown me that some of the best stories of all are right on my doorstep’
‘It was a Monday, I had missed my train and was stuck in town with my camera and time to kill. Walking through the high street I was stopped by the second boy from the left, probably close to my age, trying to speak to anyone who would listen. Normally I would be in such a hurry to get somewhere, I wouldn’t have normally stopped, but this time I did. He spoke to me about why they were raising money, supporting young people who might otherwise be vulnerable to knife crime. I didn’t know any of the boys, but we had all grown up in the same town, were around the same age, and had seen the same victims faces on the news. They were out there saying ‘no more.’
I asked to take his picture and he seemed surprised – ‘of me?’ he laughed. He pulled the others into the picture and I took this on the very end of my last roll of film. The sense of brotherhood in this picture and in that moment was excellent, the pride they had, showing their info magazine and T-shirts without me even asking. For someone born and raised in the same place, what these boys were doing was truly admirable. Every person in a picture is a character, and there are five characters in this scene, the four boys fighting for something they believe in, and the oblivious passer-by to the right, who if I hadn’t taken a moment to listen, probably would have been me’
‘Sometimes a memory will inspire a photograph. This photo was part of a shoot I did which although commissioned by the musician seen here, it’s a direct reflection of a time which is very personal to me. Some days after finishing school, with nowhere more interesting to be, I would sit with friends on top of car parks, just talking, deserted high-rise buildings towering above us – nobody in them, empty for years. These buildings always fascinated me, while the next multi-million-pound skyscraper was being built just down the road, large parts of town sat empty and forgotten. Sitting there would always inspire me to write stories about secret communities living inside the empty tower blocks – sometimes I could have sworn I had seen them too.
That’s really the story this photo in particular tells, my own childish imagination running away with itself, a childish sense of wonder which this girl and I shared and which I tried to bring to life in a place I had spent so much time daydreaming’
Interview for The Collaborator’s Project
What interested you about collaboration with other artists?
‘Every artist has their own unique interpretation of the world, and to see the same theme through someone else’s eyes is a great way to inspire your own work. Sometimes a piece of work I create will be inspired by a painting, or a film, or a person, and working together in collaboration is a great way to explore new perspectives and ideas’
How long have you been working on your craft and what inspired you to start?
‘I’ve been using cameras of all sorts since about the age of 11. My uncle is a photographer whose images have always inspired me to think beyond the norm. I studied art at high school, my teachers would tell you just how frustrated I made them spending so much time taking pictures instead of drawing them, but looking back, sketching, painting and graphics have all influenced my work as a photographer, made me look closer at the world and question the purpose of my images’
How did the theme of Isolation resonate with you? Did it conjure any immediate images?
‘The feeling of isolation is something the world has felt as a whole recently, a theme playing a bigger part in history than ever before. Isolation has already forced me to explore new avenues in my work, one of my most recent projects being a photo series comprised of portraits of friends and family adapting to their new life in lockdown – it seems the more restrictions are put in place and the more isolated people feel, the closer we have all become’
Is there anything that you usually use to inspire your work?
‘Inspiration always comes when I least expect it. Sometimes a particular setting will inspire a photograph, or another time I’ll walk by someone in the street who makes me want to know their story. The best films I’ve made have always come from throwing myself into a place and being open to learning everything about the people I meet’
How has the lockdown affected your work?
‘Lockdown has radically altered my perspective on the world around me. Growing up in Croydon, I didn’t think there was anything particularly special about everyday life – I looked more towards other parts of the country which seemed so alien to me. But being stuck inside and taken away from the hustle of town and the faces I pass on the street – it’s made me appreciate where I come from so much more’
If you could master any other artform, what would it be and why?
‘If I could master any other art form, I would love to be able to paint expressionism. The driving force behind my work has always been stories, and expressionism is an especially personal art form. Paintings can be a reflection of the soul in a very literal sense. Each and every painter so incredibly different in their work, and being able to give that much of yourself to your art is truly awe-inspiring’
Discover more of James’ work here: https://jamesgeorgepotter.com/home
We look forward to seeing the work of all our artists in this seasons Collaborator’s Project. Works will be exhibited at the end of August. Follow us on instagram for more updates! CM