Her soft-focus photos feel almost voyeuristic in their candidness; such is the sense of closeness that the talented Sydney-based photographer, Jess Ruby James, manages to capture of her subjects and surrounds.
But for as gentle as James’ photography feels, there is also an overarching sense of purposefulness at play—a clear statement being made about the body, particularly the female form, and the human relationship not only to it and to each other, but also between us and nature. James’ fascination with the camera, she tells, started young. “I would watch my Dad with his camera. I was fascinated with this object that could capture moments forever. I would borrow his camera and take it all around, seeing what I could get.”
A self-taught talent, James has carved out an impressive career for herself. She balances her own many and varied creative pursuits with a booming roster of clientele—Holly Ryan Jewellery, Par Femme and Hazel and Folk among them—with her ever-evolving but always earthy aesthetic becoming a go-to for brands and editors looking to carefully engage a curated sense of affinity.
“It’s evolved from being stiff, overthinking and trying to create something that wasn’t there; now I am a lot more loose with it,” says James of her unique style. “My main focus now is only trying to create the connection between the subject and myself, so it is almost doesn’t feel like there is a camera there. Once that is established, you can work together to create whatever the story may be.”
Alongside her photography work, James also keeps busy as a mixed-media artist. One glance at her tranquil Instagram feed and you’ll soon notice a peppering of art-pieces, with recent experiments in over-painting and purposeful destruction featuring prominently. “It began with experimenting with ‘how far can I push this work?’; which then slowly developed into creating an identifying undercurrent in my pieces. I guess sometimes it’s my little stamp to differentiate myself from others,” she says. “There was also this notion, which I still carry with me, that a “flat image” is too boring—especially in this day and age where we are so oversaturated with photos of the same thing, and there is little imagination or creative intention behind them.”
The other thing you’re bound to pick up from James’s work, apart from an overall radiating sense of calm, is a fondness for the wild—for nature, and for rivers and the ocean, in particular. “It’s where I feel most comfortable. I identify with the ocean because I grew up next to it—it feels safe and familiar.” James explains, about her love affair for the water. “I find buildings and city life uninspiring and jarring, but there is something about the rawness and openness that the sea has to offer which keeps drawing me back in my work and personal life.”
For someone so relaxed and an artist so talented, James’ process is fittingly pared-back. “It started with digital and has now progressed to film. Digital, to me, is too easy—it’ s so simple and clean, whereas film is so unpredictable and imperfect, which I love,” she explains, when asked about whether she has a preference for either digital or film photography. “When you shoot with film, there is almost nothing between you and your subject. You can form a deeper connection, which will show in the pictures. You tend to capture rawer and more in-the-moment images.” Her approach is similarly unfussy when it comes to searching for and shaping an image—“I will always go in with a specific image I want—it’s pretty exact—then I just work around that idea and build off it. You have to be extremely flexible and fluid because you’re usually working with a team, and things can change fast.”
All of that ease and plenty, though, doesn’t mean James is immune from finding herself in two minds regarding certain aspects of her flourishing career. When asked what the hardest thing about what she does is, James is frank—“The idea that I’m contributing to Fast Fashion; and consumerism. I love fashion, but it is concerning the rate at which we are all buying, and always want more. It’s constant. I hope in the years to come I can play a little part in the change of the industry by shooting and buying sustainable items and clothing.”
James emanates a calm sense of sureness that encompasses her whole being—her career and her own self—and when asked, she describes herself to a tee in just three words: “Driven, laid- back, and curious.” But, she’s also not taking any of it for granted. “I’m really lucky to be where I am right now and to be surrounded by so many incredibly talented and creative people. It really inspires you and drives you to keep up with them.”
Words | Erin Stobie
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