Photography As ART

“Photography As ART” script shows how James creates his art using only light, camera, and optics, in addition to considerable logistical planning, technical experimentation, patience and dedication.

Photography As ART – The ILLUSION series/P5 – Scene 7

April 24 2017 - Photography As ART

Image 39 shows the SCULPTURE GARDEN illusion in pans, tilts, zooms, and in full.

predominantly the natural beauty of the Island serve as a background for my muse and beautiful human form in photographs created using lighting and in camera techniques. Twenty Seven of the images are in a book included in the Victoria and Albert Musem in London


A place you can’t miss on the Vineyard is the Field Gallery in West Tisbury. The galleries garden is the home for the whimsical sculptures by Thomas Maley. These playful dancing figures are a joy and James decided to add his own whimsy into the scene.

The sculptures are all white and James thought all the green seasonal vegetation would only be a distraction, not to mention taking his version during the busy season in a garden located right off a main road might make it too much of an attraction. Burrrrr… the white out of a winter snow he felt would be ideal.

With these conditions in mind this shot had to be taken fast. Visiting the garden in the fall with his muse the details were planned. When winter brought the snow they set out to the location, along with one assistant to hold a flash that would be remotely triggered to highlight the muse, and another assistant hiding in the background bushes with a coat at the ready to keep her from freezing. The only warning was ‘go way around’ so not to trample the fresh foreground snow!

Image 40 shows the drawings with technical notes 1 for CHANGING AT EAST CHOP.


As mentioned at the beginning of this exploration of “photography as art” it begins with a blank black canvas onto which James paints with light. If the environment and subject is in the darkness of night, preferably one that is moonless, artificial lighting is needed to do the painting. The diagram for CHANGING AT EAST CHOP indicates creating this photograph took a bit of technical wizardry.

The environment was the old East Chop Beach Club. The diagram shows the center corridor about 100 feet long to which on either side are doors to small changing rooms in juxtaposition and cross pattern. James simply enjoyed the depth of perspective on seeing this every time he visited on another job. He wanted to visually play with it, and thought it would be fun if his muse could appear from each of the 10 locations shown in the diagram in different poses. To add accent to the poses he decided to give a different hue to each pose. Just like painting with different colors in the Aurora series, technically it has to be distinguished that colors transmit at different wavelengths and therefor take more or less light to transmit, which determines the number of flashes noted in the diagram. The green exposure barely shows…

Image 41 shows the drawings with technical notes 2 for CHANGING AT EAST CHOP.


James rented a 90mm wide angle Rodenstock lens for his View Camera. It was placed at a low angle and secured to keep it from moving.

The progression of multiple exposures on one piece of film started at the rear, with the muse at a door on left side, and the exposing flash, with a specific color gel, placed diagonally across one changing room closer to the camera. Each of the subsequent exposures following this process brought the muse closer, from one side to the other, to the final 10th shot close to the camera’s position.




Image 42 shows the CHANGING AT EAST CHOP illusion in pans, tilts, zooms, and in full.




Not mentioned in the notes is the 11th exposure. Taking the 10 took all evening, after which James camped out rising early to expose for a dawn sky. Now it was completed. Also, this photograph took 4 years, as three preceding attempts failed, once due to a malfunctioning rented lens and twice it didn’t come out as it should have.







Image 43 shows the GHOST OF CHILMARK WOODS illusion in pans, tilts, zooms, and in full.


Whenever James was asked or had the opportunity to talk about his work the GHOST OF CHILMARK WOODS has always been among the top illusions as its creation involved a high level of all the facets needed to make it; logistics, staging, and technical applications.

The inspiration for this photograph is the Vineyard’s reputation as being the most haunted island. Especially during the fall months when the leaves have turned to yellow, red and brown, the chilly air and everything is damp, and the sky is a bleak grey overcast, James would drive along the back roads and pass less traveled pathways to wonder; “Where do they lead; who might live down there?” It’s so quiet you can hear the dew drops fall, somewhat spooky, and yes a ghostly time of year.


Image 44 shows the dirt pathway with a mysterious patch of thick ground fog (dry ice) emanating at its center.




The spooky feeling is all around the area, but a photograph needs a specific spot that best conveys it. James pre-visualized a ghost muse shrouded in tulle levitating across a dirt pathway to who knows where, on a dreary damp fall day with trees displaying their fall colors and heavy layer of fallen leaves on the ground.






Image 45 shows a close full length view of the ghost draped in tulle. Image 46 shows a diagram of the camera position in the scene.

NARRATOR:He set out to find the location and in time found the spot offering a perfect view, while at the same time a place unlikely to be disturbed by a passerby. The plan was to make two exposures on one piece of 4X5 film, one during the daytime to capture the woods and fog covered pathway, and a night exposure to capture the ghost.






To make it work the camera had to remain fixed in one spot, undisturbed for many hours, for both exposures. The only haphazard that could be left to chance would be if a deer happened upon it, and that would simply be bad luck.

Image 47 shows the list of materials needed for this photograph. 


Now it was time to check off preparations from the list. Among other things it included bringing a 12X2 foot section of a wooden dock to the location, which would be put on cinder blocks. It would be set up for the night exposure and be the platform on which the ghost is seen to levitate across the wide pathway. When it’s draped in black it will not expose, leaving the details from the daylight exposure to show through. That large platform on cinder blocks is in the photograph, you just don’t see it through the magic of photography!

To get the effect of ground fog it was originally planned to hock up a rented smoke machine to a generator, but this was scratched in favor of using dry ice, which tends to cling to the ground surface. This exchange did not make things easier; calling all around there was no dry ice to be found. It would have to be picked up in Boston.

Good timing based on have all the preparations in place, the weather, and (emphasized) the dry ice now became essential. A well-sealed Styrofoam container of dry ice will only hold up for several days, so scheduling was critical.

Repeat Image 48 shows another cropped version of the GHOST OF CHILMARK WOODS illusion in pans, tilts, zooms, and in full.


His notes indicate that October 21, 1993 was the day of the shoot, which was preceded by a trip to Boston 3 days earlier to get the dry ice, and during the time of a dismal weather forecast.

The View Camera, wonderfully suited for creative photography, was placed in the woods by the edge of the cross road and fixed in place having a clear view of the scene to be staged. Then a small hole was dug out in the middle foreground of the pathway, into which dry ice was placed. After it was activated with hot water, he took his first daylight exposures onto several sheets of film in holders prepared in advance of the shoot.

Leaving the camera camouflaged he left to pick up the dock and other materials to return hours later at dusk to set up for the second exposure, for this bringing an assistant Kenny Sullivan.


Kenny worked at the Post Office. Nice fellow with an occasional affection for a drink, but always reliable with his help. We shared harrowing experiences when I shot the MAGICAL GAY HEAD CLIFFS illusion.


James with Kenny’s help set up the heavy dock on the cinder blocks and draped it in black. After nightfall the muse arrived and made her last preparations to walk the plank.

Image 49 shows notes with exposure specifications (as well as dry ice usage instructions). 



While she did that, James showed Kenny how to work the shutter cable release attached to the View Camera, being very careful not to jar its position, so he would be free to handle one last tricky aspect of this shoot, exposing the ghosting, the three faint images, of the ghost, and the final full exposure of the ghost.






Image 50 (a repeat of 43) shows the GHOST OF CHILMARK WOODS illusion in pans, tilts, zooms, and in full.


In order to pull this off he had a Metz 60 CT1 flash with battery pack on each shoulder. One was set to underexpose, while the other was set to properly expose. He kneeled to the left of the platform, and slightly closer to the camera aiming both flash units in the direction the ghost would be walking. You don’t see him either in this shot, do you, but he’s in it! He must be a super ghost…

Then on James’ cue the action began. Kenny opened the camera shutter. The Muse began walking down the plank. James pressed three times to set off the under exposing flashes coming off of one shoulder and then set-off the full exposure from the unit on his other shoulder. Abracadabra and it’s done! Just in time before it started pouring rain.

These are a few gems from the Illusion series, which numbered 35 in total when the last was taken around 1997. James believes his photographs in any series should be looked at like songs on CD, a few are considered hits and some you like better than others. We each have our favorites for luckily he’s not a one hit wonder.

Image 51 shows James with V&A Curator, James Bettley. Image 52 shows letter from V&A.








James concluded years of work of the Illusion series and published a book “Illusions of Martha’s Vineyard.” He flew to London in 1997 to thank the curator at the renowned Victoria & Albert Museum, the first museum to accept photography, which included his work as part of their collection.

THE END of Scene Seven