James Maher is a New York native, a graduate of the International Center for Photography, and a portrait, event, and street photographer. He’s the author of three photography books on street photography, travel photography, and photography marketing.
I invited him for an interview to discuss his approach to photography. Below, you’ll find my questions for him and his answers.
Brandon Ballweg: How did you get started in photography?
James Maher: I originally got interested in photography in college because I had downloaded a bootleg copy of Photoshop to make fake IDs for friends. I also had a health issue around then that was partially stress related and it made me reconsider what direction I was going. I finished my degree but my last two years in college focused on photography in my free time and got a job assisting for commercial photographers during the summer and after I graduated.
From there I decided to start a small scale type business because I didn’t like how stressful the larger fashion/advertising photography world was.
BB: Who are your biggest influences in photography?
JM: I love a lot of photographers but if I had to choose it would be Alec Soth, Jason Eskenazi, Rebecca Norris Webb, and Trent Parke. I would probably put the New York writer Jeremiah Moss in there as well. I take a lot of inspiration from writing to my photography.
BB: What are some of your favorite photography books?
JM: In no particular order, Joel Sternfeld – American Prospects, Rebecca Norris Webb – My Dakota, Ken Schles (Night Walk & Invisible City), Jason Eskenazi – Wonderland, Paul Graham – A Shimmer of Possibility, Mimi Plumb – The Golden City, Trent Parke – Minutes to Midnight, Alec Soth – Sleeping by the Mississippi, John Gossage – The Pond.
BB: How would you describe your photographic style?
JM: I think my visual style changes based on what I’m shooting, but I’d say I focus on nuance and understanding.
BB: What inspires and motivates you to create?
JM: I just love to walk. I love that the camera is like a key that can open up new experiences and new relationships with your subjects and with other photographers. But I photograph to escape. Then I edit to tell stories.
BB: What do you think makes a street photograph stand out?
JM: I like when photographers mix a documentary purpose into their street work and create books that give understanding into different places and different feelings. I love seeing nuanced work from places that are completely different from where I live. It feels like a type of travel.
BB: What would you like viewers to feel when they see your work?
JM: I want them to take their time with my work over a long period of time. Get to know me, get to know my viewpoint, get to know my writing as well. I hate the constant stream of photographs on social media. I’m off IG now. I want them to feel what I am feeling, but I want that feeling to grow as they grow to know me and my work more.
BB: What have you struggled with in your photography, and was there anything that helped you overcome it?
JM: Trying to build a unique viewpoint in my work in a place that is very saturated with photographers. I think time, dedication, and understanding has been the way to gradually overcome that.
BB: What do you think the point of street photography is?
BB: In what ways has your photography evolved over the years, and is there a particular style that you’re gravitating towards?
JM: I think the more I learned about other photographers, slowly built a book collection, trained my eye, I’ve been able to think more actively about ideas and projects that I want to create and then go out and create them. I’ve been able to think more about the idea and look ahead of time now, whereas my early work took a really long time to develop and figure out what I was doing.
BB: You do both professional and artistic photography. Has your professional work made you experience burnout/does it ever affect your motivation for artistic/creative endeavors like street photography? If so, what helps you stay passionate about photography?
JM: For me burnout has never really been an issue. I think like any skill, when you do it enough it becomes ingrained in you and you just go and do it no matter how you feel. But it helps that I see the act of photographing like I imagine recreational fishermen see fishing. I just look forward to turning my phone off, walking, sometimes getting lost, and focusing on the surroundings so everything else in my head fades.
On the professional side, the real issue is physical fatigue. To have the energy to do jobs and then for personal work (and then chase a 5 year old around) is a massive issue. Stretching at night is important!
Here you can find James’ photography books.
He also offers both one-on-one and group street photography workshops.