James Bowden is a photographer based in Tasmania. Growing up as a surfer in the UK, James’ desire for adventure and travel have allowed him to capture some amazing images in and out of the surfing world. In 2009, James and a few buddies took a “Stoked and Broke-esque” journey on bikes equipped with boards, gear, and cameras and hit the roads of France for 7 weeks. In this Artist Interview, James talks about the difficulties of shooting surfing (because he’d rather be surfing!) as well as what it takes to stay in the photography game in this day and age.
What’s your background in photography? How did you get started? What was your first camera? What were some of you first images you shot?
I’ve always enjoyed taking photos and photography even since I was real young but the passion really kicked in when I started to travel to surf, I was visiting these awesome places around the world and wanted to be able to share these places with my friends and family back home in England, I wanted to inspire them to get out and see these places for themselves.
You have a pretty diverse portfolio. Besides surfing, what other photographic endeavors do you find yourself in?
Nowadays I usually steer away from actually shooting the act of surfing a wave, I just love to surf too much myself, I guess I can’t handle missing out on waves! (unless it’s monstrous in which case I’ll be happy to use the camera as an excuse!) I’ve always been fascinated with the stuff that happens before and after surfing, everything else other than the act of actually riding a wave, the lifestyle I guess you would call it. To me it tells so much more of a story, on the place or the people involved. I would see these great surfing shots, but I would want to know more about how they got there, the people, the environment where it was taken, that kinda stuff…that’s the stuff that interests me and I guess what I concentrate on nowadays, whether it’s related to surfing or not. To get back to the question at hand, I shoot all kinds of stuff, but mostly based around travel and experience, I just like to shoot the world around me, and I’m lucky that people want to pay me to do that for them too!
Do you have an overall vision in mind as to how you style your shots? Or do you switch it up each time you get behind the lens?
I really struggle with set up, or contrived shoots, I just always striving for things to look as natural as possible. So yeah, I just like to get involved in whatever is going on and then shoot the pictures during that time, I’m not really an observer, I’m a doer, and just shoot pictures at the same time…It’s more fun for everyone involved!
What about your equipment? Are you going digital or keeping it real with film?
I use both film and digital. I use digital for a lot of paid jobs, it just makes sense a lot of the time. My heart is in film though, I just love all aspects of it. I love shooting with manual cameras, they feel great to work with, they are tough and usually fixable (amazing when on the road) I love choosing and experimenting with film stocks to fit the situation, I love going to the lab and building a relationship with them, and I love the final product. The look and feel of film just appeals to me, it always has.
There are a ton of photographers out there. And with technology making it easier, how do you continue to find jobs and keep the work coming in? Are you able to be selective with the work that you do or do you find yourself shooting somethings that you may not necessarily otherwise be inclined to shoot?
Ahh, this is a tough one. There is so much competition in the photography industry and really I’m just getting started in it. Photography has taken me on a crazy ride to some pretty rad places over the last few years, and introduced me to some amazing people. I’d love to keep this up if I can, but I also don’t want to be in a situation where I’m not enjoying it any more. I’m always going to try and live a good fun life, and I’ll always be documenting that with photos, whether for money or not.
Lets talk about surfing…What was it like growing up in England as a surfer? What sent you to Tasmania? And how does the surf lifestyle compare between the two?
I grew up surfing on the south coast of England, right up the English channel where there is very rarely waves! My time growing up seemed to be mostly spent in a car driving three hours to the west coast to meet swells there, I eventually moved there and that saved me a whole heap in petrol! The UK has some great waves really, it may not have the consistency as other places around the world, but there is a cool scene and unrivaled keenness to surf, even in crappy waves. I first went to Tasmania in 2005, to visit some friends that lived there. I fell in love with the place and the people, it’s just an adventure playground! Since then I’ve been back most years and it’s become my second home. I admire the local guys love of there own island, they love and cherish it, it’s inspiring. It’s pretty hard to compare the two, but there is similarities in that surfing in Tasmania isn’t easy, there isn’t many spots that you can just drive up too, park and paddle out, they mostly require a bit of thought on conditions, and usually a hike or boat ride!
You went on a 2 month surf/bike trip through France in 2009 (the bourgeois bicycle caravan) equipped with bikes and surfboards. Tell us a bit more about it. How’d you guys get your gear around? What sparked the idea for the trip? Any interesting encounters you can share?
My good friend and awesome writer, George Foulds, and I wanted to collaborate on a project for ages, and had chatted about a million and one ideas! Eventually this one came up over a cup of coffee and we stuck with it. We love to travel and wanted a bit of an adventure, but at the same time it wasn’t about having an ‘expedition’ and going far out. We just wanted to do something a bit different and inspirational and above all, have a load of fun with it. Surfing, cycling, camping and photography…All the ingredients for a good time! At first we sought sponsors for bikes and stuff, and had some good offers, but it all became a bit much and was getting complicated. So we ended up saying no and just got some old secondhand 3 speed bikes for next to nothing, fixed em up, attached some trailers to the back, loaded up with camping gear, surfboards and cameras and hit the road for 7 weeks south to France. We picked up another friend (James Da Costa) along the way (whom caught trains all the way from Sweden to meet us) George gave us all an alias and we hit the road in search of a good story or two. We didn’t have an awful lot planned, we thought the story would be more interesting that way, and it was. It was pretty much a roller coaster ride of emotions, from the worst day of your life with rain and mountains and cold, to the best day with flat roads, sunshine and great waves! We ran a blog/story for the duration of the trip (http://bourgeoisbicycle.com/) and we also adapted this to a newsprint based zine.
Do you have any goals as a photographer? What’s next for James Bowden?
I don’t really know whats coming next, I try to make a plan everyday but that never lasts long before another new one is drawn up. I’d love to keep seeing where photography can take me, that and I know that the future is going to involve some awesome places, some rad people and I’m pretty excited about all of that.