James M. Graham

Photographer Profile

Clad in all black at a New York diner and with Peter Biskind’s "Down and Dirty Pictures” placed beside his arm, Brooklyn-based photographer James M. Graham is so absorbed in describing the beautiful dominatrix that he recently had the pleasure of shooting, that he’s barely even touched his first cup of coffee.

“She could pee on demand, just like that,” Graham reveals casually, then pauses in thought. Despite the cool composure, his face is ablaze with an upheld sense fascination as he continues on about his latest subject. A mad scientist lovingly enveloped in his creation; no catalyst necessary to be this stimulated at 9 a.m. in the morning.

“So when an idea finally came to me and I contacted her,” he says, “she emailed me right back with ‘Let’s do it’…. in all caps.”

But to immediately dismiss the notion that urination may in some way be linked with fashion and portrait photography would be to underestimate the marriage of genuine rebellion and art. Because you'd be surprised just how well Graham manages to bridge the gap between the seemingly foul and the fetching to capture a rare, uncanny, and somber type of beauty that not many are capable, or willing, to explore.

The latest model is clearly not the only one that can’t help but be drawn in by Mr. Graham and his camera, though. With over 20 years experience as a filmmaker, photographer, writer, producer, and all-around-visionary, James Graham, 43, has built up the kind of portfolio that puts him in a creative class all his own. With shots that span from doe-eyed fashion models looking atypically fashionable, to women in 50s Playboy bunny costumes and nudes standing on chairs in dimly lit office buildings, James has perfected the act of capturing people outside of their element in a style that’s both oddly classic yet undeniably experimental.

From the days of making “warped” 8mm movies in Raleigh, N.C., as a child- the kinds where Barbie and Ken would tragically die in the end- to enrolling in an intensive film program at N.Y.U. at the age of 24, over the years, Graham has established himself as someone who is not afraid to take traditional concepts and push them past the boundaries of mainstream photography. “My style started to define itself as claustrophobic,” he says of his progression toward a dark, indoor, and one-on-one manner of shooting. “I’m a Virgo, so I make up my own rules. Sunlight, I don’t like it. I can’t control the sun and it pisses me off.”

Whether he’s drawing inspiration from the photographs of Helmut Newton or “that old guy on the subway,” Graham’s main objective remains to surprise viewers with a galvanic final product that puts people in a total state of aflutter; something which is, at once, overly personal but inviting, and unsettling but mesmerizing.

“I love circus freaks, burlesque dancers, and old people with interesting faces,” he describes of what he’s drawn to shoot. “But one of the things I try and capture with all my subjects is a sense of unease. And I like that off-kilterness–the darkness–of what I do. It’s such a fucking cliché, but I want people to look at my shots and say, ‘That’s a James Graham shot’.”

And although the abundance of nudes in his portfolio classifies his photography as “erotic” to some, James stresses that the perceptions of others is the last thing on his mind.

“Everyone’s got a fucking opinion….but my only responsibility is to be true to my vision,” Graham says of his work. “It’s like, ‘Oh my god, you hang out with all these naked women all the time,’ but what I do is really just a job. I like to take a subject that’s been shot a million times, but I try and find a different way of portraying it…but I guess the short answer is I like naked girls. And I’m not a pervert.”

As for the question on everyone’s mind: how he gets all these women to disrobe for him so easily? “I just ask them,” Graham says with a smile. “Then baby, I have them banging on the door."