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2019 Group Show – James Pitts Interview

photo-eye Gallery 2019 Group Show
James Pitts Interview
Interview by Alexandra Jo photo-eye Gallery is pleased to feature three of Pitts’ new color photographs in our 2019 Group Show on view through this Saturday, April 20, 2019.
Interview by Alexandra Jo

Prints by James Pitts installed at photo-eye Gallery for the 2019 Group Show.
James W. Pitts is a Santa Fe-based photographer widely recognized for his gentle, understated platinum prints created from large-format negatives. Whether in color or black and white, his work nods to elements of minimalism and Zen Buddhism in its simplicity and elegance. photo-eye Gallery is pleased to feature three of Pitts’ color photographs in our 2019 Group Show.

photo-eye Gallery Assistant, Alexandra Jo, recently spoke with Pitts about his creative process and different approaches he takes to make his artwork:

James Pitts – Dried Gourd, 2018, Archival Pigment Print, 17x9" Image, Edition of 5, $650

Alexandra Jo:     Your work in the 2019 Group Show is in color, whereas much of the work you’ve shown at photo-eye previously is in black and white. Do you look at the two approaches differently? Do they have a dialogue with one another or progress in a certain way in your overall body of work?

James Pitts:     I actually do a lot of different kinds of work. I’ve photographed flowers for a long time and have worked in both black and white and color photography over the years… I am really open to doing lots of different kinds of things with my art. photo-eye Gallery usually shows the flower pictures and platinum prints, and I’ve kind of gotten known for that, but in all of my work I really just photograph whatever appeals to me visually. The flower pictures aren’t really about the flowers so much, it’s just an opportunity to take a picture. I’ve been very interested in taking photos of objects for a long time, and anything I photograph is really about using the formal elements of photography, things like lighting, composition, etc.

AJ:     That kind of leads into my next question about how you set up your photographs… In a previous conversation with photo-eye Gallery, you mentioned setting your photographs as if they're on a stage and working to find different backgrounds that appeal to your aesthetic. Can you go into more detail about both the process of finding backdrops and setting the stage for your photographs?

JP:     I pretty much rely on chance. I gather things up and put little stage sets together. The photographs in this show that have Jackson Pollock-esque backgrounds are actually papers that were the backs of two of my paintings. I saw them one day and thought they looked interesting. I like photographing things from more than one angle, turning things around, finding comparisons and dialogues someone might find by looking at them… that’s why there is a diptych [in the show] of the same vase and leaves from different angles. I also like photographing things that are small because it’s easier to find an interesting background for small things. I like the intimacy of something small… I even prefer small prints to bigger ones. I can find more interesting paper that has odd stains of metal that has a pattern, and backgrounds that are seamless. You can also see things that you don’t normally see when working small. You are able to pick up things that otherwise go unnoticed.

Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for failure, but chance is definitely a big thing for me. I don’t have any kind of slick philosophy for what I do; I’ve just been in love with photography since I was a kid.

James Pitts – Dried Gourd Leaves Diptych, 2018, Archival Pigment Print, 11x17" Image, Edition of 5, $650

AJ:     I like that idea of chance and opportunity for failure. Could one say that there is a spirit of experimentation in your approach to art?

JP:     Yes, I do think with painting experimentation is more available. You’re not relying on using a machine, but using your body and responding to the materials. But it’s like Eggleston said: “[Photography] is a democratic medium.” It relies on what you choose, what you edit. I like to think about what you don’t include in the photograph instead of what you do include. Everything is available and it’s up to you to decide what you put in front of the lens. I don’t like to put so much self-importance on the process. If people respond to [the work] I’m welcome to the possible creative dialogue.

AJ:     Well, one thing that I strongly respond to in the work is the connotation and subtle reference to Zen Buddhist aesthetics like minimalism, geometry, simplicity and natural texture. Has that culture directly influenced what you find visually or aesthetically pleasing?

JP:     Yes, that culture is very influential on what I find aesthetically pleasing. I’m a minimalist. I don’t like having a ton of things around, so it’s better for my eye to not have a lot of things. It’s been a part of my life for a long time.

AJ:     So that carries over to your aesthetic preferences in photography?

JP:     Yes. I think you’re influenced by everything you see all the time. I have big heroes in art… I love Matisse, Cy Twombly, etc. and I may be influenced by them on a certain subconscious level. But I think you’re influenced by everything you see.

AJ:     The three works in this show are of wilted, shriveled, dying plants, whereas a lot of your other photographs of flowers are of living plants in the prime of their bloom. Was there an influence or specific purpose behind your shift in focus between plants in their prime vs. plants in stages of decay?
James Pitts – Wilted Yellow Tulip, 2018, 
Archival Pigment Print, 17x11" Image, 
Edition of 5, $650

JP:     Subconsciously, I think so.  The photograph of the wilted flower in the exhibition was taken after an eight-year relationship ended. It’s been a difficult time dealing with that because it kind of came out of nowhere, and around that time a friend had said something about how beautiful dying things are, so all of that may have played some sort of subconscious part in the wilted flower, and the wilted gourd photograph.

Also, I like using the backs of books for backgrounds sometimes, and in that wilted flower photograph, I used an Anselm Keifer book that shows a painting he did of collapsing buildings. I love that contrast between the wilting flower and the collapsing concrete structure. It was a coincidence that I pulled that book out and happened to find the juxtaposition interesting. I also just think it’s interesting what age does. It brings some perspective that just gets more interesting as I get older.

AJ:     So is there anything that you’re working on currently, or a different direction you think your work might take in the future?

JP:     I’ve always been interested in the same things, taking photographs, objects, some things have just taken longer to make. I’ve always worked in series. I’m interested in building from what people do in “unintentional art...” I have a series of photographs of utility covers from Tokyo in which I arrange them in a grid. I’m interested in portraits; I have a series of portraits that have never been shown. I love the texture of peoples’ skin and just the way they look… it’s pretty fascinating that we are all different. I’ve also been building boxes recently, thinking about the sculptural element of objects. I’ve also been working with 35mm film to make blurry images. I just love film cameras. Something about using film is really elaborate and nice. But I don’t think my work is going in any different direction… it’s all just a continuation of those things I’ve always found interesting.

I have a friend who is a painter who never shows her work, but to me, if there is no one to see the work it’s kind of pointless. And whether it’s liked or not is kind of irrelevant, I just enjoy the dialogue. Connecting is the most important thing in my world, and in life, for me. Art has been a part of my life for a long time, and luckily I don’t have to make a living off of it, I can just love doing it. Being able to do art and have someone look at it is part of that. I just like doing art, and if I can connect with another person, that’s wonderful. ■

photo-eye Gallery's 2019 Group Show remains on view through this Saturday, April 20th. If you're in Santa Fe, please stop by to see this diverse collection of new and notable works by ten acclaimed represented artists.

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For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Staff at 
505-988-5152 x202 or

All prices listed were current at the time this post was published. Prices will increase as the print editions sell.

2019 Group Show
on view through April 20, 2019

» View work from the exhibition

Select Included Artists:

» Julie Blackmon
» Kate Breakey
» Mitch Dobrowner
» Michael Kenna
» Clay Lipsky
» Beth Moon
» James Pitts 
» Reuben Wu 
» Brad Wilson