To James Berkeley, street photography is about paying attention – whether to the colors around you or small, ordinary and fleeting moments we normally wouldn't even notice. And we can confirm, paying attention has certainly paid off for James, as he's become a master in anticipating moments and pressing the shutter in the nick of time. We gave James some rolls of Lomography Color Negative 800 and LomoChrome Metropolis XR100-400 and sent him out into the streets of New York City to do his thing. What he came back to us with, was this beautiful, colorful and at times very romantic series of NYC's day-to-day with quite a few money shots. We chatted with James about his workflow in the streets and back home on his scanner.
Hi James, welcome to the Lomography Magazine. Please introduce yourself to our readers in your own words.
My name is James Berkeley and I am a self-taught photographer originally from Massachusetts but currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. My main style of photography is documentary and visual journalism. I first picked up a camera shortly after honorably separating from the United States Army in 2014. At first, it started out as just a hobby, but after a couple of months of walking daily around the city of Boston, MA I was hooked and haven’t put a camera down since. No matter what city I live in or visit, I enjoy spending my time wandering the streets looking for those moments that get lost in the day-to-day hustle. Over the years I've found myself more focused on listening to my feelings and letting my camera guide the way. I personally believe that's when I'm able to capture the best moments.
What got you started in Street photography?
I always had an interest in photography, I just never actually picked up a camera. Back in 2014, I watched a skillshare class that an NYC-based photographer filmed. In that class, he showed a behind-the-scenes take on how he went about photographing the streets of New York City. That video alone inspired me to go out, buy my first camera, and walk the city streets.
What are you looking for out in the streets of NYC with your camera?
Honestly, I just go with the flow. I try to capture life as it comes and goes. Each day brings a different opportunity, different moments to capture. It’s all about time and space, and of course, paying attention to your surroundings. Most of the time it seems like nothing interesting is going on around you, but if you just stop and pay attention, you’ll start to notice things. Those moments are exactly what I try to capture. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve found the more you get out and document each day, the better you become at anticipating those moments.
Your photos are beautifully saturated. How do you achieve these results – can you tell us about your process in terms of rating the film stock and scanning?
I’m always paying attention to the colors that are surrounding me and my subjects. Using colors to draw the viewer's attention to the subject is always on my mind when photographing. I also feel like a good use of colors helps better tell the story. Paying attention to the time of day and planning ahead is also very important. A photograph at golden hour or sunset is going to make colors look a lot different than a photo captured in the middle of the day or on a cloudy day. really depends on the look you are going for. In regards to making my selections and scanning my film. I kind of just developed a workflow over the years that works for me. I currently develop all my own black and white film at home but have my color film processed at a local lab. I scan all my own film using an Epson V600 Flatbed scanner. Definitely not the best option, but it's all I have for now so I make due. I scan my negatives as a positive tiff file in Epson scan and then convert the positives into a negative using a plugin in Lightroom called Negative Lab Pro. I have tried a bunch of different scanning techniques over the years but in my own opinion have found that Negative Lab Pro is by far the best option for obtaining those rich saturated colors.
Why do you choose to shoot on film, even though it makes your work in the streets more difficult?
Like many, I started out shooting on a DSLR and continued that way for a solid 5 years. It wasn’t until 2 years ago that I decided to pick up my first film camera and give it a go. At first, it was just something I carried around with me to snap a picture here and there. I easily could make a roll last over a week, but eventually, I got hooked and truly started enjoying the process.
Something about having complete manual control over the camera, and not knowing exactly what you captured was certainly intriguing. Eventually, I bought my own scanner and started learning how to develop my own film at home. Digital felt so repetitive at the time, whereas with film, everything was so new, there was so much more to learn, it really felt refreshing. I certainly don’t have anything against digital photography, there’s always a time and place for when it's needed, but for my own personal projects and everyday use film is my go-to. For me the process is 100% more fulfilling.
For this series you shot Lomography CN800 and LomoChrome Metropolis – how do you like shooting these stocks?
Lomography Color Negative 800 is one of my favorite film stocks. The 800-speed film is super versatile and the colors are immaculate. I really love the greens this film produces, and it also does a fine job of making the yellows and reds pop. I have only shot LomoChrome Metropolis a handful of times but each time it produces something new and unique. The muted tones work very well on cloudy days, and will definitely help produce a grungy look. I find that this film works super well out in the streets, especially in a city like New York City.
Have you ever experienced a dangerous or scary moment while shooting?
I lived out west for a year from 2019-2020. During that time I photographed the protest that occurred in downtown Portland, OR as a result of the killing of George Floyd. For 3 months straight I watched as peaceful protests turned violent. Excessive police force was demonstrated nightly by the Portland Police Bureau. I was tear-gassed, shot at by rubber bullets, and at some points unable to breathe or see due to the unnecessary amounts of tear gas that was dispensed amongst the streets of downtown Portland.
Besides documenting the protest, I have for sure had my fair share of angry pedestrians out on the streets, but in the end no matter the situation or the person, no one will ever dictate what I decide to photograph with my camera.
What are your tricks to stay unnoticed?
I tend to hip fire in certain situations or act like I am taking a photo of something different from my actual subject. Most of the time it confuses people enough to not realize they were the subject. I also think it is important to pick and choose your battles. You need to go into the photograph anticipating that the person might potentially react in a negative way because not everyone enjoys getting their photo taken. Put on a smile and keep it pushing, if they’re in public and not on private property there's no harm done.
Can you pick one shot from this series and tell us the story behind it?
I took a photo of a couple on the Williamsburg Bridge. I was actually taking a bike ride over the bridge right as the sun was setting. As I was coming towards the end of the bridge I noticed this couple leaning against the fence looking out towards the city. With my camera on my side, I was able to hop off my bike super quick, compose, and take the photo. This is a perfect example of why you should always have your camera on you.
Any advice for people who want to get into street photography?
Bring your camera with you every second of every day and always have it at the ready. Street photography is all about anticipation and being in the right place at the right time. You never know what you’ll run into on a day-to-day basis. Better to play it safe and always keep your camera by your side rather than leaving it at home. Something my good friend Boris taught me.
Finally, what's your goal in terms of your photography?
Currently, I am working on a couple of personal projects that will eventually turn into a body of work that I am able to print and sell. This is a plan I will continue to work towards throughout the rest of my career. Producing the physical bodies of my work so that other people can view and enjoy is a huge goal of mine. I am also very interested in photojournalism and hope to work on assignments for publications in the future.