James Crowley Interview

James Crowley is someone I met when he joined the camera club that I am also a member of. I have seen his work improve to a point where he has consistently won awards for many of the exhibitions his works have been juried into. His photographs are in many private collections and one of his photographs is in the permanent collection of a Pennsylvania museum.

I have hinted to him that I need to get this interview completed before he becomes famous on the basis of his current project. If only so I can say “I knew him when . . . ” But the truth of the matter is I believe he will attain a level of recognition many of us will only hope for. This is due in part to his creativity and in part to the constant pursuit of his craft. If I am not mistaken this is his first online interview and is the international unveiling of the man in a bowler hat which Crowley has chosen to refer to as The Wayfarer.

To see the photographs Jim Crowley has shared with us please follow this link: Gallery 

PH Who are you and when did you get into photography

JC My name is Jim Crowley.  I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I currently live in a small town in the central part of the state.  I am a dedicated husband, a father of three wonderful children and an aspiring photographer.  I was about 10 years old when I discovered my father’s Leica 35mm camera and his homemade underwater housing.  I was immediately fascinated by the mechanics of the camera and the housing.  At this point in his life, my father had given up photography and scuba diving to help raise four boys so I was free to experiment with my new-found treasure.  It didn’t take very long for me to learn how to photograph and I set off making black & white snapshots of everything.

PH Why do you do what you do?

JC I love photography, I love making photographs, I love the technology, I love the post-production challenges and I love the recognition and praise that my work brings to me. All of these aspects keep me moving forward in my exploration of the art of photography.

PH Can you explain to our readers your thoughts behind the “Man in The Bowler Hat”?

JC The first Bowler Man photographs were made in Camp Hill, PA underneath the Route 581 overpass at Hummel Avenue. In 2012, this area was used by the Harrisburg Camera Club to host an outdoor public arts exhibition. As a participant in the exhibition I thought that it would be “cool” to create a couple of images at this site to hang in the exhibition. For these first images, I was just hoping for “cool”. In very short order I came to realize that this idea was going to be so much more than just “cool”.

From those first two images in 2012 I have turned Bowler Man into a project that has spanned four (4) years, multiple gallery exhibitions, numerous awards and continued praise from my fellow photographers. The project is currently known as “Building A Mystery” and the “Bowler Man” has accepted perhaps a more appropriate moniker, “The Wayfarer”.  Central to the theme is this idea of “building a mystery”. I want each viewer to walk away with a touch of the “mysterious”. 

In each image, I try to maintain the technical and formal elements including depth, sense of space, strong lighting and a surreal quality.  I never formally introduce the viewer to the Wayfarer but with a consistent viewpoint and space between the camera and subject the viewer is forced to follow him from a distance.  The interior images are composed in large industrial spaces with lots of defined detail and texture. In exposing so much detail I hope to slow down the viewer and force them to take note. Hopefully they end up in a quiet almost peaceful place with no sense of urgency to leave. In this manner, the spaces where he is found become more important than he is, but he still remains the focal point.

PH Do you visualize your work before you start to create?

JC Yes, I do. I visualize each image before I shoot. Sometimes this process of pre-visualization takes only a few minutes and sometimes as in the case of the photo, “1921 Bath House”, months; and the photo “Building A Mystery”, years.

PH What outside influences inform your work? Or does it?

JC I realize that the process of judging photography is highly subjective. Different jurors like different things.  When my work is critiqued I always try and keep a positive attitude no matter what the outcome. By listening, un-emotionally to each critique I have been able pick out and absorb the parts that are important and discard the rest.  Without naming names, I can honestly say that there are several jurors out there that have had a great impact on my work. As far as other photographers go, I have a group of favorite photographers who have also made an impact.

PH When did you start to share your work with the public?

JC I joined the Harrisburg Camera club in 2009. This was really the first time that I shared any photographs with people that I did not know.

PH What’s integral to your work as a fine art photographer?

JC As with all photographers, my equipment, gear and workflow are integral, however acknowledgement and to some degree acceptance of my work are what keeps me going.

PH What has been a seminal experience?

JC Getting into the Art of the State Exhibition in 2012, taking a second place in the photography division and having the Pennsylvania State Museum purchase my photograph just about blew my mind.

PH What’s your scariest experience?

JC Climbing the very dilapidated marine leg of the Marine A Grain Elevator along the Buffalo River with Swanni Jim and my photo gear ranks right up there.  I know this may require some explanation.  To keep it simple, Swanni Jim is the caretaker of Silo City in Buffalo, NY. The marine leg in question is about 10 stories of exterior exposed rusted metal stairs with missing treads and landings. It required delicate balancing and gymnastic skill to reach the top. Coming back down was horrible.

PH What’s your most embarrassing moment?

JC I can’t really recall an embarrassing moment but in the making of the “Building A Mystery image I dropped my camera from a height of about 4 feet onto the concrete floor. The lens popped of the camera in three pieces. I felt like I had lost a child.

PH What work do you most enjoying doing?

JC This changes over time. I photograph many different subjects and I am not afraid to try new things.  Right now, my main obsession is abandoned sites and high dynamic range photography.  That along with my “Building A Mystery” project has kept me pretty content.

PH What’s your favorite art work?

JC I don’t have just one favorite art work. If we can talk about favorite photographer’s then in no particular order, my current group of favorites includes: Diane Arbus, Greg Crewdson, Steve Sheffield, Robert Parke Harrison and Franchesca Woodman. Any work from this group is just wonderful.

PH What memorable responses have you had to your work?

JC Several come to mind. One, I once had a judge tell me that one of my photographs reminded him of a National Geographic image.  Two, at a portfolio review, in response to the question, Does the Series Work Cohesively? I was given the answer, “Yes. Having two exteriors as overcast flat lighting and in black and white and all of the interiors in color with dramatic lighting references the movie The Wizard of Oz.”  Three, from a written review of my work from LensCulture, “I would suggest that you pull back a bit on your leading titles. A less leading title will allow the viewer to have more of an exploratory experience with the image.”

PH What do you dislike about the fine art photography world?

JC I joined camera club back in fall of 2009 so if we count forward my experience in fine art photography is only 7 or 8 years. This is not a very long time. In this short time, I have had more successes that failures. For that I am thankful. I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t really have any dislikes.

PH What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

JC I had a portfolio review in 2014 with Jason Landry, the owner of the Panopticon Gallery in Boston, MA.  Regarding my “Building A Mystery” project Mr. Landry felt that for me to reach the next level with this type of photography I needed to “turn it into a production” Among other things, he suggested that it was time to enlist the help of one if not several assistants.  He advised me to get over my fear of having to be the one who clicks the shutter.

PH What advice would you give to an aspiring fine art photographer

JC Join a local camera club and get your work out there for other people to see. Put yourself in a position where your work gets critiqued by other peers. Listen, keep your emotions in check and learn.

PH Someone reading this interview and seeing your accompanying photographs may want to purchase a print: how may they do so?

They can email me directly at jim@jcrowley.com. I also have a website at www.jcrowley.com that has many of my images displayed.

To see the photographs Jim Crowley has shared with us please follow this link: Gallery 

4 Comments

  1. Great interview! I want to congratulate Jim on not only the growth of this project but also as a photographer. I met Jim at my initial Silo City workshop and have watched as his photographic voice has grown over the years. Jim has returned to the workshop on numerous occasions, each time with a plan for his next set of images based on careful thought and planning from what he has learned from previous images. About a month after each workshop I conduct an online image share and I always look forward to seeing the photographs Jim made. I look forward to watching as this project (and Jim) continue to grow photographically.

    • I’m glad you liked the interview Mark. And thanks for the additional insight on Jim’s work process. We are looking forward to following him in the future.

  2. Wonderful piece. These are some of the questions I think we’d all like to have asked Jim at a club meeting, but never had the time.

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