CORA OGBORN JAMES


When did you start taking photographs in a serious way?

I started taking photographs in 2005, I was 13 years old and on holiday in Japan. It was my first trip abroad without my parents and they’d given me a small compact camera. I spent the two week holiday obsessively photographing everything. This was in-part my reaction to the culture shock, and a way of playing with and capturing my ‘independence’. My parents were incredibly encouraging, meaning that many people received prints and slideshows for birthdays and christmases to come.

What effect has being at Edinburgh had on your practice?

At first it was a real struggle to make work in Edinburgh, as I found everything too ‘picturesque’. Throughout my time as a student I spent a lot of time exploring areas just outside, from the docks in Leith and Granton to Newcraighall and Cramond. It wasn’t until third year thatI started to shoot in Edinburgh. My practice is often outdoors, focusing on the street. I now have particular roads I love to shoot on – Lothian Road and Leith Walk are two of my favourites. Always busy and moving, and when it is sunny, there is a great, almost magical directional light. 

Why do you tend to favour analogue over digital photography? 

It has been over five years since I started to shoot film. For me, its all about the process of analogue. My work is about capturing the instantaneous, small moments that I chose to focus on. It may seem a little counter-productive to shoot this on film, but it allows me to step back, framing the image and take my time over each individual image. I mainly work with 35mm and medium format, in the past year working solely with my Rolleiflex, which revolutionised my practice. The light-weight Rollei gave me a freedom and a focus that the heavier, bulkier Hasselblad couldn’t. In the last year I also bought a Contax T2, which I’m excited to use more. 

You seem intent, throughout your work, on recognising the small, idiosyncratic moments that life presents us with but often we are moving too fast to notice. What is it about these discreet details that attract you as subjects?

I’ve always been drawn to these small, seemingly insignificant details. I remember as a child always wishing I had a camera in my eyes that took a photograph when I blinked. I think its mainly stemmed from long bus journeys I used to take as a teenager in East London. I would sit on the top deck of the bus and just stare out the window for the entire journey, listening to music and only looking at the small details as I drove quickly past. I want it to make the viewer stop for a moment and think about what goes unnoticed. 

Your Cuba series seems to track the progress of a day, the light becoming gradually softer and the colours warmer, until the last shot shows a local football game at dusk. Did you find that the Cuban light required an adjustment, compared with the chillier atmosphere of Scotland?

The Cuban light was perfect for me – the warm, golden sunlight is something I’ve always been drawn to. I think its to do with how the sunlight, especially in Scotland, although rare, highlights specific aspects, areas and colours that I like to photograph. I was very aware before I went to Cuba of all of the iconic imagery, especially the work of Rene Burri and Alex Webb, but I was still surprised with how inspired I was by my surroundings. I find it very easy to photograph abroad, as I’m seeing everything for the first time. I try to approach this way of seeing within my practice as a whole. 

Do you have a preference for shooting things as opposed to people? 

Yes and no, people are often featured in my work, but in the past two years I’ve started to photograph people more. They’ve always been a part of my practice, but never really the main focus. I went to China about two summers ago, and suddenly plucked up the courage to ask strangers if I could photograph them, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I’d like to incorporate it a little more, so maybe I’ll make a portrait body of work soon. 

I’m fascinated by your ‘One Metre’ series; ‘A focus on areas in and around Edinburgh that are one metre above sea level’. What led you to explore that topic?

It was my first time using medium format, and I wanted to make a body of work around how much Edinburgh and the surrounding areas are affected by how they live by the sea. I fell in love with the Hasselblad, and I think this really-pushed me to photograph in Edinburgh for the first time. It also led me to a certain way of seeing that I have continued within my practice, looking for traces of the affects of water, from causeways, to watermarks.  

What do you have coming up?

I graduated last year in the summer of 2015, for my degree show I was awarded the Andrew Grant Bequest Scholarship which allowed me to travel to Cuba, where I made this body of work. I am a part of the New Photographers Guild for 2016-2017 in association with Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, so I’m making a body of work for their show next Spring. I am travelling to Myanmar this December to trace the steps and life of my great Grandfather Jack Mackereth who lived and died in Burma in 1933, so I will be doing a collaborative project with my Grandmother Jane whilst I am out there. Other than that, just keep teaching darkroom night classes, keep pulling pints and keeping shooting!