Interview with Photographer James Maher

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I had the pleasure to interview New York-based photographer, James Maher. On this interview, we talked about his photography work,New York city, his recent book,The Essentials of Street Photography and other topics. Enjoy!

When did your interest in photography start and how have you evolved comparing when you first started to now.

My interest started during the last couple of years of college. I was a disillusioned Math and Computer Science major, and realized that I needed to find a creative outlet to stimulate my mind. I began by taking a few photography classes for fun and then decided to take the plunge soon after, enrolling in more classes and getting an assisting internship with a commercial photographer.
Technically, I've evolved so much over the years. I've become proficient and faster with the tools and techniques, my eye has developed significantly in how I shoot and see light and compose my work, but the primary change has been that my eye has developed significantly in a conceptual way. I'm much better photographing ideas, thoughts, and stories than I used to be. I'm also much more consistent.

In your opinion, what is unique about New York that sets it apart from any other place.

What I primarily love about New York is that it's a melting pot of intelligent and driven people from all over the world. People are from such different cultures and unique in so many ways, yet they get here and adapt to life here and you realize that so many people in this city are so similar, despite their different backgrounds.
I also love the pace of the city, the collective drive and motivation of New Yorkers, and the rampant neuroticism caused by all of this.

Your work involves all different aspects of photography, from portraits, photojournalism,street photography and so on. Which is your favorite aspect to work on and which is the most challenging for you.

I enjoy parts of each of these types of photography for different reasons. I love portraiture because it's a direct way of meeting and working with interesting people and trying to portray their personality. But most of all, street photography is my favorite type of photography. It's my release and my way of relaxing from the stresses of daily life.

Comparing shooting client portrait versus street photography portrait, how do you deal with them to get high quality performance.

Some client portraits I dislike because they want the stock, posed, smiling professional photo. That can get monotonous, stiff, and boring. But if that's what the client wants then that's what you have to do. 
I love client portraiture and street portraiture, when people let me do what I want and take control, and show them in the way that I feel like showing them. That is where the true art or portraiture lies.
My way of dealing with people is to act in a way that they feel very comfortable with me. 
I engage them and try to make them feel like they're just hanging out with me instead of being photographed. We have conversations. And then when they get into the mood that I like, I will take the photo.

How did your book, The essentials of street photography come about and how was the experience like.

The idea was to create a book that explained street photography in a well rounded and complete way, teaching both the conceptual and technical parts, to help people develop a style and subject matter that relates to who they are and how they want to work. My goal with it was to teach, to inspire, and to aid people to become unique photographers.
The experience was hard. It took me about 15 months to complete. Writing it at first was actually so much fun, but editing it was such an arduous experience. But I wouldn't have traded it for the world. It taught me so much.

In your opinion what is the most important factor in photography.

Ideas and concepts. Enthusiasm. Being true to yourself and portraying yourself in your work.

With the recent events such as hurricane sandy and the election, a lot of photographers took that opportunity to capture a lot images. Some iconic, some bad, some good. Creating a lot of buzz and attention. What do you believe is the power of photography?

This isn't the type of photography that I'm necessarily most interested in. 
It's so important for showing the damage to the world, for helping to raise money for the victims, and for helping to get policy changes for us to better deal with events like this in the future.
However, I'm personally more interested in photographing the everyday and the extraordinary within the ordinary, rather than supernatural events like these.

How has photography helped you as an individual. 

It's allowed me to become more creative and to help spread my ideas, while still working on the business side of things as well.  I'm a very left-brain, right-brained person, and I have attention issues sometimes, so I like to focus on both the creative and the business side of things.
Also, it's helped me get to know some incredible people over the years, through meeting both my subjects and other photographers. I've learned a lot about myself from getting to know all of these amazing people.

How do you select your subjects for your street photography.

I seek out subjects and ideas that I relate to. I seek to connect with different people out there, to highlight their strengths and weaknesses, and to give people a sense of what my culture is like.

What are some of the major challenges you face  as a photographer in New York.

You're competing with so many other photographers. It's so difficult to photograph the city in a way that hasn't been photographed a million times before. Sometimes I wish I was from some tiny village in Russia, and I was the only photographer in town and the only one able to show what my life was like in that area of the world.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, what message/ information do your pictures say?

My pictures talk about a lot of things. Self-confidence, conformity, and uniqueness are issues that I like to focus on.  I also like to focus on the intrusiveness of advertising. There are a lot more things. I could write forever on this question.

Top 3 visually inspiring movies.

The Last Emperor, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Darjeeling Limited.

Aside from photography what else are you passionate about?

Basketball, psychology and human nature, art and design, cartoon movies, 
politics (in a love / hate way), history and particularly the history of New York, marketing.

In your opinion where is the heart of New York and where is your favorite spot?

There are many hearts to the city. Each neighborhood has its own heart. 
My favorite spot is the Lower East Side / East Village.

In your opinion what is creativity?

Creativity forms around connections ; creating connections and relationships between two points that haven't been created before. It's hard to force that.  You have to keep your eyes open to those inspirations on a daily basis, because you never know what small thing will stimulate those big ideas.

What do you like most about what you do?

Meeting new people.

Find James Maher here :