Josh Jay James is an up and coming visual media artist local to the Champaign-Urbana community. He’s a sophomore studying in the Gies College of Business here at UIUC, and he spends his free time taking photos on film and digital cameras as well as capturing stunning drone footage of places like Chicago and Iceland. Applying his vision to an array of mediums and projects, James is a videographer for Bad For Your Health, an art collective founded by UIUC alums serving as a platform for young artists to display their work. He is also the creative director and Chief Marketing Officer for Allergenius Baking Co., a Wheaton based startup selling baked goods free of common allergens for people with restricted diets. We sat down and talked about his creative vision and what’s it like to be an artist in an ever-changing and digital age. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How do you think your use of film as a medium changes the meaning and message of your shots?
Josh: It does feel more authentic, as opposed to digital. I think film forces you to really consider the composition of your photo. On digital, if you’re shooting digital or with your phone, it’s easy to just take a million photos and edit them and find the one that’s right. But on film, it’s hard. It doesn’t have enough megapixels to make a sick edit on it. It just has to be the photo itself. So composition matters the most. And it’s just fun to really contemplate how I see a shot and thinking about the whole process of it. To an extent, it makes you think more artistically.
Q: How do you think the viewer consumes a film photo differently from a digital one?
Josh: That’s a great question. From a marketing perspective, I’m always thinking about how my audience is perceiving what I’m posting. So film is kind of different. Because personally, when I see all my friends post film photos, and whenever I see film photos I’m always critical of how it’s made, because it’s so different, it’s more authentic than a digital photo. It forces you to consider the actual process. It’s just more intricate when you’re using film, I think. From my audience, it’s hard to say how they think because most people just want to see a fun photo of someone with a fit, in some cool place. That’s what the people like to see. But I like using film just because it’s an art form.
Q: This is a longer question. Living in the digital age—I know that sounds like the opening to an essay—almost everyone has access to a high quality camera in their pocket that they use to capture moments and sights of the world as they experience it. What do you think your more dedicated pursuit of photography as a creative outlet shows about your subjective experience of the world? What makes you pick up your camera and shoot?
Josh: That’s deep. But it’s a great question. It’s more about the practice that it takes; So anyone can take a cool photo of something that they’re seeing, you know, a cool place or anything, it’s easy to swap it out and snap it. But seeing the actual composition of a photo is an art. So I mean, the digital age has definitely made photography more accessible, but I don’t want to say it decreases the value of it, the market is just more saturated. So, a really good photographer is hard to find, just because of how many photographers there are so it’s more about just me really trying to craft my unique style. But now it’s become more about self expression for me. And if the people like what I’m making, then that’s great. But I think less about how my style looks, I don’t really have a style, I kind of just do my thing.
Q: How does it feel to be an artist in the Champaign Urbana community at U of I? Where do you find your inspiration here in an environment that can feel somewhat isolated, and STEM-focused.
Josh: Three of my closest friends are some of the most talented artists in town in my opinion. Which is great, because we’re all just homies that love to make art together. I’m always trying to find video work. And it’s hard because this year, not much is going on. But there’s so much art circulating in the Chambana art scene. I did a job for Pygmalion, doing videos for the whole festival. There’s art everywhere we go. We would go to the collective house events in Urbana last year and just consumed as much art as possible. It’s fun to be an artist in Champaign. I mean, for me, transitioning from shooting in Chicago all summer to trying to find locations and Champaign is a fun challenge. Just because, you know, Chicago’s got all the cool things to look at then you get to Champaign in the middle of a cornfield.
Q: What do you get out of taking a really good photo? Is it rewarding?
Josh: It’s really satisfying to do a shoot and then come home and upload them onto my big computer screen, and just see a super high-res image that turned out the perfect way. Photography plays into my interests in a bunch of different ways. There’s an infinite number of possibilities. It’s photography. But really it’s just the satisfaction I get when the composition of a photo turns out perfectly. I have a perfect example of a photo that I got at a protest in Naperville. This bus was coming past me and I saw just a single man sitting down. I raised my camera and shot a high speed continuous right as it was passing. In the shot there’s a single man looking at the protesters and it just for some reason moved me, because the composition of the image is crazy. You can see the guy the reflection on the wall and you can see the boarded up businesses and then all the people protesting. I’m usually photographing the protestors. Someone when they saw the photo said it looked like the ghost of George Floyd. Anybody can interpret it. This photo, to me, speaks volumes. I had to share it for a reason. And then all the responses that I got for people with different interpretations—You know, that’s the power of photography.