He Creates Melodramas in Black and White
James Bacchi, #inthesky California #3, photograph
James Bacchi is co-owner, with Annette Schutz, of ArtHaus gallery in San Francisco, California, known for its intimate presentation of contemporary works of art that are diverse in subject matter, media and style.
James is also a photographer who recently unveiled his inaugural series #inthesky mobile photographs. They have been accurately described as “melodramas” that portray “the volatile relationship between the sky and the urban landscape.” I first had the pleasure of meeting James when he co-owned a gallery in NYC, NY several years ago. I’m honored to present this interview with him as he is an extremely creative, multi-talented and philanthropic individual. To view more of his art visit his website at www.intheskyphotography.com
I’m delighted that James has also agreed to serve on the Special Awards Panel for the Manhattan Arts International “New Beginnings” exhibition.
RP: James, what inspired you to embark on your Mobile Photo Series, #inthesky portfolio?
JB: I have always been transfixed by the rapid, intense, and often out of control movement within the sky, especially in the Bay Area. The fog is a gift. I see the sky as an evolving set design, manipulating everything in sight. Hence, #inthesky – an inspired series of mobile photographs.
Honestly though, and somewhat delayed on my part, I believe hosting the 1st International Mobile Photo Awards Exhibition with Annette Schutz and MPA Founder Daniel Berman at ArtHaus back in 2011 was the catalyst. These particular Iphoneographers were pioneers of this medium. The extraordinary talent featured in this show was overwhelming, certainly inspiring and sparked my interest to photograph. I recall one of the award-winning photographers Shane Robinson incorporated the use of more than 80 photo apps. It was his work and the entire show that led me to look to my cell as a camera far more than a phone.
RP: That’s fascinating. I read that you began this inaugural series in 2015. When did you decide 2017 was the right time to share it publicly with your website #inthesky?
JB: This year just felt right to move forward and soft launch #inthesky. I started looking closely at all the images chronicled over the past two years. In the process, I trashed several and soon began to see individual photographs I truly loved. So, I put a few out there on social media which was quite daunting at first. The images continued to generate a surprising response, especially from photographers and people in the art and design communities. I received some great Private Messages of encouragement on Face Book. When Art and Photography sites such as BAY AREA ART SCOPE and ONLY MOBILE began featuring #inthesky, I thought, okay…
But it was Mike Yochum, curator/collector and Partner at Arc Gallery here in San Francisco who encouraged me, or rather told me that I needed to get these images on a website. So, I did. Before doing so, I emailed a file of 22 images to a group of 20 friends and associates including artists, gallerists, collectors, designers and art writers – simply asking them to please eliminate their 6 least favorite images. I enjoyed that some contacts knew these were my photographs, while others did not.
I was so pleased that most everyone I asked to do this completed the task. So, shortly thereafter #inthesky California became the first portfolio of this ongoing series featured on www.intheskyphotography.com
RP: That’s a brilliant idea. James, what was your first photograph in this series?
JB: When scrolling back, California 1 (above) was the first shot taken in early November, 2015. By the way, this image was part of the first round of cuts. Though viewing it now, I must say I do like how the sky appears as if it is about to swallow everything beneath it. I believe I shot this from the car at a stop light on Brannan Street, SOMA. And yes, the top was down.
RP: What is the size of your editions and your prices?
JB: Depending on size, each image is limited to an edition of 7. Images are available printed on metallic paper or directly on matte aluminum. Prices for 7” x 5” signed and numbered prints are $475 and 10” x 8” are $650.
RP: What subjects most capture your interest?
JB: I feel I am nowhere near done with #inthesky. Recently back from a week in Budapest and a few days in Venice, there’s lots of editing to be done. (Below is #inthesky, Budapest VII.)
RP: Personally, my favorite photographers in history shot in black and white. Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier Bresson, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange… In my opinion, it is a more challenging choice over color. In black and white you need to excel in composition and master of light, shape, and form. Do you agree? Why did you decide to focus on creating images in black and white?
JB: For me, I am far more drawn to black and white photography as well. A short list of favorites range from George Hurrell, Alfred Stieglitz and Dorothea Lange, to Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark, Simon Johan, and Boogie.
However, I do feel color photography is equally challenging especially in regard to my choice of subject. While black and white can provide far more drama, intensity and mystery in regard to the sky, with color photography you run the risk of creating images that resemble travel ads and posters.
My work is primarily straight forward with the addition of tonal enhancements. When photographing, I rely totally on composition, light – given or taken from the sky – contrasted against artificial light. More often than not, my photographs are printed full frame.
In regard to color photography, I find myself most attracted to work incorporating saturated color and thoughtful manipulation. The work of Bruce Charlesworth and Chris Schiavo are prime examples.
James Bacchi, #inthesky, Venice I
RP: Is there a difference in your choice of subject matter when traveling abroad and when at home in California?
JB: Where ever the location may be, it’s all about creating a narrative between the ground scape and the sky. Venice was more of a challenge. Amidst all of its romance, history and beauty, there’s not a lot of height going on there. And yes, the sky is different no matter where you go.
RP: Your photographs are structurally dramatic and you achieve beautiful depth in tonal ranges. I especially like the elements of surprise you add in each image. What would you like viewers to take away from your photographs?
JB: Thank you, Renée. These images are all about dramatic composition, often portraying exaggerated depth. Keep in mind I have mostly printed in 7” x 5”, and have not printed larger than 10” x 8”. My eye quite enjoys minimizing the iconic. Playing with the tonal quality of the work is the only manipulation involved. Most often each image is printed full frame.
I appreciate that you see the element of surprise in these images. My intentions are to offer viewers visual respites that spark then engage one’s sense of wonder.
RP: You definitely accomplish your intention. The small scale provides an intimate experience for the viewer where they can discover a new perspective and they may never see the world the same way again after seeing your work.
James, as co-owner of ArtHaus gallery you have raised money for many different nonprofit organizations through art sales. Philanthropy is a cornerstone of your mission. Why specifically have you selected UCSF Alliance Health Project to receive 10% of all sales from your #inthesky series?
JB: Yes, for both Annette Schutz and I, philanthropy continues to be a vital component of our mission statement. Next month we are curating and co-hosting OCEANS 12 – an inspired Group Exhibition benefiting Ocean Conservancy. www.oceanconservancy.org
Two weeks later comes my personal favorite, Art For AIDS. The UCSF Alliance Health Project is the benefactor of Art For AIDS. 2017 marks the 21st Anniversary for both ArtHaus and Art For AIDS. This event is San Francisco’s premiere juried contemporary art auction, showcasing works donated by artists, galleries print publishers and collectors. Unlike no other, this evening exemplifies “Art” and “Community”. www.artforaids.org
Renée back in the day you and I lived through the onset of this epidemic when it struck New York with all of its horror. We lost so many special friends and colleagues. For me, I am grateful to be here and honored to have served on the Jury and Host Committee for Art For AIDS over the past 12 years. Offering 10% of sales from #inthesky is just another way I can contribute to this unique, and very special organization that provides free mental health and wellness services for the HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ Communities in San Francisco. www.ucsf-ahp.org
RP: Yes, I remember that period very well… Thank you for all that you do for important causes and the special exhibitions like OCEANS 12, which we wrote about on our other website The Healing Power of ART & ARTISTS.
James, in addition to your website where do you plan to exhibit your #inthesky photographs?
JB: Ah, so far I’ve had my sights set on two upcoming group exhibitions here in San Francisco. Today, I heard from one of the two. An annual exhibition, titled “tiny”, which I’ve been a fan of forever at STUDIO Gallery in San Francisco, www.studiogallerysf.com, will feature select photographs from #inthesky Budapest. This Group Exhibition of small works by Bay Area Artists opens November 10, 2017. The Owners/Curators Jennifer Farris and Rab Terry are iconic in the San Francisco gallery scene. I am beyond grateful and excited!
RP: That’s wonderful news, James. I’m sure many more invitations will follow.
Why did you choose to capture images using a mobile phone and what phone do you use?
JB: I am a creature of convenience, and there’s something quite special to be said for a camera that fits in your pocket and is ready to photograph in seconds. The sky moves and changes so quickly it is important for me to have the ability to keep up with it. I use an iPhone 5.
RP: What’s the subject and inspiration for your next series?
JB: Different city and different sky. #inthesky New York is next.
RP: I look forward to seeing work from your New York series and we’ll have to do a follow up interview about that!