by Charlotte Moss Published 01/12/2014
Neale James will be a familiar name to many readers of Professional Imagemaker. A former BBC Radio 1 presenter who has turned to the dark side and embraced image making over broadcasting, Neale now photographs high-end weddings and combines images with sound in order to create unique photo films. Charlotte Moss goes the other side of the microphone!
Of course when you think about it, it's not really a strange leap to make. Both broadcasters and photographers are storytellers at heart and Neale describes himself this way on his website. 'I guess the storytelling thing really does hark back to my radio days, because that's all you can do on the radio - tell stories.' When he puts it like that it's easy to see how he arrived at a lyrical style of photography. He claims this is why he enjoys documentary photography - because it's storytelling and you're not following a script, you're just watching and then reacting to whatever you see, and that's what he used to do on the radio since many of his live shows involved phone calls.
Neale's father bought him a camera while he started working at Radio 1 because he felt that his son should be recording all the famous people he met and the travelling that he did. 'I was going to America often and working with bands who were on tour, and the travesty is that I never used the camera. I had all these great opportunities and I think I felt embarrassed in asking household names if I could take their photographs!'
However, Neale eventually overcame the stumbling block of asking to take people's picture and decided he wanted to be a photographer. 'I came at it from quite a naive but creative background. The mediums are different obviously, one is sound and the other is visual, but there is still a high amount of creativity involved in both and that certainly helped me as I went into photography.' The ability to look at examples of other people's work and figure out how to create something similar himself has been a vital transferrable skill for Neale as he learnt about photography. 'I'm always looking at work that I love and trying to figure out - for want of a better word - how I can broadcast it to my new type of client.' Neale started learning photography at college which gave him a solid ground in film photography but quickly moved to digital early in his education which enabled him to get quick feedback as he experimented with taking photographs.
Being unique as a wedding photographer is always a challenge, but Neale offers something genuinely different to his clients. 'The photo films came about from a lady whose wedding I was photographing. She was terminally ill with brain cancer and she and her partner had decided to get married the next month so that her daughter, who was five, could see her mum and dad getting married.' Like all inspired ideas, the photo films came out of a chance comment that Neale made while discussing the wedding. 'I said to the bride that I'd like to record the sounds of the day and then do a slideshow, using their words instead of some music.' While they knew it wouldn't matter to her daughter then, the idea was that as her daughter grew older she would have something to remember her mum by. 'People don't tend to collect voices. Images can be strong, but voices are strong too.'
Mixing voices with pictures has proved to be a huge success for Neale and it's put him back inside his broadcasting comfort zone. 'All of a sudden I found myself doing what I knew, but I was doing it within my new arena and I think it has really breathed new life into my photography' That's not to say that Neale had grown tired of being a photographer, but rather that this allowed him to truly become a storyteller again. 'I don't think it suits everyone, and it does take a huge amount of work to put together, but I really enjoy what I do and it enables me to combine the different types of work that I love.
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