"The fact is that when one stands in front of one of James Cooper's works, one wonders in this
era of computer graphics, if his images have been manipulated. The answer is no; they are un-manipulated."
Antoinette Sullivan, Studio Gallery
"Cooper's 'Surf Beach Station' is compelling."
Daniella Walsh, art critic
Just a camera and film.
"In using just a camera and film, and not altering the film image in making a print image, what kind of images can you make?" Cooper believes that the image is the transparency film or print film image created with the camera. So the process of producing an image includes only the camera and the film. And, for his work, the film should be manufactured with no additional saturation dyes or other chemical enhancements.
In his pursuit of purity, Cooper's images have not been manipulated. He believes in photography as an art form and that un-manipulated images which faithfully represent what the photographer sees are aesthetically very different from images that were synthesized in the darkroom or enhanced with computers.
"Artist friends would say to me, snickering a little, 'What can a camera do in making art. It is just a camera'. Then one of them asks for help in making an image with a camera (a backlit telephone pole with just the foot pegs lit). We made it, he showed it at Otis (College of Art and Design) and people said 'Wow, that's cool'."
Cooper's body of work consists of five ongoing series: Agriculture, Color Fields, Landscapes, Structures, and Trees. The work is from two separate periods, the first during the 1970s and the second starting in 2005. Images are produced as traditional photographs (c-prints), and as pigment prints on a variety of papers.
He describes his images in the context of being a child. It is his desire to reproduce that same experience through photography. "Remember when you were a child how a simple little thing could galvanize your entire being -- time stood still and you felt totally connected to the world -- there was a feeling of total contentment?" Cooper asks this question in context of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's theory of human being's desire to "fill the hole," a void, or abyss; a dreary place perpetuated by culture and material things.
Cooper hopes that his images can lessen this estrangement between human beings and their, what he believes, true nature -- to reproduce that once-familiar childlike contentment.
"If they can, just for a split second, then maybe we can change just a little from the experience. Perhaps that experience can be built upon by more split seconds until that other 'beingness' becomes more prevalent and becomes a part of us."
With the same intent, some images are incongruous to that simple thing. Still, some images he describes as just fun. He also finds intriguing how combinations of camera, lens, film, and printing technologies "see" and produce an image no matter who is behind the camera.
In the end, it is just "a camera and film," leading to a captured moment in time. "Sometimes the images try to celebrate what these combinations produce as an image," Cooper says. "Still others try to distill the contradiction and incongruity of what we have produced as our epistemology compared to what our potential could be. And sometimes there is just insight through the beauty of forms and objects."