James A. Hudson: Photographer
James A. Hudson is a photographer who works on documentary assignments, photographic residencies in the commercial, art and cultural sectors and also produces personal photography projects. Based in South Wales, he was artist in residence at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and his work has been included in a variety of publications, exhibitions and festivals.
Last days of the Abergavenny Livestock Market
Documentary project for Monmouthshire Museums. Limited edition, Ilford pigment prints are available of the 30 images in two sizes.
After 150 years on the same site, the final sale of cattle and sheep at Abergavenny Livestock Market took place on 10th December 2013. Monmouthshire County Council, which owned the site, sold it to a large supermarkets chain and opened a new livestock market nearby at Raglan. Prints of 30 of the images are available in two, signed, limited edition sizes of A5 & A2. Abergavenny Museum has acquired a complete set of the A5 prints.
The colour of snow at night
Ongoing personal project.
Costume in Performance
Documentary project for the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Documenting the design, construction, choreography and performance of the ‘Costume in Performance’ show at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.
Ongoing personal project.
Several of the images from this project were included in the biennale FORMAT International Photography Festival that took place in Derby UK between 8 March and 7 April 2013.
Change in Form: Metamorphosis in the Ashmolean Museum
Residency project completed at the museum during 2010/2011. Lambda digital bromide prints (24cm x 16cm) on Ilford FB paper from a collection of 22 monochrome images are available in limited editions of 7.
Visitors to the museum mimicked exhibits and statues, portraits looked down at them and everybody seemed involved in a piece of unconscious theatre. Boundaries between people and objects started to blur. Glass cabinets started to contain visitors, and everything in the museum became an object. Even my box of photographs of them started to resemble its own cabinet of curiosities.
I then remembered reading about statues coming alive and people being turned into animals and objects in Ovid's stories of Metamorphosis. In one story Daphne becomes a tree and in another story Pyrrha and Deucalion create a new race of men from stones thrown on the ground. These changes in form, and the frustration caused by an inability to speak, happen over and over again in the stories and they suited perfectly what I was seeing in the museum.
Series of 14 monochrome photographs taken at vintage car trials and races in the UK between 2000 and 2009.
"Sixty four people cannot be wrong" says my father. He is talking about the relatively small number of people who have turned up on some hillside in the middle of nowhere to attempt to drive their vintage cars up some marked out section. It is often raining. When the car starts to lose traction you have to bounce up and down. You get dirty. Nobody comes to watch. Maybe someone with a dog.
Racing vintage cars on tracks is not much different and dogs are not allowed into the track. If it is not raining when you race it probably will be when you have to drive your roofless car home. Then something will probably break and you will get oily or sit and wait for the breakdown truck or have an adventure. It is not like formula one. It is so much better. I am glad only 64 people do it.
Edition of 7, hand made, french folded, books produced in 2010 consisting of 15 colour images in colour sequence.
Skate Park Life
Series of monochrome images taken between 1990 and 2008 in skateparks in the UK, Scandinavia and Brazil.
The first time I went to a skatepark was in the early 80's. It was next to a pig slaughter house on Strawberry Road in my home town of Retford in Nottinghamshire. The skatepark had been built some years earlier at the tail end of the 70's, no doubt after much local council debate and whose completion coincided perfectly with the death of the first skateboarding craze in the UK.
As a skatepark it was not very good, for a 13 year old boy it was a unique and exciting place. This was not somewhere that your parents had been to, it was not an organised, recognised sports facility like a tennis court or a football pitch. Retford skatepark was the kind of place you went to smoke, a place to smash bottles and to fight. It was a bit rough and I do not ever remember being there on my own.
As we got better at doing tricks on our bikes the Strawberry Road skatepark started to feel a bit limiting. The constant sweeping up of glass and the noise and smell of the pigs, were never really endearing features of the place and I went there less and less. We built our own ramp in the garden, started to enter competitions and began to travel to bigger and better skateparks.
In the early 90's I started taking photographs seriously and contributing them to specialist skateboard and bmx magazines but it was always the trick, or the rider, that was the focus of my pictures. The overall environment of the skatepark was not really of interest to me at the time, I just took them for granted.
Riding my bmx and taking pictures for magazines eventually stopped and I got involved in other work. Occasionally I would end up in a skatepark and sometimes borrow a bike or a board and have a go. In 2003 I started riding my bike again a little more seriously. I was again regularly in skatepark environments but I looked at them in a different way now: the tricks and the riders were not the only thing that mattered. My interest was now much broader and I started to photograph it in a different way. No longer ignoring the people who were just hanging around and now looking at the whole space. I finally saw skateparks as places people grow up and not just place where they do tricks.
My renewed interest in riding my bike soon dissolved, not so much the physical strain but the fact that I knew it could never feel as good as the times I had spent riding and growing up in skateparks.
This collection of pictures is from skateparks during an regularly interrupted period between the years 1988 and 2008.
A review of Skate Park Life by Iain Borden
At first viewing, James Hudson's photographs of skateboarding seem to be as much about the peripheral spaces and moments of skateboard and bmx parks as they are about the acts of skateboarding and bmx riding themselves. Sure, there are some great aerials, carves, stalls and other tricks on view here, but they are mostly consigned to the background or edge of the frame.
Instead, skateboarding and bmx appear through a whole series of other devices. Action, such as it is depicted, is often reduced to a sense of anticipation, with riders waiting to drop in or simply standing on a board. Or it is visible through the implication of an act that has already taken place: a skater lies prone and board-less at the bottom of a bowl, blood trickles down a skater's arm, or the rear window of a car is seen smashed by an errant board. And in some images the rider's presence is withdrawn almost entirely, and made apparent only through the pervasive extension of the length of a board, or through a shadow stretching out into the bowl.
Above all, however, it is the other stuff that emerges in these photographs: not the pure dynamism of a skateboarder on a ramp or a bmx rider on a wall, but the everyday, occasional and accidental stuff that just goes on at skateparks every minute and every hour of the day. So we see young kids at Area 51 in Goteborg messing around in the bottom of a ramp, or a shirtless rider at Canteloes arguing with just-off-frame skaters. We also see other people seemingly unaware of what is going on just around the corner or over their shoulder: a man at Drammen who is turned away from a vertical bmx-er to the left of the image and a kid determinedly not watching a skateboard aerial on the large ramp at St Neots.
Hudson's images are, then, the very antipathy of much skateboard and other sports related imagery, where the actual activity is usual rendered into a hugely dynamic but very often context-less performance. Here, however, the performance is still present, but not made central, not made into a heroic single figure. The most beguiling of these photographs for me are, therefore, those in which a veritable polyphony of actions are taking place. At one image at Canteloes, people sit and look in all manner of different directions, while one skater (holding a shopping bag) prepares to drop in to a shallow bowl. At Malmo, some stare expectantly at a skater perched on a steep ledge, but just as many others are looking determinedly elsewhere, while a young mother tried to photograph her son on a mobile phone camera.
In another image taken at Malmo, a women reads a paper, a young boy sits on his board and stares at the floor, two young men stare out across the park, and four teenage girls chat among themselves - meanwhile a skater, in the middle right, shoots a double-axle carve in tough-looking concrete pool. Each of these five acts has equal weighting, each has the right to take our attention, and all together they make up a social setting made up of communication, speculating, thought and energetic action. It is an idyllic scene, a utopia of doing and thinking.
And of course none of this would occur without skateboarding, and skateboarding, that most social of sports, would not occur without them. Hudson's images do not then, ultimately, displace skateboarding to the periphery; rather they radically expand the centre, and show us that the world of skateboarding and bmx is much, much greater than an explosive spectacle.
Iain Borden BA MSc MA PhD FRSA HonFRIBA, 2009.
Hippodrome: 1988 & 2008
20 years ago I ran away to the Hippodrome Circus. I was riding my BMX in competitions for a sponsored team and Peter Jay, the circus promoter, asked if I wanted to ride in a show that he was putting together. I thought about it for around 3 seconds and then said yes. A few weeks later I sat my last A level, packed up my van and left home for the first time.
The Hippodrome Circus at Great Yarmouth is one of only a handful of purpose-built circus buildings left in the world. Houdini, Max Miller and Lily Langtry have all performed at the Hippodrome over the years and the circus floor still drops down to create a swimming pool at the end of the show, as it has done ever since it was built in 1903.
During that 1988 circus season I lived in a flat over the top of Boobs Show Bar (alas no longer there) and for three months did two, 10 minute shows on my bike every day. It was an amazing experience. I returned home after the circus season had finished to get my terrible A level results with a feeling that I had really lived. The exam results did not matter as I had already been offered a job in the show at Blackpool Tower Circus the following year. University would wait (actually it is still waiting...). The year after Blackpool I did a season in Germany touring with Circus Krone, but then decided to leave the circus world for more traditional employment in publishing and I never again performed in a circus ring.
In 2008 I found myself living as near to Great Yarmouth as I was probably ever going to (in Stamford, about 2.5 hrs drive away) and there was never really any doubt that I wanted to go back and photograph the Hippodrome Circus. So, driven by curiosity and nostalgia, and exactly 20 years since I had first been to Great Yarmouth, I finally went back.
Almost nothing had changed. In fact one of the ramps that we had hoisted up into the rafters backstage after the final show in 1988 was still hanging there looking at me. The smell was slightly different (we had elephants and tigers in the show in 1988) but the atmosphere was exactly the same. I felt a little queasy when backstage on the first day photographing and the music that signals the start of the show began. It was like a wake up call and it made me want to go out into the ring for the opening parade like I had done so many times before.
During the show the artists are in this magical and dangerous performance, but backstage they are normal working people (well, normal circus people). Circus does not have really well known stars like in film or theatre, everyone has to do some of the dirty work too. I was immediately reminded of this contrast between being the centre of attention in the show: music, lights, smoke, applause etc. and then it is over and you are backstage: washing your clothes, painting the props, cleaning, moving stuff around. Then you go home, or go out to get some food, and no one knows you, nobody looks, you are just normal. The heightened visibility you had during the show is gone and you then feel a bit invisible.
Ever since I stopped performing in the circus I have been missing it. Not enough to regret stopping, or indeed enough to start again: just missing it. Being back at the Hippodrome was wonderful, it allowed me to feel part of it again but without being totally involved. But I was taking no real risk by being there again shooting pictures and therefore received only a compromised enjoyment of it.
The Hippodrome Circus is amazing. Circus might be a traditional entertainment but in an age where so much of our entertainment is mass-produced, screen based, quick, safe, and delivered to us in fairly sterile environments, the Hippodrome show still stands out for me as something very human and raw.
Note: During the period I was editing the photographs I had taken during the summer of 2008, I dug out some of the shots I had taken when I had been at the Hippodrome in 1988 and it seemed right to put some of them with the new images. The images on the left pages of the book are re-photographed prints that I took in 1988, all the other images were all taken in 2008.
Luxury Goods - The Meaning of Art
The Oxford Christmas Light Night Festival
Luxury Goods - The Illusion of Art
Brompton Bicycle Race
Transitions: Photography from inside the skatepark
Format 13: Photography Festival
Forum: Artist Websites
James spent most of his teenage years riding his BMX on a ramp he built in his parents' garden. He became quite good, leaving home at 17 to ride in the circus and compete internationally. At these events he started taking photographs for magazines which led onto working in publishing and new media. After moving to Norway in 2001 he became a photographer again, moved to London in 2006, then Oxford where he completed a residency at the Ashmolean Museum and now lives in Wales.
Wheels inspired much of his early photography: from revisiting the circus and skateparks, to vintage car events and bicycle races. His more recent work is still documentary in principal but then edited, sequenced and presented back as fiction. Playful exploration of the urban environment on his BMX had created an interest in urban and situationist theory that often now inspires projects, as does nostalgia, early history, surrealism & some late 19th century literature and illustration.
Photography helps me understand situations and places. I am particularly interested in the kind of images that you could not have imagined would have existed until a fraction of a second before you see them. The sort of pictures that would be very difficult to take again, the ones that you would never want to take again anyway.
Walking, talking and being open to chance is how I like to work. The various theories about wandering, derive, psychogeography and flaneurism do interest me but I have no desire to totally understand them, because a total understanding of the process might then spoil it.
This application of photography is certainly not new but it is the application that really appeals to me and it seems exactly what photography is best suited to doing. This kind of photography is raw documentary, and it sits somewhere between, at one end, the pre-conceptualised use of photography to produce art, and at the other end, objective photojournalism.
The integrity of the image is also important to me: I do not set things up or do any serious retouching. Deciding on the colour, themes and narrative in the pictures, which might then define them as a project, comes later (sometimes years later) during the editing. How the images are eventually going to be presented does not concern me too much during the period when they are being taken.
What often influences my work is history, sometimes my own and sometimes specific periods. Other influence comes from some of the theories and concepts of the Surrealists and Situationists, and also the illustration of Aubrey Beardsley, Jean de Bosschere and the writings of J.K. Huysmans: work that is based in reality but then developed and presented back as fiction.
James A. Hudson, 2014.
If you want to get in touch;
text or phone: +44 7970 478377