James Hill, а member of the Andrei Stenin International Press Photo Contest Jury, The New York Times photographer sine 1995.
— What was the main factor in your decision to join the jury of the Andrei Stenin International Press Photo Contest?
It’s important to remember those photographers who have died in conflict zones and, for me, this contest is a fitting testimony to Andrei Stenin.
— There is a new category this year called Inspiration. The concept itself is very abstract and requires an artistic touch by means of photography. In your opinion, what concepts would help to emphasize the photographer’s talent?
Any photographer needs to be inspired to make good pictures. And to turn that inspiration into images might require travelling hundreds of kilometers or waiting for hours. For sure, dedication is required. But it is a very personal issue and, most of all, I think that a photographer needs to believe in his or her vision.
— Just reports are not captivating anymore. Almost anybody can do a report because we all have devices with embedded cameras. More and more often, photographers are using artistic techniques in their work. They set up the lighting, stage the scene, etc. What do you think about this? Is it just a trend or could it be the beginning of a new language in photography?
There are so many images saturating our visual field that it is only natural that photographers are looking to find new, or different, ways to express themselves and make their way of seeing to stand out in the crowd. I think that photography is like any other art form, or fashion, there are periods when one format or style is dominant and then it is replaced by something else. Staging and lighting, in that sense, are not new, but perhaps they are being used today in different ways.
— What do you think about borrowing ideas? Where do you think is the boundary that divides a quote from plagiarism? It is fine to be inspired by another person’s work.
All photographers spend a lot of time looking at the work of their contemporaries and even more at that of those photographers who came earlier and nearly all photographers’ work subconsciously refers to images by other photographers. There are far less boundaries in photography than writing where individual words and phrases can be lifted verbatim. In photography plagiarism is less simple to see or prove, also because it is less common.
— To what extent, in your opinion, can professional ambitions be helpful or dangerous? What should photographers do to get through hard times and praise and still strive ahead?
There needs to be ambition and motivation. They are essential to keep any photographer working in times of trouble – whether than be out in the field or at home searching for a subject to work on.
— Several years ago, the photography community was passionate about digital storytelling but now many experts say that photography is going back to its traditional formats. What do you think about industry trends in general? Are there trends in photography and should photographers follow them?
Here I return to a point that I made earlier about photography being like any other art or fashion, in that its styles and formats change and return. I think that there is a desire to feel the craft involved in using film cameras, which is a tactile pleasure that is less easy to access with digital cameras. It is not that one medium is better than the other, they are different. But there is and should be room for both types of camera and photographers should choose their cameras and approach according to their instincts.
— Do you have a professional secret that helps you get through difficult times in life? Would you share it with us?
Not really. But I often think of Thomas Edison’s phrase about invention being, “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
— The Andrei Stenin Contest marks its fifth anniversary this year. What would you wish to the winners of the previous years and those who are taking a shot this year?