I met James while working as a marketing intern in New York City. He was cruising in a post-grad world, working as a barista in a coffee and smoothie shop. He was pretty laid back and chill, as we discussed what life was like living in such a huge ass area. When he showed me his Instagram, my jaw dropped: this dude took pictures from high-up buildings where his feet would be dangling off the edge. It was intense just browsing through his work. I knew I had to interview him, so I finally got to via email. Please enjoy!
Occupation: Musician, Photographer
Black Nerd Problems: If you could pit two fictional characters against each other in an ultimate battle, who would they be and why?
James: I’d love to see Alexander the Large from A Clockwork Orange fight Eminem’s Slim Shady. Something amazing has to happen when you pit two sociopaths against one another.
BNP: Please tell us a bit about yourself!
James: I attended New York University, majoring in Journalism and Africana Studies. While I originally planned to pursue a career in print journalism, my passion for music grew over the course of my time as an undergraduate—I now live in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn working as a barista while pursuing a career as a recording artist.
BNP: Why do you feel the urge to photograph what you do?
James: Exploring the city was a way for me to escape from any pressure I was feeling at the time as well as a way to subvert depression, which I’ve struggled with for the past seven years or so. When I first started exploring I only had access to a camera phone, so all of the photos I’d take were more for my own personal memories. At this time I was still very much suicidal, so it worried those closest to me that I was climbing to both extremely high vantage points and crawling through dirty, decrepit spaces to be alone.
These places provide you a rare opportunity to breathe in a city where you so often feel like you’re being swallowed. It is ultimately this feeling that allowed me to realize how much I enjoy life. Photography simply became a way for me to recapture these moments and induce the memories and feelings these moments evoked. As I started to share my photos on social media I noticed that other people were also emotionally drawn to these images. In this way it’s become something I do both for myself and for people looking for an escape.
BNP: What are the risks involved and how does it not faze you?
James: Safety and legality are the main risks involved. It’s a matter of trying to be cautious and discrete as to not endanger yourself—something you have control over if you’re always conscious of your surroundings and your footing.
BNP: What’s the next step in your journey as an artist?
James: The next step is to begin photographing these spaces while simultaneously performing all over the world. My dream is to get off stage in Paris and spend the rest of the night and early morning exploring the catacombs.
BNP: Who inspires you?
James: Everyone you meet has something unique to contribute. My friend photographer Gregory Berg has been an inspiration of late though, as he’s really developed his own style and direction.
BNP: If you could cook breakfast with any celebrity, who would they be and why?
James: I’d love to make breakfast with photographer Francesca Woodman. Her work is also a constant inspiration. She took her own life in 1981 at 22-years-old and I have a lot of questions I’ve always wanted to ask her.
Make sure to check out James on social media. Here’s his Instagram.
All pictures provided by James Lanning.
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