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Setting the Box on Fire with James C. Lewis (Part 3) (Griotvine Interview)

Written by Greg Anderson-Elysee on Wednesday, January 20 2016 and posted in Features

Setting the Box on Fire with James C. Lewis (Part 3) (Griotvine Interview)

Photographer James C. Lewis talks about his art progress when crafting his photography and the controversial Icons of the Bible!



12596723 10205751512288857 661176038 oJames C. Lewis is a photographer from South Georgia who's work I've been a fan of for quite a while now. I fell in love with his Yoruba African Orisha series where he captured models and transformed them into African deities. Lewis has gotten acclaimed for his various series focusing on Black culture and the stigma and discrimination of Black people. Lewis' works have garnered attention from all over the globe while also causing controversy along with the appraisal. One of my goals as a model was to meet him one day and model for him on a series. That time came when he announced he was coming to NYC and we finally connected. He was going to be a part of the Schomburg for the Unveiling Visions: The Alchemy of the Black Imagination exhibit and I was not only going to model for him, but hit another bird with the one stone and get him for (Heard It Thru) The Griotvine.

Without further adieu, here's Setting the Box on Fire with James C. Lewis, a three part interview...

_____________________________________________________________________

PART ONE

PART TWO

 

PART THREE

Greg Anderson-Elysee: Given that you're a photographer, you're an artist and this is a comic column: are you a comic geek at all?

12410573 10205744162905127 3275105845928631843 nJames C. Lewis: I was. I guess I'm kind of like a recovering comic book addict. But yes, I was a comic book geek growing up.

Greg: What books did you read and which characters did you like?

James: DC Comics and Marvel Comics were my two main favorites. I mean of course Superman, Batman, but you know I would be remiss to say that Black Panther and Storm were not two of my favorites that stood out because they were Black! And you didn't have a lot of comic book characters that were Black so those were two in particular that I gravitated towards. But you know there were others that everyone pretty much knows but those were two of my favorites.

Greg: What drew you out of your addiction?

James: Adulthood. (Laughs) I just wanted to go onto a different direction artistically. A lot of my friends and I, when we were younger, we used to draw comic book characters. But as I got older, I noticed outside of comic book characters they couldn't draw anything else. That was the only thing they could draw and I didn't want to be that type of artist. I wanted to be able to draw anything so I stopped drawing just comic book characters and I just started drawing from my imagination. So that pushed me to go beyond those boundaries and many of those friends to this day don't even draw anymore. And they don't know how to draw anything except comic book characters we used to draw.

Greg: So what is your art process? Can you give us a brief rundown of getting your ideas down, from your mind then all of a sudden into print?

tumblr m7v8heJ58s1qc8qp1o1 500James: I am a chronic insomniac. It's very hard for me to go to sleep and sleep all night because my brain is constantly being flooded with ideas. So I get up and I get on my computer and start something where I grab my sketch pad and sketch some stuff. That's typically how it starts. The conception of it, I get this idea and I'm like, "OK, how can I put this spin to it?" And of course I love working with very liberal models. Models that say, "Hey, James, I am your canvas. Whatever you need me to do, I would do. If you want to set me on fire, I'm down for it." Of course I wouldn't set them on fire.

Greg: You sure?

James: Maybe I would. But I'd put them out real fast. And they'd be wearing a fire suit. I always thought it'd be neat to film someone on fire. But you know that's neither here nor there at this point. But I love doing things that are unconventional. I love doing something that makes people think, "What the hell made him do that? Why would he do that?" That to me is the seal of my madness. Just yes! If it's something that's gonna make people say, "Why the hell did you do that?" That's what I want to do.

Greg: What challenges do you face when you're crafting your work when it comes to editing and making the final product even while you're shooting, for example? What challenges do you face?

tumblr o17lz3KHNS1qc8qp1o1 1280James: I wouldn't necessarily say that I face any challenges, as opposed to something I don't like doing. I don't really like editing. It's a beautiful process once it's done. But to say that I love it? I don't. I sometimes wish I had someone that could just come in and edit my stuff but that's kinda hard to do because I'm such a perfectionist and I wanted a particular way and I know that someone else wouldn't be able to do it, so you know, that would pose a problem. But outside of that, I really wouldn't say its any difficulty to process per say.

Greg: So what are your aspirations, what are you pursuing and hope to achieve when it comes to your work?

James: Wealth, lots and lots of wealth. (Laughs) No, seriously, like every person I would like to be wealthy. I would not necessarily like to be famous. I'm not interested in the fame. Contrary to people's beliefs, I'm not. One of my reasons I named my company Noire 3000 | N3K Photo Studios was because I wanted people to pay more attention to my art than they do me. And if you notice, I'm an artist that I don't incorporate myself into my work. Most people are like, "Where are you? Where are you?" I'm not in the work. I want you to pay attention to the work. It's not about me. So that's the way I look at my craft and what I do. I am obsessed with the artistry, the craftsmanship, making sure that it's polished. More so that it's shameless self-promotion, you know? "Heeey, let me throw my face in there. Look, I did this one!" I will not be the Spike Lee of the art world. I do not need to be in every single thing I do.

Greg: What's in the future for James Cornelius Lewis? What do you have coming up?

James: I currently have a show coming up in Paris, exhibiting my African Kings and Icons of the Bible Series on may 3rd - May 8th.

12591930 10205764162365101 402042733 o

 

Greg: Congrats on that, James! Where did Icons of the Bible come about?

 

Bible Characters

James: Icons came about after the Orisha series. The Orisha series was so popular. Still is popular that someone said, "Well why don't you do one with the Christians?" And I was like, "Eeeeeh, I don't really wanna do that, cause that's gonna be too much and everybody's interpretation" and they were like, "That's all the reason. icons-bible8You know you're very controversial" and I said, "I am very controversial." So yeah, that was one of the reasons why I did it. I was like, "Yeah, lets shake some stuff up." And it did, because I did not use any Caucasians. I used Indians, Arabians, or people that are Arabic, however you say it. Native Americans, pretty much every person except white. And I did that for a particular reason. The series was released around the same time as Exodus the movie and Huffington Post did a comparison of the two. And they were just stating, "This is more scriptural sound." Exodus was even banned in Egypt because it was full of too many discrepancies. It's like, "You're not even showing that crap over here. Noooo, that's just a bunch of lies." I mean, you make a film about slaves and you get a bunch of black people. But you make a film about African kings and queens and you get a bunch of white people? What sense does that make? But it's all about imagery. And someone said to me when I was doing Icon of the Bible, "What does it matter what Jesus looks like?" It matters for the same reason that all Jesus depictions have been white. It's all about showing a person and ideal image of superiority. And this is what this looks like. And anything that differs from that is wrong. And I have a problem with that. I feel that Iconology and imagery plays a very specific role in people's perception of themselves. If everything that I see is white, then I think that white rules and white is the way to be. But if everything that I see is black, it's positive, it's standing for something that I'm gonna take a different approach as a way that I see myself than my other brothers and sisters that I interact with.

Greg: We're going to be closing off very soon. One final question: What advice can you give other aspiring, pursuing artists, and photographers, especially minorities trying to find their own voice?

tumblr npvqqvqMLI1sj3omto5 500James: I know most people say, "Oh, you need to think outside of the box." I say you need to set the box on fire. That's what I say. Do not let other people dictate what you are inspired to do. I cannot allow other people to say, "Well, you know what? I say, that's a little too extreme. I think you're taking things too far. I think you should do it this way or that way." I have to know that I represented or I brought about an idea the way that I was inspired to do it. And not the way that I feel that society would accept it. I feel it is my job to upset the status quo. It is my job to be politically incorrect. It is my job to step on people's feet and cause you to think about things. I once did an artist talk and the audience was majority white and I asked the interviewer before we started, "Are you sure you want me to talk" and they said, "Why would you say that?" Because I'm not going to hold my tongue. I'm gonna say some stuff that I know is going to offend and I'm not going to bite my tongue. So if you think that you want me to talk, you just let me know. Because someone's gonna get offended and I'm not gonna apologize. So I don't believe in being politically correct. I believe in telling the truth just the way that it is. And like I said, that's the advice that I would give to any person that's thinking about heading in this direction, any direction. Long to be your own leader. Set the box on fire.

Samson





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About the Author - Greg Anderson-Elysee


Gregory Anderson-Elysee is a Brooklyn born and based filmmaker (director and editor), playwright, comic book writer, model, and part time actor. He was one of the first writers and interviewers of The Outhouse. He is the writer and creator of the upcoming book Is'nana the Were-Spider. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.


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