Oakridge, Oregon is an unassuming mountain community in the heart of the cascade range where I first saw the light of day. My formative years were characterized by humble hand-me-downs and home school studies in a house nestled on the edge of town. Adventure was never in short supply with the national forest as our backyard and one of the state’s oldest volcanoes, decaying Diamond Peak, just out of reach. After my sixth birthday, my dad, an artist and anthropologist working for the Forest Service, introduced my brothers and me to what can legitimately be called the great outdoors when he guided us up this Peak’s slopes of crumbling basalt. Lesser in stature to its nearby siblings the multifaceted mountain is nevertheless distinct. As I scrambled up scree and shale on all fours to the summit, there developed within me a newfound sense of awe and perspective, and, although I did not physically document any of those early moments, they still shaped my mind as a photographer. We will return to the mountains shortly.
Unlikely as it seemed in a setting like Oakridge, skateboarding soon thereafter became my chosen teenage pastime. Exploration remained the common thread, however, as I rode, scraped and slid my board across every square inch of that town’s asphalt, concrete and wood surfaces. One year later my family relocated to Springfield, Oregon and there was once again new ground to cover. Skateboarding became more than a hobby or passion, it was an obsession that everything I did filtered through. Eventually it would serve as a catalyst to my creative pursuits. I had always considered myself more of a wanderer than an artist, despite the amount of creativity that flows out from my family, but when I first began to record my friends skateboarding I fell in love with the craft. With the local pawn shop as my camera store and a pair of VHS players to edit my videos I was in business as the first go-to filmmaker for sponsor-me tapes. As the trend began to gain in popularity I decided to set the camcorder down and instead took interest in film photography.
Silhouettes were largely all I produced with my first roll of film using my dad’s 1970’s Canon AE-1, likely the same camera used to photograph us atop Diamond Peak more than a decade prior, and now I had the ability to freeze-frame the world as I saw it. Learning to capture my friends skateboarding, a subject matter that required expediency and seldom provided second chances, quickly honed my skills through trial and error. Transworld Skateboard Magazine photographers Atiba Jefferson and Jon Humphries inspired me most to learn the importance of manipulating light, and, without proper education, comparison between my work and theirs often became my instructor.
Later a degree in Multimedia Design presented opportunities in photojournalism and editorial work, and I began collaborating with other creative individuals and their ideas. My first job as an assistant photo editor for the college shaped my art as a storyteller. When next I became an assistant to fashion photographer Chad Boutin, my skills as a director were sharpened. Eventually I applied these talents toward a collaborative effort with Andrew Young to create a youth-culture-targeted music and art magazine called Minute Morning. As a more assertive approach to portraiture evolved with studio lighting and creative direction of musicians and celebrities, I realized my desire to work with people would be long term.
A part in skateboarding carried on as I rolled over into my twenties and moved to Portland, but it diminished upon my breaking of one leg after another. The silver lining of each injury was their associated physical therapy prompting me to resume hiking and regain my strength. The mountains’ call once again rang clear in my heart. As time went on I became an avid mountaineer, trail runner and general outdoor enthusiast. The more I’ve been reacquainted with exploration and adventure the more I feel drawn to my roots as a mountain man.
My excitement for the great outdoors is now coupled with a desire to capture people enjoying it. In addition to active lifestyle photography, you will also discover that my portfolio is heavily steeped in portraiture and the commercial market, especially as relates to the comforts of food and drink. Ultimately my greatest desire, indeed greater than skateboarding, the great outdoors, or even photography itself, is in working with people to both learn and tell their stories. Of course it never hurts when the story is coupled with a scenic backdrop.
To learn more about my work as a photographer and filmmaker, please contact me directly by phone, mail or contact form. Additionally I am available to share about myself as a photography mentor, mountain guide, trail runner and as a person in general.
James T. Holk