Dominique James


When did your interest on photography start?

The earliest time that I think I got interested in photography was when I was in grade school. A Filipino uncle visiting from the US gave me a Kodak Instamatic point-and-shoot film camera with the rotating flashbulb that burns off on four sides. I understood what the “toy” was for and I happily snapped at anything and everything that caught my fancy. This is probably the earliest manifestation of my interest in photography. A couple of years later, my uncle died, and for some strange reason, I was very much affected. I couldn’t stop crying at his funeral and burial. Maybe it had something to do with his kindness and generosity; up to that age, and next to my parents and grandparents, he was the only one who actually gave me a gift of comparatively “considerable” value. I don’t remember how I lost the camera but the memory of it sure remains.

Everything was forgotten for a long time, or my interest lay dormant for a long time, until, during high school, I picked photography as some sort of an “elective”. Photography was a part of the humanities subject in high school taught by a memorable teacher, Shirlee Mercado. It was Ms. Mercado who first taught me the principles of photography and the basics of manual camera operation. I was fascinated and I took the lessons to heart. Even in college, when I focused more on features and creative writing, I never forgot the lessons I learned, and it became second nature to me to operate still cameras.


What was your first camera?

The very first manual  camera I used, and  eventually owned, was a  Canon rangefinder, the  Canonet QL. This camera  was originally owned  by Shirlee Mercado, my  high school Humanities  teacher. It was the very  first film camera I used  when I was learning  the rudiments of  photography.


When did you realize that you wanted to pursue photography as a profession?

Ten years after I  graduated from college,  that was when I  decided I wanted to  pursue photography as  a profession. Engaged  in media work, and  having worked with  the top photographers of that time, it  dawned on me that I would be happy  as a photographer. Looking back, I’m  glad I made the career shift. It was, of  course, difficult at first. I had to build my  credentials from scratch. Little by little,  I started taking on bigger and better  projects. The first few months when I  decided to shift, I tentatively introduced  myself to a stranger who was asking  what I do for a living. I told him that I am  a photographer. I surprised myself and at  the same time felt very good about it.

What was your first paying project?

My first paying project was a fashion  shoot of the Vincent Versace vintage  collection. It was followed by Swatch,  Disney, and Mercedes Benz.


Your most memorable shoot (in a good way or in a bad way)?

I have too many memorable shoots,  in both good and bad way. I would be  hard-pressed to single out any particular  one I’ve done. Each photo session is  actually memorable in itself.

Your most favorite shoot?

Again, there are too many to mention,  but two that come to mind are the still  unpublished and unreleased set of  images from my shoot of a pregnant  Melanie Marquez and a marathon  session with Regine Tolentino. These  are favorites, and memorable, because I  succeeded in pushing and changing my  stylistic approach to photography with  these projects.


Since you have photographed thousands of famous and infamous personalities in your entire career, who can you consider your favorite subject?

Two of my favorite  subjects are: Borgy  Manotoc and Kuh  Ledesma. Borgy exhibits  an extraordinary sense  of power. His presence  in a photograph is  commanding. Kuh,  on the other hand,  also possesses a  commanding presence  but in a most feminine  way. Both are  compelling subjects to  be photographed. I am  thankful that a lot of  celebrities have given of  themselves to me during  my photo sessions with  them. Included in my  list of most memorable  subjects are: Regine  Velasquez, Jackie Lou  Blanco, Jay-R, Kyla,  Dingdong Dantes, Sam  Milby, among others.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from  cinematographers. I am  inspired by the artistic  genius of Kurosawa and Storaro. It has been said that if you  randomly select any frame from any of  the movies they have done, and print  that image, it can stand as a photograph.  The visual language that these two great  cinematographers have created is one  of my inspirations when it comes to  image-making style. Of course, I also get  inspired by the talents I photograph. The  beauty, strength and grace that I see in  my subjects inspire me to take fantastic  images of them. Another source of  inspiration is the equipment I am using.  I am inspired by the technology behind  digital photography from the camera  and light system to the post-production  computer hardware and software. In  particular, I am inspired when using the  Macintosh system.


When composing a shoot, do you think in terms of lines or angles?

I think in terms of curves, lights and  shadows.

What ticks you off during a shoot?

When something I want or I need is  not on hand. When the model, who  is getting paid an obscene amount of  money, does not know what he or she is  doing. And, when the shoot is slow.


What is the distinct mark of a Dominique James photo?

I’m not sure if there’s such a thing, but  if there is, you’ll probably see it in the  eyes.

When in a shoot, what can’t you live without? What’s in your bag?

What I can’t live without when shooting  is znot in my bag. I always bring  with me my two best accessories  when I’m shooting: my two assistant  photographers.


What keeps you up during a shoot? Caffeine? Sugar fix?


What would you absolutely not shoot?

Nothing. I’ll shoot everything.


What will you shoot for fun?

Everything I shoot is fun for me.

As an educator, what will your students remember most about you? “Fabulous!”

What will you be if you’re not a photographer? Nothing. While I didn’t start out as a  photographer right away, which is my  biggest regret, I cannot imagine being  anyone else other than myself, that of  being a photographer.


When not shooting famous people, what keeps you busy?

I sleep. I hardly have time to do anything  else. There are a few other things that I  do but all are still basically in line with  photography such as teaching. I also  make it a point to find time to keep  learning new things. What little time I  have left, I spend with my son, Marcus  Alexander, and my partner, Roel.

Will you ever call it quits? If and when you do, what’s next?

I cannot imagine doing anything  else. Photography is my life’s work,  commitment and passion.


How would like to be remembered?

A photographer. Just that. Nothing more,  nothing less.

Advice to aspiring fashion photographers.

First: Keep shooting. Second: Whenever  you can afford it, buy the latest and  the greatest! Not that it can help you  create better photographs, but because  it’s more fun to have the latest and the  greatest.

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