Content is Key By inSpire with James R. Becraft

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We asked James Becraft about his journey into creativity and the impact that photography and art has made on his life.

InSpire - James, you have a passion for photography and art. Where did that come from? Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

Becraft - Well, I suspect my interest in art came from the handsome bassinets in Loma Linda University hospital when I got stuck there having been born 6 weeks early to a 19 year-old mother with more than a little creative license herself. I was actually what some people used to call legitimate.

inSpire - Glad to know that we’re talking with a human being who is legitimate. Tell me more about your love for photography.

Becraft - My first camera was one my dad brought home from the war--which for him was Hawaii, where he spent his time waiting for an invasion from a continent and country somewhat to the east of us. I am a nut about a certain style of German camera that most people think to be anachronistic. But the eye is what really counts. Get an old whatever you want, film or digital, and "go for it."

My uncle, Ronald L. Stout, was an art student at Chouinard in the 1950's. I remember sitting on the sofa drawing cartoons with him when he was about 22 and I about 5 years-old. I've been drawing people more or less ever since. We're all cartoons and colorful characters. One simply has to open one’s eyes to enjoy all the personalities. I am particularly interested in higher primates. Never been much for drawing monkeys.

I was about 6 years-old when my dad pawned off an old 35 mm Kodak in Fresno, I suppose. He left my brother and I in the car alone in a bad neighborhood in a retail district and came out of a camera store with a German twin lens reflex that I heard them say cost $125.00. Good camera. He later gave it to my brother, Tim, several years ago. Dad is 89 years-old now and has always liked cameras. So did my Grandfather--a Leica IIIf user. I've got one that was made in 1954 that works like a charm.

inSpire - So what have you done to earn a living?

Becraft - I have a masters in public health from Loma Linda University School of Public Health (LLUSPH). My Bachelors in Communications is from Pacific Union College. I took many hours in Middle East Studies, Islamics and Arabic, from Robert Darnell, Jim Sterling, and John Elick at Loma Linda, and lots of stuff like French at Portland State. I am passionate about public health, social justice, and human rights. I will research, argue, joke, and advocate for measures that help make communities and people healthier. Here in Oregon I have worked with a vast array of colleagues and allies to advance public health--my most important areas of expertise and areas of work have been in immunization program development and management as a consultant and now, working on tobacco prevention and education.

From the time I was a boy as a writer/communicator the "image" and "language" has been important to me. I regularly study my Bible in French, Spanish, Arabic, and English. I spent a year in Africa, Ethiopia, teaching school, which affected me greatly. While there I put out a catalog/annual for Wollega Adventist Academy in 1969 that used images and text. A woman by the name of Gladys Martin who went to Ethiopia in 1946 as a missionary was an important mentor to me.

My Mother Color Blind Watering Stoop Labor Memories
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inSpire - You have an interesting background James. It sounds like you’ve done some serious advocacy work to help people lead healthier lives. But as time consuming as all of that is, you haven’t let it get in the way of your passion for art.

Becraft - For quite a few years I slouched around not using my cameras much, mainly drawing and working on languages while I road on mass transit--too cheap to spend money on film and processing, but taking my cameras out from time to time to fondle them, but now I'm a serious art student.

inSpire - So you take photos and you draw cartoons?

Becraft - For sheer enjoyment nothing beats drawing. It is a spiritual experience to draw---particularly people. I find drawing makes my brain feel relaxed. It also helps me deal with boring pastors and people who drone on and on in meetings.

Art is a process, I believe, that can help you arrive at your authentic self. I think that's a good way to say it. I think one's spiritual path and art must and should be connected. Fundamentally, I think everyone is an artist. They simply don't recognize their capacity because often people put each other down inadvertently and sometimes maliciously. Check out the book, “Creative License,” by Danny Gregory.

inSpire - I’m intrigued that you are still using old film cameras. Aren’t you sort of swimming against the flow with this?

Becraft - Yes. I've liked fondling and using film cameras since childhood. But I think my use is more than nostalgic. I have a Leica M-9, a superb digital camera for what i like to do with several very fine lenses. But I still find myself wanting to use film for classic black and white. I like the Leica M-6 and yes, my old Leica IIIf's and a Leica CL. Each has a charm and utility that is special and in some ways anachronistic, but the results have that Leica look that I like. They're all unobtrusive to use and the lenses are superb. My brother, a fine photographer in his own right, and my nephew at Very Long Media use Canons and Nikons, all good cameras. But for what I like, my Leica's are far superior and much less obtrusive...quiet, available light, etc. in almost all situations of interest to me.

Of course, while Leicas are superb for most of what I like to do, if you really like to up the ante for "pixels" go for 4 x 5. I like to use a Linhof Master-Technica with Schneider and Rodenstock lenses but that is a lot of real work....and takes essentially a mule or a strong back to haul the equipment around. In the 1980's I did a couple of college catalogs with my Linhof and it was a weightlifting and hefty job schlepping the stuff all over of the scenics and portraits I took.

No. Film is not dead. I think it will have a place for use in art and communications for quite some time. Chucks, they're still shooting 35 mm cinematic and 70 mm cinematic film as well. Arriflex and Aaton's still have their place...as does the new Arri Alexa system. When I grow up into documentary film as an art student I want to use some of these cameras, but as my nephew Josef Long of Very Long Media, who has an MFA in film, and my nephews also in the communications business would say, content is key. The technology is just a vehicle for getting our story across.

For me the stories are about people, human rights, social injustice, the importance of public health work and people working together to solve challenges at the local and global levels. A camera, digital or film, is just that. It's a tool to use in telling a story. The written word has the same function. It must be used with power.

So...take out your old or new camera and powerful ideas and words and go to work, but have fun.

inSpire - We could go on and on. I’ve enjoyed picking your brain and getting acquainted with you as an artist. Thank you for sharing, and we wish you the very best.

This interview was conducted by Rich DuBose, Director of Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services and the inSpire project. All rights reserved © 2012 VisitInSpire.org. Click here for content usage information.