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"Stealing Dead Souls" - "Rough Edge Photography" by James W. Bailey

01 January 2005


“Stealing Dead Souls”
“Rough Edge Photography” by James W. Bailey

INVITATION TO THE MEDIA PREVIEW - Saturday, January 15, from 4:00 - 5:00 pm.

James W. Bailey
(WPA/Corcoran Artist Directory - Page 370)
Force Majeure Studios
2142 Glencourse Lane
Reston, VA 20191
Ph: 703-476-1474
Cell: 504-669-8650
Email: JamesWBailey@comcast.net
Web site: http://jameswbailey.artroof.com


RE: “Stealing Dead Souls” - An Art Exhibition of “Rough Edge Photography” by Experimental Mississippi Photographer James W. Bailey.

EXHIBITION VENUE: Black Rock Center for the Arts. Exhibition runs from January 12 through February 11. Opening Reception on Saturday, January 15, from 5:00 - 7:00 pm.

(Reston, Va) Does photographing a person steal their soul? In certain tribal communities, this is a sincerely held belief; indeed, many Native Americans have long believed that photographs capture the souls of the living and imprison them within the photographic image. If taking a photograph of the living can steal souls, what happens if you photograph something dead or inanimate? Do the dead or non-living have souls? If so, can the souls of the dead be stolen by photographing them?

From January 12 through February 12, the Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Maryland, will present, “Stealing Dead Souls”, an exhibition of “Rough Edge Photography” by national award-winning experimental Mississippi photographer, James W. Bailey, which explores the concept of photography and its mystical ability to steal the life of the non-living.

Born and raised in Mississippi, Bailey explains the cultural basis for his spiritual beliefs about the power of photography to steal souls of the living and the dead: “I have a religious belief, probably inherited from my paternal Mississippi grandmother who was ¼ Choctaw Indian, and who was extremely distrustful of cameras, that photography has the magical power to capture a living element of life, a flashpoint of the soul if you will.”

Bailey explains the philosophy for his spiritual beliefs about photography: “The process of photographing a living person or ‘non-living’ entity, an object or building, for example, at a particular moment in time captures an element of life of that entity in a fixated way that would normally be lost to history. I believe that photographic images that have been taken of the living or the dead literally capture an element of the life force that presented itself in that moment that was captured.

When this living element, or the particle of the soul of the living or dead, if you will, is captured, it has the capability of re-generating itself in much the same way that certain life forms can lose a limb and regenerate it. The process of film photography literally steals a portion of life and can regenerate an aspect of that stolen fragment of life through the presented photograph itself.

Having lived in New Orleans for most of my adult life, I do believe in the life of the dead. The dead do live and have feelings and emotions, can experience pain and recall memories, and have the capability to consent. I also understand how difficult this might be for photographers like the paparazzi or Sally Mann or Andres Serrano or thousands of others to grasp.”

Morality in photography is a major concern expressed by Bailey. He believes that photographers must act in a moral fashion with respect for the people and objects they photograph: “This is an important issue for me. I don’t want souls drifting around in the universe angry at me for what I have done. Some photographers don’t care about the morality of photography: paparazzi, for example, photographing Princess Diana while she lay dying in the car in Paris, or Sally Mann photographing dead bodies without their permission from her on the grounds of a forensic research facility, or Andres Serrano photographing corpses without their permission from him. These are photographic acts perpetrated by reckless and immoral photographers who are more concerned about associating their names with their work and their work with fame and fortune than they are about the moral issues of life and death and the right of the living, as well as the dead, to consent to acts that portray them in art.”

Bailey freely admits that his photographs themselves steal the souls of the living or none-living objects he photographs. He says that he is constantly walking a tightrope with the ethical implications of what he photographs and how it might damage or adversely impact the souls of his subjects: “The great photographers, whether they know it or not, are photographers who have taken stolen elements of life through photography and have placed those living substances into a context where the photographically captured life force has been encouraged toward positive growth and appreciation by the people who see the photograph. It’s my goal as a photographer to aspire to this ethical principle of photography.”


Bailey’s experimental “Rough Edge Photography” technique involves exploring the “death of chemically developed negatives and prints” through the use of found 35mm source cameras he purchases in thrift stores. His process incorporates the violent manipulation of unexposed film, developed negatives and prints. Undeveloped film may be subjected to intense heat or pin pricks through the film canister. Developed negatives are burned, scratched, slashed or cut, as are the prints. In some cases, the original negative is melted onto the final print. The found camera that is used to shoot a particular narrative series of photographs is frequently smashed upon completion of the series. The subjection of Bailey’s film negatives and prints to his process, combined with the destruction of the source camera, results in a unique image that can not be duplicated: each “Rough Edge Photography” piece is an original work of art. The artist does not produce prints or authorized reproductions of his images.


Born in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1959, Bailey is a self-taught artist/photographer and an experimental imagist writer. His art focus also includes Littoral Art projects that explore the fleeting moments of cross-cultural communicative intersections; film projects, including the short film, Talking Smack; “Wind Painting”, a unique naturalistic art practice inspired by the vanishing Southern African-American cultural tradition of the Bottle Tree; and street photography centered on the hidden cultural edges of inner city New Orleans life. Bailey’s experimental imagist literary works include, The Black Velvet Smash and the Missing Gospel of William S. Burroughs, Cold Dark Matters, Eastern 304, Killing Film Noir, and, two books of poetry, The Despised American Edition and Southern Standard Time, all published by Force Majeure Press. He has also written a full-length feature film screenplay, The Cold, a crime drama based on a true story set in New Orleans, which is currently in pre-production development.

The Black Rock Center for the Arts and experimental photographer James W. Bailey.

The Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Maryland, presents, “Stealing Dead Souls”, an exhibition of “Rough Edge Photography” by the experimental Mississippi artist, James W. Bailey. Bailey’s unique photographic style incorporates the violent scratching, slashing and burning of his prints and negatives.

Exhibition runs from January 12 through February 11. Exhibit is free and open to the public. An opening reception will take place on Saturday, January 15, from 5:00 - 7:00 pm.

The Black Rock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown, Maryland 20874. For directions, see the Black Rock Center for the Arts web site at http://www.blackrockcenter.org/directions.htm

STEALING DEAD SOULS WEB SITE: http://www.stealingdeadsouls.blogspot.com