Entoptika Photography is the project of James Evans, a freelance photographer based in Forest Hill, London. Initially just a name for a website to display pictures on, the word ‘entoptika’ was a reference to entopic phenomenon – the patterns and shapes that appear in altered states of mind – and original enough to be available as a one word domain name…
“Throughout my childhood I always loved taking photographs, at first on my parent’s 35mm compacts (usually on summer holidays) and later on my own cameras. In my early 20s, digital cameras began to appear and I often had a camera with me at events I attended, well before the days of everyone having a camera phone. Apart from a brief spell owning an Olympus OM2, which baffled me until I killed it with sand on a holiday, I never had a ‘proper camera’ until I finally stopped talking about it and invested in a Nikon D80 in 2008, after a brush with death. 3 years later a D7000 came into my life and I was always taking photos, but expressed a desire to keep it as a hobby, in case I ruined my love for it. I was also probably a bit scared of it. But, in 2013, I was made redundant from my scientific research job and found myself at a loose end, trying not to lose the plot with the job centre. Finally, I decided perhaps I could start a business off the back of all those comments from friends and family telling me I should ‘do this for a living’, made some greetings cards and found an obscure scheme called the New Enterprise Allowance, which would allow me to try and make money, whilst still signing on, but not having to apply for loads of jobs I wasn’t going to get. My first visit to a shop in Forest Hill with the cards resulted in them taking all that I had brought with me.”
Starting out at Greenwich Market, James tried to sell fine art photography to unsuspecting tourists seeking street food and their name shaped out of some wire and quickly gave up and began to focus on local one-off affairs at Christmas and summer fairs in south-east London whilst taking over care of his baby son.
“Naturally, being the main carer for my young baby/toddler/son, I decided the ‘fine-art’ route to success may have been a little ambitious and tried my hand at baby photography to try and lessen the impact of the mortgage on my redundancy payout. I loved the work, enjoy trying to make babies laugh and smile and parents were always happy with the results. Unfortunately, a rather saturated market and, perhaps, my gender, meant it was a struggle when trying to get clients and the idea never really managed to deliver a regular income. Plus I only had 2 days a week to spare really. Although it was substantially better for the soul than carrying loads of stock to a market and watching people drink latte all day while they browsed my pictures and told me how wonderful they were.”
After some reflection and a little guidance, in late 2015, James made the decision to specialise in an area of photography, rather than snapping away at everything. Architectural Photography was the choice and a PPI refund helped pay for a new, full frame, Nikon d750 and a perspective control lens that cost more than the camera. By early 2016 a new website was born and Architectural images began to appear under the name ‘archoptical’.
“I decided to focus on architecture and immediately set about creating a body of work with the long term aim of generating a paying career out of photography by the time my son was in full time education. It gave me about a year and a half to play with. Specialising in an area was incredibly difficult for me and nearly finished me off with professional photography completely. But, as it happened, architecture was something I’d always been interested in, but had never really realised. Suddenly, I had focus and I found myself forcing myself to ignore the graffiti and the public art, on the way to some building or construction project I had originally intended to photograph. Things started to become much clearer in my head. I still wanted to pursue the ‘fine-art’ side of photography, but realised that I had been making nice pictures which I thought people might buy, instead of expressing any artistic message through my work. Once I’d managed to remove the idea of art for profit from my mind, I was able to find space to breath and time to refocus on my photography as art.”
Selling photography as art is often challenging and it can feel as though a photograph is viewed as less artistic somehow, than a painting, or a sculpture. Why? Because art is not just a pretty picture, but a message and photography is a relatively new art form. Currently, Entoptika Photography’s long term focus is light painting projects, combining photography with artistic expression in order to challenge the perception of photography as not real art.
“Art is about expression of ideas, although many still see it as a pretty picture (unless it’s one made by ‘pressing a button’). I wracked my brains for quite a while, first recalling some ideas I had generated many, many years before and then trying to work out how to express them with a camera. I’d been very interested in prehistory and rituals, reading a great deal about prehistoric humans and their use of mind-altering substances and practices, often expressed through ancient art. I’d also done an epic road trip around England and Wales a few years earlier, taking pictures of as many stone circles as I could find. Looking back on the pictures with a keener eye, I knew I could do better, quality-wise, but I also wanted to portray their purpose as well as their look. A few ideas came to mind, but the lasting one involved light painting and I started to play about with lights in the back garden at night. Things developed and I tried different sources out and then took the ideas to a local stone circle in London (built in 2000). Cold cathode lights were not really bright enough for what I wanted, so I started to investigate LEDs. Given the choice between making my own light, or buying a ready made product, I decided there would be less likelihood of electric shocks and more likelihood of actually doing light painting if I splashed out, so I shipped in a pixelstick from America and soon headed to darkest Dartmoor for some hard, but rewarding light painting in three stone circles at night. I aim to light up more stones in the future. Once I’ve recovered…”