James Herbert's photographs of nude young adults, seemingly lost in the intimacy of a moment, combine conceptions of film and photography with elements of art history to create images that hover between the worlds of fact and fiction, between the romantic and the real. The photographs, made of frames selected from his films, are thus the product of a collaboration between Herbert, functioning as an engaged director, and his subjects. As images, they are more poetic and symbolic than concrete, photographic allegories that draw on the visual traditions of painting.
In 1989, using black and white, and color motion picture film that he shot mostly in the 1980s, Herbert projected individual frames, one by one, on a wall, selecting specific ones that he then re-photographed with 35mm black and white film. He later enlarged the images, printing them on 16 x 20 inch paper. This process of re-photographing and then enlarging emphasized the grain of the film and created an aesthetic that mirrors the plasticity of paint. It makes the flesh palpable, in the same way that layering paint on a canvas can provide a visceral experience. He selected the frames to photograph for their still properties, thus they are not necessarily the same edit he used for the films he made from the same footage, which were also made with a re-photographic process.
Born in 1938 in Boston, Herbert grew up in Rhode Island. As a teenager he attended figure drawing classes at the Rhode Island School of Design. He received a B.A. in art history at Dartmouth College in 1960 and an M.F.A. in painting in 1962 at the University of Colorado where he studied briefly with Clyfford Still and Stan Brakhage. Herbert moved to Athens, Georgia in 1962 and taught painting and filmmaking at the University of Georgia for many years.
Herbert has made over forty short films and four independent features as well as many music videos for R.E.M and the B52s. He has earned numerous fellowships, grants and awards including two Guggenheim Fellowships (one for film and one for painting). Herbert's paintings were exhibited regularly in the 1970s at the Poindexter Gallery in New York. His paintings and films have been exhibited in numerous solo and major group exhibitions including two Whitney Biennials, the Walker Art Center and the Los Angeles County Museum, and his work is represented in many museums and archives, as well as private collections, including the Centre Pompidou in France, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, King and Spalding in Atlanta, Coca Cola U.S.A., Michael Stipe, Gus Van Sant, Martin Scorsese and Elton John.