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September 14, 2004

{     Interview : Naughty James     }    

I saw a photograph a long while ago that struck a chord with me like few others had. I saw it that day in passing, but sadly did not have the time to investigate in further. I didn't even know who had taken it, but that photo had managed to leave quite a mark somewhere deep in the back of my head. An image burned into my memory that amongst the millions of things I saw each and every day, I would not forget.

It was a photo of a girl on the floor of a kitchen, her clothes missing and and only her legs visible to me, or to the camera rather. It was strange, uneasy, simply really, and it made me feel something; something that wasn't okay. The photo made me think of sex, but nothing erotic was taking place. I saw violence in that scene, but there were no wounds or signs of a struggle. There was a sadness, but no tears. So much was said to me with that image, and while most photographers do away with words and state their ideas using symbols and signs, this photo did even more without even the crutch of symbolism. I had only seen it for a second, but I remembered it often, and I thought of it as something that while it most definitely had a curious beauty, I also kind of wished I could make it go away. Like opening the car door of a horrible traffic accident and seeing something bloody and horrid, and how late at night before you fall asleep it pops in your brain and you shake your head and try to think of something else, something easy. But you can't, because it's there. It's with you.

Fast forward to a time much more recent, when I came upon the portfolio of a certain Naughty James, also known by his mother as Craig Cowling, and lo and behold I had found the photographer. I had found the guilty party, and now I bring him to you...

Shane: Let's get this out of the way: What's up with the name Naughty James?
Craig: Aha, the million dollar question first, what a surprise! Okay it was given to me by one of my friends at Uni, a really cute israeli girl called Adi. One day about a week after we first met, still loaded from the previous night's party and lost and wondering in a smoggy, warm london summer we eventually ended up chilling out at the Saatchi gallery and we started to flirt a little... to cut a long story short she had got my name confused, apparently I was now James, but... well, she was cute and I had no intention of correcting her. After all, we were getting on so well. It was a good story, my friends enjoyed and of course embellished it... so here I am, Naughty James.

Yeah, sorry about that, but it had to be done. Maybe 3 less people will ask you now that they've read it here. So, speaking of cute girls, may I ask how you choose the subjects of your photos? Are they friends? Partners? Lovers? Sex workers?
I have a great debt to a young woman called Samantha Edwards, a beautiful girlfriend of mine that never took a bad photo. We had so many laughs especially one evening which contained nothing other than three bottles of moet, a length of carpet, and a desklamp. To this day, I still regard the photographs I took on that night as to be the best I have ever produced. The rest of the girls and boys in the photographs are indeed my harem of lovers. I only photograph my lovers.

Ah, so you simply keep a camera under your pillow, eh? So I must ask in the interest of all we budding pornogra... I mean photographers, what is your special secret for getting your guests to allow your snapping a few pics of their more naughty moments?
Trust comes into play, I'd never force someone into doing something they don't feel comfortable doing. As a matter of fact the majority of the people i have shot have approached me rather than the other way round. Obviously I can't give away my secrets, but its always fun.

Do you work primarily with digital tools and processes, or do you still do most of your creation off the screen?
If budget allows I work with traditional 35mm or 120 film every time. I love my old Nikon FM2 to death. Unfortunately no one is paying me to take the photos I do at the moment, so i've had to take the plunge into digital more and more over the past twelve months, which has been the bane of my life, but at the same time quite fun. There is still a vast improvement needed though every time if I'm to stop using traditional film for good.

Care to talk about the processes and materials that you use?
Sure. I use the Fujifilm range almost exclusively when I'm shooting traditionally : Velvia, Provia and Astia. Digitally, I do tweak around with my images on occasions, nothing major though, I never remove things from the image, just a mild unsharp mask and contrast tweaks.

While some are apparent, it's hard to determine with many of your photos if they are staged or are simply snapped in the moment. Which do enjoy more, the set-ups or the quick snaps?
I hate setting up photographs, especially when the model isn't really up to much. It's amazing the difference it has on your productivity and quality when you have a good model. I'm starting to recently find myself verging towards finding my snapshots more pleasing.

Would you care to talk about some of the ideas and symbolism you are attempting to get across with your work?
The purpose of my work is for you the viewer to make up your own story, that is what I set out to achieve. The last thing I personally want is an artist telling me what I have to see in their work. Half the time they are just bullshitting you anyway. I like the viewers of my work to feel like they have just stumbled across a situation they shouldn't have, like ... catching your parents having sex for example.

Care to explain to our readers what the 1095 Project is, and why you've committed yourself to such a long-term idea?
The 1095 project was started in december 2003, and will run for 1095 days. I started it after seeing a book called "365" by the very famous british fashion photographer Sean Ellis. It was supposed to be 365 days in the life of a fashion photographer, but I found it so fake, the images were dull on the most part and half of the book is filled with multiple stills from the same shoot spread over a number of days. I thought I'd do the same, but properly and for three times as long.

While your work is described as provocative and bold, how do you think your friends would describe you?
Quiet, Shy, Sexually Deviant.

Is that you in some of your photos? If so, I must say that for someone that calls himself shy, you are quite comfortable with a camera in what would be most people's most private moments. Why do you think that is?
I'm a firm believer in that you should only do to others what you would do or have done to yourself. Sometimes i get naked when i shoot the model that I'm working with, it seems to usually help make them relax and i always end up getting a productive result. Other times I take degrading pictures of myself as a way to express my emotions. Being shy just intensifies the thrill of taking and the showing of the photos... it's almost like an on going dare I have with myself. Maybe things are getting out of hand though...

Do you mess around in any other mediums besides photography?
I do a mean tea-leaves reading, but seriously, I can't draw or paint to save my life. It really stresses me out when I see a great image in my head and all I can do to reproduce it on paper is a few squiggly lines and some matchstick men.

What artist would you say has influenced your style the most?
Helmut Newton, without a shadow of a doubt. The man was a genius. Aside from that, i'd say Rob Robinson gave me a big kick up the bum when i was still taking boring photos of bands & still life... and Preshaa, a british illustrator who's works always get my creative juices going.

Speaking of artists and their influence, who was the first artist that you recall taking a serious interest in?
Quentin Blake, the artist who illustrated the Roald Dahl books. When I was young I wanted to grow up and draw like that. In fact I still do!

Do you collect anything? If so, may I ask what and why?
Not really to be honest, when I was growing up I used to collect muscle men figures and GI JOE, and of course stamps! In adulthood? I have got quite a collection of polaroid cameras. You can't beat a polaroid and an evening in.

While on the topic of possessions, what things in your life could you not be without?
My Nikon FM2, its forever breaking and eating films, but I can't not love it.

Lastly, why don't you tell us the last really naughty thing you took part in?
That would be telling wouldn't it, I do have some morals. I am however starting up a porn magazine that will debut in early 2005.

Well then, we can't exactly end it there then, can we? So please, tell us more about your upcoming porn mag!
The "porn" mag... is my new project for 2005, basically I'm sick to death of playboy style imagery and at the other end of the spectrum the whole Suicidegirls thing. What I have in mind is artporn... real images of real women and men, that haven't been airbrushed and posed. I asked around and found some like-minded individuals from the design community and some photographers... there is still someway to go yet, were still checking out demographics and other details.

    » See more from Naughty James, aka Craig Cowling, at


Thanks for the interview, it was good fun.


Posted by: Naughty James at September 23, 2004 10:25 AM

Um, you mean he's not admitting the similarity to Guy Bourdin? C'mon, direct rip off.

Posted by: Laslo at November 5, 2005 6:48 AM

I thank you too and Naughty James for the interview. How time flies -- it's 2006 now!

Posted by: Scocasso! at January 26, 2006 9:10 AM

This guy is a genius. I recently emailed Craig and was very helpful in advice on which SLR i should go for, love his stuff

Posted by: Ally at February 12, 2006 5:49 PM

This daft ponce claimed I did an biography about him and now I'm getting non-stop emails about it. I've never met the man in my life.

Posted by: Tim Clark at October 9, 2007 5:45 AM
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