Ello Profile: https://ello.co/jamesemmerman
My practice began in the dark. Images captured between 3a-5a, in stairways, bathrooms, dark
corners and back rooms of parties, where the absence of light concedes the presence of
character. I met most of my early subjects while photographing queer nightlife in New York from
Over the years, my practice has moved into the light – specifically, that of the studio, as I bring
those I meet at odd hours and places into my space (or I to their space) for a more formal
In the resulting images, the line between fine art and documentary portraiture loses its shape.
Styling and set design elevate the pictures to represent a higher reality, building upon their
documentary origins. This mirrors how I see the queer experience - how what’s “real/external”
interacts with what’s “real/internal,” and the means in which my subjects make the two align.
But my goal is never to ‘capture’ my subjects or this idea entirely. The images are not definitive.
They instead reflect moments of collaborative representation—moments when boundaries
between photographer and subject resolve into something more, something that interrogates
the liminal space between artistic and self-representation.
In James Emmerman’s portraiture, the line between fine art and documentary photography isn’t
exactly a line. The two overlap; they ebb and flow into one another. His honest portraiture
celebrates and showcases the possibilities of contemporary community, gender, style, humor,
and persona. His work is as much an exploration of representation as it is technical artistry,
raising the question: when do images create reality, and when does reality create the image?
Emmerman is a North Carolina-raised, NYC-based photographer. In January 2018 he was
profiled by Milk Studios as an artist to watch, and in February he was named one of this year’s
FORMAT Artist winners. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Vogue, LOVE, Paper, Milk,
Pitchfork, Interview, them., VICE, Time Out New York, Billboard, Slate, OUT, Gayletter,
Subbacultcha, Gaytimes UK, Posture , and more.