James Stopforth is a 25 year old London-based photographer. Wonderland talked to him about the “dark adventures” that inspire his work…

Growing up in Dorset, James realised early on that he “always did best at anything practical. As long as I was creating something, I was happy.” He toyed with a number of creative ventures – “painting, product design [and so forth]” – before settling on photography.

It proved a wise decision: whilst at university, James’s interest in building objects that can be used as props in his images led him to work assisting legendary set designer Shona Heath. Heath’s productions have graced the pages of Vogue and formed the centre piece of ad campaigns for Hermes, Dior and Mulberry, amongst others. On his time with Heath, James says: “she is amazing. I learnt a lot from her. There would be focused guidelines of what [she] needed, but [there was] always trust that I could create it.”

Today, James’s photography incorporates large-scale sets and installations that have become a signature of his work, alongside dark, mythical pastoral influences that possibly belie his Dorset roots. A recent project saw him build a horse’s head out of driftwood, to fit over a model’s head. But, he says, he’s not ready to be pigeonholed just yet. ” It could be based around the model I’m shooting, or an installation I’ve designed. My aesthetic is still very open ended.”

James prefers to work with a 6×7 camera for film “especially for more experimental lighting. It just looks better… the way light reacts with film, but also the shape of the frame allows me to layer things up with multiple exposures.” But he isn’t adverse to digital. “Sometimes I use both and have the two cameras on the go. I love the idea of mixed media. Even commercial fashion pictures can be layered up with inks and paints.”

James juggles his own projects with his work with Tim Walker. “Working with Tim is an honour… he has such a fresh outlook and is constantly inspired.” The job sees James travelling the world, assisting for shoots with Vogue and W, among other titles, and numerous ad campaigns. James says through Walker he has learnt the importance of building a strong team on set, and says he appreciates Walker’s “fantastical” approach. “I’m interested by things that don’t exist, and the temptation in thinking that they might.”

A recent solo project was an advertising campaign for Reiss, which had a Christmas brief. Perhaps surprisingly for such a sleek brand, James “somehow managed to convince them to go with a human snowman theme.” Low on budget, he “took everyone to a remote village in Dorset. We had a great team but no assistants. We took over a miniature cottage that had its own wood, and I recruited my family in to help.” It still tickles James that the final images of the models, glacial and cloaked in snow, had a slightly less glamourous genesis than expected. “I will never forget the image of my sister shooting a snow cannon from the hip like Rambo, up in a tree…”

In the long-term, James plans to do more editorial, “work through all my old ideas, and develop a whole stash of new ones.” The world of advertising still interests him, too. “I’d enjoy the chance to revive some of these brands that just churn out dull adverts for their lovely products.”

As for the immediate future? James says that he’s currently “building a phoenix, a kind of firebird, that I’m halfway through. Oh, and just some simple portraits. It’s not all about the making after all.”

Words: Olivia Gagan