Introducing CONTACT: a new experiment in spontaneous portraits

Photographer Chris Blott introduces his new project for the iPad edition of Ernest Journal: a series of unplanned portraits where each person nominates then interviews the next. Filmmaker James Aiken starts the conversation...


Ernest: What do your films say about your view of the world?

James Aiken: I hope they show there is far more to be appreciated and learnt from people who live quiet lives in wild places. Often they have a huge amount of compassion for their surroundings, a sense of pride and belonging, which I think we’re beginning to lose. It’s refreshing to be among people who understand the nature around them, where conservation is a fundamental feature in their lives, not an afterthought. 

Ernest: What’s the hardest quality to attain and retain throughout life?

James Aiken: It’s important to maintain a clear vision of the person you want to be, and not be corralled by easier options that present themselves. There have been times in my life when I’ve realised I’m halfway down a path I had no intention of going and even though I may be having a wonderful time, the best thing to do is change tack, however hard it may be.

Ernest:  What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

James Aiken: I must have been 11 years old, at my grandfather’s funeral. My cousin, who’d travelled a lot, said to me, “If you end up working in an office before you’re 30, you’ve fucked up.”  We’ve spoken about it since and he doesn’t remember saying it; I think it was quite a boozy occasion, but it really resonated with me. I’d just started sailing dinghies and playing on a bodyboard so my mind was racing with adventures and experiences I wanted to chase.

Ernest: What’s the last book you read?

James Aiken: I’ve just finished reading Lea McNally’s The Highland Year. It’s about his life as a stalker in the Scottish Highlands. I read it while working in London and it offered a great mental escape from city life. My sister bought me an original copy and it’s full of McNally’s own photography; beautiful black and whites of eagle eyries and Highland vistas.

Ernest: Tell us about your next adventure.

James Aiken: In August I’m shooting my next project An Oaken Yarn. It’s about a sailing adventure in the North Atlantic and will be more of a feature than my last two films. It’s been great to experiment with short films but many people have told me they could be much longer. I’m really inspired by the North Atlantic; I feel very close to it as an environment.

Ernest: Who have you chosen to be next in the CONTACT chain?

James Aiken: Photographer James Bowden. His work has an honesty that allows the moment to really come through, which I think comes from a passion for genuine travel, immersing himself in the situation without being too focused on photography. We’ve travelled together and collaborated and it’s always been a pleasure.

Watch James Aiken's films Home Ground and Almost Arctic on his website.

CONTACT is exclusive to the iPad editions of Ernest Journal. Download the latest issue to read part two, as James Aiken interviews James Bowden.

Chris has mainly worked as a photographer in the fashion industry, based in London and New York. He is now establishing Quiggleys - beautifully crafted, simple knitwear made in Scotland.