Sydney-born photographer James Houston has made a career out of shooting athletic bodies at the peak of their physical condition.
He shot the official calendar for the 2000 Olympics, plus the award-winning book Rawmoves which contrasted the bodies of Australia’s three leading dance companies.
His latest book, One, takes an artistic look at how far the human body can be stretched and pulled through the practice of yoga.
Houston, who these days resides in New York, came up with the idea for the book while taking ashtanga classes in Sydney’s Paddington.
While taking these classes I was amazed by the abilities of the people around me, and I decided I had to shoot pictures of them, he said.
I started in Australia but ended up shooting overseas as well. I wanted to shoot men, women, black, white, old, young, pregnant.
He also took photos of model Kristy Turlington, a famous yoga enthusiast, as well as the instructors of Madonna and Sting.
It’s interesting looking at the different body types in the book, Houston said. There’s hairy, shaved, old, wrinkly. It’s really about diversity and the idea that although we’re all different, we’re still all one. One with each other.
All proceeds from One will be donated to Australia’s National Breast Cancer Foundation, something Houston decided to do after his own yoga teacher battled breast cancer herself. The book was launched in Sydney this week by the Foundation’s patron Sarah Murdoch.
There is also an exhibition of photographs from One at Westfield Bondi Junction starting this week. Proceeds from the sale of prints will also go to the cancer charity.
Houston was a male model before he took up photography in his mid-20s. He became renowned as a nude photographer and for shooting fashion for magazines like Vogue, Italian Harper’s Bazaar and Wallpaper. He’s also done major fashion campaigns for companies including GAP, Donna Karan and Bonds.
But his specialty, Houston said, is skin and beauty photography. When he moved to New York in 2000 he realised he needed something to make him stand out from the crowd.
Somewhere like New York, where there are 30,000 photographers, you’ve really got to specialise and really work out what you can do better than everybody else.
So I focused on skin and beauty and body and it’s really paid off. I’ve sort of created my own little niche with this thing.
And since moving to New York he’s become popular amongst the celebrity set, having shot Cate Blanchett, Kirsten Dunst, Sheryl Crow, Jewell, Kevin Spacey and Paris Hilton among others.
So how does working with such beautiful and healthy people every day make him feel about his own body?
Well, I’m in pretty good shape, especially for a 40-year-old, he laughed. But it’s really an inspiration, to be honest. I admire them.
At the same time, when you’re working with, say, dancers, there’s such a small window of opportunity when they’re at their peak before their body gets destroyed or their feet get screwed. The people I generally work with are dedicated to it. It’s a real dedication to have a body like that and to be in that shape. It’s not easy.
One is available from major booksellers, RRP $59.95. An exhibition of photographs from the book can be seen at Westfield Bondi Junction from 2 to 18 December.