Shoot the Breeze: James H Bollen

James H Bollen is a photographer living and working in China. His photos look like they were taken in a far-gone past, or in a strange future, I haven’t decided which.  James has a certain timelessness about him, maybe because his collaborators include long-gone legendary novelists like J.G. Ballard and William Morris. James is most well-known for his self-published book, Jim’s Terrible City, which depicts Shanghai through the lens of J.G. Ballard’s fiction. With excerpts from Ballard and a foreword written by his artist daughter, Fay Ballard, the book links modern Shanghai cityscape to Ballard’s wartime experience of destruction and surrealism. We can’t wait to see his next project, a book documenting interiors of abandoned Shanghai housing, set for release later this year. – CM


Huimin Rd, Yangpu


1. Why do you take photos?
Because I can’t paint!

2. Do you carry your camera with you everywhere you go?
In some form or other, yes.




3. What celebrity would you like to shoot most?
Though this is pushing it a bit, Thomas Pynchon. Well, after Inherent Vice he is one now! And he’s appeared on The Simpsons, albeit with a paper bag over his head.

4. What animal would you like to be, if not a human?
An emu. It has a good name.

5. What is your favorite smell?

Puji Rd, Zhabei



6. Would you like to live forever?
No, but we would all probably like to be young longer.

7. What do you think is the best photo you have ever taken to date?
The abandoned World War II fighter plane in Jim’s Terrible City. In the book and film of Empire of the Sun, the protagonist Jim climbs into one and imagines he’s flying it. I thought there would be one or one like it in Shanghai somewhere, and there was.

8. What’s your favorite pastime?
Can’t say I really have one as the pastimes of reading and going for walks are part of my work.




9. Do you like having your photo taken?
No, I’d much rather take other people’s!

10. Who are your favorite photographers, currently?
I’m working on a project about women in Shanghai and have been thinking about Juergen Teller and Sandy Kim’s photo’s. I love their vitality and beauty. Also for a long time now Wolfgang Tillmans and Rinko Kawauchi; their work is sublime. And I’d like to mention a few in China where I’ve been living – Ren Hang for the youth and imagination in his work, Zhang Xiao for the magic in his, and Chen Zhe for the way she portrays the dark subject matter in her book Bees.