Background Berghain Berlin

Article by Tiger Hilton

Here, James Graf is both the subject as a Model, and the photographer as the Artist. 


Self-Portrait photography is its own genre, which includes one's own likeness in the focus of the camera's lens. 


It represents the pinnacle of creative expression and total trust to access personal self-knowledge. 


It's goal is to deliver the visual truth for the Viewer via symbolic and actual positioning and placement of different elements, such as the outdoors environment in juxtaposition to a human, animal or natural plant subject etc.


Now the Photographer, who captures typically the essence of others, becomes the focal point of his own dynamic vision - through an aperture skillfully employed in his relentless quest for visual perfection through impeccability. 


It is said that the act of Self-Portraiture can be interpreted as 'augmenting our understanding by revealing more, or diminishing it, and thereby furthering a person's (intended) aura of mystery'. 


Born of introspection and free from external influences, this mode of Photographic Art captures a unique fusion of both the artist and their individual essence. 


What we would hope for is knowledge of the intimate spirit of the man at his core identity.


(Note: In the first instance, I would suggest viewing James Graf the 'Photographer',  strictly as James Graf the 'Model' for this discussion, as it can get quite confusing otherwise! 


Here, there is zero visual noise intended between the Photographer's vision and his ability to convey the correct  poses and expressions for the photograph at hand. 


Whilst it's an incongruous setting for an upmarket lounge chair, the seat appears solid enough to withstand the uneven ground of the snow and to present an image of aan of considerable achievement and career successes. 


As the Model, James possesses a rugged Supermodel's handsomeness (refer to Supermodel Marcus Schenkenberg and the famous Bruce Webber portrait of 1990s which helped Schenkenberg to usher in the era of the male Supermodel, comes to mind) and he wears this formal evening wear effortlessly. 


With absolutely no sense of irony intended, James Graf probably considers a tuxedo as part of his previous work's be outfits - where he was required to blend seamlessly amongst some of the world's wealthiest individuals, etc. 


He holds a long-stemmed rose but if we look closely, he has somewhat of a killer gaze that "could stop an approaching army in its tracks". 


Looking into the camera lens directly and with his head slightly offset, he projects neither a friendly nor hostile look... 


The single thought he projects becomes inextricably fused to the image for us to gaze upon.


But what is that thought we wonder?


Whilst there is no discernible tension in the eyebrow and forehead area, his gaze is masculine and piercingly strong, slightly intimidating, even!


Either wariness of people in general or a show of male virility and sexual conquesting in the say, James Bond 007's traditions of fast women and fast cars. 


But we would not know unless we asked him directly. 

Let's look at that Bond 007 connection because this topic is quite fascinating!!!


A quick examination of James's professional resume shows numerous comparable and high-level secret missions - work that was prevalent in the lives of both these individuals...


The main difference is, that James Graf has actually lived this precarious and highly dangerous work for a living as a real man, and not just a fictional character as with James Bond 007. 


Indeed, our James has spent years in training and deployment at an elite level for his country within the Special Forces in Germany. 


Later, when protecting foreign Royalty, he went to the expected extremes required to save an individual of high net worth.


So in this Self-portrait, do we get an image of openness or caution here? 


His hand is covering his mouth and jawline, so we are unable to get a read on his true facial expression - rather like the Mona Lisa and the centuries of conjecture as to her true expression shown by her mouth.


What can be observed however, is the absence of socks with the Model's shoes, so maybe, we wonder, is this part of a macho display of toughness (if so, it is very convincing given the freezing cold of the environment!!!).


Remember too, that James Graf is a globally acknowledged and highly awarded Photographic Artist whose work has a studied perfection about it.


So really, it is hard to imagine anything occurring 'by accident' in a photograph.  


His muscular and defined body's position and shape is framed by the gigantic and overwhelmingly sized mountain range in the background. 


Colossal- gargantuan even!


It's almost as if his country of residence has symbolically 'got his back for him' and provides him ultimate safety after years of faithful military service despite the rigours of being tasked as solely responsible for protecting another man's life. 


In the final analysis, "shaken not stirred" is the order of the day to apply our own imaginations.


It's worthwhile bolstering our awareness of James as bringing extensive and varied experience to his current achievements artistically, hence his numerous international level Photographic awards.  


Whatever conclusions we might draw without additional conformation by the Artist, this is a hugely compelling photograph with highly effective visuals.


Its simplicity is to marry the Model as it's subject, immediately to the country he identifies with so strongly. 

This could be where James's true sense of identity may or may not be found- as his origins are those of a native German by birth. 

Whilst I know nothing as to how this may be interpreted culturally (eg; the chair may hold some special significance to followers of his work, or to the country of Switzerland itself), from an Australian point of view we would say "Yeah why not have a man in a tuxedo, on a chair with a rose in his hands and surrounded by 2,500 to 4,000 meters of Swiss alpine mountains as the background?!" 

Article by Tiger Hilton

Interview with Artells Magazine

1. Tell us about yourself and your profession.

2. What are the pros and cons of your work?
3. What do you like to do in your free time?
4. Do you have your own motto, mission?
5. Where should a beginner start if they want to follow in your footsteps?


My name is James Graf and photography has always been my greatest passion. I'm 39, originally from Germany but living in beautiful Switzerland for the past 12 years.

I've always adapted my plans in life. So 4 years ago, after having been a paratrooper and paramedic as well as a bodyguard for a foreign Royalty , I made the decision to go further with my photography and became a professional.

Altough I work for various TV stations in Switzerland ( and my main interests lies in portraits and nude art. Inspired by the great Helmut Newton I aim to show my artistic side in my pictures.

I'd like to bring together all beautiful things - models, locations as well as nature and see this as one of the advantages of being a photographer. To let all these things appear as one is the definition of high end photography.
I also love to interact with people, love to get to know my models better. Trust results in excellent pictures.

On the other hand, it is of course very time consuming, one of the few disadvantages. It's not only "taking the picture", but lots of work behind the scenes. Searching for locations, postprocessing, finding the model and an appointment, taking care of my social media and many more.

Photography can be seen as what I mainly do in my free time. I love to travel, get to know new people and things.
For recharching I spend time in the Swiss Alps or at Lake Constance.

My mission is to make the brand "James Graf" widely known. I don't want the name to die with me, I want to leave something behind. To say I want to be as known as Mozart is set way to high, but maybe in comparison I'll be remembered as a single note of one of his sonatas.

My advice? Follow your heart, do what YOU think is right and works for you. Set goals, no matter how big or small. You can achieve a lot if you believe in yourself, even if others don't.
Expensive gear doesn't compensate for training and knowledge, but a professional setting can make things a lot easier, so invest in good stuff.

Quotes that are always in my mind:
"Just take a quick picture"
"The amateur worries about the right equipment, the pro worries about money and the master worries about the light." George IR B


Dreharbeiten mit Pät Schreiber