Middlebury College Museum of Art

Exhibitions

Being There: Photographs by James P. Blair

May 24–August 11, 2019

Although the medium of photography dates to the first half of the nineteenth century, the rise of digital technology has ushered in an age in which images can be recorded with ease. Film-era concerns such as shutter speeds, F-stops and light meters, along with myriad other challenges, have become quaint historical footnotes. And it may even seem hard for some people today to realize that prior to the advent of digital cameras unless you had truly mastered the medium the results would often be mediocre.

Ketelie Regis and her baby, Haiti, 1987, photo by James P Blair
Ketelie Regis and her baby, Haiti, 1987. Photo: © James P. Blair.

That is precisely what makes the photography of James P. Blair so remarkable. He is one of the luminary photographers of the pre-digital age. For more than thirty-five years he was one of the people that millions of National Geographic readers counted on each month to give them a sense of the greater world.

Between 1959 and 1994 Jim Blair brought many of those stories to life—from Tristan da Cunha and Haiti to Iran and South Africa. To do so he relied on his consummate photographic skills, such as a sense of timing, composition, lighting, subject matter, vantage point, color, atmosphere, and above all, patience. None of this happened by accident. Just as great athletes can make what they do look effortless, Blair honed his skills over the decades, so that being sure he would get the great picture became instinctive.

Coal Miner, South Africa, 1976, photo by James P Blair
Coal Miner, South Africa, 1976. Photo: © James P. Blair.

This exhibition of fifty images, documenting the breadth of Blair’s career, gives a sense of his dexterity, determination, and breadth of vision. Without photographers like him the world would be far poorer. His images not only transport us to places most of us will never visit, they make us feel like we are there. His best images have become part of our visual lexicon and they remind us that the world is a varied and stimulating place, sometimes breathtaking in its beauty and at other times heartbreaking in its degradation, but always informative.

Persepolis, Iran, 1975, photo by James P Blair
Persepolis, Iran, 1975. Photo: © James P. Blair.
Wild Goose and Kili Monastery, Russia, 1991, photo by James P Blair
Wild Goose and Kili Monastery, Russia, 1991. Photo: © James P. Blair.
Jim Blair holding a camera and looking debonair
Jim Blair