As Sr. Vice President and Creative Director for MAC Cosmetics since 1999, James Gager has helped to craft the development of the brand on a level that few could truly imagine. For the better part of two decades, he has been a part of the introduction to the line of hundreds upon hundreds of new products, collections and partnerships. His watchful eye has overseen countless creative decisions from package and store design to in-store photography and helping choose the company’s Viva Glam spokespersons — a program that has helped raise more tens of millions of dollars for the MAC AIDS Fund supporting those living with HIV/AIDS.
James’ keen eye for texture and color has influenced makeup trends across the world and now, since 2016 when he first joined Instagram, his global view on these elemental aspects of design have been on view for all to see – and find inspiration in.
What is most important about an image to you?
An image is different than a photograph. An image for me has to have a larger idea than just taking a shot with a camera. It’s composed, has emotion to it, relates to the person taking it, and hopefully provides a connection to the viewer on some level.
And what about texture? You seem to play with it a lot in your images.
When I first decided to join Instagram, I wanted to share my own world, one which sees things close-up. I shoot all the images myself, except when I did a little experiment and
asked a photographer and art director if they would share shots of theirs that felt like they belonged within my world of images.
Instagram is a creative exercise for me. When I wake up in the morning I decide what I’m going to post that day. It’s flexing my creative muscles, which is very different than when you’re working with a company. This is purely my point of view, whether you like it or not. I love it when I get likes on a photograph, but it’s more important that I’m putting
something up that represents me, or the way I’m seeing images, or something I want to share.
How does this specific set of images represent your point of view?
I love beauty. I love to see things through my own eyes. Every image for me is an image that I am proud of. It’s how I’ve seen the texture on a wall, a shadow, the shape of a leaf, the way light flickers at night in a swimming pool. Only recently I started putting up any images of myself. They were done in a way where I’m a little bit camouflaged. You see my glasses,which are somewhat memorable, or the shape of my shaved head. They’re a more iconic way of expressing myself.
Does colour influence your work and personal lives differently?
My Instagram is pretty colourful. Occasionally I’ll throw in black and white images. I love colour combinations, I love seeing colour wherever I can find it. But I live in a black and
white world. I rarely have colour around me. I never dress in colour. In my own personal environments I’ve played with colour, but I’ve gotten rid of it quickly because it just wasn’t comfortable for me.
In its inverse, how does it stimulate you creatively?
I think because I don’t live with colour, I find colour exciting. And maybe that’s why I shoot everything that has to do with colour. In another life, I was certainly a painter, with a palette of vivid colours.
Do you have any other influences that deal with color?
I garden a lot. The colours you find in nature are the most stunning combinations. I could never duplicate them. I’m constantly amazed at flowers and what they offer us visually.
What sorts of places inspire you?
I don’t have any specific places that inspire me, could be anywhere. I may be walking down the street, and it could be a place I visit every day, but something different might be happening, or I may find something that’s very inspiring to me. And I’m not saying looking at an amazing sunset or watching sunlight play on water isn’t inspiring because it certainly is, but it’s more about the moment versus the actual definition of a place.
Is there anything that turns you off creatively?
No turn offs…only turn ons. I like to see different people’s points of view, which is maybe why I find Instagram fascinating. From a psychological standpoint it reveals a lot
about people that they may not even know they’re revealing.
How has Instagram inspired you creatively?
It’s an outlet for me to express myself. It’s personal to me. So, like it or don’t like it. Some people adore me and I love that, and other people don’t like me so much and that’s cool too.
Words Michael DeVellis
Photos James Gager