New Small Town Reflections

An Introspective Perspective (in New Places)

The photograph below was made on one of my excursions to Port Townsend, Washington last summer (2016), from Olympia the state capital where I was on an extended stay with family. Port Townsend has an amazing collection of Victorian-era buildings lining its idyllic streets, so it was a haven for me and my camera and my love of 19th Century architecture. And I happened to find a few new subjects that made it into my portfolio. You can see others on my website.

The Hastings Building
The Hastings Building in Port Townsend WA

Use of reflections is one of the basic methods to draw attention to a subject in a photograph. Several years ago I began to use reflections in a different way (besides, say, a building reflected in a pool of water) to produce images that are truly unique to my style and vision. I’ve been randomly continuing work on my historic small town reflections series, “Reflections on the American Small Town,” although I’m not fully immersed in that project at the moment. It’s an ongoing work, so if I see something while in the field that resonates with my vision and concept, I’ll photograph it for possible addition to the project. An important aspect is the historic architecture; the picture must contain 19th century buildings and provide enough in the way of strong angular relationships in the lines.

I first began the project several years ago while working on my Master of Fine Arts degree in photography and my thesis. The pictures started out as portrait-oriented pictures and soon evolved into neo-urban landscape panoramas. The images are composed of reflections in storefront windows that depict abstract, often fractured scenes. They were also reversed images originally (since they are reflections), but that aspect has also evolved into right-reading images—I now flip the reflections horizontally (once they are assembled into panoramas) so they appear as if you were there looking at the scene. The picture is rendered as you would normally see it, but with unique attributes from the reflection and refraction of light that would never appear otherwise. Some right-reading elements also become reversed in the process.

..the subject becomes removed another level from ‘reality’…into an introspective dream-like state.
Pioneer Square
Pioneer Square Seattle, WA

As a result, the subject becomes removed another 2 levels from ‘reality’ through the reflection and then by reversing it (the first level is inherent in any photograph), into an introspective dream-like state. It’s a bit complex to describe the whole process—what the pictures mean to me and what I hope to communicate to my viewer, so I’ll offer a simpler version. It began as an exploration into my distant past through memories of several historic towns. These towns have been a part of my life over many years. In addition to visualizing feelings and memories (which have been enhanced by my imagination in the intervening years), another part of the idea is distilling a “sense of place.” Fine art photographers have been seeking to realize this in their pictures for a long time.

While I have completed the initial exploration, I now use the technique on other towns (which has always been my intent) to photograph them in my own refined personal style…and to see what lies beneath the surface. This is what I was attempting to do in Port Townsend and Seattle, and it was the first chance I had at photographing in a different part of the country.

Author: jamestcallahan

James T. Callahan is a commercial and fine art photographer based in Hillsborough, New Jersey. His specializations are in product, industrial and architecture. His fine art work takes a poetic look at the American Landscape through 19th Century architecture, historic and abandoned railroads and the American Small Town. You can see his work on his website at, and on Instagram at

2 thoughts on “New Small Town Reflections”

  1. Jimmy:
    Thanks for your latest update. I simply love your photography and descriptions of your work. What wonderful talents you have. The photos of Port Townsend are fabulous. I love that kind of town, its so historic and I feel like I belong there, if you can get my gist. Can’t wait to see more of your talents. I do hope someone out there also appreciates your work and is willing to pay you well. Love Mom.

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