Documentary and Street Photography

I am a social documentary photographer whose work includes people in their homes and people on the streets.


American Portraits (in 3D)


In 1976, while living in an apartment complex in Southern Illinois, I began my decades-long American Portraits project.  I was taking a class in documentary photography, and chose to photograph people I knew in the married family housing complex on campus. All of the units in the complex had white walls and the same floor plan.  Painting the walls was prohibited (although some tenants did). Noticing how people configured their environments in different ways and as reflections of their personalities and values, I began documenting my friends and neighbors in the complex. 

I decided at that time to shoot them in 3-D in order to see if that added dimension would immerse us even further into these environmental portraits.  

American Portraits is a visual record of geographic, economic, professional, and lifestyle choices of the people in the images. What began in 1976 in Southern Illinois has now expanded to include all of my friends and family in the many places I have lived, and worked. As my own life has progressed and changed, the project has become a self-portrait by reflection. The people I have befriended; worked with; am related to; and share values with; are all a part of who I am.

In making these 3-D photographs, I ask my subjects to choose their own settings and to pose in their natural environments. I avoid giving direction because doing so obscures their conscious or unconscious (and often revealing) choices. Some people present themselves in a more formal way, some even choose to dress in costume, while others create a dramatic or a chaotic environment. As a result, some images are very honest; others are masquerades. 

My goal is to reveal the personalities of the people I photograph within the unique historical and social milieu they inhabit.


Now in the 43rd year of creating American Portraits, I have completed more than 375 environmental 3D portraits to date. I intend to continue this project indefinitely. 

Street Images


People have built towns and cities since our earliest history.  I have always been fascinated by how people inhabit, interact, and adapt to these environments. 

The exploration of of the structures and people within the urban landscape is my pursuit. I am always surprised by the things that occur and how people adapt to climate; economic conditions; cultural expectations; and each other.

I try to just observe and capture.


In Summary


James Payne is a social documentary photographer based in Los Angeles, California.  

He is fascinated by how people interact with the places they inhabit, particularly in their homes and on the streets. He has been capturing images of both for decades.

Payne grew up in the midwestern United States, he was born and raised near Chicago IL. He attended Southern Illinois University where he earned a degree in Cinema and Photography. His work on these topics is ongoing.