James Benning

1942 Artist

Page Contents


James Benning was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1942. His father worked on an assembly line for a large industrial corporation and was raised in a working class community. He expressed an interest in design at an early age once his father started building landing gear for the U.S. military. After devoting some years to playing baseball and receiving a degree in mathematics, Benning moved to Colorado and began working with migrant workers and their families. These experiences would play an integral role in Benning’s career in independent filmmaking.

In his early 30s, Benning received an MFA from the University of Wisconsin and studied with film theorist and historian, David Bordwell. He went on to teach film and video at many universities across the country, including the California Institute of the Arts when he moved to Val Verde in the late 1980s. He began working on his film CALIFORNIA TRILOGY: EL VALLEY CENTRO, LOS, AND SOGOBI in the 1990s, which explores three different regions in California. EL VALLEY CENTRO is a portrait of the Central Valley that documents the lives of farm workers, set against wide blue skies and expansive green fields. He hoped to capture the area’s political concerns, emphasizing the corruption involved in the labor companies that is present there. After making EL VALLEY CENTRO, Benning decided to make two more portraits in order to capture the California landscape. LOS was shot in the greater Los Angeles area. From people jogging, children playing soccer, and cars moving along the highway, there is a banality in all of Benning’s shots.

Benning continues teaching, distributing his own films, creating installations and working increasingly with the digital medium. He has made over twenty five feature length films so far.

[Source: Ellie Parker]