Jim Alexander entered the world on August 7, 1935 in Waldwick, NJ as one of 13 children born to David and Frances James Alexander. Growing up in an era where opportunities for economic advancement were few and far between for African Americans, Alexander enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1952. During his time in Naval boot camp in Bainbridge, MD, one seemingly minor event would help shape the course of his entire life; Alexander won his first camera in a friendly dice game. Immediately putting his new camera to use, Alexander would sell photographs to the other sailors for fifty cents each.
Once he finished boot camp he was transferred to a naval base in Charleston, S.C. to start training as a diesel engineman. While in Charleston he asked the naval base photographer to look over some of his work, impressed by Alexander’s natural eye he began teaching him about 35mm and large format photography.
After serving four years in the U.S. Navy Alexander returned to New Jersey putting photography on the back burner for several years before deciding to enroll in New York Institute of Photography (NYIP). Alexander earned a degree in commercial photography from NYIP and he went on to earn a certificate in business organization and management from Rutgers University.
On a bus ride from Ridgewood, N.J. to New York he met Eric Maristany. Both men traveling with cameras in tow they naturally struck up a conversation. Maristany worked for a filmstrip producer in Ridgewood and invited Alexander to visit the studio. A few days later he paid the studio a visit where he met the staff and owner who were producing educational filmstrips on the civil rights movement. Alexander would spend many days in the studio as a volunteer.
With his degree and artistic acumen he soon acquired a very distinctive list of clients like Ford Motor Company, City of Paterson, NJ, the New Haven, CT Housing Authority, Johnson Publishing Company, and others. During this time he also began what would eventually add up to over 40 years of teaching photography.