James was born in Philadelpia and eclectically trained in engineering, sculpture and photography. While a young art professor he shot his first professional film portraying the life of an isolated Greek mountain village from the end of winter to the summer wheat harvest. Retooling his life path at the American Film Institute he made his break-through lensing iconic west coast hip hop clips and music videos of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s including the first music video of jazz artist Bobby McFerrin, several clips for NWA including “Straight Otta Compton” and MC Hammer which led to a clip with the legendary James Brown and a Grammy® nominated video “Smells Like Nirvana” for ’Weird Al’ Yankovic. From music videos he moved into narrative cinema and has been a cinematographer on more than twenty feature films, limited series, television movies and over two hundred hours of dramatic series and pilots for network and cable. He is a three-time Emmy® nominee. He shot the pilot of Ghost Whisperer and was a cinematographer and a regular director for the entire five-year CBS series. Chressanthis has been nominated for a cinematography Emmy® twice for the definitive film biography Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows and Four Minutes, about record-breaking runner Roger Bannister.
Chressanthis shot Cesar's Last Fast a documentary about the extraordinary life story of civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez, which premiered at Sundance (2014). He shot another Cannes premiere documentary Close Encounters With Vilmos Zsigmond (2016).
James lives with his wife, artist Robin Becker, producing mixed media and monotype editions at their home-studio complex in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Cesar Chavez, with Ethel Kennedy, breaks his 36 day "fast for life" protesting pesticides in our food, the Rev. Jesse Jackson looking on. photo: Robin Becker