Photography Is My Livelihood
An early definition of livelihood is “the quality or state of being lively.” When I am taking photographs in the hilly pastures of my family’s property in northeast Nebraska, I see the soft forms of the earth, the jagged lines of trees and grasses, and the changing textures and colors during different times of day and seasons. As I walk to the top of hills, climb down deep draws, follow cow paths, and push my way through thick sumac stands, I feel the sensations of the wind and the ground on my feet and face, in my lungs, and in the muscles of my arms and legs. Although I can see great distances up and down the Missouri River and across into South Dakota, I can be enclosed in smaller spaces under trees and in draws. I am separate and solitary, but I am also inside a larger spiritual whole and part of natural and human history. It is a place that I have come to love, but it is also a place that transcends my brief time in it. Photography connects me to the land and to the people who live there.
Returning to my studio, I continue to explore this land by digitally cutting out,
layering, refining, and moving multiple photographs into a singe composition.
The individual photographs are like found objects that I use to reconstruct a
landscape that is part imagination and part experience.
The people who view my work are an important part of my artistic process. I
am especially pleased when I have opportunities to exhibit my work in rural
Nebraska locations, such as the Hartington Library and the O’Neill Library. The
people in these areas have been shaped by the land, and their insights and
interpretations complete my work.
Although she grew up in Chicago and spent more than 20 years living in St. Paul, Minnesota, Pat James now lives on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River in Boyd County, Nebraska. She was raised in a family of artists and spent most of her life doing art-related work, including commercial art, working as a sculptor’s apprentice, studying classical figurative sculpture under an Egyptian master, puppet-making and performance, and being an exhibiting artist.
Pat has an MFA in sculpture and exhibited her work in Illinois and Georgia,
where she taught art in a small women’s college. After earning a PhD in art
education from the University of Minnesota, she taught art there and wrote about
teaching and learning artistic creativity. Living in rural Nebraska has re-energized
her art-making and her life.