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Terms of Art: James Strain

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“When you photograph a face . . . you photograph the soul behind it.”

-Jean-Luc Godard


ArtLong before photography became as ubiquitous as it is now, the uninitiated feared that the camera captured part of the subject’s soul. Maybe not so far from the truth, when one considers the works of Bloomington native and local attorney, James Strain. Whether his photographs depict a remote church, a craggy landscape, or a beloved grandchild, Strain features the character or soul of his subject in a way that makes the viewer feel a sense of connection.

Like countless artists before him, Strain’s photographs often reflect his state of mind at a given time. For instance, he recalls that on an unusually frustrating day at the office, he grabbed his camera and fled the office. Driving through rural Indiana, he happened across a small church and stopped to photograph it. The result is a striking image of a simple and serene white church advancing into the foreground with a menacing sky above. Strain explains that the sky had, in fact, been a brilliant blue that day; however, by using a red filter with his camera, he had enhanced the contrast between clouds in the sky and the stark-white walls of the church, and in so doing, injected the frustration that he was feeling into the image. Ansel Adams once said, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” Naturally, Strain’s own soul is revealed to an extent in his images, most often reflecting his love of mystery, piquing the viewer’s curiosity, and spurring him or her to ask questions.

Interestingly, Strain is as much a lover of the printing process as he is enamored of the final work of art. This ability is due, in part, to the early influence of Strain’s father, who was both a physicist and an architect. This unity of left-and right-brain thinking informs Strain’s unique approach to photography. As such, he is deeply knowledgeable about the science of photography. He prefers to make platinum prints, which are completely matte, virtually indestructible, and which best serve his preferred black-and-white aesthetic. (Platinum prints are characterized by intriguing gradations of black and white tones.) He explains that a photographer’s use of the black-and-white medium is “often a statement in-and-of-itself,” whereby the photographer attempts to evoke a sentiment distinct from the content of the image.
 

terms of art A rural church James Strain photographed while out on a drive. (Photo courtesy James Strain)

In his works, Strain has charted his children’s growth, made portraits of his grandchildren, and chronicled decades of marriage to his beloved wife. He fondly recalls traveling Europe with his children’s choir and finding endless sources of inspiration in majestic cathedrals across the continent. Naturally, photography is an integral part of Strain’s tourist experience; however, he acknowledges that his commitment to perfection has often led his weary family to ask, “Haven’t you gotten the shot yet?” But this is the way of artists, eternally ambitious and perpetually striving to reconcile the various forces at play.

Strain completed his undergraduate studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. He reflects fondly upon a law school professor, Val Nolan Jr., who became his friend and mentor while Strain was an undergraduate work-study student. Nolan, who held full professorships in both the law school and biology department of I.U.’s School of Arts and Sciences, made quite an impression, committed to serving two disciplines – zoology and the law. Strain recalls that his mentor taught him a valuable and enduring lesson when he managed to publish a zoology text during his tenure at the law school. Strain has since shared his mentor’s example with his three children – two of whom are now professional artists. Balance, however elusive, may indeed be struck between seemingly incongruous interests: “You can be a professional and honor your art,” he explains.

This “eureka” moment cemented Strain’s decision to enroll in law school.

And so it is now, all these years later, that Strain – formerly a law clerk to then-Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, William Rehnquist, and now a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister – is seldom without a camera. He has chronicled everything from remote locales and famous architectural wonders to the evolution of his family over several decades. Fittingly, several walls and conference rooms at his firm are adorned with his striking still-life photographs and landscapes in an apt metaphor, reflecting the undeniably successful marriage of his professional and artistic pursuits. He credits our profession with enabling him to pursue his admittedly expensive hobby. Far from a mere hobbyist, however, Strain has been represented and promoted by an art brokerage house, presented exhibitions, won competitions, and has sold numerous memorable photographs.

It is a well-settled truth in our profession that there is more to any scenario than meets the eye. Strain maintains that being a photographer has made him a better attorney, and vice versa. His artistic process requires a critical eye; the ability to deftly distill a complex subject into an accessible message; and creative problem-solving when conditions – both predictable and unforeseen – affect his work.

James Strain’s works may be viewed at http://www.jimstrain-photography.com/.•
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Wandini Riggins is an associate in the Indianapolis firm of Lewis Wagner. She concentrates her practice in the areas of insurance bad faith disputes and insurance coverage. She can be reached at wriggins@lewiswagner.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. The $320,000 is the amount the school spent in litigating two lawsuits: One to release the report involving John Trimble (as noted in the story above) and one defending the discrimination lawsuit. The story above does not mention the amount spent to defend the discrimination suit, that's why the numbers don't match. Thanks for reading.

  2. $160k? Yesterday the figure was $320k. Which is it Indiana Lawyer. And even more interesting, which well connected law firm got the (I am guessing) $320k, six time was the fired chancellor received. LOL. (From yesterday's story, which I guess we were expected to forget overnight ... "According to records obtained by the Journal & Courier, Purdue spent $161,812, beginning in July 2012, in a state open records lawsuit and $168,312, beginning in April 2013, for defense in a federal lawsuit. Much of those fees were spent battling court orders to release an independent investigation by attorney John Trimble that found Purdue could have handled the forced retirement better")

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  4. I'm currently seeing someone who has a charge of child pornography possession, he didn't know he had it because it was attached to a music video file he downloaded when he was 19/20 yrs old and fought it for years until he couldn't handle it and plead guilty of possession. He's been convicted in Illinois and now lives in Indiana. Wouldn't it be better to give them a chance to prove to the community and their families that they pose no threat? He's so young and now because he was being a kid and downloaded music at a younger age, he has to pay for it the rest of his life? It's unfair, he can't live a normal life, and has to live in fear of what people can say and do to him because of something that happened 10 years ago? No one deserves that, and no one deserves to be labeled for one mistake, he got labeled even though there was no intent to obtain and use the said content. It makes me so sad to see someone I love go through this and it makes me holds me back a lot because I don't know how people around me will accept him...second chances should be given to those under the age of 21 at least so they can be given a chance to live a normal life as a productive member of society.

  5. It's just an ill considered remark. The Sup Ct is inherently political, as it is a core part of government, and Marbury V Madison guaranteed that it would become ever more so Supremely thus. So her remark is meaningless and she just should have not made it.... what she could have said is that Congress is a bunch of lazys and cowards who wont do their jobs so the hard work of making laws clear, oftentimes stops with the Sups sorting things out that could have been resolved by more competent legislation. That would have been a more worthwhile remark and maybe would have had some relevance to what voters do, since voters cant affect who gets appointed to the supremely un-democratic art III courts.

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