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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. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

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  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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