Niles artist prepares for Chesterton

Published 7:49 am Friday, August 2, 2013

James Allen French said he photographs designs in  nature, hoping to capture the spirituality found in nature. Submitted photo

James Allen French said he photographs designs in
nature, hoping to capture the spirituality found in nature. Submitted photo

I met James Allen French on a cool Thursday morning in July at his — and his wife Beth’s — Niles home as he was preparing for a show at the Chesterton Art Fair. I was taken by the natural beauty surrounding their home as I walked between tall rows of blooming flowers toward the front door. French is a fine art nature photographer who has participated in area fairs and exhibits, and who has won many awards for his work over the years.
All French’s nature photographs are taken in the field. He has experimented with taking photos inside but rarely does it now. The subject is less important to him than the composition, patterns and colors of the photograph, the design.
“The natural world … is filled with fascinating groupings of shapes, patterns and colors,” French wrote on his website, where he has his work divided by subject.
His work is all natural light, no filters; he is very much a purist using no artificial lighting at all. Though he once did film photography, now it is all digital. Even photos from when he did film photography, he now prints digitally, liking the consistency he can achieve.
His digital needs are handled with Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop for printing his work.
He does not alter or enhance colors, wishing people to discover and enjoy how things really look. And he has a reason for that: Spiritually motivated, French said he believes that, when seeing nature in all its glory, it reflects God. And in doing so, it allows people to see and discover him in that nature.
“I can feel it (the spirituality) as I am shooting,” he said.
Many have said French’s work is naturally uplifting: He sees nature as “a world of peace and tranquility; a harbor in the storms of everyday existence.”
It is no surprise French’s work has been chosen time and time again for hospitals, clinics and other medical offices, where people need relief from stress and pain.
After a lifetime plan to be a wildlife biologist, like many of us, French’s life took several different turns. Fortunately, French picked up a camera as a senior in high school, took a photography class and never stopped taking photographs.
“My first camera was probably an Instamatic,” he said. “But I came to love the Canons.”
He credits his father for bringing nature to his attention.
“He also had a natural artistic ability, and I watched him draw all the time,” he said. “He was a farm boy who drew cartoons and experimented with things like painting on glass,” French said.
One of those rare people who use both sides of his brain, French is a very compassionate, sensitive artist and a serious vegan, which seems to add a dimension to his sensitivity as a nature artist. Or perhaps it is his sensitivity that informs them both.
Joining the Fernwood Botanical Garden photography club when he was in his 20s, French used the darkroom there and participated in contests. He watched the old photographers and learned all he could, concentrating more on wildlife originally. It became about the art to him, rather than the subject. The more he showed his work to the club, the more he knew he had potential, and, encouraged by others, he saw his work progress.
He added art classes in college and took photography workshops with nature photographers, Larry West and John Shaw. Though his career was in another area, he ventured out in his photography, put together equipment and did small local arts and craft shows, eventually amassing 25-plus years of public exhibits under his belt and many awards.
He said he hopes to show people how incredibly beautiful nature is, especially in Michigan.
In the future, French said he wants to branch out and sell his work to commercial outlets or have art reps who would market his work to hospitals.
View the photographs of James Allen French on his website at or at South Bend Memorial Hospital’s recently renovated Cancer Center and Oncology Unit. He also participates in many local and regional art fairs.