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Nature photographer James Lady offers a Hemingway view of Michigan

Photographer James Lady is an expert at capturing evocative natural close-ups in fauna and flora, but also knows a great celebrity shot when it happens—such as this candid one of Kid Rock.
Wendy Clem

If Ernest Hemingway had used a camera instead of a typewriter, the resulting images could not have been more descriptive and visually evoking than that found today in the art of local photographer James “Jay” Lady. On the heels of his first public art festival in more than five years, Lady is again receiving some much deserved attention and appreciation for his distinctive work.

Sporting an impressive array of shots magnifying Mother Nature, Lady definitively captures close-ups of fish skins, stones and other fauna. The brilliant rainbows of colors and intricate features are reminders of how many hidden beauties often lie overlooked by the human eye in Michigan forests, waterways and ground cover.

They are also so captivating that buyers are scooping them up at websites like Society6, Redbubble and Zazzle, where they are sold as iPhone cases, pillows, mouse pads, mugs and more.

Lady credits his focus on a passion for fishing, solitude and taking time to notice the world around him.

“There is nothing as unspoiled and valuable as knowing nature with a rod, reel and the companionship of a faithful dog,” he said, “and Michigan is an optimal place for exploring that. The Jordan River area is one of my favorite state spots, but there are more here for unspoiled experiences — as there are in other states and international locations.”

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, the 48-year-old Grosse Pointe Park resident is especially appreciative of his adopted home for scenic pureness and the happiness found in communing with nature. As the only son of four children born to Paul and Gay Lady, he moved to Michigan 10 years after his parents’ divorce, to forge a stronger relationship with his father. The two settled into a Mitten lifestyle, which offered a generous side of water activities, tempered by the serenity of often pristine surroundings.

The elder Lady, who holds a Harvard MBA, is an accomplished sailor with a unique eye for photography and a keen eye for composition, a talent not lost on his son.

"He is the technical and highly-anal, perfectionist type, which helps me in the production and development of my images," said Lady, who admits his own struggles with effort. "I'm the recovering perfectionist."

He credits his mother as the consummate artist, however. "She is cut from a more emotional and spiritually-insightful cloth."

During his youth, Lady attended Grosse Pointe North for grades 9 through 12, then earned a BA in marketing and business at Michigan State University. He worked for 10 years in medical sales of equipment for high-risk pregnancies, where he also earned his way through impressive sales work into the President’s Club at Matria Healthcare.

Today, the former agnostic (at best) is a deacon at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church and credits his new-found faith for some of the more remarkable scenes he's discovered while communing with nature. His favorite places in which to do that so far are Michigan, Canada, and Yosemite.

Lady was an avid squash player — enjoying games two to three times per week — until that sports passion took a different turn at the suggestion of his former sister-in-law. Seeing Lady struggle with insomnia, anxiety and depression in the years leading up to his divorce, Lady acted upon her suggestion to take up photography as a mental-health release. He shares it was sorely needed after the need to abandon those beloved games due to repeated knee and back injuries.

When this occurred, following years of taking family photos, Lady became totally immersed in art based on nature and its details.

“I am a fortunate man to have discovered meaning in the gifts in my life,” he said. “And, even though I am still at the ‘starving artist’ stage of my life, I am at peace and receive great satisfaction in this work, my daughters and the presence of God in my life.”

Twelve-year-old Brooke and 14-year-old Abigail support their dad’s efforts, work the booth for him at festivals, and the former even sold four of her own pieces at their recent event.

From the man who named his business Stillwater Studio, Lady’s credo is “Preserving Solitude in Still Images.” His website is punctuated by meaningful poetry compatible with each photo, and reads like a Hemingway adventure. That irony isn’t lost on a man whose two poetic middle names are Edward Emerson, inherited from his two grandfathers.

Lady’s talents have been heralded by his peers, including respected nature artist Bob White, who credits him with "work that seems to come from the soul."

"It's so solid," said White. "I don't know how else to describe work that can still have effervescence and a bit of irreverent humor."

White also found that Lady's work resonates with him, adding, "and that's enough."

A sudden meeting on a Michigan highway introduced Lady to yet another key player in his life.

"Janine McGill was an unexpected angel in my life," Lady said. "She very persuasively and methodically convinced me that I had captured proof of God's existence through the lens."

Fly-fishing fine artist, Diane Michelin, serendipitously helped Lady, too. She painted two of his images, including one of his daughter, Abigail, and the other of his good friend, internationally renowned fly-fisherman and folk-singer/songwriter Alan Cayn.

Michelin also helps Lady promote his work, at least in part due to her admiration for his technique and subject matter.

"She, and others, have had a major role in my personal awakening," said Lady, crediting her supportive promotions on Facebook.

Lady catches such diverse poses as a snake sunning atop water, a sauntering Kid Rock with drink and cigar in hand, and an assortment of fish landed by him and others. Many are printed on special metallic paper for an added richness.

Lady notes that today’s use of Photoshop to further enhance photographs is less a shortcut and more a natural process to create stronger content and should be embraced by more photographers.

“Even (renowned black and white scenic photographer) Ansel Adams enhanced his work, so purists need to be aware of that,” he said.

Film director Wes Craven purchased the snake print, entitled “Frolic,” during his stay in Michigan where "Scream 4" was filmed in 2011.

Acknowledging that his strength lies in composition of photo content, he continually seeks photo ops and serenity through outdoor pursuits. They provide, Lady says, unequaled allure and unending opportunity for spectacular views, and Lady refers to shoot in color rather than black and white.

“Nature puts color in life,” he said. “It has the gift of beauty and peace that is rarely found otherwise.”

Hemingway, a well-documented Michigan sports enthusiast, couldn't have captured it better--in words or image.

For more information, follow James Lady on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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