In his burgeoning photography career, James Meyer captures images of Port Washington’s beauty that people wrapped up in their busy lives often miss
During the final practice of the season, coach James Meyer told his middle school baseball team to lie in the grass and gaze at the clouds above.
“Let’s just enjoy that we’re here. That’s what baseball is,” he said.
None of the players had done that before, and the adolescents told their coach they liked their newfound experience.
That is what Meyer, a quickly rising photographer, tries to accomplish with his pictures.
“Give yourself a chance to enjoy things. That’s what photography is. It’s a break from our lives,” he said.
It’s a break many seem to miss during the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Many have walked by or driven past some of the subjects of Meyer’s photos, perhaps countless times. But they may not have noticed a particular scene, at least not in the way he portrays it.
“I try to take pictures of things that people are too busy to see,” the Port Washington resident said.
For decades, Meyer himself was too busy with life for photography. Thirty years ago, he played around with a film camera his dad used to take photos of his glass-blown items, and then bought one of his own.
Three and a half years ago, Meyer began taking photos of scenery with his cell phone after dropping his children off at school. He put the photos on Facebook, and friends asked if he had more.
That prompted buying a high-quality camera, a Nikon D3200.
More photos yielded more requests.
“It floored me that you take a picture of something and people would buy it,” he said. “I never imagined doing it for money.”
Though it’s not yet a full-time career, Meyer’s imagination is starting to expand its perimeter. Besides landscape photography, real estate, commercial buildings and engagements are being added to his reportoire.
One of his Facebook followers told Meyer his work reminded her of Vern Arendt, the late legendary Ozaukee Press photographer. She bought one of Meyer’s photos and asked him to do a coffee table book.
Meyer wasn’t convinced anybody would want a book of his photos, but tried it out after a year of consideration. Market research at the Port Washington farmers market drew a positive response, so he had 50 books printed for Christmas.
They sold out in two weeks. Port natives now living across the country bought the images of their hometown.
“I started scratching my head. We may have something here,” Meyer said.
Meyer said he likes meeting his customers in person — watching their reactions to the photos and hearing personal stories they extract from people’s memories.
“It was extremely heart warming to see their faces,” he said. “That was my Christmas present, to know I brightened their holiday season.”
Later this month, Meyer will brighten the annual Channel 10 Great TV Auction for PBS Milwaukee. He is one of the featured artists with a shot of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Calatrava.
He wasn’t planning on submitting any photos to the auction, but someone from the PBS auction committee saw his work at the Pink Llama Gallery in Cedarburg and suggested he give it a shot.
Once selected, Meyer said he took a few photos he thought PBS would like, but the committee said they didn’t capture his personal style. A second try yielded the photo that will be featured. The Calatrava is shown at sunset as clouds gather in the sky.
That shot and some of Meyer’s other photos were subjects of a recent “The Art Page” show, which can be seen at www.pbs.org/video/2365707705.
Meyer has no formal photography training, but he watches YouTube videos and is going to school for visual design at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
Meyer said he wants to show people images they will never forget — photos that come to mind when they close their eyes.
Meyer knows what scenes to capture in Port Washington after moving his family here from Milwaukee nearly 15 years ago. He has been asked to take photos of other places, but he said he always asks to partner with someone who knows the city so he can capture photos of important scenes.
He once posted a video on his Facebook page of a drive through downtown Port, drawing hundreds of likes, many from people who don’t live there anymore, “but still had that tug in their heart.
“It made me think people want to feel home,” he said.
Meyer’s career includes working in e-commerce with a flair for design. As operations manager, he realized he was good at tweaking ad designs that would lead to better results.
“I’m a marketer. I’m not a photographer,” he said.
But Meyer is on a course that may lead him to become a full-time photographer.
“It’s been a fun journey. It’s been an unexpected journey,” he said. “I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but I feel I’m on the right path.”
The path his raw photos take includes a stop in the Adobe Lightroom software program for adjustment, taking them “from being a snapshot to what they could be.”
While some are best in color, others look better in black and white with different tints, he said.
Meyer has started teaching photography and has two pieces of advice for aspiring shooters. The first is practice. While he is down to shooting about 10 photos when he finds his proper scene and lighting, he started with plenty more.
“Take 100,000 pictures,” he said, “and then take 100,000 more.”
Beyond that, people must find their own niche.
“Decide who you’re doing it for. Focus on that. Become good at that,” he said. “Everything else will follow. It’s really about being true to yourself.”
Meyer tries to remain true to himself by capturing scenes in new ways.
“I hope I present an image in a way somebody hasn’t seen it,” he said. “I try to give them a ‘wow.’”
Meyer’s website can be found at jamesmeyerphoto.com.
Photo Credit: Port Washington photographer James Meyer, holding his Nikon D750 in front of one of his photos at the Port Exploreum, has been receiving increasing notoriety for his work. He will be one of the featured artists on the Channel 10 Great TV Auction later this month. Photo by Sam Arendt