When one looks at a Tim Lamey photograph, it’s more than just a picturesque landscape staring back with unending beauty.
The story behind Lamey’s body of work, from formative works to more recent projects like “Here Is Your Country,” which is now on display on the observatory floor of the North Dakota State Capitol in Bismarck, reaches into the depths of nature’s bounty and poses questions of conservation.
“As a trained biologist and someone who likes nature, I can’t help but look at a landscape without thinking about how it was before humans were here,” says the Fargo-based photographer.
Although many of his majestic photographs look pristine as far as the eye can see in his Bismarck exhibit, with the photos primarily captured in western North Dakota, Lamey isn’t unaware of the forces encroaching on these protected lands.
“There are very few of those places left, even in national parks,” he says about his interest in the untouched landscape.
Pairing his striking color photos with traditional silver gelatin images, he uses black and white to focus on the industrious with the goal of bringing attention to environmental issues.
To understand these complicated entanglements between civilization and the natural world, Lamey focuses on transformations in the landscape, from imposing oil jacks to logging operations.
Moving away from a career in science almost 10 years ago, where he led field studies ranging from islands on Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico, Lamey is a self-taught artist who has been working full time in the arts ever since, with a focus on digital and film photography.
“I spent a lot of time when I was transitioning from thinking like a biologist to thinking like an artist and photographer and trying to figure out if there was some marriage between the two,” he says.
Part of this process included wandering the countryside and shooting photos from public lands and roads, using his digital camera like a sketchbook of sorts that helped him get a lay of the land.
“I think it’s different when you spend enough time with a landscape — you start to feel like part of it or that you understand some of the history,” he says.
After a couple years of exploring with his digital camera, Lamey went back in and spent longer periods waiting for the perfect shot for a silver gelatin image.
In addition to his connection to nature, Lamey’s inspirations come from a childhood of travel and moving around with his family.
Lamey lived in Louisiana until he was in the third grade, before traveling abroad to live in Thailand, Nigeria and Korea, where he finished high school.
“Right around the third grade, my dad got a posting in Thailand and so I was given this camera as part of that trip. So I remember some of the early things I shot. I think some of the very first rolls I shot were in Rome,” he says.
He came back to the States for college and settled in Grand Rapids, Minn., where his family had a lake cabin.
“I really grew attached to that place because most of the places we were living overseas were very densely populated, like Seoul, Korea,” he says.
This contrast between the human-made landscapes of tall buildings and monuments and the natural world has a strong influence on the photographs he takes, focusing in on the landscapes that are close at hand but often overlooked.
“If you can learn to appreciate landscape photography in an environment where it’s difficult, then you go to a place like the Badlands, it’s like, ‘Oh, everything’s super easy,'” Lamey says.
In addition to his North Dakota Capitol exhibition, Lamey has shown work broadly throughout the Midwest, including a series entitled “Earthly Observatory” at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Galleries this year.
Lamey honed his artistic craft while completing advanced degrees in biology and zoology and while working as a software engineer for many years, then going on to receive an Master of Fine Arts in studio art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018.
Lamey is based out of his studio located in Aptitude, a collection of creative studios in Fargo’s West Acres Shopping Center that’s open noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays for public visitation and shopping.
His Bismarck exhibit, “Here Is Your Country,” will be on display on the 18th floor of the Capitol through August.
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and first appeared online Monday, May 17, 2021,