Fargo photographer Tim Lamey’s work examines the human impact on our environment
The Arts Partnership interviews the visual artist and trained biologist about his approach, influences and past work experience as a software engineer.
FARGO — Ten years ago, Tim Lamey was working as a software engineer at a fast-paced, high-stress corporation when he adjusted the lens on his future.
Trained as a biologist, Lamey’s world had always been far less influenced by sitting behind a computer and much more by science, landscape and the human impact on the environment.
Compelled to follow a more meaningful life path defined by his love of biology and the visual, he made a plan. For the next five years, Lamey focused on paying off debts, funding his 401(k) and building an arsenal of photography equipment. Once he felt ready, he took on work as a full-time fine arts photographer.
“I worked for 15 years as a software engineer before quitting to pursue fine art landscape photography full time,” he says. “Early on, I decided to incorporate my background as a biologist into my artistic practice by focusing on projects that examine the ecological impact of human activity on the environment.”
Since then, Lamey has most certainly made his mark on the local and national photography scene. From regional exhibits at the state Capitol to shows at the Art Institute of Chicago Galleries, his work is widely seen as a visual gateway into the ways we shape and unravel and reshape our physical world.
“My practice considers how art can expose complicated human entanglements with nature. Photography serves as the medium to document the interplay between the natural and the human-altered, to bear witness to moments of landscape transformation and to dissect popular notions of nature,” Lamey says.
His photography can depict nature as deeply at peace, serene and calming. Then another piece will show the evisceration of the environment at the hands of humans.
“My landscape images are founded on a banal inspection of the interface between the natural and the man-made, like photographer Robert Adams. I am inclined to flirt with the industrial sublime, like photographer Edward Burtynsky, and often include hints of romanticism like painter JMW Turner and photographer Ansel Adams,” Lamey says.
The juxtapositions are not lost on most.
“One of the things I love most about Tim’s work is that one photo highlights the extraordinary serenity and beauty of nature,” says Dayna Del Val, The Arts Partnership's president and CEO. “But then another piece showing felled trees stacked in a lumberyard reminds us how destructive our role in living alongside it can be.”
Rooted in biology
Lamey, a TAP partner artist, is also a member of Aptitude Creative Arts Studios located in West Acres Mall, which is home to several established and emerging local artists working in a variety of mediums. He’s the only Aptitude resident with a biology degree and a 15-year career as a software engineer behind him.
“Biology and art have been my two main passions since early in high school. I started college as an art major and finished with a Bachelor of Science in biology,” Lamey says. “My view of the world is influenced by my scientific background.”
He went on to graduate school for a Master of Science in biology, studying owls and terns, and continued his academic career, acquiring a Ph.D. in zoology, studying penguins. Lamey also earned a Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018.
Much like the work of science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, whose oddly optimistic books foreshadow a world dismantled by humans with a hope that it’s not too late to reconstruct what’s been lost, Lamey’s visual art hinges on the possibility of cooperation between people and Earth.
‘I want to build an understanding of environmental issues and to expose complicated human entanglements with nature in a time when nature and humans are inextricably intertwined,” Lamey says. “Art offers the possibility of illuminating the world as it is and for speculating on a future, whether that future is a utopian cooperation between humans and non-humans or the stuff of postapocalyptic movies.”
Lamey continues to grow as a visual artist by studying other artists’ works and taking cues from that inspiration. He especially appreciates the work of American landscape artists Timothy O’Sullivan, Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, to name a few. Painting influences include abstract artist Mark Rothko and illustrations by prehistoric cave illustrations left behind by sapiens’ earliest ancestors.
All of these influences continue to help Lamey develop his long-term projects, which examine fossil fuel extraction in western North Dakota and logging in northern Minnesota.
“Both are rooted in an understanding of the biological implications of human activities on the landscape,” he says.
What isn’t likely to change is Lamey’s focus on the intersection of art and science, human and nature, destruction and rehabilitation. Whether that’s by photographing environmental changes in western North Dakota or snapping photos of birds on the Falkland Islands, the photographer is certain to leave a mark on viewers no matter what changes are ahead.
Connect with Tim Lamey
Lamey’s work is available to view by appointment at his studio at Aptitude Creative Studios in West Acres . A selection of pieces is often on rotating display at businesses around the Fargo-Moorhead area as part of The Arts Partnership’s ArtWORKS program , too.