One aspect Christian James loves about photography is paying attention to those little things someone usually wouldn't notice.
"When I was in Nova Scotia, waiting to photograph a lighthouse, a seagull would fly by every day, drop a crab on the rocks and eat the meat out of it. I had to keep cleaning the crabs out of the shot," said James, who lives in Altoona. "I was there for 10 days, and that seagull would do that every day. Those are the little details you wouldn't notice unless you are waiting for the perfect picture to happen."
That attention to minute detail - on a grand scale - will grace the walls of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Altoona through Sept. 7 in his exhibit of landscape photographs, "Journey of a Lifetime." The museum is located in the Brett Building at 1210 11th Ave. in the downtown area of Altoona.
In this picture provided by Christian James, the photographer works in Utah in 2012.
In the background is a photograph Christian James took called “Key West, Fla.” The picture is part of James’ current exhibit at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Altoona.
"His landscapes are so inspiring that you actually want to travel to the places that he is showing," said Barbara Hollander, coordinator at SAMA-Altoona. "His compositions are strong. His use of color is fabulous. He is showing us things that we normally wouldn't see. When you're passing by in a car, it's so fleeting, but here, you can gaze at it as long as you want."
A native of Everett, James loved hiking and going to national parks. As an extension of that hobby, he bought "a decent camera" to document his outdoor adventures.
"I got good at [photography]," he said, "and I had a different perspective than most people. I found my technique about four years ago, and it's blown up and taken off."
If you go
What: "Journey of a Lifetime"
When: through Sept. 7
Where: Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Altoona, 1210 11th Ave., Altoona
Hours: The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
And with his background, he naturally gravitated toward landscapes.
"Landscape is the hardest [medium] to make it in, but the most rewarding," he said. "I never got in with portraits or weddings; that's actual work. A lighthouse never complains. These days, everyone has a pretty good camera, but with a landscape, when you see a great photo, it makes you step back and say, 'Wow.'"
James sometimes prepares for certain shots a few years in advance, using equipment and informational guides to determine when the perfect sunrise, sunset or situation will happen at a particular location. He travels for three or four months at a time in a small RV.
"It takes a lot of patience and resilience," he said. "It takes a lot to get a photograph. I ask myself why I am here, why is it unique, how can I add to this or subtract the negatives. When I go to new places, I spend time scouting it. There are times I know I am going to come back in three years.
"When it all comes together, with the perfect light, that's what it is all about. It takes a combination of luck, talent and preparation. It takes a lot of preparation. I don't just show up and everything comes together."
James' photographs have been exhibited in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., and in San Francisco, and he is currently displayed in 160 galleries around the world. His work is also collected by such well-known people as investor Warren Buffett, actor Morgan Freeman and musicians CeeLo Green and will.i.am.
Despite such success outside of central Pennsylvania, James has never before exhibited in the area and knows it is difficult to receive recognition around your home.
"It's the hardest thing to do," he said. "If you're local, and you exhibit locally, people say, 'you must not be that good,' So you exhibit other places, and it starts to build."
Hollander was not at all familiar with James' work before the day he walked through the doors of SAMA-Altoona.
"I have been here for 10 years, and artists walk in all of the time and want to exhibit," Hollander said. "They have no background, and we are a nationally accredited museum. We can't just exhibit anybody.
"But Christian came in cold, and I looked at his work and knew it was fabulous."
James has four books of his work available, including one of his works in the "Journey of a Lifetime" exhibit, and he is currently working on a fifth book titled "Eyes Shut," consisting of photos of people he has encountered during his travels.
"Sometimes, I've passed a hitchhiker or homeless person, and I will pull over, give them some food and water, talk to them for a little bit and take a picture," he said. "That's what this book is.
"When you see a guy in shin guards and a chest protector pushing a shopping cart from New Jersey to California, or a guy dressed all in black in a black trench coat walking through the middle of Death Valley... some are very interesting people."
Mirror staff writer Cory Dobrowolsky can be reached at 946-7428.