By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News
NIAGARA FALLS — Niagara Gazette photographer James Neiss may have a photojournalism career spanning some 26 years, but he’s always kept in touch with his more artistic roots.
So while he may spend his days criss-crossing Niagara County snapping photographs of car accidents, house fires and town meetings, there are other sights that stop this veteran news photographer in his tracks, like a kitty climbing a window or a particularly captivating rainbow.
Evidence of that appreciation for the more artistic — and humorous — part of life will be on display at Neiss’ first solo exhibit Tuesday through fall 2014 at The Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls. The show, “Roaming the Niagara Frontier,” features upwards of 40 photographs Neiss has taken over the past two decades or so.
“This show is a combination of Niagara Gazette news photography, my art passion and some commercial photography that I do on a freelance basis,” he said. “Most people see my work as a photojournalist in the newspaper but I went to college (at Alfred State) and studied art photography, which was my first passion. You get to see some of that fun stuff here.”
Neiss said he hopes viewers will get a sense of the humor he likes to funnel into his work. Some works — like one of a dog tugging on a toddler’s pants and another of a solitary cow standing on a hillside — may, for obvious reasons put a smile on the viewer’s face.
Others get a helping hand with a humorous title, like a photo of a bunch of manikins in a shop window next to a poster of the 1997 movie “Titanic,” titled “Looking for a love story of her very own.”
“When I saw that picture in Lockport it just struck me that it was a really cool, natural composition. There was another story going on inside with the ‘Titanic’ poster, the love story there. So that title just jumped into my head,” Neiss said. “What I like is for people to smile. I enjoy a good little chuckle.”
While Neiss said the exhibit showcases a bit of a return to his love of art photography, he admits he’s never strayed too far from an artistic touch, even in his news photographs.
“You can see in my enterprise photography there’s always an element of art,” he said. “The creative side of photography ... I’ve gotten into it moreso now. I became at one point frustrated with the limitations of news photography because you can’t lie, you can’t manipulate. There are rules to photojournalism.
“With Photoshop and other creative tools at your fingertips, I wanted to start enhancing some of the pictures I have. In doing so and in seeing other people’s work it kind of inspired me to go beyond the truth.”
So in these photographs, colors might shine brighter and others might be subdued, or clouds might pop out of a bright blue sky a little more than what one would see in nature.
But it’s not just Neiss’ artistic background that’s rubbed off on his journalism career. The reverse can be said to be true as well. In fact, some of the photos in the exhibit might be the result of being out on a completely different assignment for the Gazette.
“I prefer completely candid photos,” he said. “I like the spontaneity of photojournalism where you let things happen in front of you. Exploring the artistic side has opened my eyes even more. I see things I normally don’t see.
“I take pictures all day long and I’ll see something. I was driving down the street the other day and I saw a leaf blowing in the wind and it was attached to a spider web. I drove five or six houses past it, backed up and got the shot,” he added.
Neiss’ show will be only the second art show to be held at The Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls. Marketing Director Susan Swiatkowski said she was eager to put his work on display after seeing his work in the newspaper.
She said she was eager to feature some of his work set in and around the Niagara Region.
“We think it will lend itself well to people who come visit the Conference Center,” Swiatkowski said. “We’re really proud to be able to showcase local artists’ work here. We hope it sparks some interest for other artists” to show there work there.
The exhibition is sponsored by the Niagara Gazette, the Maid of the Mist and local photographer Kurt Ross. It will be on display through fall of 2014 and pieces will be available for sale.
Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.
IF YOU GO
• WHAT: “Roaming the Niagara Frontier,” snapshops by James Neiss
• WHEN: Tuesday through fall 2014
• WHERE: The Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls, 101 Old Falls St., Niagara Falls
• MORE INFORMATION: Call the event center at 278-2100.