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  Featured Artist

Jim Carnevale in his Placitas photography studio.

c. Jim Carnevale

“Grab a Coke and C'mon In,” fine art photograph, by Jim Carnevale
Photo credit—Oli Robbins

A fraction of a second:
the (crunchy) photographic stories of Jim Carnevale

—Oli Robbins

For Placitas photographer Jim Carnevale in every moment there is a story to be explored. But since moments are flashes that come and go so quickly, the eye misses most of them. So enters photography. Says Jim, “photography is about capturing the essence of life at 1/180th of a second, so that moment in time can live on forever.”

Jim is an award-winning photographer many times over (he’s won thirty awards to date) but photography is his second professional path. He enjoyed a long architectural career before devoting himself entirely to photography and spent many years working as senior architect for the Federal Bureau of Prisons—an experience that might prompt many a soul to seek diversion and release in an unrelated field. But as an architect, Jim was actually living his childhood dream. “As a little kid, I wanted to become an architect,” says Jim. “I liked the world around me. I loved old buildings. I loved just being able to sit with a pencil—there’s a certain aura about architecture.” Clearly the visual realm has been a central part of Jim’s reality since his formative years, and the process of studying the physical and spatial components of a building no doubt contributed to his eventual knack for photography.

Like so many youngsters with creative predilections, Jim was discouraged by his teachers from entering his chosen profession. Luckily, such ill advice was no match for his gumption. While working as a management intern at Walter Reed National Military Center, Jim decided to go back to school for architectural design. His fruitful architectural journey included several positions in Washington D.C.; in addition to a stint at the Smithsonian, Jim also worked for government agencies such as the Corps of Engineers and concluded his career at the Department of Justice.

Business brought Jim and his life partner, Placitas fiber artist Rod Daniels, on their first trip to New Mexico. The land and people called them back two additional times, at which point they decided to settle in Placitas. Jim and Rod were drawn to Placitas and its “warm climate, wide-open spaces, and friendly people.” Placitas is also, according to Jim, “a sumptuous area to photograph.”

Architecture design demanded that Jim appreciate and look critically at the visual elements around him, while developing a keen eye for composition. Such skills made him well-suited for photography. Still, Jim insists that architecture and photography require “opposite sides of the mind.” The former, “architectural mind,” is “technical and pragmatic,” capable of designing “economical solutions to real life issues,” while the latter is whimsical. Many of Jim’s shots, however, are the products of pre-determined ideas or intended excursions, while others are the result of “whatever happens to be in front of my lens when I press the shutter.” So perhaps both sides of the mind are in service, working together to create a wide range of imagery—from urban scenes to “crunchy” dilapidated buildings and machinery to enchantingly placid still lives.

When Jim met Rod in 1980, he was already experimenting with the camera. He began by shooting in black and white, because shooting in color proved too costly. He took his hobby seriously even then—blocking off windows in his kitchen to create a make-shift, fully-loaded darkroom, with a safe light, developing cans and an enlarger. Jim grew fond of developing his own pictures (and he continues to print at home), so the inevitable transition to digital wasn’t effortless. “When I first switched to digital, I was going crazy. I would shoot one thousand images over a week, and I’d come home and see fifty exposures of the same thing and think, why?” Now, Jim is very calculated and deliberate when he works, taking only half a dozen shots and making necessary adjustments as he goes. All of his works have some degree of Photoshop, but you wouldn’t always know it by looking. Jim maintains the integrity of the original subject matter, but enhances certain details to better evoke a story or mood. Digital, Jim explains, “doesn’t sense the depth that film does.” So that’s where Photoshop comes in. “I go in and expand the dynamic range to it, extracting a lot of the details.” Some of his works, particularly his still lifes, are so soft and painterly, they aren’t immediately recognized as photographs, while others stay true to the photographic medium and are naked in their honesty.

In the “fraction of a second that it takes to shoot the shutter,” Jim is catching and preserving a narrative. During a recent trip to Italy, he found streets brimming with the “crunch” he so admires, as well as sublime cliff-sides. He came home with a bounty of photographic magic.

Jim’s summer will be full of exhibitions and art festivals. He will be participating in the “Expanding Horizons” show at the New Mexico Cancer Center; the opening is June 22 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. He will also be showing at the NM Arts and Crafts Fair (Lujan Exhibit Complex, Expo NM, June 27-29), Angel Fire ArtsFest (Angel Fire Resort Hotel, July 12-13), Cheesman Park Artfest (Denver, CO, July 26-27), and the Crested Butte Arts Festival (Crested Butte, CO, August 1-3). Peruse Jim’s portfolio, see where he’ll be next exhibiting, and contact the artist at

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