Wavy and twisting, the vibrant shades of green, yellow, blue and violet threaten to whirl off the page.

When Jim Kirk shot this snapshot at Huber Winery in 2008, it was the perfect combination of lighting and color in the vineyard on a sunny day.

But staring at the bright colors, he wondered what lurked within the scene and his own imagination.

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“I get sucked into the picture, and wonder what I can do with it,” Kirk said. “It just kind of comes to me.”

Kirk has rediscovered his love of photography and turned it into fascinating artwork. The southside resident takes his own original print and digital photography, manipulating each one’s colors, shades, texture and other features to create almost a painting on film.

Though he has been playing around with the method for years, Kirk is ready to take the next step as a professional artist by getting his pieces in galleries and hoping to be named an Indiana Artisan.

“I just hope people enjoy it. If I make some money at it, OK. If I don’t, it’s still OK,” he said. “I like to make people happy. It brings me joy, and in turn I can bring more people joy.”

Kirk’s focus has always been landscapes, both in Indiana and around the world.

He has worked his magic on dozens of his old photographs. His shots range from covered bridges in Parke County and the Indiana State Fair to scenes of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and oceanfront scenes in the Florida Keys.

He is particularly drawn to old architecture, from the lodges and landmarks of Indiana’s state parks to the plantation homes of Louisiana.

“I try to imagine the stories of who built it, who lived there, did the kids play in there,” Kirk said. “I try to think of a story, and take that in my head and use it when I manipulate the photograph.”

Some of his work is done on recent digital photographs.

His shot of the Story Inn, the venerable roadside stop in Nashville, appears like a shimmering mirage against a clear blue sky. Kirk took that photo on an early-fall trip in 2015.

Others stem back almost from his start in photography.

A shot of the lodge at Spring Mill State Park, with colors squirming and blending together, was taken in the late 1970s.

A railway bridge over Tippecanoe River looks like something out of a dream, with fuzzy white light and shifting shades of brown. Wet leaves at Clifty Fally State Park shimmer against the altered background of wet wood.

“I start to make it look like it’s painted as opposed to just a photograph,” he said.

Kirk has spent his career working as a natural science manager for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. But in his spare time, he’s run a photography studio, done barbecue catering, and most recently made hot sauce to sell at local farmers markets.

Photography has been an interest since he was a young man.

Kirk was in the midst of his most trying time in 1975. He was in the middle of a nasty divorce, had lost his job and felt that his life was adrift. He had moved into a house with three other friends, one of whom had a small darkroom set up to develop photographs.

“I needed something to take my mind off my problems. He suggested I try taking some pictures,” Kirk said. “But I knew nothing about photography.”

Still, he bought a cheap camera and started working. None of the meters worked on it, so he had to do all of the adjustments manually.

Slowly, he started developing his skills. He tasked himself to go to the most uninteresting places around his house, and look at everything.

Even if his photographs weren’t very good, he was learning tricks about perspective and angle that made his compositions interesting.

“I didn’t go anywhere without that camera. I ate with it, I slept with it,” he said. “I started learning everything I could about photography.”

Kirk had no formal training, but soon he was making money shooting photographs. He owned a photography studio, worked in engineering darkrooms, poster shops, photo processing labs and commercial dark rooms. He was an aerial photographer for two different companies.

During his career, he photographed everything from weddings to bar mitzvahs to portraits to rock ‘n’ roll bands. But he grew sick of it by the late 1980s and stowed his cameras away.

Not until his wife Kate bought him a small digital point-and-shoot camera did he pick the hobby back up.

“It was small enough to carry in my pocket and ended up being fun to take little snapshots of being out with friends and sitting around with our kids and grandkids,” he said. “At some point I started getting interested the art of photography again.”

Kirk’s unique approach grew out of a photo restoration project he volunteered to do for a relative. While digitally filling in colors, cracks and missing aspects of the original antique photo, he realized that he could use the same tricks on his own work.

“I worked hours and hours and hours. I had learned a lot of techniques, and thought, what if I took some of my old photos and see if I could make them something other than what they are,” Kirk said.

Every photograph that he manipulates is scanned into his computer and taken apart piece-by-piece. With individual elements to play with, he could import and swirl colors, add texture and alter the composition completely.

“I get a feel for it. I’ll stare at it, and if I don’t get any ideas, I’ll set it aside until the next day, when maybe I’ll see where everything can go,” he said.

With his retirement from the department of natural resources looming in July, Kirk has been making plans to do more with his artwork. He is in the process of setting up a Web site, and is promoting his work to potential buyers.

He has been offered a spot teaching at Sugar Creek Art Center, an artists’ gathering place located in Thorntown. His hope is to get his work hanging in galleries throughout the area.

But even if it never takes off, Kirk is satisfied with what he’s done so far.

“I’m doing this because I’m having fun. When I stop having fun, I’ll quit,” Kirk said.

The Kirk File

Jim Kirk

Home: Southside Indianapolis

Family: Wife Kate

Occupation: Natural science manager for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Hobbies: Hot sauce making, barbecue catering, photography

Current project: Artfull Jim’s Studios, featuring Kirk’s original photographs digitally manipulated and turned into completely new works of art.

Information: facebook.com/artfulljim

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.