A Year of Themes

Jim Burnham    December 16, 2019    10 Comments on A Year of Themes
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“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.” 
-Herman Melville (Moby Dick, or, the Whale)

Last year I picked one photo for every month. This year I am organizing it by theme because one single month this year could not be described with a single photo. So this year I give you a year of themes that define adventure, from the four elemental forces of air, earth, water and fire to the places and people that lead us to discover other places and ourselves.

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My name is Jim 
Burnham. I am a US photographer. Follow me on Instagram or Twitter -> @BurnhamArts 



Clouds  JB91350-Edit

A white barn on I55 in Illinois I’ve passed to and from Chicago and Michigan for the better part of 20 years. Very few times weather has been just right.

There are days where the sky seems to explode with whites and grays and blues that make me take a detour and look for the whole scene to come together. Sometimes I’m hundreds of miles from home and am not familiar with the area. Sometimes I’m standing in my backyard. Either way, I try to get lost. In getting lost, I find what I’m looking for.

Clouds  JB91296-Edit

If the sky looks like this, I get off the highway and wander, looking for something to compliment it.

Ice DJI 0035

This falls under Air because it is from my drone. But it could also go into the next category.


Water  JB92224

Lake Michigan levels are at a historic level. Beachfront residents have no choice but to adapt.

If you live or play along the Lake Michigan shoreline, you no doubt have seen firsthand the unpredictable nature of this beast. It sits quietly reflecting the dunes in the morning, deceptively transparent, cold yet inviting. By afternoon, as the sun warms the air and stirs up the atmosphere, it is pounding more of the fragile hillside away, turning the shoreline a murky tan with the sand and clay from the once sturdy hillsides. Gradual hikes down to the beach, 35 or more years in the making, are reduced in a matter of days to hazardous climbs up and down of a few feet or more.

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My first official kayak in the middle of Lake Leelanau.

Alternately, when the air is calm, there is peace in being out in the middle of the water alone. Also some fear knowing there is nothing but a thin layer of plastic and a shaky sense of balance separating you from a soaking (I speak for myself). But the prize is the adventure and discovery, physical and emotional.

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Advanced paddling enthusiast Gwenn Stevenson getting well ahead of me on a kayak trip around Sleeping Bear Point in Michigan.


Trees  JB93746

Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park in Montana. A spectacular and breathtaking area.

Very few things overwhelm me these days. Having grown up in a prairie state, mountains were transient companions at best, limited to occasional ski trips to the Rockies. Those were always Winter trips so I never saw them in the Summer until I was in my 20s and could travel more freely. I love climbing, not with ropes and chalk, but hikes up to the tops of places in general. If I don’t see an obvious path up or down, I’ll make one.

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Fallen Lodgepole Pines along Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

Plants  JB91637

One of many spectacular Dahlias at Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, MI

You witness life and death in many forms, permanence and impermanence, violence and comfort. On a grand scale, it is overwhelming. Regardless of how strong it looks, everything is broken down to it’s elemental parts. Trees will fall, rocks wear away, flowers will die. The permanence of impermanence. The perfection of imperfection. Yin and Yang in balance.


Lights  JB91055

Long exposure firework burst, Leland, MI

I covered this in “Where’s Your Fire?”, but it was metaphoric fire with real fire photos. This is real fire, but contained and directed. Sparks and flame and light created by controlled explosions. This is fire no longer existing its primitive elemental form.

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Long exposure firework burst, Leland, MI

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Bonnie Licklider “spins” a lit firework flare at the old Haunted Factory in Kankakee, IL


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Close up view of the huge Christmas candle on Fondulac Drive park overlooking Peoria, IL

Most of my life, lightbulbs have been incandescent, a filament glowing white hot from the electricity running through it. Today, you are mostly going to get your light via LED, safer and cooler, but they really lack the warmth. Either way, we get light. And we can use light in very creative ways. Below was a five minute exposure down in Fishtown, Leland Michigan. A light wand (much like a light saber) held out and moved around very slowly, tracing onto the camera sensor, to create a globe.

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Five-minute rotation exposure of a led lighted wand in Fishtown, Leland MI

And I would be remiss if I did not include Electric Light Orchestra. 🙂

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Jeff Lynne’s ELO concert, Chicago IL.


Animals JF8 8779-Edit

Mountain Lion at Triple D Wildlife in Kalispell, MT

For a city boy like myself, the opportunity to photograph some of these majestic and elusive creatures is a safe setting was hard to turn down. I didn’t brave the elements to find and follow a mountain lion in the wild because, well, I have a job. If you try this on a weekend, you will more often than come up empty and disappointed. That doesn’t mean I won’t in the future, but why wait? The care that Triple D Wildlife has for their family of animals is evident in how the handlers treat and are treated by their “children”.

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Siberian Tiger at Triple D Wildlife in Kalispell, MT

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Tundra Wolf at Triple D Wildlife in Kalispell, MT

But I also got to walk through a truly wild place in Florida, where the wildlife was free to come and go, or just sit…

Animals  JB90339

Alligator at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, FL

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Egret at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, FL


Abandoned  DNE2200

The “Insectocutor” wins my favorite abandoned place photo, The Haunted Factory, Kankakee, IL

In 2018, I was introduced to the world of the “abandoned”. I put abandoned in quotes because one particular property, the old General Mills Plant in Kankakee is being repurposed for use by the American Center for Emergency Response and Education as well as doubling as a haunted house in October. I was also led around Detroit to several discarded buildings ravaged by time and taggers.

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Abandoned church in Detroit, MI

In April, I got the opportunity to walk through the ramshackle remnants of a couple of old homes in rural Virginia. 

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Bedroom dresser in an abandoned home in rural Virginia

In February, in a driving sub-zero wind, I found gold on a hillside near Galesburg. I can always find something unique driving down the back roads. There, remnants of the past are probably regarded as old detritus to some, but for people like me, I realized, they are a fascinating look into the past. They make you assume backstories, challenge your own assumptions, make you want to go back and live a day in their life. In so, I find that yes, I am dumb enough to climb on discarded furniture, walk over a carpet that might not have a floor underneath, or venture down a dark hallway seemingly built for horror movies. 

Abandoned  DNE6127-Edit

Abandoned car outside Galesburg, IL


Pursuing this hobby, I’ve met hundreds of people like myself, creators online and in-person locking fleeting moments in time on a frame. If you were with me at the time, whether you shooting with me or watching, I remember fondly not only the scene but the company I was with, so you are part of my image even if you are not in it. Thank you for being part of my adventure!

Thanks for reading. If you made it this far, congratulations! Please like and share or comment and share or pass it on and share using the social links below. If you would like an email when new posts are added, add your email below. Follow me on Instagram or Twitter: @BurnhamArts


10 thoughts on “A Year of Themes

  1. Bill Hahn

    Photo #1 does quite well with a white barn. Otherwise it might be titled: “Nice field of soybeans.” Thanks Jim for putting my eyes into yours. Bill Hahn

  2. john frank

    As a left-brained materialist I love these wonderful creative journeys and envy the artistic talent that created them. Thanx, Jim !


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