Jim Dukes knows about explosions. He also knows light, composition, and how to capture emotion in images. More than anything, Jim knows how to rebuild a life after devastating injuries.

After twenty years as a civil engineer, while working with EOD as a DOD Contractor, the multiple explosions Jim experienced had taken a grisly toll. He was left in a wheelchair, blind in one eye, and his marriage was over, along with his engineering career. He and his young son moved back to North Carolina to live with Jim’s mother.

So, when an engineer can no longer function as an engineer, what is he to do? That was what Jim’s therapist wanted to know. “What are you going to do with your life?” she asked him. Jim was faced with the choice of being a “man with a disability or a disabled man.”

Although his left-brain, analytical skills were diminished, his right-brain, creative self began to blossom. So, he took the one resource he had—his cellphone—and began taking pictures. It turned out that seeing truth and logic in explosive wiring can evolve into seeing the beautiful, the odd, and the inspirational in images, everything from the passion of a dancer to the beauty of a sunlit, wooden bridge. No image is too mundane for capturing if you’re looking through Jim Duke’s lens.

So, you can see why I needed to talk to him, learn from him. How did he go from wheelchair to the vibrant, hopeful artist I met in 2013? Listen to the full interview here, and scroll down for a few key takeaways.

Learn how Jim Dukes went from DOD Contractor (EOD) and Civil Engineer to Photographer and Healing Arts Instructor. Spoiler alert: Things exploded.

Jim’s tips to starting a new career as an artist:

  1. Create your own opportunities. As a visual artist Jim needed a following if he was to pay the bills with art. So, he sought out opportunity. First, he found online “gallery space” on public art sites. Next, he created and planned his first live art show. All he had was a good idea, faith, and the confidence to pitch the idea. Jim highly recommends that new and emerging artists approach every possible gallery, art studio, and arts organization for exposure.
  2. Jim learned a few new skills beyond photography. He’s added graphic design to his portfolio, along with videography. He was trained as a Healing Arts Instructor. And, he learned how to use Wix, a simple yet dynamo website builder to create and maintain his website. Check it out at www.jjdphoto2art.com. It’s a thing of beauty.
  3. Jim recommends resources such as art centers, public libraries (for startup business assistance and FREE small business classes), and free or cheap classes offered by the county department of recreation in your area.

If you want to spend a while looking at some really cool photography and maybe get inspired to take your own cellphone camera for a spin, head on over to jjdphoto2art.com.

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