A haven for photography, spirituality

Published March 17, 2007

WESLEY CHAPEL - Jim Ekstrand's photographs capture the subtle beauty of Florida that inspires a stillness of heart.

Clouds the color of steel-gray lavender, silky apricot and soft pink gather to form steep mountains in a sunrise over Siesta Key. A pale sky reflects in the water at Crystal River at Oxbow Bend; trees and carillon at Bok Sanctuary in Lake Wales look like a memory of a perfect spring day.

At 45, Jim Ekstrand is a gifted landscape photographer with a unique focus: the Christian art market.

His Web site, www.jimekstrand.com promotes his sensitive and dramatic landscapes of locations ranging from Florida to Ireland to the American West. His slogan: "Fine Art Photography Celebrating God's Creation" is a testament to his lifelong beliefs as an evangelical Christian.

His photos come with the option of adding a free printed Bible verse, something Jim Ekstrand says runs through his head every time he stands in a beautiful outdoor setting.

"When you slow down and pay attention to nature, it's a natural thing to consider God and consider one's relationship with him," said Jim Ekstrand, who attends Carrollwood Bible Chapel with his wife. "My photography tries to capture that."

Jim Ekstrand lives in Seven Oaks with his wife, Avril, 43, a Realtor with First in Real Estate in New Tampa. They decided to move from Tampa Palms about two years ago after Jim Ekstrand found a lot they loved - on a small lake with a view of pine trees and woods in the distance.

"The view was really what drove it for us - more than the particular community or whether the lot was in Hillsborough or Pasco," says Jim Ekstrand, who also wanted to build a house big enough to allow him space to work on his photography and framing. He also liked the idea of being close to Interstate 75, an amenity that made commutes faster.

So, they teamed up with Avalon Builders to construct their 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bath home known as the Avalon III, "tweaking the design" a bit, as Avril Ekstrand puts it.

She was born in Belfast and grew up in Ireland, and came to the United States when she was 20 to work as a nanny in Boston.

Jim Ekstrand was working in Boston at the time as a field engineer for Raytheon, where he was training navies around the world in the particulars of missile fire control systems.

The two met at a church barbecue. They married, moved to California's Silicon Valley and then Florida in 1994 for his work.

They like Pasco, they say, for a lot of reasons, but mainly because their community of choice - Seven Oaks - has become "the new Tampa Palms," Avril Ekstrand says.

She says she also likes the fact that road work seems to be completed in a timely manner, and that State Road 56 and 54 are getting wider and faster every day.

Jim Ekstrand's photography has grown from serious hobby to full-time occupation. He works from a sunny home office that looks out over the natural-looking pool that they painted black and looks like a natural extension into the landscape outside.

"I've been photographing the birds lately," he says with a smile. "But I'm going to need a bigger lens for that."

He greatly admires the work of Florida landscape photographer Clyde Butcher, whom he met accidentally last year while on a photo trip out West.

"We talked for a while, he shared with me a little bit about his large format camera and how he makes his prints," Jim Ekstrand says.

Jim Ekstrand doesn't use a darkroom and works completely with digital images and a large format computer printer. While working, he listens to his large collection of CDs, which includes Celtic music and the band, Clannad.

He pulls out a recent print, a surreal photo taken at Homosassa Springs of the reflection of trees in water so clear you can see a school of snook.

He is waiting, he says, for the Florida weather to shift into "the season of dramatic skies" - his favorite.

On another print, a sunrise over the Canyon de Chelly in northeastern Arizona inspired this partial quote from Lamentations 3:22-23:

"His compassions never fail. They are new every morning."

And in every landscape photograph he takes.

He wants to bring the spirituality he feels outdoors to people who look at his photos "in the hope that they can have that moment of stillness even if they can't go out into nature."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.