Dark Portrait by The James Douglas Studio

One of Cleveland's coolest artists, James Douglas Shields, recently put his spin on a portrait of Tammy Lyons.

We landed a coveted interview with James about his inspiration, evolution and thoughts on our city. 

Check out more of James' Dark Portraits here →


Contrary to the name of this series (Dark Portrait), I believe Cleveland has a very bright future! This city is in the midst of a renaissance and I felt it from the moment I first set foot here. I love this town...its food, its people, and especially its creative community. I wasn't sure how the creatives in this town would receive a brash, oft barefoot, NYC ski photographer with a fluffy beige sidekick named Ginnie, but they've been so welcoming and I couldn't be happier to be a part of such an amazing community and do my part to make it even stronger.


I grew up just outside of Washington D.C. went to college at the University of Delaware where I used their generous winter session to photograph winter lifestyle and editorial images, mostly around Salt Lake City, Utah. After college though I did what every aspiring (read: naive) photographer does...moved to NYC. After taking my licks in and around NYC for the better part of 7 years, I fell in love with a girl from North Olmsted. She brought me here to visit and it may have been that first sip of Great Lakes or the first drive through the Metroparks but I was hooked. And we moved here a little over a year later.  

Inner Bliss Yoga Studio Owner / Founder Tammy Lyons 
Dark Portraits by James Douglas #TJDS     



It's the perfect artistic community. A huge expanse of lofted warehouse spaces close to a city center, more boutique coffee shops than you can shake a stick at, and rents are pretty low, for now at least. The city helps immensely as well with tax credits, incredibly varied landscapes and you can even shut down a whole street for $20!

Tell us about your work and what led you to photography.

My work has definitely been all over the map, both in location and style.  I've always tried to keep a sense of purpose tied to all of my images, whether it was to sell more albums or raise awareness for a charity. I very rarely just make an image because I think it looks pretty... is that weird??  I was led to photography when my professional skiing career came to an end... instead of doing dumb things on skis I started taking pictures of my friends doing dumb things on skis...my mother was very supportive of the change in career.

What is the inspiration behind the Dark Portraits and how did that concept evolve?

I wish I had some grand design or in-depth response that would make me sound all witty and cool but honestly it all came about by accident. The "box" we use to create the portrait is made of a few very common pieces of studio equipment called V-Flats. One day after a shoot they simply ended up in box like configuration near the window and I just happened to walk past and thought "That would look cool." I tossed an intern in there and made the first couple images...I never thought they'd end up tattooed on people!

The concept evolved very organically but I wanted to be sure it was something Cleveland-based, something to show the country that Cleveland means serious business, that this is no longer a town to be blown off, disregarded or trifled with. I decided very early on that there would be no digital manipulation beyond removing the occasional blemish or stray eyelash, this was important to me because it's much easier to fix a wrinkle in photoshop than to accept you have one. It's often a hard portrait to see and has met mixed results from my subjects, but after using the Dark Portrait as their profile pictures across social media platforms and seeing the overwhelmingly positive responses from their friends and family, the snowball just kept rolling downhill, so to speak.  


Tammy is great...after about a 15 min cuddle session with our studio hound Ginnie, we chatted about the project and Cleveland's uprising in general. Before we knew it 30 minutes had gone by and we were just scratching the surface. We took care of the Dark Portrait first and she nailed it right out of the gate, but she thought something was missing, so we grabbed her infamous beanie and made the final image. Next came the handstand, because Tammy loves doing handstands. Now, I have photographed people upside down before but they were skiing off the edge of a cliff or cruising a half pipe...this was definitely my first handstand photo shoot but hopefully not my last.

Who are your typical clients and how would someone contact you if they'd like to inquire about your services?

Our typical clients are anything but typical... we've shot for local clothing companies and restaurants in the same week as recording artists and professional NBA players.  

We specialize in advertising and creative portraiture so if anyone is looking to get a leg up on their competition or upgrade their company's image, then they should give us a call, or more specifically give my producer Jules a call at 216.535.9152. Further contact info →

Twitter: @thejamesdouglas
Facebook: The James Douglas Studio
Instagram: @TJDSTUDIO
LinkedIN: The James Douglas Studio
Google+: The James Douglas Studio
Foursquare: The James Douglas Studio 

Artists like James play a vital role in maintaining the thriving arts community in Cleveland. His commitment and faith in our city are exciting and inspiring to witness. We are thrilled to have gotten to experience his studio downtown!