yellow flowers in the arboretum
a duck swimming in the arboretum pond

Meet photographer Valerie Chenault, a junior Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT) major at JMU. She is excited to display her original series of photographs from the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum. Welcome to “Natural Escape” in the Airport Lounge.

Chenault began taking photographs in middle school and has had multiple different cameras over the years since. The photographs in “Natural Escape” were shot on a Digital Nikon camera. “My dad is really into photography [and] he taught me what I know,” said Chenault. “He’s passed down his cameras to me as he gets new cameras. It's a fun bonding thing for us. We go on little photo safaris when were on vacation and take pictures of nature.”

“Natural Escape” is comprised of nature photographs taken at the arboretum. Chenault took these photos during the Fall of 2021 when the pandemic caused JMU to enact preventative measures around campus. “There wasn’t a lot to do, so I needed to get out and just be in nature,” said Chenault, who tried to visit the arboretum once a week. “[It’s] a nice place in JMU where you can see all of these plants and flowers and wildlife. It's a little escape from schoolwork and I like to go read or take pictures of flowers.

“The arboretum is one of the only places I feel truly at peace at JMU. I took those photos to keep that feeling of peace with me. I want my audience to feel that same kind of peace when they look at my pictures: the colors of the changing leaves, the incredible vibrancy of the flowers, and the serenity that nature brings. Those are the important takeaways from my pictures.”

For Chenault, the photos were imperative in keeping her mind healthy during the pandemic. She hopes that others can feel the peace and beauty evoked in the images, and enjoy that she has captured “moments you couldn’t really describe.” Chenault hopes her audience will see these photos and be “able to hold on and know that [they’re] going to get through it. These plants are holding on even though it's the brink of autumn, leaves are changing and falling off,” she said. “But they’re still thriving.”

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