FALMOUTH — Jim Daniels traveled the world with his camera, capturing compelling images of subjects ranging from Costa Rican coffee plantation workers to Burmese refugee families to the Masai in Tanzania.

He was an accomplished professional, but the camera was simply his tool to pursue a passion greater than photography.

“Jim’s whole persona was about making a connection,” said his friend David Puelle. “The camera was the means he had found in life to just go out and meet people, get himself into unique situations.”

Mr. Daniels died May 7 after a 15-month battle with brain cancer. He was 59.

After graduating from St. Louis University in Missouri, Mr. Daniels began his photojournalism career in Maine with The Associated Press.

He also worked for The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, and The Providence Journal in Rhode Island, where his series on adoption in Central America made him a runner-up for a 1988 Pulitzer Prize.

In the past decade, Mr. Daniels worked as a freelance commercial and magazine photographer. His work included “Lives of Service,” a book documenting the work of Maryknoll missionaries. He also worked on a book about the children of the Dominican Republic, which has not been published.

A project documenting a Portland woman with AIDS in the early 1990s was a milestone in Mr. Daniels’ career. He realized that he wanted to pursue work with more social import than some of the commercial jobs he had been doing, Puelle said.

So Mr. Daniels schooled himself in grants and worked to do more of the kinds of stories that interested him, Puelle said.

“People would warm to him very fast,” said Mary Lello, Mr. Daniels’ wife. “People would become very comfortable with him. When people are like that, (subjects) don’t notice the camera. They were just with Jim,”

The two were next-door neighbors in the Higgins Beach area of Scarborough in the 1970s. Lello, a self-described introvert, was drawn to his adventurous spirit, intellect and wit.

They were hiking the treacherous Knife Edge Trail on Mount Katahdin when Lello realized that she was interested in him as more than a friend. In 1984, they were married by her father in a small ceremony at her family’s home in Scarborough.

They threw a big reception at the current site of Camp Ketcha, where a celebration of Mr. Daniels’ life will be held on May 29.

Even during his illness and in the aftermath of his radiation therapy, Mr. Daniels kept his ability to engage, his wife said. He lost much of his ability to speak but still endeared himself to his speech therapist and physical therapist.

At a fundraising dinner for him in late March, Mr. Daniels danced for much of the night, even though part of his right side was paralyzed. Nance  Trueworthy, a friend who organized the event, described it as a love fest full of comfort and support.

Lello said she realized in the last 15 months how many people loved her husband deeply.

“I learned a lot from Jim,” she said. “If you reach out, they embrace you – they embrace you back – and we all need that.”

 Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:
[email protected]