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Books

An Arlington Photographer Turned a Yearlong Sabbatical in France into a Thriving Art Career

Photographer Jamie Beck fell in love with the dreamy Provençal life. Now she’s sharing her experiences in her new book, An American in Provence.
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Arlington native Jamie Beck moved to France in 2016 for a yearlong sabbatical. Six years later, she now lives there permanently and published a book about the experience, An American in Provence, November 8. Jamie Beck

Every Saturday, North Texas expat Jamie Beck walks down the cobblestone streets of the small Southern French village she now calls home. Apt, in Provence, is a collection of “funky little puzzle pieces of 2,000 years of history piled upon itself,” the art photographer says. On her way to the 900-year-old Apt Market, she passes fountains and squares, medieval churches with ancient relics, and Roman ruins.

There, locals sip wine and teas at little cafes. She shops with her 3-year-old daughter, Eloise, and husband, Kevin Burg. They’ll pick up groceries, like cheese and garlic, and flowers for Beck’s still-life photography. “All the little pathways are lined with vendors with little floral tablecloth tables and striped umbrella awnings,” Beck says. “There’s always music playing.”

The scene is a far cry from Arlington, her hometown. There, she spent her childhood digging in her grandmother’s garden and playing amongst the caterpillars and flowers. She had backyard photoshoots with friends and attended Martin High School. Now in France, she’s back to playing in the garden and released her first book of photography and French life, An American in Provence, on November 8. “I feel like [life] has come very full circle for me.” 

Beck first fell in love with photography in middle school, when her mother gave her an old film camera. “The second I looked through the viewfinder, it was like this mad fantasy world I lived in in my head came to life,” she says. She later attended Fashion Institute of Technology and spent about a decade working as a commercial photographer in New York City. She shot for big-name clients, like Tiffany and Co., Cartier, and Lincoln Motor Company. She launched her own photo studio in Lower Manhattan and ran a successful blog on Tumblr. 

Then in 2016, while flying home from a project in Sweden, her plane hit some bad turbulence. She thought they would crash and said to herself, “great, now I’ll never know what it’s like to live in France.” Beck took that to heart. Within a month, she had sold her excess photo equipment and moved to Apt, in the Luberon mountains, for a year.

She didn’t even know French. But she fell in love with the simple, slower life there. And when her husband joined her a few months later, he did too. The sabbatical was only supposed to last a year, Beck says, but they kept pushing their return each month. After six months of delaying, they finally returned to the U.S., and almost immediately decided to officially move to France. 

In Apt, Beck began playing with photography again. She still flew back to the States for her commercial work, but in France, all she could shoot “was what I could discover.” She shot the sweeping French countryside: hills, vineyards, and beds of lavenders, sunflowers, and poppies. She played around with self-portraits. And after a cheese monger at the Apt market asked her to shoot his product for his cart. It was her first experience dabbling with still lifes, she says, and she was hooked.

“I just loved playing with structure and composition and building and creating with my hands something that is just part of everyday life—cheese.” 

For the next few years, Beck continued her commercial work. Her daughter was born in 2019. For fun, she grew a personal portfolio of stunning floral still lifes, portraits, and landscape photography reminiscent of Baroque-era paintings. Then, when the pandemic lockdown hit in 2020, Beck lost all her commercial work—and her income—overnight. To regain some control over her life, she started an “Isolation Creation” series on Instagram. She posted a photo a day, often floral still lifes. “It was a really fun challenge and experience,” she says, and it was popular. People wanted to buy prints of her photos, so Burg set up an online store. She sold posters and collectible one-of-a-kind masterworks.

 Now, Beck was officially an art photographer. Through her store, she also sells phone cases, paperweights, rose stationary, and prints. She’s collaborated with local businesses and old commercial clients to launch jewelry and fashion collections.

Her new project, An American in Provence, sums up the entirety of her past six years in France. In it, she includes recipes, essays, tutorials, ex-pat advice, and, natch, beautiful scenes of the French countryside. It’s part memoir, part self-help, within the covers of a coffee table book.

“It’s really, truly, my life here,” Beck says. “No one could write it but me.”  Beck says writing a book has been a longtime dream of hers, but it was “excruciatingly painful” to create. She’s not good at sitting still and writing, but she wanted to the questions her social media followers have been asking for years and to share how life in France has changed her. 

Beck and her family will come back to the U.S. during the summers to visit relatives. However, every time they return, they’re struck with how vast everything is. The sky is so big, Eloise once said. And they’re shocked by the energy, which Beck describes as an “ocean wave that’s toppling you over at first.” Beck prefers the slowness of life in the country, the cycles of seasons and life she experiences in Southern France.

For her, it’s home. 

Author

Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…

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