Dale Niles: Capturing the Southern Experience through Photographs
Story by Bonnie Helander and Photos by Dale Niles

The inspiration for Fine Art Photographer, Dale Nile’s new book, What Lies Within: The Eclectic Collections of Andrea M. Noel, came when a friend suggested Dale take a look at the vast array of collections of Zebulon resident, Andrea Noel. After she first approached Andrea to see what she collected, Dale was stunned when on her next visit, Andrea gave her a list of over sixty collecting categories that included many ordinary and unassuming items – everything from kitchen utensils to doll houses to post cards, bent and twisted forks, pin cushions, and even broken pieces of glass and metal. According to Andrea, “Collectors are born, not made. They can’t help themselves.”


Over an eight year period, Dale photographed Andrea’s collections and created an enchanting, limited-edition, hard-cover book of 150 full-color photographs that capture Andrea’s objects in fresh and intriguing ways. There is something in Andrea’s collections everyone can relate to – every object when viewed, has the power to touch us, and to recall simpler times and sweet memories.


Experts in the field have praised Dale’s new book.  According to Aline Smithson, visual artist, educator and editor, “The work reveals a child-like wonder of photographic offerings, like a tray of Christmas cookies, each with its own delights and flavor… And the ones that end up in Andrea Noel’s collections and Dale Niles’ photographs are the lucky ones – celebrated, revered, touched, and loved.” Dale’s book has been selected by Elizabeth Avedon, curator and book designer, as one of best photography books of 2021.

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Dale and her family moved often because her dad was a civil engineer who worked on building bridges throughout the South. “We always got to live around water,” recalls Dale, “places like Virginia Beach, coastal North Carolina and Maryland, and that was great!”


Dale graduated with a B.A. in Sociology from Lenoir Rhyne College in Hickory North Carolina. A stint as an intern with the probation department quickly helped Dale realize this was not her calling. While trying several other vocations, she continued her personal interest in painting, sculpting and photography, realizing photography was her art of choice. Dale gets her artistic background from her grandmother, who was a painter, and her mom, who had a flair for creating beautiful collages.

Dale and her husband, Ken, have four children. During their children’s upbringing, Dale started taking photos daily to document each child’s growth. Instead of taking standard photographs, Dale would focus on one feature – tiny feet, or ears or hands. One time her mom said, “These pictures are great but can you at least send me one of the whole child!”


Dale and Ken moved to Fayetteville over 25 years ago when Ken’s job brought them farther south. While Dale continued her passion for photography in Fayetteville, for many years she lacked the confidence to display her work. She entered her first photography competition at the Dogwood Gallery in Tyrone in 2010 – a photograph taken at Sams’ Lake in Fayetteville – and won first place on her first try! Gaining confidence, she entered a second competition held in Senoia and took the “best in show” award!

Her reputation as an award-winning fine art photographer continues to grow. Exhibitions of her work have been featured across the country, as well as internationally in Canada, Paris and Venice. Her prints are held in many private collections as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. She was selected for Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 200 Ones to Watch, and has been featured in Light and Shadow Magazine, SouthxSoutheast Magazine, Shots, Lenscratch, The HAND Magazine, AllAboutPhoto, Oxford America and Edge of Humanity Magazine.


A favorite quote by Elliott Erwitt, defines Dale’s approach to photography, “Photography is an art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” For Dale, photography is all about telling a story and making connections. “I am a story teller and the historian of my family. I try to take family images and give them a second life. I try to look at them in a different way.” 

In many of her photos, you will find collages featuring her dad, mom, grandmother, children and other family members, as well as people that she doesn’t know whose photos were found in boxes she accumulated from her parent’s home. The photos are then combined with other photographs taken by Dale.  She then applies textures over the images to create a painterly effect. 

During the pandemic, when her busy life came to a halt, Dale decided to go through some neglected boxes of old photos from her parents and found the inspiration for a new series called Fading Memories. Fascinated by these vintage photos of people who were gone – either through death or through not being able to visit them during the pandemic, Dale created a series of blurred images she placed on a background she created and then overlaid with texture. Recently, in October, 2022, a retreat with ten other photographers on Cumberland Island, GA got Dale recharged again.  This may be the catalyst for a new series of her work. 

You can meet Dale and see some of her prints at the annual Slow Exposures 2022: Celebrating Photography of the Rural South, to be held on September 15-18 in Concord, GA. For more information about Slow Exposures, go to slowexposures.org. For information about Dale Niles work, and to purchase her book, go to dalenilesphotography.com.