Q: Can you speak in more detail about how losing your husband, Dr. Bryan C. Jack, on 9/11 affected your artistic practice?
A: On September 11, 2001, Bryan, who was a high-ranking, career, federal government employee, a brilliant economist (with an IQ of 180 he is still the smartest man I’ve ever met) and a budget analyst at the Pentagon, was en route to Monterrey, CA to give his monthly guest lecture for an economics class at the Naval Postgraduate College there. He had the horrible misfortune of flying out of Dulles airport and boarding the plane that was high-jacked and crashed into the Pentagon, killing 189 people.
Losing him was the biggest shock of my life, devastating in every possible way. I think about him every day and I continually think about how easily I, too, could have been killed on 9/11. I had decided not to travel with Bryan to California, a place I absolutely love visiting, only because the planned trip was too short. His plane crashed directly into my (Navy Reserve) office on the fifth floor, e-ring of the Pentagon. I still imagine how close we came to Bryan having been killed on the plane and me perishing in the building. To this day I believe that I was spared for a reason and I strive to make every day count.
The six months after 9/11 passed by in a blur, except that I vividly remember an October 2001 awards ceremony at the DAR Hall in Washington, DC. I was picked up by a big black limousine, sent by the Department of Defense. At the ceremony I sat with members of the president’s cabinet. I accepted the Defense Exceptional Civilian Service Medal for Bryan, an award he would have accepted himself had he been alive, and was addressed face-to-face by George Bush, Jr., not someone I particularly liked (to put it nicely). Later Bryan was given more awards – a Presidential Rank Award, a Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, and the Defense of Freedom Medal. Many other honors came in and I’ll mention two. Bryan’s hometown of Tyler, Texas named a magnet school after him – Dr. Bryan C. Jack Elementary School (the principal and I cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony) – and Stanford University set up the “Bryan Jack Memorial Scholarship,” which annually helps two deserving students attend Stanford Business School.
The following summer I was ready to – I HAD to – get back to work so my first challenge was to learn how to use Bryan’s 4 x 5 view camera. In July 2002 I enrolled in a one-week view camera workshop at the International Center of Photography in New York. Much to my surprise I already knew quite a lot from watching Bryan. Thankfully, I was soon on my way to working again. After the initial workshop, I decided to begin with the basics since I had never formally studied photography before. I threw myself into learning this new (to me) medium. Over the next few years I enrolled in a series of classes at ICP, starting with Photography I. Along the way I learned to use Bryan’s extensive camera collection (old Leicas, Nikons, Mamiyas, and more) and to make my own large chromogenic prints in the darkroom. In October 2009 it was extremely gratifying to have my first solo photography exhibition with HP Garcia in New York (please see the exhibition catalogue on the sidebar). I remember tearing up at the opening as I imagined Bryan looking down at me with his beautiful smile, beaming as he surely would have, so proud of me for having become a photographer.
Comments are welcome!
A: First, the cameras that I inherited from Bryan in 2001 were all pre-digital film cameras. Second, I can make chromogenic prints myself, which cuts down on their production cost. Third, I love working with my hands and enjoy the process of making prints in a darkroom. Fourth, I make photographs on days that I don’t go to the studio. It’s a way to take a day off and still make art, a very productive use of my time. At the end of a darkroom session I have a new edition of 5 chromogenic prints, ready to spot and frame.
Comments are welcome.
A: That’s a trade secret! I will say that if I am going to sign my name to a piece of art, it must be the best that I am able to make at that point in time. In the darkroom I work deliberately and patiently. I slow down. I make tests, then refine and adjust the yellow and magenta filters on the enlarger to emphasize certain parts of the negative – bring an area forward, make another recede, brighten up something, etc. Usually as a last step, I dodge and burn some areas, always trying to produce the best, most eye-catching images I can.
A: From the beginning in the 1980s I used photographs as reference material and my late husband, Bryan, would shoot 4” x 5” negatives of my elaborate setups using his Toyo-Omega view camera. In those days I rarely picked up a camera except when we were traveling. After Bryan was killed on 9/11, I inherited his extensive camera collection – old Nikons, Leicas, Graphlex cameras, etc. – and I wanted to learn how to use them. Starting in 2002 I enrolled in a series of photography courses (about 10 over 4 years) at the International Center of Photography in New York. I learned how to use all of Bryan’s cameras and how to make my own big color prints in the darkroom. Along the way I discovered that the sense of composition and color I had developed over many years as a painter translated well into photography. The camera was just another medium with which to express my ideas. Astonishingly, in 2009 I had my first solo photography exhibition in New York. It’s wonderful to be both a painter and a photographer. Pastel painting will always be my first love, but photography lets me explore ideas much faster than I ever could as a painter. Paintings take months of work. Photographs – from the initial impulse to create a setup to hanging a framed chromogenic print on the wall – can be made in weeks.