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A Conversation with Jack Jeffers: Why Photography?


End of an Era: The Photography of Jack Jeffers continues at the Virginia Historical Society with a new selection of images on view through May 26. My conversation with Jack Jeffers continues here as well. I asked Mr. Jeffers why he was so drawn to photography.

Simply put: It fell right into my lap. I was a natural.  I can remember when I was in grade school, and I enjoyed drawing trees and other subjects relating to nature with a pencil. But what drove me to photography was an old Kodak Brownie box camera that my mother gave me way back when. Late forties maybe. Perhaps a little earlier. And this was a true box, with an up-down, open-and-shut shutter release. Now that was a tongue twister, but I used that camera for some years following grade school, and I literally wore it out. But I learned the basics of what made a camera work, and I had a chance to do some very primitive printing in Dad’s old work shed. I could only work on dark nights, because of the open windows and cracks between the boards.

Self-portrait by a young Jack Jeffers

Self-portrait by a young Jack Jeffers

I made my first self portrait with this old relic and here it is.

At some point during my mother’s college days, she studied photography, and she not only had that old box camera, but an old wooden tripod and a lot of primitive lab equipment as well. I took to it like a pickup-truck in red clay.

I can still remember this day and the details behind the making of this self portrait beside the old pump house next to our country home near Kingsville, VA. That dot in the map is five miles south of Farmville along Rt. 15.

I set the camera and tripod up and ran a length of binders twine from the shutter release  down to the ground and through a forked stick that I had stuck in the soil to hold the line in place while I made my exposure by pulling on the string behind me. This way you could not see my hand holding it, but you can make out the string as it passes by my left foot. That was my first creative photograph and I still have it. Now it is preserved as a digital image. Oh yes, we kids went barefooted in those days. Even to school.

You might say that this was the beginning of a long and interesting life with photography. For some years it was merely a serious hobby and about thirty years passed before I became fully involved with the medium. I actually resigned from my position as an advertising manager at General Electric in Waynesboro and went full time as a working artist. That included commercial illustrations as well as my fine art photography. And it was during this time when I was working on my Appalachian portfolio. The rest is history. I hung up my forty pound camera pack in 2005 and shifted to digital.

Split Rock in central Wyoming by Jack Jeffers, silver and oil, 1998

Split Rock in central Wyoming by Jack Jeffers, silver and oil, 1998

I have always been interested in other media. I took a couple of courses at Longwood in art and it was purely for the enjoyment. General Science was my major. After moving west in 1997, I became seriously interested in hand-coloring some of my western images with transparent oils. I had played with oils while living in the Shenandoah Valley, but it was purely for the satisfaction of learning to mix oils and how to use a brush.  In Wyoming I took it seriously and here is one of my hand-colored images from my desert series. The western landscape was a natural for transparent oils.  

Lizzie Oglesby is the Member and Visitor Services Officer at the Virginia Historical Society. 

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