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A Conversation with Jack Jeffers: How will viewers 300 years from now perceive the photography of Jack Jeffers?


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 ends here. I was fascinated with his endeavors in creating archival prints. I love to think of people in the future seeing his images, which will be well intact, and pondering that bygone world that he illustrates. I asked Mr. Jeffers how people 300 years from now might perceive his work, long after we are both gone.

I can remember back during the early seventies when I was pondering over the life expectancy of a black and white photograph. Paintings last for hundreds of years, but traditional color photographs, during my early days of photography, were limited to maybe fifteen or twenty years before the fading became obvious. In other words, the life of a color print was short. So, I wrote to Eastman Kodak and asked them the big question about black and white. Black and white had always been my love and joy. Kodak sent me a small booklet regarding the archival qualities of black and white images. In that pamphlet, there was a quote that I well remember: “With proper care and processing, a black and white silver gelatin print should last a thousand years or more.” I have remembered that statement to this day.

To further stabilize the silver image, I took it one step further by chemically combining sulfur with the metallic silver; thus producing a silver sulfide image. This was a perfect combination for my work because the sepia toner added an extra warmth and visual dimension to my art. Plus, the addition of sulfur added an extra degree of permanence to the image. I call it “pre-aging.” Later on, I started to mount my images to 100 percent rag and that also added to the archival presentation.

Ernest and the Cat, Rockbridge County, 1973 by Jack Jeffers

Ernest and the Cat, Rockbridge County, 1973 by Jack Jeffers

Based on many of the positive comments that I have received over the years, I feel certain that my work and subject matter will live on through the ages. My images of mountain people and Appalachian Byways are said to be “timeless.”

You would be amazed at how many people have taken the time and trouble to contact me personally as a result of the exhibition on display at the Virginia Historical Society. People, in general, relate to the subject matter and the way it is presented.

I would like to think that future generations would still be able to relate to my traditional style and approach to my subject matter. Traditional subjects in oils, watercolors, and other media are “timeless.” Walk into most any gallery today and you will quickly observe that traditional subject matter dominates the gallery walls. The traditional, classic, and romantic style still holds its own in the art world. Galleries are in business to make money, and the public’s taste dictates what most galleries sell. Sure, there is abstract and some pretty wild stuff being produced by today’s artists, but traditional work still outsells abstract, and what I often refer to as “shock art.” 

West Virginia Barn, 1972 by Jack Jeffers

West Virginia Barn, 1972 by Jack Jeffers

If my art draws an emotional response today, it should well stand the test of time and be appreciated by future generations. If I had to pick one landscape that might stand above all the rest, it would be West Virginia Barn 1972. All of the elements were just perfect including the mood and time of day. I can remember standing there for some time while a light breeze blew through the high grass. This scene was like a great musical composition and all I had to do was record it. I returned to the site a couple of years later because it had become like an old friend. All that remained of this old sentinel was a pile of old worn out lumber covered by honeysuckle.

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

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