Jason camera meets truck


Written October 6, 2019:

“Asheville people may remember my darkroom co-director and friend, Jason Clements, who worked tirelessly with me in 2013 and 2014. It pains me so much to have to share that Jason passed away this past Friday at the age of only 27, from lung cancer. He was fighting it on and off for about two years, but I didn’t know it had returned until this morning when his sweet mother reached out to me.

When Jason emailed me for the first time to introduce himself and ask if there was any way he could be involved in the darkroom, he was just shy of 21. He assured me that he was so dedicated to photography that he even had an aperture tattooed on his hand. But Jason was an old soul, curious, thoughtful, fun, emotionally mature beyond his years, and full of innovative ideas. He was so stubbornly and hilariously analog for his age, refusing all social media and fighting to keep a flip phone going. He inspired me to make art in a time when I wasn’t sure if I was an artist anymore, and challenged me to follow through with ideas and plans that I didn’t believe could be accomplished. When he left Asheville to start new adventures, as I knew he one day would, I still cried after we said goodbye.

I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to see who Jason would be in 20 years, what he was going to be able to accomplish in life based on what an incredible start he had. This news just seems so terribly cruel, and so hard to believe.

Here is Jason the moment the giant camera obscura he dreamed up met a stage full of artificial lights to create a performance piece that we weren’t sure was optically or practically possible. Of course he made it work anyway. Rest easy, dear friend.”

It’s been over a year, and I still think about Jason’s departure, and how “cruel” is still the appropriate word for losing someone so young yet so much wiser beyond his age. Of course it’s hard not to think about death all of the time now, in our country so wracked by Covid-19. A year ago, his passing seemed non-sensical, yet today, we live in an existence where the thought that “anyone could go at any time” (which has always actually been truth) permeates our daily routine in ways many of us did not absorb before. I wonder what Jason would think about this whole mess.

In October, I was invited to participate in a show called “In Situ”, based on the practice of Ancient Romans who created roadside memorials in honor of a person. I didn’t have to think too long about who my subject would be, or how to symbolize him. I am happy that the visual I painted connects to the bigger photography community that he was a part of, the community that is a source of strength for me today in these difficult times. I waited for some good golden hour light for documentation, which I think he would have appreciated.

Jason in situ


I had the good fortune of teaching in Cortona, Italy, for the University of Georgia for two months this summer. The experience ran the whole gamut of exhilarating to challenging, with some melancholy thrown in. I was a graduate student in 2001 when I first visited Cortona, a handful of months before September 11th, and this was my first time back in 18 years. I had no recollection of many aspects of the town, but sometimes I would take a turn down a small alley and long-forgotten memories would come rushing back.

With all the students cleared out of the darkroom in the last week, I was able to open up the windows and get in one last chemigram session in the Severini darkroom. I had already done some work in the classroom with more readily-available light, but something told me to get into the darkroom proper, to pull open those heavy Italian window shutters. I had been weighing all the possibilities of everything else I should be seeing in Cortona that I had been putting off all summer, but something told me to get to work that day. I was a few hours into my work session when I realized what that voice was about.

The Severini Darkroom was somewhere I never set a foot into as a student in 2001. At the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, I was at war with Photography when I was there. I attended a Printmaking-intensive Maymester in Cortona, as I had found in my first year of grad school that printmakers understood my drive to experiment with process, whereas the realm of Photography was fraught with landmines of “right” and “wrong” practices. I felt relieved to escape its obligations and judgmental glare. Printmakers had no problem calling themselves artists, but photographers were photographers.

For years I have relayed the story of how on my one-day trip to Rome during that month, I didn’t even bring a camera. I think it was a conscious act of defiance, but the details are fuzzy. The huge unexpected takeaway of that day was that being cameraless freed me to truly see my surroundings. I learned the difference between the pictures I take out of tourist obligation and the pictures I choose to bring into existence because I need to. Everyone around me snapped with their point and shoots all the relics they needed to show their friends back home; I found myself falling behind the crowd, lingering, looking. I saw details that I needed to be in person to really absorb — the textures, the craftsmanship, and the incredulous realization of how much more history was present here than in my shallow American existence and own personal family details. I could have long awkward staring sessions with everything — I didn’t feel the pressure to snap my shutter and move right along, as seems to often be the proper response to such experiences. I got to share this story with students of my own this summer, in the very environment which taught me those valuable lessons. And I made sure that they made photos of Rome this summer, about their own experiences there, rather than took them of things they could have just bought postcards of.

So that last week in Cortona, when maybe I should have experienced a dip in the city pool, or taken a hike to Le Celle, I instead started furiously making chemigrams alone in the darkroom, for the last time on July 24th. And partway through, I could sense that the moments making the work were far bigger than the seconds from which they were composed. I felt calm, I felt lucky to be making art right then, right there. In 2001, the darkroom was basically the only method of making photos that had any validity, it was the default. In 2019, being in the darkroom is a conscious choice, and all of the reasons that made me so angry and wanting to avoid the darkroom all came around full circle — here I was making artwork in a place that relied on analog processes to even be possible, in the very place I refused to walk into for all of that frustration with the Photo world. I’m thankful to have been doing this photo thing long enough to have participated in the whole purpose for a darkroom shifting, transforming, and turning into something far more wondrous and exciting than I was even taught that it could be 18 years ago.

Long story short, I think I made peace with the Severini Darkroom that day. We’re good, and I hope we meet again.


severini1      sevchemigrams



Twenty years and roughly two months ago, I started my first photography class at Tulane University. I had been trying to get into the introductory photo class for three semesters, but it kept filling up with seniors who had a higher registration priority than me, seniors who wanted a “fun” elective to finish out their last year. I had to personally meet with the dean of my college and express how strongly I wanted to get into this class and possibly devote my degree to this study. I don’t recall the specifics of what I said to her, but I guess my urgency or pitifulness was convincing. We registered for classes by phone then, and I still very clearly remember standing near the bathroom door to my dorm room, looking down at the carpet, as I finally heard the computerized voice say, “Art Studio, one, three, five, has been added to your schedule”. After what felt like years of rejection to my 19 year old mind, I was finally on my way.

It’s difficult to explain to my students now what it meant to get into a darkroom, to actually learn what was still deemed the only way to work with the photographic medium. A year prior I had been given a scanner for my computer, and I voraciously scanned color film photographs I had taken with a point and shoot camera, manipulating them with Paint Shop Pro, constructing narratives that were both angsty and satisfying. I received my first copy of Photoshop (7.0) from a guy I had started talking to on ICQ who was kind enough to burn me a CD and send it through the mail. For as much as I loved laboring over these images on the computer, to work in the darkroom was a whole other level. It was the realm of professionals, shrouded in mystery with so much to learn, and to finally have a space in this class, to feel like I was finally worthy of being able to study the subject rather than having that computerized telephone voice reject me over and over… it still feels just as significant of a milestone now as it did then.

“Newcomb Hall”
Silver gelatin print
8″ x 10″