Nancy Jones has spent decades capturing images of people, places and things through a camera lens.
Death changed her focus.
It’s the topic of her show, “Death is Nothing at All,” that opened this week at Everett Community College, where she teaches photography.
“It is in response to my mom dying and my dad dying and other personal situations,” said Jones, 47. “I hope it’s not sad. I don’t want it to be sad.”
Death changes the way a person feels inside — and also how the outside world looks, from a road to a tree to a building, she said.
“When you go outside it’s the same, yet it isn’t. I wanted to play with that, make the photographs so subtly awkward, push the end of the frame a little bit, point it at something you wouldn’t normally look at.”
The solo show runs through Feb. 9. You can meet Jones at an opening reception from 12:30 to 2 p.m. today.
The exhibit features eight large scale landscapes and 15 encaustic photos.
“The large scale photos are very me, what I consider to be my standard operating boring landscapes that I love,” Jones said. “The encaustic is new. I’m a little nervous to show it to the world. But you can’t make art in a vacuum. At some point it needs to grow wings and go out in the world.”
The encaustic pieces use items she inherited after the death her mom in 2016; her dad died in 2009.
“Boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff,” she said.
In the boxes were slides, photos and stencils, which she incorporated into layers of the encaustics.
”When I inherited my grandmother’s art stencils, I knew at some point I would know what to do with them,” she said.
Jones made a model of the gallery to determine placement of the art for the show. Behind a partition is the “Death” poem and a few of what she called “sad” images. “I kind of wanted it to be separate,” she said.
She pursued photography in high school, despite being discouraged by a guidance counselor.
“I’m dyslexic and I’m old enough that that was equatable to being branded stupid. In high school I was told I was not smart enough take photography or German,” Jones said.
Jones held numerous positions in the photography world, from San Francisco to Boston. As a freelance photographer, it often meant working 12-to-15 hour days.
“I decided to go back to school and get my master’s degree so I could teach,” she said. “That was supposed to be my backup plan for later, but it became the upfront plan. I got pregnant with my daughter.”
Jones and her daughter, Ani, now 6, moved from Portland to Washington four years ago for her teaching position at EvCC.
“When we moved here, we moved my mom out,” she said. “She had every intention of hanging out with her granddaughter.”
Her mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after moving here.
“In the course of dealing with my mom being sick, I got obsessed with photographing through rainy windows, screens, things that would put some type of barrier between me and what I was looking at,” Jones said. “I was drawn to walkways, doorways, places of transition.”
The exhibit takes its title from the Henry Scott Holland poem by the same name. The poem and the show speak to ways death changes the value and perception of a place or object while leaving it physically untouched.
Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room…. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow….Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner.
The timing of the show coincides with the anniversary of her mom’s death on Jan. 17, 2016.
Is the exhibit a celebration of her mom’s life?
“When I lost my dad, it was one thing. When you lose your second parent, there’s something bigger and really scary about it. In some way it feels like a lot about my mom, but it’s really about both of them and everything and doors closing,” Jones said.
“This encapsulates everything. We keep moving on.”
If you go
See “Death is Nothing at All” by photographer Nancy Jones at Russell Day Gallery, Parks Student Union, Room 219, Everett Community College, 2000 Tower St.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. Closed Saturday and Sunday. The exhibit is up through Feb. 9.
More at www.EverettCC.edu/Gallery and www.nancyellenjones.com.
Death as a topic sounds strange I suppose. In some ways it is a departure from my more politically based work, yet asking the viewer to contemplate challenging topics is a very typical theme in my work so perhaps it is fitting after all. In this case though, I did not set out to make work about death. I was simply making work while death was fastidiously working very nearby and, for what seemed like, quite a long time. As an artist who makes lens based works it was no surprise that I held my camera tight during these challenging times. As many artist will attest, making work through difficult times can help ease the pain. For myself, I just kept pressing the shutter not knowing why or what for, but knowing it was somehow easing my burden.
When the dust and the ashes settled the images I had made began to speak to the images I now inherited. My family, in a box.
Being drawn to landscapes and temporality as subjects in my work, I began to draw relationships between these stacks of images and found in them a reflection of my experience. Due to three very piercing moments in time, everything in my landscape appeared different, yet its physicality was unchanged. My images documents of an object or a place, that appeared to awaited their value. In the wake of death the value could shift without warning and yet to the casual viewer appeared as they were, a road sign, an envelope, or a tree. The images in this exhibition are documents and places of that time and have been titled by impact of death on their inherent banality and now ever shifting emotional value.