Jordan Douglas brings lith photography to Burlington
Exhibit at the Firehouse shows alternative technique
Jessie Forand | contributing writer
Within the red brick walls of Burlington’s Firehouse Center for the Visual Arts lie a diverse array of local artists’ work. The building’s lower level is currently home to a display entitled “Lith Photographs,” featuring images captured by St. Michael’s College professor and photographer Jordan Douglas.
Douglas says he has always been intrigued by personalized signs. This is evident in his photo "Green Acres," which depicts a sign on a barn.
(Jessie Forand, photo)
Douglas, a Huntington, Vt. resident, started studying photography as an art major at the University of Vermont. Learning from professor Thomas Brennan, Douglas says he took quickly to photography, which resulted in a teaching assistant position and later a job as a summer course teacher.
Currently Douglas, who has been at St. Michael’s for just over three years, teaches introductory and intermediate photography courses.
St. Michael’s sophomore Christopher Aiello is presently enrolled in Douglas’ Intermediate Photography course and says he enjoys the class.
“About every two weeks or so we have projects due,” he says, and explains that students are able to make photographs that are pleasing to the eye and contain a deeper meaning.
Douglas describes his introductory course as a learning process for making your own prints.
“Not only do the students learn how to use all these tools, but they need to say something with them," he says.
In addition to teaching, Douglas produces his own artistic photography for exhibitions. Still, he says that although he has had work published in photographer Tim Rudman’s book “World of Lith Printing,” and pieces of his are occasionally sold, he doesn’t create the photographs as a business venture.
Before working with lith photography, Douglas says he was interested in liquid emulsion and other such techniques. Now he says “[lith photography is] my most recent interest that I’ve worked with extensively.”
According to Douglas, lith photography is “a darkroom process that only works for certain darkroom papers By controlling several variables, you wind up with black and white prints that undergo a change in the grain structure as well as color.”
Douglas' exhibit yielded the largest turnout in the history of the Firehouse's lower level gallery.
(Jessie Forand, photo)
Since the lith photos tend to be grainy, Douglas says the technique works well with scenes of urban decay. Lith gives prints an unstable energy, that images processed this way seem “filtered through time,” he says
Douglas explains lith photography can only be done chemically, as opposed to digitally. In his photos, he says he tries to communicate history.
“A big theme in my work over the last couple of years is antique photography,” he says.
This particular theme is illustrated in the pieces displayed at the Firehouse. “Untitled” features two filmstrips, and “Memory I” shows a woman holding an old photograph.
Douglas speaks of the duality created by “Rambler,” a photo of an old car, saying that it evokes “a beatnik word but it also could mean a fun jaunt, a stroll.”
Another large part of the exhibit emphasizes one of Douglas’ personal interests.
“I’ve always been intrigued by signs with multiple meanings,” he says. This is evident in “Green Acres,” whose subject is a barn in Charlotte, and “Reach,” an eclectic graffiti-adorned building.
“There’s something about that personal touch when someone makes a sign,” Douglas says.
All of the images featured were printed within the last year, Douglas says. He explains that sometimes images can be reprinted in different ways.
According to Douglas, the feedback received on the exhibit has been favorable and drew the largest turnout in the history of the gallery’s lower level.
“I loved the sepia tones,” says Mike Arena, senior specialist for St Michael’s Library and Information Services, who viewed the exhibit recently. “In an age when so many photographers are going digital, it’s refreshing to see what one can do with traditional techniques.”
Storytelling through images
Jerry Swope, a journalism professor at St. Michael’s, has been a professional photographer for 12 years, but says he started making photographs recreationally about ten years before that.
“Ultimately a photojournalist is a visual storyteller,” Swope says.
Because lith photography tends to be grainy, Douglas says it works well in scenes of urban decay.
(Jessie Forand, photo)
Swope says successfully telling a story through photos is about getting to know the subjects.
Still he says, “I don’t think there’s any hard-fast rules that one can follow to do that.”
Swope says he looks for things such as relationships and emotion as well as composition and light.
“I believe good photojournalists go beyond just the literal informative picture,” Swope says, “They should look for a photograph that informs, does so in a visually interesting way, and tries to capture a sense of emotion and intimacy.”
Douglas speaks of the interconnectedness between art photography and photojournalism.
“They peacefully coexist,” he says, “Which isn’t to say there isn’t confusion because there is.”
Because photographs come from the real world, Douglas says, “Sometimes art photography is a little burdened with the need to know.”
Still, Swope says that both types of photography can be used in similiar ways.
“I think even fine art photography is about telling stories, they’re just different kinds of stories,” Swope says.
Jordan Douglas’ exhibit “Lith Photographs” will be featured at the Firehouse Center for the Visual Arts’ lower level through April 29.