Personal Views


    Since the time I was a boy I dreamed of creating works of beauty that would last for ages.  In the beginning the dream was to be a writer of stories.  I imagined my novels delighting readers through the years and enduring beyond my physical existence.  But attending public school in the South in the 1960s after five years in parochial school laid the seed to the destruction of that boyhood dream.  Like many adolescents and teenagers in 1964 America, I was fascinated and eventually influenced by the arrival of the musical quartet known as The Beatles.  Beyond their innovative and wonderful musical creations were their attitudes and strong personalities. They radiated youth and optimism with seemingly endless possibilities if one were creative and individualistic. Superficially, I was one of the males who tried to adopt their early distinctive hairstyle. And that, totally unsuspectingly, became the beginning of my clashes with authoritarian figures, first at home and school, then eventually with increasing frequency in the society at large with people who were not even in any position of authority nor who even knew me.

I had personal reasons for wanting to change my appearance and reinvent myself as I entered adolescence.  As with most young people I was seeking to find my own personality and identity.  Growing up, I had always been obedient, meek, and a diligent student.  When I attended Catholic school in the 1950s I had briefly been an altar boy after some coercion. I was quiet and nondescript.  So it came as a total shock to find myself later encountering such hostility and disapproval as I merely tried to establish my identity as a young person in the 1960s; and solely precipitated by my deliberately wishing to alter my physical appearance.  It was something I was fiercely motivated to do due to self-esteem issues and an overwhelming desire to try to free myself from the new, unfamiliar angst of becoming a teenager. I had silently endured and suffered continual bullying from two classmates for three agonizing years in junior high. When I started high school I wanted to, I had to, change my persona. It was vital to me. I had lost myself. The length of my hair became, innocently, a focal point in my life.

Once begun it seemed the battles were unrelenting.  They went on for years.  One casualty of this insipid conflict was the eventual loss of my interest in becoming a writer.  In both my junior and senior years of high school I had English teachers who demonstrably resented me merely because of my attempt to wear a hairstyle longer than was officially sanctioned by the public school system.  (A hair length then, by the way, far exceeded today by many educators and administrators in the school systems of America). That my efforts in their English classes were graded less than fairly was not any paranoid assumption on my part but one which other students at the time even clearly recognized and confirmed to me was real. It was then a different climate that people after my generation may not comprehend.  Males like me were judged harshly by society as a whole. The reactions in the film Easy Rider which was released slightly later than my initial battles were not exaggerated. I talked my way out of many a confrontation with strangers. I had been an honor student in the past but I was being suspended from school repeatedly for my refusal to adhere to the local school board's dress code that disallowed hair over the ears or shirt collars of male students.  This attitude toward me in high school was played out to the end when I was denied the right to participate in my graduation ceremony at the conclusion of twelfth grade unless I once more cut my hair; it had grown out a bit since my last suspension by the school principal.  I refused to do that.  Nobody in my family supported my decision.  They had all along been on the side of the school system in its effort to make me conform to a silly arbitrary rule about how a male student should look. At the beginning of that senior year I was not allowed to be photographed for the school yearbook because of my hair length, and the idiocy just continued on and on. There were serious issues at hand for young men in America at that time.  A tragic, futile war was raging unrelentingly in Southeast Asia. My personal freedom was being violated with some imbecilic rules regarding physical appearances while the possibility of the profound loss of one's actual life resided in the hands of even more people in a position of authority over me.  For those too young to remember, there was a national military draft at that period. I had a father who in one of his gentler remarks told me, his only son, that I should go to Vietnam as it would make a man out of me.  In less than three years I would sever all ties with him and never speak to him again in his life.  There was just always constant stress and conflict whether I was at home, in school, or on the public streets in Savannah. People were never reticent to let their disapproval toward me be known. Not a single older relative offered me any support, and even more strikingly neither did any of my cousins who were my contemporaries in age. To say that I came from and was surrounded by extremely conservative people is an understatement. I deplored the conformity that was all around me but I was merely a lone teenager in the Deep South in the 1960s. In that period a kind word or encouragement from someone, anyone, would have meant a lot.

Today, looking back, I can welcome, to a degree, those long ago events because they inadvertently strengthened me as a person.  I had been bullied incessantly in junior high by two fellow students whom I am now supposed to recognize more than likely had self-esteem problems which caused their brutal taunting.  Then in high school due solely to the length of my hair I encountered an even wider range of antagonists which included my own family. I was placed in the never-wanted position of being ostracized not only by my family and relatives but by the school system and mainstream society.  It took enormous energy and will power in those years to stand up for myself and my beliefs when so many people were constantly haranguing  me. There was never any refuge as I had to be either at home or in school or out in public. Each day felt like an endless battle for a person like me in the late 1960s in Savannah. I was steadily compelled to question many things about American society.  And about Life in a material world. I had begun to find myself and my voice. I had begun the journey inside to seek meaning.

In college during the 1970 Summer Quarter I attended the Second Atlanta Pop Festival which included the last major USA performance of Jimi Hendrix.  It was an outdoor three day music festival held less than a year after Woodstock. Those scorching hot July days and humid nights were filled with music, drugs, sex, nudity, and everything else that epitomized freedom at that moment in time. All I had with me to document that amazing event was a cheap Instamatic 126 camera that I had traded six golf balls to a friend to acquire.  A short time later back in my college dormitory at the end of the quarter I found some photography magazines discarded in a hall wastebasket. Currents were nudging me further away from earlier dreams. I would remain an English major and earn a degree but I would teach myself photography and darkroom processes.

In the Summer of 1972 I purchased my first new 35mm SLR camera; since 1971 I had been using a borrowed 35mm camera. I had established a rudimentary darkroom. By 1975 I had joined my love for creativity with my love for women and a photography career was born. My naivete prevented me from recognizing that the Deep South would not rush to embrace my vision of creative photography. I had started incorporating nudity in my photographs, the first ones of my girlfriend and then of other women the two of us found on campus or in stores or the beach. The displeasure and hostility I soon encountered were not at all unfamiliar to me by then.

I have always been attracted to and fascinated by women. And it seems perfectly natural to me that I would come to specialize in photographing them. I have done and continue to do other types of photography but my personal artistic statement is always firmly centered on women. I think women are beautiful and the epitome of creation. I find the female form to be the most wondrous in the universe. I have absolutely no regrets for devoting much of my life to the depiction of feminine beauty. And I offer no apology for being a sentimental romantic wanting to share my appreciation of women with the world.  It can be disappointing and frustrating to be misunderstood or misinterpreted.  But that goes with being alive in a world filled with various viewpoints and philosophies. Creative people are often highly sensitive, and consequently the negative impressions are felt acutely at times. An artist should remain always true to himself. In fact, all people should do that.

If I could, I would always surround myself with kind, gentle people. People who were in love with life and who sought harmony and beauty in their own existence. I dislike negativity, conflict, violence and vulgarity. Yet by being sometimes available to the public in general I must encounter all types of people and there are, of course, people who actually embrace negativity, conflict, violence, and vulgarity.  It is always a pleasant experience when I encounter those who are in sync with some of my own feelings.  And the fact that we may have met due to my photography has special significance. I have cultivated my photography through the years. I am protective of it as if it were a loved one, an entity. Life can be a treacherous affair. It can be difficult to find someone or something to anchor oneself to.   

Over the years I have intentionally become more reclusive. This has been fostered by a desire to shut out
as much negativity as possible and surround myself with beauty and peacefulness. My studio, darkroom,
living quarters are all situated on the same property that I have owned since 1980. My still film archive
is vast and I am the only one who knows what I wish a final print version to look like. I do not necessarily relish spending my remaining years printing in the solitary environment of my darkroom but I feel at times compelled to produce more of the unseen images that I have preserved on film in the past. Printing is a slow, often tedious, process involving countless hours in a darkroom amidst trays of chemicals and negative film files of models spanning decades. Then, if handcoloring is involved there are many more hours.

I have gradually created an environment that with each passing year becomes more harmonious and in balance with my spiritual and emotional character. Being still single and without children, I have not likely followed the customary approach to life and work. It is possible, with dedicated effort, to be in this material world but not of it. I'm indebted to the sages and gurus who preceded me for speaking of possibilities. Life is always a dream in progress. One should pursue and manifest her/his dreams. (And always be aware of karma).

When I abandoned the idea of becoming a writer and embraced the role of being a photographer I still wanted to communicate with people - but through photographic images instead of written words.  As my oeuvre has continued since 1975 it forms a statement.  It has always seemed to me that the overwhelming message of my photography is Love.  It is what I have felt about my work and my subjects since I began.  Not everybody will see it, but I am sincerely grateful for the ones who do.

Jack Wegener
Savannah, Georgia