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Jason Landry, owner of Panopticon Gallery in Boston, Director of the MFA in Photography Program at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, photography curator and collector, mentor, blogger for Huffington Post, Annie’s man, and, happily, a friend of mine, is now an author! In his just-published book, “Instant Connections”, he offers a lively collection of essays, interviews and even some poetry about his life in the creative and ever-changing world of photography. Recently, I had a chance to talk with Jason about his book.
Why was writing a book a better expression for you than, say, creating a series of photographs or a movie?
I wouldn’t say that writing is a better expression; it’s just a different art form. There was this little piece of me that missed making photographs. I pretty much gave up that life when I became a gallery owner. I live vicariously through the successes of the artists that I represent and I’m okay with that. But I was in search of another creative outlet. That’s when my wife, Annie, suggested I should write, or jot down stories about all of the adventures that I have gone on, or the people that I have met in the photo world. Next thing you know, I had 40 stories and a few interviews that looked like it could be a book.
What experiences, training or people prompted the change in your career path from photographer to gallery owner?
When I was in art school, I noticed that there were no business classes to prepare students for what was ahead: how were they going to market and sell themselves as artists? That’s when I thought my skills might be better suited to help others by owning a gallery. Also, when I met Jim Fitts at the Photographic Resource Center, he introduced me to people in the industry and it strengthened my desire to mentor and assist students and emerging artists.
What made you decide that being a photographer and owning a gallery were mutually exclusive? Did you view it as a sort of “non-compete clause”, an issue of available time or something else?
I wanted to be able to focus on the artists that I represent and not get sidetracked with my own stuff. Plus, I didn’t have enough time to truly focus on projects to make it worth my while.
You’ve said that, since you gave up photography, the need for another creative outlet led to your writing and, ultimately, this book. Can you tell us how this has changed or reinforced your views on the creative process? What feeds your creativity?
Yes…I was hungry for another creative outlet. I think that if you are a create type, you know what I mean. When you are away from your craft for a while, you get an itch. When I got serious and started writing every day, my itch went away. Now I spend a lot of time in bookstores sniffing books….and reading.
How did you pick the people you chose to include in your book?
For my essays, I chose the people who have mentored me in life. Without these people, I’m not sure where I’d be today. They have connected me to my vast network in the arts, not something that I would have been able to do on my own.
For the interviews, I decided to choose four artists with diverse backgrounds and ideas. William Wegman, Vik Muniz, Leonard Nimoy and Harold Feinstein are all very different, and I’m drawn to all of them in different ways.
Can you tell us how you met some of your mentors?
The first person that I talk about in the book is Jeffrey Keough. He was the first and most important mentor because he linked me up to many of the people that I refer to as my ‘art family’. Jeffrey was the former director of exhibitions at the Massachusetts College of Art. He was a friend of my family, but someone who I had never met. When I eventually did go to seek him out, I found out that he had a stroke and was no longer at the college. After about a year, he returned and I was able to introduce myself. From that day forward, he played a pivotal role in my development as an artist, a collector, a gallery owner and now a writer.
Obviously, mentorship is important to you. What are the most important things you offer to those you’ve chosen to mentor? How do you encourage creative expression in others?
As I mention in the book, and quote from someone else, it’s the desire to “Dream Big and Dare to Fail.” You can succeed at anything you want in this life as long as you work hard at it and put in the hours. Success doesn’t happen overnight and talent alone will not catapult you to mega-stardom. You need ‘others’ to help create introductions. This is where a mentor or a personal connection can benefit you. I offer advice to all of the people that I mentor. My advice comes from personal experiences that they may or may not have had themselves and they can take my advice or leave it––it’s totally up to them. Artists just need to continue to work, regardless of whether or not they have a ‘project’ or ‘series’ in mind. Creating art is fun and it’s not supposed to be hard. I just keep pushing students and emerging artists to continue to work. Good or bad, something surprising always comes out––always.
In your book, you write about mentors and artists who have influenced your career. Can you tell us how your greatest supporter, partner and muse – the woman you often refer to as “Annie Delicious”– has influenced your career?
It was my wife’s suggestion to start writing. I was never really big into writing or reading but with her encouragement, I just started and never stopped. We cancelled our cable TV and I found more time on my hands. I began buying books and visiting bookstores on a weekly basis.
Annie has been my sounding board and has lived through all of these stories. My ups, my downs, my highs and lows––you name it. I‘d be lost without her. Every time I take a breath, I take one for her, too. I stole that line from an episode of Oprah.
What did you discover about yourself during the writing of this book?
That I could write. When I was in graduate school, the director of the program told me that my writing was bad because ‘you write like you talk’, a problem for many people. Since I needed to write a thesis in order to graduate with my MFA, the director suggested that I make an appointment with the Writing Center at the college. Needless to say, I wasn’t too excited about that. But I went, and I learned something. I learned how to rearrange sentences a little better and cut out words that were just there for filler. I’m still not the best writer in the world but, luckily for me, I get to hire an editor when writing books!
What was your biggest surprise about writing a book?
That I actually followed through and finished it. Unlike the photography world, I have relatively very few connections in the literary world. I was trying to reinvent myself as a writer, using the skills that I developed in the photo world. Writing this book took time––more time than I have allotted for many things in my life. I really surprised myself that I stuck with it, took the feedback from my editor and finished it. One of my favorite aspects of the project was working with my editor, Debbie Hagan. She was able to see my vision and, although it was quite unique, she went with it.
Are you thinking of another writing project for the future?
As for writing, I am now blogging about photography on Huffington Post and I have taken on a few freelance writing assignments. As for books, I have four other writing projects that I am working on. There is at least one fiction book, one book of poetry and one collaboration in the works.
If variety is the spice of life, your book is offering up some tasty treats, with essays, interviews, photos and even some poetry. You’ve told me that it was likely this somewhat unconventional mixture of genres that precluded publication by a traditional publisher, but it also may be one of your book’s greatest strengths, serving up a literary jambalaya that whets the appetite and keeps the reader coming back for more. What are you doing to celebrate the publication of your book?
We are hosting a book launch in Boston on Saturday, November 23rd from 5-8pm. It should be a good time.
To order Jason’s book from amazon.com, click on this link: http://www.amazon.com/Instant-Connections-Essays-Interviews-Photography/dp/0990013502/