Mystery in a common place

Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2003

When many people think of the Appalachian lifestyle they envision a hillbilly sitting on the front porch, wearing bibbed overalls, smoking a corncob pipe and drinking moonshine from a jug. However, these images are stereotypes placed upon Appalachians by outsiders.

These misconceptions largely stem from the mass media, due to their continuing portrayal of Appalachians as ignorant, lazy, poor and lacking in social and cultural refinements, through movies like "Deliverance" and television programs such as "The Beverly Hillbillies."

Kenai artist Jayne Marie Jones believes the Appalachians, along with their history and culture, are not odd or different, but instead are interesting and unique -- a view she hopes to share with the masses through her solo photography exhibit titled "Mystery in a Common Place" on display at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

"Outsiders often grossly stereotype the Appalachian lifestyle," Jones said in the artist statement that accompanies the show. "I hope to show that a different kind of wealth and dignity exist in such an ordinary place."

Jones first moved to Alaska in May 2001 after receiving her master's of fine arts degree from East Tennessee State University. She found employment managing the graphic art department at the Peninsula Clarion and teaching art as an adjunct professor at Kenai Peninsula College.

She recently became a permanent faculty member at KPC. She said she really likes it there and is excited about the digital art program being supported by KPC Director Gary Turner.

However, her love for photography began long before she came to Alaska.

"I've been into photography forever," Jones said. "It's in my blood."

She went on to tell a tale of when she was a senior in high school. She chose photography as a class project and got one of her pictures in the newspaper.


"The Attic" by Jayne Marie Jones evokes a range of emotion from viewers.

"I was hooked after that," she said.

Hooked indeed. She went on to college and received her bachelor's degree with honors in photography, then proceeded to spend the next 20 plus years working as a professional photographer.

After years of work doing portraits, weddings and corporate photography she began to get an itch to break away from color photography which was the bulk of her work.

"It's the roots of photography," Jones said in regards to shooting in black and white. "It has more meaning."

That is a popular consensus among many professional photographers, due to the belief that it causes the viewer to see the world in a way that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Without the distractions of color, a picture begs the viewer to recognize the individuality and uniqueness of the subject. Free from color, the viewer can concentrate on the graphic elements and respond solely to the image and composition.

Jones chose a tiny community in East Tennessee for the content of her work. She found the timelessness of these communities very appealing.

"They show the culture that first attracted me to the area," Jones said in regards to the photographs. "They depict cultural aspects of the rural Smoky Mountains through portraiture of one family and their friends and neighbors.

"As subjects, they provide the raw material that illustrates the nature of a beauty comprised of everyday occurrences," she said.

Jones believes "the work is the fruition of a childhood desire to photograph in a small mountain valley near the Smokey Mou-ntains."

She has many emotional ties to the area, due in part to her upbringing in a similar environment.

"From a young age the environment impressed on me the different lifestyles we have in our culture. This remote community lacked the amenities of city life. Instead, there were mules, chickens, snakes and creeks to play in. There was a sense of purpose dictated by the natural world that didn't exist in the city."

Jones believes her photographs "suggest clues to the mysterious aspect of human existence in everyday life," and that they "transform time into an object to enjoy and ponder."

This belief is reflected in the ambiguous nature of her artwork. Her photographs often leave more questions than answers.

"I like the fact that the viewer can come away from the image and have many interpretations of the work," she said. "Different people relate to the work in different ways and that's the beauty of it."

"It's not so much important (the viewer) knows what was going on with the image at the moment the photo was taken, but that they get in touch with their response to the image," Jones said.

Jones titled the show "Mystery in a Common Place" to symbolize the type of photos she looked for and tried to take during her two and a half years of collecting images from this region of the country. Many of the pieces in the show bare names of a similar train of thought.

"In My Mother's Shoes," is the title for one of the photos that depicts a young girl, intentionally blurred to a slight degree, in the foreground of a living room. She is almost sitting on the floor, but is reclining backward onto the couch, with her hand behind her head. The girl, who appears to be a bit of a tomboy, has on lady's shoes, her belly is exposed and she's wearing a big smile. In the midground is an elderly woman with a cane shown from the waist down -- the girl's grandmother -- and in the background in clear focus is the girl's mother.

Jones said the "quick instant" of the photo captured a time between childhood and being an adult -- a young girl's transition to womanhood.

"The girl is saying 'I want to grow up, but I don't know how,'" Jones said.

Jones went on to explain how the girl had been strutting around all day in her mother's shoes and purse. She used the focus of the camera to lead the viewer's eye to express a different meaning.

Jones implies much about the scene through the camera angle as well. The mother's body language, despite only seeing her lower half, speaks volumes. As does the grandmother's stance, firm grip on the cane and her position which almost fades her into the background of the room.

Other pieces maintain the continuity of Jones's theme such as, "Sparky Plays for PaPaw," which captured the joy of simple things by photographing a boy and his grandfather in a playful moment following a nap together.

"Backyard" has some unusual imagery which gives the piece a dream-like appearance and makes pinpointing the year the photo was taken very subjective. It looks as though it could have been taken anywhere between the 1950's and 2003.

Jones feels the photo titled "The Attic" is one of the more mysterious photos. She said the image of the young boy reaching to the sky from behind an attic window that is actually a door has evoked practically every emotion from viewers.

"Some people view it as joyful, while others have seen it as a frightening moment," said Jones.

Jones's artwork will be on display at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center until March 8.

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