How to Be Jack Rowell
A rare show by one of Vermont’s finest photographers is ending this week. Here’s an intimate look at the man behind the lens.
Studio Place Arts was mobbed the night the gallery opened Jack Rowell: Cultural Documentarian, so if you missed the big event, don’t feel bad. Openings are fun, but you spend a lot of time looking at the backs of people's heads. The exhibit runs through Saturday, June 30, and I urge you to drive to Barre, Vermont, to see it.
I know Jack pretty well—he and I went to high school together—and I love him a lot. He has brought me fresh-caught trout and homemade fish chowder, and he helped me find the sweet little rental in downtown Randolph that I live in now. In 2010, he took a writing project that I was doing at the Randolph Senior Center and, with a little help from the Vermont Community Foundation, the Vermont Folklife Center, and Kickstarter, he turned it into an inspiring exhibit, with portraits and audio recordings, that went to the Vermont Statehouse. A few of his portraits from that series are included in the show at SPA.
There’s an exercise that I give in my writing workshops: Draw a portrait of a character by instructing the reader how to act and think like that person. Here, using the "How to Be" exercise, is my portrait of Jack. I picked up the detail about the Christmas camera and the Instamatic from the writer Mary Gow, who wrote about Jack's show for the Time-Argus. There's a link to her story at the bottom of this page. And to see some of Jack's gorgeous work, click on the link to his website, also at the bottom of this page.
How to Be Jack Rowell
Start by being born in Tunbridge, Vermont, a town that is known for its fairgrounds. In other words, a place where nothing happens most of the time.
Learn to hunt and to fish. Learn to draw. When you are not satisfied with the results of your drawing, switch to photography. Do this when you are in primary school and your mom gives you a camera for Christmas. The camera takes only black-and-white pictures.
Buy an Instamatic and take color pictures, even though you can’t afford to develop them.
Become best friends with your camera. Never leave home without it. Love it as much as you love your fly rod and your hunting rifle.
Move to Randolph in eighth grade. Get a job covering school events for the Randolph Herald.
Spend much of your adolescence in the darkroom.
Learn to drive. Buy a motorcycle. Party.
Maintain your Tunbridge ties. Document the local fair, known for its disreputable characters. Turn your photographs of the fair into a book that sells out and becomes a collectors’ item.
Buy a mobile home and live on practically nothing. Drive an old car.
Help a friend make a satirical film about a Vermont farmer who runs for Congress. Cast your Tunbridge friends in all the major roles. When the film takes off and the star—who is a farmer and not an actor—becomes famous, fly to L.A. with him for an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Photograph granite workers, rock bands, fishing derbies, Little League ball players, dance halls, apple pie contests, farmers, trash collectors, and bridal couples. Photograph whatever interests you.
Always say what you think, even if people don’t like it. If you make a few enemies, tough.
Have a cranky side.
Promote your friends’ projects—their handmade toboggans, quirky museums, chocolate bonbons, lakeside resorts. Give them lots of free PR. Be genuinely enthusiastic.
Survive quadruple bypass surgery. Stop drinking. Stop smoking.
Love and respect all kinds of people, especially Vermont people. Photograph naked women over 50, people with 40-inch waistlines and foot-long beards. See the beauty in all of them.
Love Vermont with all your heart, even the rough edges. Especially the rough edges.
Studio Place Arts is at 201 North Main Street in Barre, Vermont. 802-479-7069. Gallery hours: Tue–Fri, 11 am–5 pm; Sat, noon–4 pm.
Jack Rowell, Photographer: Jack's official website, with lots of gorgeous pictures.
Celebrating a Vermont Legend, by Mary Gow (Times Argus)
Jack Rowell: Cultural Documentarian, by Meg Brazill (Art Review in Seven Days)