Making art with a snap, a click

With computer's help, photographer creates images of people's lives


October 13, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

Computer technology makes it possible for Alex Jamison to combine photographed and scanned images into his collage-like portraits, but each work begins with a more old-fashioned technique: talking.

"I'm really interested in working with people who want to explore what is going on in their lives," said Jamison, who is based in Silver Spring. Conversations with the subjects spark ideas for images, and he said he often shows them the works in progress.

Jamison said in his artist statement that his subjects "want to participate in the process of finding pictorial expression for an aspect of their lives - an experience, a relationship, a transition." The final work, he said, "reflects their experience and contribution, transformed by my sensibilities as an artist."

Seven of Jamison's works are on display in Illuminations: The Healing Experience at the Tai Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts in Laurel through Nov. 25.

One of the works, "Sylvia and Denise," is of a woman who left behind a daughter when she came from Colombia to the United States and later was reunited with her. When Jamison began talking to the woman about a portrait, he said, she asked him to include her twin daughters, who were born in the United States and were killed in an accident when they were children.

The final portrait includes two images of the woman and her adult daughter, and the faces of the two young girls, which appear to be imprinted on wings behind the mother. Marble patterns and other textures fill in the scene.

Another portrait, "Sarah," incorporates a girl, her reflection in a mirror, a drawing she made of her horse and a leaf pattern that Jamison said helps pull the elements together.

Other works use symbolism from poems, draw on family relationships and highlight a connection between a baseball player and his coach.

"My hope is the piece, in the end, is a confirmation of something and opens up a new vista for [the subject]," Jamison said.

The piece conveys ideas about the person that is pictured, but Jamison said it is still an artistic work that he wants to stand on its own. In the current exhibit, he did not put captions or explanations with the portraits.

"It's not one thing I'm trying to communicate," he said. "If it's a rich picture [the viewers] see more than one thing in it."

Jamison was an apprentice to photographer Frederick Sommer before he settled in the Washington area in 1979. His photography career has focused on architecture, art and portraits, and he has taught at George Mason University and the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington.

He earned a master's degree in visual information technologies at George Mason University in 1993 and has been focusing on the combination of computer and photographic techniques since then.

"For me, it really expands the imaginative element of photography," he said. "It is not solely dependent on what you find or assemble in front of the camera."

The process, he said, can take months or even a year, as he seeks out the elements that will make an image complete and manipulates them on a computer so that the colors, textures and shapes are smoothly integrated.

Tai Sophia's Himmelfarb Gallery, in the institute's lobby, invites exhibits that touch on the theme of healing arts. John C. Wilson, chairman of the art committee, said Jamison's idea of providing growth and possibly healing for his subjects is what persuaded the group to include his work.

"We want to offer the public a variety of images and media," Wilson said. "In terms of photography, we thought this was something kind of unique."

The Tai Sophia Institute is at 7750 Montpelier Road. Information and hours: or 410-888-9048. Artist information:

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