Jaromir ‘Jerry’ Stephany dies at age 80

UMBC faculty member was a founder of the school’s photography program and won honors for his abstract work

April 16, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Jaromir "Jerry" Stephany, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County photography teacher who worked in abstract photo techniques, died of complications from an infection Wednesday at his Severna Park home. He was 80.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., he began making photographs as a youngster during the Depression and served in the Army during the Cold War. He was trained as a combat photographer at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and was stationed at Rhein-Main Air Force Base in Germany.

On his Web site, Mr. Stephany said he "did not view photography as an art form until he studied photography and photographic illustration with Ralph Hattersly and Minor White" at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1958. He said his first attempt at painting on film and printing on light-sensitive paper was done under the guidance of Minor White.

He then earned a master's degree from Indiana University and studied with photographer Henry Holmes Smith, an abstract photography innovator.

"Jerry was a remarkable and talented person whose knowledge of art, music and life was broad and deep," said Tom Beck, a friend of 40 years who is chief curator at UMBC. "He was a sage adviser and extraordinary talent who was the only artist to devote so much of his career to making cliches verre images. He shared enthusiasm for these hand-drawn works with Corot, Daubigny, Man Ray, Laszlo Moholy Nagy and his mentor, Henry Holmes Smith."

Mr. Stephany, who made photo images in a darkroom without a camera, became a teacher. While working on the staff of the George Eastman House, he assisted photograpy historian Beaumont Newhall in teaching the history of photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Mr. Stephany took over the class and brought students to Eastman House to see original prints in the collections there.

Friends said that Eugene "Bud" Leake, president of the Maryland Institute College of Art, lured him to Baltimore and hired him at the Mount Royal Avenue school. In 1966, he joined its department of photography and film and became chairman. While at MICA, he helped organize and was chairman of the first Maryland Film Festival.

"He had a wonderful enthusiasm for what he did and carried that joy into his teaching," said Jack Wilgus, the former chairman of the department, who now lives in Dallas. "Being a teacher was a good fit for him."

A 1972 Baltimore Evening Sun article described Mr. Stephany as a "big bear of a man with a salting of gray in his beard." The account described his lifelong fascination with science fiction.

"I take a [photo] negative and manipulate it. I step on it. Anything I want. To change it, let's say, from the present to the future," he said in the article.

In 1973, Mr. Stephany left MICA to join the faculty at UMBC as an associate professor of photography. He started a new photography program at the campus, then the newest of the University of Maryland system.

Colleagues said he designed darkrooms and set up the program and hired its faculty and staff to run and support the curriculum. He taught numerous photography courses and an interdisciplinary course, Contemporary Art in Progress.

Working with the Albin O. Kuhn Library, he founded what became a well-respected photography collection and advised the library staff on establishing a gallery. He also founded the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Society for Photographic Education.

Mr. Stephany taught a history of photography course until last year.

"Jerry was one of several key visual arts faculty members in the '70s and '80s who helped set the tone for the department's unique approach to teaching art," said the school's visual arts chairman, Vin Grabill. "It was a bold and forward-thinking decision to focus on photography and time-based media at that time."

At the time of his death, his works were being exhibited in a UMBC show, "Music of the Mind: Jaromir Stephany Photographs and Digital Images."

Over the years, his photographs were shown at the George Eastman House, the Museum of Modern Art, the International Center of Photography, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution. His work was published in journals, including Popular Photography and Aperture.

A campus memorial is being planned.

Survivors include his wife of 54 years, the former Therese Fafard; a son, Douglas Stephany of Severna Park; a daughter, Mila Wells of Milton, Del.; a brother, Joseph Stephany of Rochester; and two grandsons.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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