Joe: My “Uncle,” Your “Grandfather”

“Avuncular” is the word to describe Joseph Jachna these days. He was the student of Harry and Aaron at the Institute of Design who, upon earning his M.S., filled the faculty position that became available when Callahan left for RISD (does this read like code for you? connect the dots), then went on to head the program at UIC; he was there for over thirty years.

I went to Mr. Jachna’s retrospective exhibit last month at College of Du Page on the day he appeared to speak. I introduced myself to him and to curatrix Barb Wiesen in the hall some minutes before the event; after chatting for a bit, she invited me to sit with them in the auditorium. I held up my blueberry scone and reminded them I work in a high school and was conditioned not to bring food into the auditorium; Jachna reached over, put his hand inside my open jacket, and suggested I smuggle. Then he went on to compare the current, um, high-key nature of both our beards.

The free-form “lecture” began with Jachna’s statement about his work, making it clear that he was drawn to certain optics that are particularly photographic in nature and to ways of working that are rich with picture-making opportunities. He was self-deprecating to a degree, and he used wry expressions that were clearly well-honed, but one thing he would not do was to let any of the questioners put words in his mouth; rather than agree with a characterization or repeat anyone’s phrase, the closest he would come was to allude to the phrase in question as the speaker’s own, then to direct attention back to the work. He is absolutely clear in his own mind about intellectual rigor and about the role of serendipity in his work.

If it is true, as I maintain, that if my teachers were students of Siskind and Callahan, and therefore those two are your photographic great-grandfathers, then Joe Jachna is some sort of forefather to you, and you can only benefit from familiarity with his work.

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