April 10, 2001
by Michael Smith
Leigh Jordan was born in Houston, but spent five young years in New Orleans. Her father, a cardiologist, settled in Mobile when she was seven. She attended St. Paul’s School and graduated with its fifth class. Though art classes were available--none being photography--Leigh did not take them.
Instead of attending an in-state college, Leigh returned to Texas, going to Southern Methodist University, in Dallas where an aunt lived. She took art history and photography classes, but finished with a degree in French and political science; she had thought about becoming a lawyer.
About the time Leigh graduated, however, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, so she put off more schooling to come home. During that period, she remembers a trip to New Orleans where she had lunch with a woman lawyer acquaintance who gave her the emphatic advice: "Do not become a lawyer. You will not enjoy it."
Leigh took that advice. Instead, she went to the Art Institute of Atlanta for six months and then on to the Maine Photographic Workshop in Rockport, participating in both residency programs. She studied the fine art of photography. "Fine art is defined by how you respond to it. It does not matter that it is not perfect or someone else does not like it."
Leigh noted that photography has only recently been accepted as fine art. "One of the problems," she mused, "is that so many prints can be made from a single negative. Photographers should produce limited editions of each photo."
Leigh’s first camera was a Polaroid swinger given to her at Christmas while she was in the third grade; she thought "it was so cool." At that time, she just took pictures, not really focusing on what she liked. Her photography strengthened in college, after which she began to photograph children and family members. After art school, she took pictures of landscapes and dramatic photos, i.e., "more representative photos."
"You take photos and more photos and finally, at some point, you ‘get it.’ They are no longer just everyday images. You look at something and it strikes a note. It means more than just a picture. After you get it, you start to shoot from the hip. You photograph quickly without thinking. You photograph for yourself and if it strikes a chord in others, it’s a bonus."
Leigh carries a Holga camera around with her all of the time. "It’s a cheap, plastic twenty-dollar camera, so you don’t have to worry if it is stepped on or stolen." With a Holga, there is no technical stuff; just point and shoot. In the photos, the middle of the image is sharp, but it gets diffuse around the edges, having a dream-like or ethereal quality; the pictures look old. "The photos are more like a vision than an actual recording. It creates a memory." Leigh likes the fact that the Holga has no lens to focus. "You just try to get the shot: it's imagination collaborating with the subconscious."
Of course, Leigh knows the basics of taking a picture and believes that you need to know them. But after you have learned them, "you can break the rules. You need the knowledge because it helps with the perception."
Her favorite photo subjects are her two daughters and husband, Paul. "The family is so important in what I produce. Paul is a great supporter of my work and art in general." The two of them met on a Valentine’s Day blind date and have been married fourteen years.
Though Leigh has produced conceptual photography, i.e., photos put together in a preconceived notion to convey a particular thought, she prefers spontaneity in her work. "Photos just happen. It’s part of capturing the moment." One of her favorites is a picture taken while walking at Spring Hill College with her daughter, Jordan, who stopped, picked up a dandelion, and blew it. "It was a wonderful, innocent memory of childhood."
Leigh returned to her alma mater, St. Paul’s School, three years ago as an instructor. She now teaches photography to approximately seventy students, spread through five classes; next year, there will be an advanced class. Leigh teaches them how to take, print, and mat the photos.
She loves teaching at the high school level because the students are both mature and innocent at the same time. Yet, they are at an age where they will still listen. She finds her students inspirational. "They do not hold back with their questions; there are lots of why’s?" Those questions make her think which improves her own work.
Leigh’s first assignments are simple; she has the students photograph leaves, their hands or feet, so that they can learn to use the camera. In a later assignment, the students select a quote or some writing, such as a poem, and shoot a photo which portrays that thought. Another assignment requires them to take a self-portrait by using some reflective surface; in conjunction with that photo, pictures are taken which convey the photographer’s personality; the student then writes an essay about the photos taken.
The photography of Leigh’s students is currently on exhibit at Savage Photo Gallery & Lab for about three weeks. Each student has one photo in the show. Another exhibit, currently at Ashland Gallery, features the work of thirty of Leigh’s students and thirty students from St. Paul’s art classes, taught by Beth Compton.
Leigh enters her own photography at the annual shows in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and LaGrange, Georgia; there are also other shows spread through the South on occasion which garner her interest. She has also had two solo shows at Savage Gallery over the last couple of years.
When asked about the large volume of work she has produced, Leigh stated: "The more life has given you, the more you give back through your art work."
It is evident Leigh lives a rich life.
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