Joseph Jachna at Stephen Daiter Gallery | Art review

An Institute of Design thesis yields poetic photos of water.

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Joseph Jachna; Door County, Wisconsin (hand holding circular mirror, reflecting stone wall); 1970.

Joseph Jachna; Door County, Wisconsin (hand holding circular mirror, reflecting stone wall); 1970. Photograph: Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery

This exhibition establishes Joseph D. Jachna as a successor to Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind—his teachers at IIT’s Institute of Design—in the development of abstract photography as an art form. Born in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood in 1935, Jachna joined the ID faculty after graduation and taught at UIC from 1969 until his retirement in 2001. He took many of the pictures in “Surface Contradictions” as part of his ID graduate thesis, completed in 1961. (Siskind was his adviser.) The photographs sat in storage boxes for decades and were only recently rediscovered. When Stephen Daiter Gallery learned about the find, it decided to show this amazing project instead of a planned Jachna retrospective.


Jachna’s thesis photographs depict water: sunlight on water, reflections on the surface of water, water in motion, leaves and fronds floating on water, or the contrasting texture of earth or discarded objects at the margins of water. The artist crops the small (5" x 7") images so that the moment when viewers recognize his subject as water quickly gives way to an absorption in abstract patterns; one’s eye follows the swirling lines of a single ripple or the glint of light on a thin blade of grass. Jachna’s silver-gelatin printing process makes his pigments appear intensely deep, yet they also seem to float on the surface of the paper, creating a dimension of texture that digital photography can’t match.


“Surface Contradictions” is more than a historical document: Each of its photographs is a distilled ode to the natural world.


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