Emory Report

 July 14, 1997

 Volume 49, No. 35

Photography isn't black and
white, it's shades of gray

How does an up and coming weatherman from Gainesville, Fla., with a degree in broadcasting find his way to the photography department at Emory? Ask Jon Rou. Filling in at a major network affiliate during weekend and midday newscasts in Gainesville, Rou's career as a weatherman was promising.

But after attending a Gay Pride parade in Gainesville, the station wasn't calling him anymore. When he pressed them for a reason, the vague responses made the answer all too clear­a crew covering the parade had spotted him, and management wasn't happy. "I have no real proof that it could have been based on that, but my gut feeling is that it was, since I had gotten really good reviews until then," said Rou.

At a turning point in his life, he moved to Atlanta. After working as a temporary secretary in orthopaedics at Crawford Long, he was hired as office manager for Univeristy Photography, where he has been for the past four years.

"I feel really fortunate to be in an environment like Emory. It's nice to be an 'out' gay man and have job security and get the same level of respect anyone else would be given," said Rou.

Rou spends his days scheduling photo shoots, interacting with clients, handling billing and accounting and occasionally assisting in various shoots for University Photography. He spends his personal time taking pictures. Rou works as a freelance photographer for Etcetera magazine, picks up work shooting portraits, weddings and basically any type of photographic work he can find.

"I've always been interested in photography. When I was 13, I got a 35mm camera and I went to Europe. And looking back, the photos are surprisingly pretty good for not really knowing that much," said Rou. While he was always interested in photography, it wasn't until he started at Emory that he developed a passion for it.

He has taken two (the only two) photographic classes in the Fine Art Department. Both classes are taught by Nancy Marshall, "who is a wonderful photographer, said Rou. "She was a really big inspiration and she really helped me along. So between her influence and the three photographers [in University Photography], I really got excited and interested in photography," he said. He has also taken other courses and seminars when he can find the time.

"As I started doing more portraiture, I really found that I gravitated toward photographing people. I find the interaction between the photographer and the people fascinating," said Rou.

While taking one of the photography classes with Marshall, she helped add another dimension to Rou's work. She showed him a "toy" camera. "They're not disposable cameras. They're based on a camera called the Diana that was a popular carnival prize and promotion in the '60s." said Rou. The Holga, the toy camera he uses, is a flimsy, plastic, $12 camera that has to be taped up so the back doesn't fall open. "Anyone who saw you using it would not think you were serious at all. And it sounds cheap when you turn it to advance the film, and the shutter makes a weird little clicking sound," Rou said.

He played around with the camera for a while, but after a trip three years ago to Joshua Tree National Monument in California, he became a Holga convert. "When I came back and developed the film, I was floored by some of the images I'd gotten. Really unique, mystical, eerie-like images," said Rou.

And just how seriously is his work with a toy camera taken? Rou exhibited his first one-man show last year at the Etowah Arts Gallery in Cartersville. He displayed a series of portraits he took with the Holga camera in downtown Atlanta during the Olympics.

A year before, a member of the gallery's board asked Rou if he was interested in doing a show. While the content of the show was completely up to him, he knew he wanted to do something Olympics-oriented. After getting turned down by Olympic organizers for access to athletes and various venues, he realized that angle wasn't a possibility. "I decided well, 'I'll do environmental portraiture of people who are here visiting. I'll just go downtown and take photos,'" he said.

Rou packed six plastic cameras, two bottles of water and model releases in five languages in his backpack, got on MARTA and roamed the streets. The first day "I almost had a panic attack. There were so many people. Then I realized I'm down here and my job is to start walking up and talking to strangers and ask them if I can take their pictures. It was overwhelming at first," said Rou.

After he started photographing, the tone of the crowd and the atmosphere was so electric it was exciting. "It was absolutely fascinating and one of the best experiences of my life. I'm so glad I forced myself to go down and get over the initial shock," he said. In all, he photographed about 85 people over the course of seven days and only four turned him down.

He displayed about 30 photos at the Cartersville show, titled "The Boys of Summer: Toy Camera Portraits from the 26th Olympiad." And the show was well received. Since then, he has been using the Holga extensively, but not exclusively.

"Ann Borden, Kay Hinton and Annemarie Poyo have helped me so much. I've learned so much from them. They're such wonderful photographers and I have basically them to thank for me being in photography. They will look at my work and say you're doing this here or you're not doing that," he said.

As for his future, Rou said he wants to eventually move into editorial photography in portraiture for magazines.

-Scott Barker

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