PARIS — “Retirement” has been good to John Jenness, as he’s been traveling around the country with his camera in hand, capturing images and bringing them back to his art gallery to share with the Oxford Hills community.
He’s coming up on his one year anniversary from getting out of the legal business and trading in his briefcase for a camera. The longtime lawyer retired and resigned from his Paris law firm on March 16, 2015 – his 67th birthday. He spent last summer renovating the other side of his building at 21 Market Square and opened the doors to Sunset Hollow Gallery on Sept. 8, 2015.
As for the name of his gallery, Sunset Hollow is what he called the small subdivision he created in Paris. Jenness incorporated the kokopelli – the humped back flute player known as a symbol of fertility, replenishment, music, dance and mischief in the Southwest – into his gallery logo.
“I was going to go with a Southwest motif and the kokopelli really kicked in. I really love that part of it. It’s rebirth in the sense that I was a lawyer and now reborn in a new profession,” he said, noting he picked up six pieces of kokopelli pottery and art on his most recent trip to the Southwest in February. “Now I think of going on trips [as] … enjoyable work … and staying here is a vacation. … I am so loving doing this. It’s just so relaxing.”
He transformed the former pharmacy into gallery space, dividing his photographs up by category – fences, fishing villages, racing, flowers, landscapes, portraits. He prints all of his own photos up to 11-by-14 inches and has a website that can make larger prints. And he pays attention to the lighting when he’s shooting.
“I very seldom use a flash. I try to use as much ambient light as I can,” Jenness said about his photographic process. “I try to do as much sunrise and sunset as possible because the color is so much better.”
His photographs are displayed in three-walled sections and there aren’t too many humans in his images. But there is a striking picture of his great aunt from New Hampshire, who Jenness described as “very, very, very Yankee.” She’s sitting upright in a white wicker chair, donning a blue dress accented with pearls and a serious look on her face. A pink flower helps frame her in the photo.
During his third trip to the Southwest, Jenness visited the slot canyons in Page, Ariz. Following a Navajo guide, Jenness descended 15 feet into the ground to walk the natural landmark and photographed it. He noted the area is prone to flash floods and the canyons were created by water rushing over the rocks.
“You can see the claw marks where the animals had been thrust through,” he said.
He was also drawn to the canyons’ aesthetic appeal.
“It is particularly beautiful. There are other slot canyons around but the ones in Page are … the Navajo sandstone, orange in color as opposed to the gray, which is so much prettier,” Jenness said. “It is so incredibly abstract.”
Last weekend he returned from a trip to Georgia to visit his son and daughter-in-law, where he took many photographs of his grandson. These photos Jenness will add to his collection of roughly 15,000 images. He got his first camera on his honeymoon in the Caribbean in 1978. Many of these were originally slides, which have been transferred over to digital images.
Framed prints of his work can be purchased, but Jenness admits he feels weird about the capitalistic aspect of selling his photographs. There are books of photos for people to browse through inside the gallery.
His project for this spring is to set up his mini-museum of antique cameras and other photographic- and video-related equipment inside the gallery. During a recent interview, he proudly showed off a Polaroid Land camera – a birthday present from his son.
“It is an antique but it is in absolute perfect condition,” Jenness said.
Most weekdays Sunset Hollow Gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and mornings during the weekend. Jenness said if the open flag is out front, then the gallery is open to the public. If you see the “Gone Photographing” sign, then he’s out exploring the world through his lens.