Monday, February 29, 2016

Atlanta's Jim Alexander Brings His Photographic Jazz & Bues History to Georgia State University

Jim Alexander at GSU

This Thursday February 25, 2016 at the Georgia State University Student Center Art Room, the Atlanta based photographer JimAlexander spoke to a group of about fifty people who came to view some fifty-five of the artist’s photographs, the theme of the exhibit being photographs of jazz and blues performers.

 The spry eighty-one-year-old, beret doffed Mr. Alexander is a noted documentary photographer who was born in 1935 in Waldwick, N J. not far from the then happening city of Patterson, NJ. He started his career as a freelancer in Ridgefield, New Jersey in 1964. His work has been included as part of a Smithsonian exhibition on Duke Ellington, shown at the Sorbonne in Paris, at the Lunds Konsthall gallery in Sweden and at numerous other exhibits and one man shows throughout the Caribbean and the United States. The Georgia State show included photographs that were principally from Mr. Alexander’s work from the late nineteen sixties and early seventies.

The crowd listened intently as Mr. Alexander explained how he got his first camera-a Kodak Brownie box camera that he received as the bounty for winning a ten-dollar bet at a card game while he was in the service back in 1952. From there he started as a freelancer in 1964 and studied photography at the New York Institute of Photography in 1968. In 1970 he was hired by Yale University as a consultant for their Black Environmental Study Team. Many of the photos on exhibit at GSU were from his time in New Haven. CT.

Jim Alexander in front of his picture of blues legend Taj Mahal

It was in 1976 when Mr. Alexander came to Atlanta accepting a position with the Atlanta Office of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. Alexander later went on to hold the position of "photographer in residence"  at the Atlanta Neighborhood Arts Center and later at Clark College. Mr. Alexander operated his own studio in Atlanta and has continued to teach, mentor and exhibit in many local schools, colleges and for civic organizations. 

Mr. Alexander spoke of his long time association with the late Gordon Parks, a notable Life magazine staff photographer and a director in his own right. It was a conversation that the two had that convinced Alexander to pursue documenting human rights, civil rights, the Black Experience in this country and African American inspired music, most notably jazz and blues. It was seeing how Mr. Parks lost ownership of some of his best work while on staff with Life, that led Alexander to work principally as a freelancer, so that he could always retain the rights to his own negatives.

Jim Alexander and Gordon Parks (credit unknown)
Mr. Alexander was asked which of his photos on display was his favorite. While he claimed difficulty in choosing just one, he ultimately settled on his picture titled "Jazz Jam," a picture that captured a who's who of jazz with four bassists sharing the same stage. The picture includes notables like Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillispie, Woody Shaw and Ray Brown. He said getting one picture with that much star power is rare and a special occurrence.
Jim Alexander's photo "Jazz Jam" ( used with permission)
It was a testament to Mr. Alexander's inspiration both as an artist and as a teacher to see some of his
former students present at this show, documenting the event for posterity.  If Mr. Alexander has passed on anything to the next generation, it is the need to develop an intuitive eye that can see the importance of what is happening around you in everyday life and memorializing it in the art of photography. The attending audience was a gathering of people who appreciated the work Mr. Alexander has dedicated his life to for the last fifty years. The City of Atlanta should be proud to have this vital octogenarian still working hard to improve our lives with his art and still getting his message out. This transplanted Jersey Boy has truly become one of Atlanta's treasured own.

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