Photographer John Weiss shared his international experiences at the recent UD Association of Retired Faculty luncheon.

Lens on the world

Former professor's photography featured at UDARF luncheon

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9:45 a.m., March 15, 2012--Photographer John Weiss has devoted much of his life to documenting the amazing diversity of people in the world and the places that they call home.

Weiss, who retired from the University of Delaware in 2005 after a 30-year career as a professor of art and coordinator of photography, shared his passion for photography with luncheon guests during a meeting of the University of Delaware Association of Retired Faculty, held Tuesday, March 6, in Clayton Hall.

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“Someone had suggested that I attend a photography show in Cambridge, Mass.,” Weiss said. “I went out and brought a lot of photography stuff. I was hooked.” 

A recipient of the teacher of the year award from the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, Weiss began his three-decades plus career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as an apprentice to photography legend and educator Minor White.

“He was teaching at MIT and I called him and told him about my interest, and he gave me the name of a person to study with,” Weiss said. “This individual later called me and said that Minor was looking for an assistant, so I applied and got the job.” 

Weiss presented representative works from his worldwide journeys, including People Who Never Were, featuring definitely offbeat, almost surrealistic images from a summer photography tour of Ireland. 

When the prints taken from this tour were damaged while being developed, Weiss decided to abandon the idea of presenting what he had originally called “these beautiful Irish faces.” 

“Weeks passed, then months, and I wondered what I would see if I brought these photos up on my computer,” Weiss said. “I went from horribly faint images to these abstracts of what I wanted to do. It took me weeks to do them, and they are heavily manipulated. It became the project of a lifetime.” 

Weiss showed a video filmed during a trip to Tanzania of dance by members of the Hadzabe, an ethnic group living around Lake Eyasi in the central Rift Valley and the neighboring Serengeti Plateau. 

“The Hadzabe live outdoors and make their own bows and arrows and hunt their own food,” Weiss said. “They were so kind. When we left we had a dance together, with all these rich Americans and these Stone Age people.” 

Complementing the display of photos from places as varied as Morocco and Venice, with subjects ranging from snake charmers to dancing Bedouins, Weiss also showed video clips taken with his latest camera of choice, the iPhone.

In the videos, viewers are greeted with images ranging from the back of basketball legend Michael Jordan’s head on the rear door of a tractor trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike, to a news vendor setting up at 5:30 a.m. in Penn Station, in New York City. 

“You never know where your next image is going to come from,” Weiss said. “You just line up a scene and wait for someone to intrude.” 

A leader of several photography tours around the globe, Weiss said he finds a common thread of human connectedness exists among his traveling companions and the people they meet. 

“Would it surprise you to learn that photography is a hobby, a blessing and a spiritual path?” Weiss said. “The most wonderful thing I find when I travel is that we are all so different and that we are all so alike.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes

Photos by Ambre Alexander

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