NORTH ADAMS -- In the last two decades at the North Adams Transcript, editors, reporters, publishers, columnists and others have come and gone, and the most consistent voice has been its visual one. Photojournalist Gillian Jones is looking back at 20 years as the one thread that runs through all of the Transcript's recent history.
Jones will celebrate with a retrospective at MCLA Gallery 51, which opens Thursday with a reception at 5. p.m.
Putting together the show was a time-consuming process for Jones and involved the tedious work of going through two decades of photography and the more conceptual aspect of figuring out presentation and focus.
"The whole process started a little more than a year ago, with the Mystery Photos," Jones said. "I started scanning old negatives, and then having them as Mystery Photos, so a lot of the stuff has come from that process, and literally going back to the first week that I started and looking through those photos again."
For Jones, the photos represent the story of the Berkshires through an era of change, as well as a document of its beauty. They are also a collection of personal memories for her, and as such, the process has given her the opportunity to recollect and reflect, as well as begin to understand the scope of her output over a 20-year period.
"There are times that I can sit and I can look at a photo and remember taking it," she said. "I remember how I was feeling, so it's been very nostalgic for me to be going through all these photos."
What distinguishes Jones' show from most gallery presentations of photography is her role as a photojournalist. The images she takes are immediate, her craft unfolds in the moment, and the result can be mix of her own decisions on subject matter and outside influences. Any given image might depend on the unexpected events of the day, or even the concerns of someone else -- some of the photos are complimentary to stories by reporters or directions by editors, and Jones' role is to create an image that expands on those as well as stands on its own.
Jones' got her photographic start at 10, with a birthday gift from her father.
"It was a Kodak Instamatic X15F," said Jones. "I used that camera for a long time."
It was later during her sophomore at North Adams State College that she procured the camera that would change her life's trajectory, due in no small part to the man who sold it to her, biology professor Fred Johns, under whom she also studied photography.
"He had such an impact on me even after I graduated college," Jones said. "I was working as a cashier down at TJ Maxx and would get out of work and go to the college, where he gave me access to the dark room."
It was after that year when Jones walked into the Transcript building to inquire about a job, with no clue it would be one of the defining moments of her life.
"I really think a lot of it was luck," she said. "Certainly you have to have some technical skills, but a lot of it is luck and being in the right place at the right time and capturing that moment, and I had found myself in June or May without a job. I had been looking at the Transcript -- I always looked at the Transcript and the Eagle -- and I just said, you know what, I'm just going to apply at the Transcript."
It just so happened that the newspaper had lost their photographer and desperately needed a new one. Jones was given a part-time position for the summer, and went full-time by the fall.
Jones' career winds through a period of immense technological change that has directly affected how she does her job. She stands as a link between the digital photography world and the analog one.
"When I first started, I was in a darkroom slopping around in the wet chemicals," Jones said. "Slowly it got to so I was still developing film and they were scanning the negatives. And then it came to the digital camera, which were good for shooting some things. It really was a transition that took quite a few years to complete, and, of course, probably 10 years ago, they completely eliminated film altogether."
Technological change is now just part of the job, she says, and the ability not only to stay on top of these changes but incorporate them is crucial to the immediate nature of the job. The idea is that Jones has to make the technology evolve to her style, not vice versa.
"I think just being a photojournalist, you're always on," said Jones. "You're always looking. I always have a camera with me. And of course my job has changed. I'll be at an event with my digital camera, and then at an accident I might take a picture and then tweet it. It's constant now. It's like there's a deadline every second."
The one thing that hasn't changed, though, is the temperament that leads to photojournalism. Part of her look back is compiling a view of herself and how she got to where she is. One of the most important talents for her field is the ability to be unobtrusive and let events unfold without the interference. It's something she stresses to future photojournalists.
"When I got my first camera, I was shy and quiet growing up," Jones said. "I wish someone had said to me that it's okay to be quiet and shy because you're taking stuff in."
"I'd want to say that to anyone who's shy and quiet. They're shy and quiet, but there's stuff going on. They're ruminating and observing, and that's such an important part of photojournalism and photography in general."
John Seven is the Transcript's arts and entertainment editor.