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Local creative’s new book focuses on the Fort Wayne scene

Courtesy/Randy Jackson
Jackson in action, focused on the city scene.

Photographer Randy Jackson has just published his 1st book, called Anything but Net: I Never Shot Sports.

Admittedly a “people person” and avid portrait shooter, Jackson loves focusing his artistic attention on the interesting things folks do that make Fort Wayne a special place to be.

He cites IPFW’s 2005 public art project, Mastodons on Parade, and his involvement with documenting the entire collection as a huge influence on the direction his work has taken.

WBOI’s Julia Meek talks with Jackson about this personalized photo tour of the city he has shared with his community and his passion for the craft as well as the friendships it has afforded him.

Event Information:

Book Signing & Photo Exhibit
@ Visit Fort Wayne
927 South Harrison Street
Saturday, July 9th, 2022
10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
(First day of Three Rivers Festival)

Find more information on the author's Facebook page.


Julia Meek: Randy Jackson, welcome.

Randy Jackson: Hi, Julia.

Julia Meek: So your own passion for the picture has brought you and the community much pleasure. When and where did your love for photography all begin?

Randy Jackson: Back when I was in high school, my father had kind of a Kodak Brownie camera. I got to watch dad play with it, basically. And I thought, well, that'd be something I'd like to do. And it just kind of stemmed from there and grew. I took dad's camera on our senior trip to Washington, DC. And that's where it blossomed--pictures weren't what I would call National Geographic quality, but I developed a strong interest in photography on that trip.

Julia Meek: Good for you. And it has served you well over these years to be sure. You do seem to be an equal opportunity enthusiast as regards your subject matter. Do you have a favorite topic or focus or even thrust in your photography

Randy Jackson: People.

Julia Meek: Okay.

Randy Jackson: People are interesting. People doing odd things are interesting. People doing interesting things are interesting. (chuckles) People moments are what really piques my interest, whether it be glamour, whether now sports, whatever, if it involves people, it's interesting. A friend told me one time, he says if you're taking something that involves people, and you're taking the back of their head doing something, what's the point? That turned the light on. And from that point on, I changed a little bit of my thinking that was when I was in school.

Julia Meek: And it gave you just a tweak to your perspective maybe and your focus if we get back to that terminology and good for you, what a wonderful lesson learned, Randy,

Randy Jackson: It matured the perspective.

Julia Meek: That's fantastic. So your new book takes a mighty close look at a lot of what makes this area special, Randy, that certainly includes the people and what they're doing here. How did your networking within and around our very city and the cityscape develop then?

Randy Jackson: That's a really interesting question because I have this love of elephants, and when Mastodons on Parade came about that was all because of elephants. And because of that it connected me to a lot of different people, gave me a network that was just unbelievable. And since that time in my life, since Mastodons on P arade, I have been involved in a lot of different projects. And it all started when I was a kid when I developed a love of elephants. That's really what got it going.

Julia Meek: It's fair and square. And of course when you connect yourself to mastodons in Fort Wayne, Indiana, you're connecting yourself to a wonderful institution, a bunch of people there put your element of people back into things. Now besides a wonderful walk down memory lane, your collection includes many local heroes and she-roes and speaking of our community, community milestones that we have enjoyed here. What are some of your proudest inclusions in that book besides those Mastodons on Parade, then?

Randy Jackson: I have to say, presenting my wife as the book's dedication. Without her influence and her support, the book would not have taken place. I took a lot of time away from her. And when I met Leanne Powers, who was with IPFW then, with Mastodons on Parade, she connected me with a lot of people. Irene Walters was one of them. Irene Walters bought one of my first what I would call professional prints. And I am so humbled by that. Leanne was a great influence and a great inspiration.

Julia Meek: That speaks a lot about both of your characters and your accessibility. But once again, we go back to the reason you two connected, and that's what came out of doing something for the city of Fort Wayne.

Randy Jackson: Mmmhhmm.

Julia Meek: Now, here's a tough question. How did you determine just who and what would make it into this inaugural photo volume that you've put out?

Randy Jackson: That's another interesting question. I could have made the book longer, put more pages into the book. I wanted to keep the at around 300 pages. It's 304. A lot of the people that I included in the book, they became personal friends, and I wanted to highlight their achievements, their accomplishments, they were a great complement to the book. I was humbled just to be able to say that I was friends with these people, and I wanted to honor them. Another thing. There are a lot of people in the book that I present in Cameo format. There are so many people that I included in the book, I couldn't include everyone in a larger format. So I put them in a smaller format, but I left some people out because I couldn't put everybody and I feel so bad about that.

Julia Meek: There will be more books one day we hope anyway, but you have an amazing amount of information and content in that book. It really makes a wonderful presentation on the who, what, when, where and why Fort Wayne is so interesting, Randy so we're happy with that. And the title "Anything but Net: I Never Shot Sports." You did shoot some sports in your day with your camera of course. So would you explain the title?

Randy Jackson: Oh most definitely. I never shot the past. There is a phrase, "nothing but net," in basketball and because I never shot sports, I shot anything but sports. When I was at IPFW my advisor came up to me and offered the Fort Wayne Mad Ants internship to me. And I looked at Jim and I said, "Jim, I never shot sports." I always kept that phrase in the back of my mind thinking, oh, golly, I probably shouldn't have said that. (chuckles) Because this is the learning institution, they were going to teach me how to do that. And that's basically where the title came from. I shot cars, I shot dogs, cats, pigs, you name it, I shot. But I never shot sports.

Julia Meek: But what about those Mad Ants?

Randy Jackson: That was my internship.

Julia Meek: Your gateway into shooting sports!

Randy Jackson: Yeah, shooting sports, you are so correct.

Julia Meek: Past and present, I see! Now--love this tagline: "Some local history, dogs, hogs, elephants and Mad Ants. Okay, we've got the elephants and Mad Ants. (chuckles) Lots to look at and enjoy." Truth in advertising on the title, Randy. What's the prevailing feeling you hope readers of this book are left with after that adventure?

Randy Jackson: I want them to feel a warm, fuzzy feeling. The book is basically... in my mind, I want to be an inspiration for people that are photographers to go out and produce a book of their own. I want them to see what I have done, and inspire them to go out and do the same thing. It's not necessarily a technical photography book, teaching you how to do something. I want to teach and show people you need to do something and go out and do it.

Julia Meek: (Laughing) That's a great motivational factor right there. But yeah, I see what you're saying. And I think that it works just by the accessibility of your book, Randy. Regarding its content, do you see it more as a look back at our past or a look into Fort Wayne's future and its potential?

Randy Jackson: I think it's all. I showed what is important to me from Fort Wayne, when I started taking what I call quote unquote, my professional photography here in Fort Wayne. I love the parks. I love everything that's developed in Fort Wayne. The Parkview Field downtown is a beautiful stadium. There's so much! I enjoy the restaurants: Coney Island, Cindy's Diner. Angie taking over and running a place when John and Cindy retired. I think it's a fabulous idea. We love the eateries in Fort Wayne.

Julia Meek: What you're basically saying the places and the spots that are important and that you do focus on. It's still all back about the people on the feeling and the heart of the city, and you manage to get that in pictures.

Randy Jackson: I love the nostalgia of Fort Wayne, I love the history. I learned so much about the forts, the actual forts that were built in Fort Wayne creating this book. I had no clue there was so much to the forts.

Julia Meek: A lot of what you love to do is present these little treasures to the community. And a picture is worth 1000 words--we get tha. Is that what you feel when you throw something out there and say, Here! Here, folks enjoy it.

Randy Jackson: This is what I want to portray to people with with the book. It's what I love. It's what I know a lot of people that live in Fort Wayne love. It's some interesting points. Not everything, but it's what I consider important to me. I make a tribute to one of my professors that passed away--that's important to me, and it's important to the family. A lot of things that I have done were inspired by him.

Julia Meek: You know, you do put your camera lens where your mouth and your heart and your soul and your ideas all come from and so it's really a look into your soul I think, as well as your subjects soul, when you take a picture, Randy. Now they do say timings everything. And yours spans some interesting transitions like the ones you've been talking about right here in town. Also in the photography world going, from analog to digital, what kind of an effect or influence did that have on your work?

Randy Jackson: Oh, tremendous. I didn't have to drop the film off at a developer, go through the anxiety of waiting for the pictures to return and then suffer through the "I don't like this, I don't like that, I got a roll of 36 here that I've completely wasted my time and my money."

Julia Meek: So the direct effect is a lot of it.

Randy Jackson: Yes. The problem with digital is the photographer has unlimited supply of images to capture, but now you've got to do something with 'em! (laughs)

Julia Meek: That's a great point. And of course doing one's own dark room would put a limit on that still further, but I appreciate your insight. If you had a chance to shoot in film again would you, do you think?

Randy Jackson: I might, but it would be a different phase of my life. And I don't really have the space to set up a dark room.

Julia Meek: So staying practical, and I get it.

Randy Jackson: Yeah.

Julia Meek: And now that this work is shared with your world, your book that you have just published, what's up on that drawing board, or proverbial light table or in your case, even, a wish list?

Randy Jackson: I do have a book that I'd like to publish. And I have a title. The title is, "Beyond the Rainbow and Other Brick Roads." I'll not...(chuckles) I'll leave it open to your interpretation. You don't want to judge a book by its cover. So we'll just leave it there as mystery.

Julia Meek: Well okay, we'll do that if you promise to tell us about it when it's time?

Randy Jackson: When it happens, yes.

Julia Meek: We look forward to that. And okay, Randy, we know what this tells us about our sense of place this wonderful collection that you have put together. It's a great photo essay that you do paint. So bottom line and directly from your heart as well as your lens, what does this project and the amazing body of work that it includes and showcases tell us about you, its shooter?

Randy Jackson: Me, the shooter...I have been contemplating everything that you've asked me. And I am just so humbled to have been able to work with some amazing people, you included. It's their giving of their time, and me sharing my talent or skill with them. I give them a product also, they gave me the satisfaction of capturing them, and then I can share the moments that I've captured. And that gives me pleasure. What I have taken away from it is a greater love for people and a better appreciation for Fort Wayne. It's a great place to live.

Julia Meek: Randy Jackson is the author of, "Anything but net: I Never Shot Sports." Randy, your story of our city, grand photo salute that it is, is a fine one. Thank you for sharing it and keep those photos coming.

Randy Jackson: Thank you, Julia.

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.