Paul Jett received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art and Philosophy from the University of New Mexico, with coursework that included studio classes in photography and Chinese brush painting, as well as studies in East Asian philosophy, history, and art. After receiving a Master of Arts degree in Art Conservation from Queen’s University in Canada, and postgraduate work at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Jett moved to Washington, D.C. and soon after began working for the Smithsonian Institution at the Freer Gallery of Art. In his role as a conservator for the Freer Gallery and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (and later as Head of the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research), Jett had the good fortune to travel regularly to East and Southeast Asia.
At the same time, he continued with his photography and had works chosen for juried exhibitions of art and photography by the Smithsonian staff. Jett now devotes himself more fully to photography, and his work has been selected for juried exhibitions (such as at the Hill Center, Washington, D.C., 2013 and 2014), group exhibitions (including at Gallery plan b, Washington, D.C.), and displayed at private showings. His artworks combine modern photographic methods with the aesthetic sense of East Asian ink paintings in an attempt to achieve images that are both new and traditional, and both painterly and photographic.
My photographs are inspired by Chinese ink paintings, particularly the works of artists from the seventeenth century during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. I want to emulate this art form, but do so using modern methods of image making. Some of the images are close in hue to painting models; other images begin at that starting point but end up with the forms appearing more abstract and sometimes more anthropomorphic.
The images are not drawn or invented; they are photographs made by shooting the subjects as silhouettes against the sky. Bright, clear days can give a dark form against a blue background; overcast skies give a grey, or neutral, background, and cloudy days can give a mottled effect. Often, I underexpose the shot or alter the contrast to heighten the difference between the subjects and the background, and I sometimes "tone" the images for a different effect. In spite of those changes, I feel the images are true to the objects photographed. In brief, these pictures are about bringing an emphasis to things around us that we usually don’t notice, noting what one can see if one looks hard enough, and momentarily capturing or delaying the passage of things that quickly come and go.