The Extraordinary in the Ordinary Through Jordan Kessler’s Lens

October 10, 2023 by Pam Ellertson

By Pamela Ellertson

In his exhibition running through November 12 at The Umbrella Arts Center, fine art photographer Jordan Kessler creates beauty with everyday objects in the three series featured in the show: Death of Print, Zero Toys, and Battery.  In it, magazine shreds metamorphose into abstract compositions; filing cabinets and fax cords archive a bygone era; and AA batteries align into geometric, visually pleasing patterns.

“With a camera you can make almost anything interesting,” says Kessler, who earned his MFA in photography from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2013.

In Death of Print, images are presented in large scale format measuring 40 inches by 60 inches, but it was Kessler’s close observation to detail late one summer day that sparked the idea for the series.

“I was taking the trash out and saw these shreds in the dumpster that looked very interesting in the afternoon light. I do not like grime and am particular about cleanliness, but I had half my body in a dumpster to photograph these shreds that someone had disposed of,” says Kessler, grinning at the absurdity of the memory.

Soon afterwards, he tracked down the person in his building whose magazine detritus had captivated him so. This was lucky on two fronts. First, his neighbor was more than happy to lend him her shredder, which was no longer in production, and in doing so, she eliminated the need for any more close ups inside their communal dumpster.

Exploring more hygienic environs for further inspiration, Kessler says, “I took a trip to Barnes and Noble, trying to pick a magazine that almost everyone would know about, so I grabbed the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. I think a lot of women would be OK with me shredding that magazine (as) it was the objectification of women.” He knew he was onto something when a friend saw a photo from the series and she commented, “this is the only way someone should look at the swimsuit issue.”

Other magazine titles soon followed. While he primarily chose his subjects for their emphasis on photography versus text, he found himself drawn into the Vogue magazine his mother donated and the 1992 issue of the Sears Wish Book Christmas Catalogue he bought on eBay before subjecting them to the shredder.

“With the scale of a magazine you are forced to take in the information on each page as opposed to on a screen where you scroll through it obliviously. I found myself reading the magazines before I shredded them,” says 44-year-old Kessler, somewhat bemused.

In Kessler’s tidy West Concord fine art printing and framing shop, Pitch Black Editions, order prevails. Large format printers, paper stock, and even family snapshots like the one of his feisty grandmother flipping the bird while decked out in her favorite basketball team’s bright green Celtics’ uniform have their place. But again, Kessler was intrigued by subjects close at hand, aiming his lens just across the hall at Zero Toys, a business specializing in “unique gifts and cool science toys,” according to its web site.

“They are inventors,” is how Kessler describes Zero Toys owners Joel and Al Aronie.  Indeed, images of Doc Brown, inventor of the time machine in the movie Back to the Future, immediately spring to mind upon meeting Joel Aronie. In addition to his tall, lanky stature and white almost shoulder-length, mad professor hair, Aronie invented the Zero Blaster (pictured in gallery image above right), a children’s space gun toy that shoots circular rings of water-based vapor. Kessler will feature it along other images captured inside Aronie’s shop.

“Hundreds (of photos) were taken…postcards, desks, newspaper articles, curios, and relics they’ve collected. I am taking what they have accumulated in the space they have created for themselves…pointing my camera at interesting components of their space.” Referring to the documentary aspect of the series he says, “It feels like when they are displayed, they are precious artifacts.”

The final series, Battery, was previously exhibited in 2019 as a solo exhibition at the de Menil Gallery at the Groton School. In it, Kessler arranges hundreds of AA batteries in a variety of patterns, colors, and textures, creating numerous geometrically stunning compositions.

“Transforming this thing that is displeasing to the eye and elevating it through photographing it in an interesting way” is one of his main photographic goals, says Kessler. If that is the case, in these three series one thing is for certain: Mission accomplished.


Zero Toys and Death of Print: Photographs by Jordan Kessler is on view Sep. 29-Nov. 12 in the Allie Kussin Gallery of The Umbrella Arts Center in Concord, MA. Umbrella exhibitions are free and open to the public. Gallery hours are 9am-9pm daily. 


Gallery image by Ron Mann. Other images courtesy Jordan Kessler.         





















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