Professor brings new meaning to old photos

USF’s current Kennedy Visiting Artist has 1,500 photographs in his collection, but he did not take any of them.

Jason Lazarus’ project, Too Hard To Keep, adopts photographs that people may want to get rid of, but carry too much emotion to throw out.

He said the photos represent “living with something you don’t want to look at anymore,” and his collection contains images ranging from a child on a drum set to a black and white image of a beach.

“(I want to get) a deep understanding of a place where photos come (from) to kind of really understand that place where they sort of change and become less pointed or troublesome or more traumatic,” he said. “The title came from wanting to describe the parameters of the project in the most simple terms.”

Lazarus came to USF from Chicago as a Kennedy Visiting Artist, an artist or scholar chosen to teach in one of USF’s departments for a semester. Now that he has settled in to his role at USF, teaching conceptual art in his course, “Voice Lessons, Learning and Applying Practice,” he said he plans to share his project with the University.

Lazarus began collecting photos from students Sept. 12 and held a small exhibit in the Marshall Student Center on Tuesday to advertise the project and collect more submissions.

Lazarus said he formed the idea for “Too Hard To Keep” one and a half years ago.

“Once I thought of it, I got excited,” he said. “(It’s) helpful and interesting for people to get rid of images they found difficult. To learn about photos can be sort of clearly referencing trauma, or (to) look at (a) photo and have no idea why a simple photo can cause someone difficulty and how, for some people, it’s one photo and, for others, it’s a hundred.”

He said he does not get many submissions of graphic photos, such as abuse, but they do come every once in a while.

“By looking at them, we learn about the way we treat photography and the way we deal with trauma and the way we manage our lives,” he said.

Wendy Babcox, a USF photography professor, said she recommended Lazarus for the semester-long position. Before coming to USF, Lazarus taught photography at the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College.

“I had seen his work and fell in love with it,” she said. “I felt that, although he has interesting roots in photography, my area of specialty, I feel like he would really appeal to graduate students on a disciplinary level.”

Currently, Lazarus’ photos are housed in an on-campus studio in the Fine Arts Hall, but he said he hopes to have a permanent museum dedicated to the project. He said he is not sure where the museum will be located, but would like to have it near Chicago.

He said photos can be dropped off in the art and art history department. Photographs can also be mailed, emailed or picked up from students’ dorms, Lazarus said. Selected photos from USF students will be put on his blog,, while the remainder will be saved for a photography show in Belgium next year.

Pictures will remain anonymous, he said. If photos contain another person, such as an ex-lover or best friend, Lazarus said a student can ask that the picture remain private by showing it distorted.

“It’s a way to let their negative feelings translate into a positive exploration in photography,” he said. “It creates a sense of sadness, but a belief that we all feel like this.”