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November 23, 2021

A campus, quieted

Music instructor snaps thousands of campus photos during pandemic
by Allyson Irish

Some people baked bread, others learned how to crochet. Derek Jacoby spent the better part of the COVID-19 quarantine taking photos. A lot of photos.

The music instructor, who also conducts Andover’s symphony and chamber orchestras and handbell choir, took nearly 15,000 images of the campus from March 2020 to March 2021.

Although it began as a personal project, it grew into much more as others began commenting on—and looking forward to—his postings on Instagram and Facebook.

In the following Q&A Jacoby talks about some of his favorite images, the unexpected impact of his photo project, and the connection between musical composition and photography.

Why did you start this project?

It all happened so fast. Students left and then the decision was made to close the campus. I think I started taking photos within days as a way to blend exercise, a mental pursuit to keep my mind engaged, and an artistic pursuit. I was taking photos almost daily and it felt like a mindfulness exercise, taking in small details and taking things slow.

I did have a project in mind, initially: to show an abandoned Andover. That got more difficult when we were told we could no longer go in buildings, so I started looking into windows. Could I capture the essence of each space from the outside? Reflections on the windows can be artistic, and I began to compose images with different layers going on.

What did you do with all the photos?

When the project began, I was posting to Instagram and Facebook almost daily. At first, I had a few students and faculty commenting and liking. Then it started to grow. It was kind of neat to see how the reach was expanding throughout various Andover constituencies. Sometimes people would say thank you and I didn’t really expect that. Perhaps they were looking for things of interest or a way to pass the time. It was gratifying. Maybe it helped on some random pandemic day when they were feeling the drudgery. The regular feedback was motivation to keep going. What will be the new angle or detail today? What will I share?

Any favorite photos from this project?

One of my favorites is a really simple photo looking into Morse Hall from the outside taken early in the morning of March 31, 2020. That’s an area where the traffic is often overwhelming. In the photo, the main entrance is empty, and the light is making its way through.

Another favorite is an image of a chair in Bulfinch. Even though the image is simple, it gives you everything you need to know about Bulfinch without being there. Those classic chairs are from storied institutions, and you’ve got the color–the Bulfinch yellow on the wall and the wainscoting. You’ve got all the details you need with nothing else.

Were there any images you did not take that you want to photograph in the future?

I’d like to get up inside the Sam Phil clock tower and take photos of all the mechanisms and the clock faces. That’s on my list. I’ve also been meaning to go to the top of the Snyder Center. There’s a spot on the roof where I think I could capture the five major steeples on campus.

Most of the photos give a rather sad, forlorn look of the campus—was that what you were attempting to capture?

I didn’t mean for the photos to look sad, but to look honest. Stark. Many are of spaces that should be busy, that were not. I understand if that provoked feelings of sadness in some people.

As you took these photos, were you thinking of any type of music or song?

I was often listening to music. It’s not lost on me that the idea of composition in music could impact photographic composition, but there was no direct connection. Certain fine details can make or break a photograph just like a musical composition. The music just gave me energy and a serene space rather than directly influence the images.

What did you notice about the campus while taking these photos?

I took in a lot of details that I hadn’t noticed before. I could tell you, for example, that the south side of Pearson in the winter, around 3:45 p.m. looks amazing because the sun illuminates every crack in the bricks. Not at 3:30 p.m. Not at 4 p.m. I learned about the sun’s patterns in relation to campus. Sometimes the details brighten up and sometimes they are almost lost. If the light is not in the right place an important detail can look flat. You need to be in the right place at the right time.

Follow Jacoby on Instagram @derek.jacoby


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