Jason Varney in San Francisco. Photo credit: Matt Zugale.
In 2016, when food, travel and lifestyle photographer Jason Varney, BS photography ’01, was named to Drexel Magazine’s prestigious “40 Under 40” list of alumni, he was asked where he thought he’d be in five years.
“My work schedule keeps me so busy; I’d love to find more time to work on personal projects,” he had answered. “I have a few things in the works that I could see winding up in more of a gallery setting.”
It took just two years for that vision to come true — and it’s going to be happening right here at Drexel University.
Jason Varney: Recent Works opens this week on May 4 and will run until July 20 in the Peck Alumni Gallery, thanks to the generous support of Hazem D. Maragah, PhD, an associate professor in the LeBow College of Business, and Drexel Alumni. An opening reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. this Friday at the Paul Peck Alumni Center.
The show, exhibited by The Drexel Collection, will feature 20 of what Varney calls his “most artful and intimate images,” the bulk of which come from published photos from client work (he’s worked with Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, to name a few).
“Because my body of work is so expansive and diverse in subject matter, the curation process wasn't easy and went through a number of iterations,” he said. “Scale, color, mood and subject matter all naturally weighed in on the process.”
The selected photographs will feature food, portraits and a few scenic scenes. For the food shots, he wanted to show more of the preparation and process behind the meals as a still-life shot, rather than the finished plates. And for his portraits, the subjects include chefs, an artist and a farmer. The photographs that made the final cut will be printed and framed at around 40 inches tall.
"Drying Espelette, 2013" by Jason Varney, which will be exhibited in his upcoming show.
“Primarily my work is created for commercial application like advertising, magazines and cookbooks, so it was an interesting exercise to think about how the work would be experienced in person, in a fine art setting and how scale relates to that experience,” said Varney.
The fact that Varney has curated a wide-ranging portfolio after graduating from Drexel is a testament to Drexel’s photography program, according to its director.
“Our program is embedded in both the fine art and commercial, or applied, world, and we teach students to do both things,” explained Paul Runyon, who is also an associate professor in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. “Jason represents the prototypical student we try to produce from the program.”
Runyon and Varney’s ties go way back to when Varney started at Drexel as a freshman in 1997. After Varney graduated, he remained close with the department, regular employing Drexel co-op students and teaching classes as an adjunct professor whenever his schedule allowed it. And now, he’s showing his first exhibition back at his alma mater — and did so by partnering with The Drexel Collection.
"It's a career highlight to have my work recognized in this way,” he said. “It's been an honor and pleasure to partner with Lynn Clouser, director of The Drexel Collection; Drexel Alumni; and Paul Runyon.”
Varney’s show marks the first of a series of alumni photographer exhibits hosted by the photography department. There will be two shows in the future: one featuring the work of Drexel alumni “from the beginning of time to today,” according to Runyon, and another will feature the work of Jeffrey Stockbridge, BS photography ’05, who was just profiled in the most recent issue of Drexel Magazine.