Somewhere, sitting in the odd red light and chemical smells of his college darkroom, is John Nemec.
Like many times before, he is gently rocking his tray of developer over the edges of fiber paper. The movement is subtle. Careful enough not to spill any of the solution, but deliberate enough that the entire photo is submerged. He removes the paper from one bath, places it in another, then another. He checks the clock and lifts the image to ensure that the “good deep blacks” and “nice white lights” are coming through. Eventually, he hangs the developing image on the line above his head.
And then, he waits.
Returning home to Saint Louis in the winter of 2001, John dreamt of becoming the next Ansel Adams or Jerry Uelsmann. With an undergraduate degree in hand, as well as an impressive portfolio of burlesque tree photos, he entered the job market. It was there that he realized his career would be developing in a very different way.
“I walked into Schnucks and they had the little job opening thing,” John remembers. “And I said, ‘I’m looking for a graphic design position. I’ve got a degree in photography and a minor in graphics.’ And they looked at me and said, ‘Well, we have an opening in the seafood department.’ Obviously it wasn’t the corporate job that I was looking for. But I didn’t go to the right place—so whatever.”
Exchanging the smells of stop-bath and fixer for the scents of halibut and grouper, John accepted his first position out of college as a professional fish slinger. Though it wasn’t exciting or expected, it defied his father’s expectations that a photography degree would land him in his parents’ basement. It also allowed him to pursue another creative passion: music.
If he was going to be slinging fish, he was also going to sling a guitar. With the help of family and friends, Achalachia was born. John recalls the unseemly origins of the band’s name, shifting the blame elsewhere.
“It came from my cousin,” he admits. “My uncle is a doctor, and my cousin got in trouble. Her punishment was to write from his medical dictionary. She got to ‘Ach-’ in the book, and found an esophageal disease, or sphincter, where it clogs up. And essentially...it’s the blockage. Or rather, it’s the stuff behind the blockage, if I remember. So, we were basically a bag of shit.”
Beyond a few medical students, most crowds assumed the band either came from the mountains or an unknown part of Asia. And while they would later change their name to Organized Noise, John still fondly remembers the day that Cornbread from The Point unknowingly announced that a sack of crap would be taking the stage at Pop’s.
Luckily, after six months of rock ’n’ rudd, John would get his break into the realm of photography. He was offered the chance to work for the CPI Corporation—more glamorously known as the Sears Portraits Studio. It was the corporate office, so rather than taking photos of children and families, John spent most days digitally removing braces and touching up bouts of acne. But it allowed him to work with the instruments that he cherished.
Little did he know that his initial love for photography would inspire a growing interest in digital technology.
In the years that followed, John would transition from photo editor to video producer to new product creator. With his knowledge of sales and a new interest in web-based systems, he would leave Sears for Network Solutions, later joining Graybar as their Manager of Internet Marketing. He would gain IT experience, begin contracting, work as a web developer, become a senior developer, and eventually assume the role that he holds today.
But in order to fully understand the emerging developer that is John Nemec, we need to look at an older photo. One that was taken back in 1997. Before the fish. Before the band. Before the dreams of photography even existed.
John had just graduated from De Smet Jesuit High School. He was headed off to college in the Fall, and wanted to spend his summer making some extra money. On the condition that he cut his long hair, John reluctantly accepted a position operating the Ninja roller coaster at Six Flags. After only a few weeks on the job, upper management recognized his potential and promoted him to Ride Lead at the Antique Moon Cars.
This promotion, of course, meant trading his 55 mph, thrill-fulfilling roller coaster for some old-timey motor cars that resembled the 1911 Cadillac. It also meant moving away from the excitement of the main park and into a family-friendly area called ToonTown. It was here, amidst young children and themed characters, that young John would become distracted. Not by Daffy Duck, nor Bugs Bunny, but an employee by the name of Katie.
Katie had recently moved from Jefferson City to live with her older sister in St. Louis. She planned to spend the summer working amongst the Looney Tunes, and eventually make her way to Kansas City for the Fall semester. Unfortunately, John knew that even if Katie agreed to go on a date, it could only be a “summer fling.” But he wanted to see how their relationship developed. He asked her out at the nearby Taco Bell (“Because that’s where everyone went after work,” John explains), they started dating, and the rest is history.
Through letters, emails, and the occasional long-distance phone call, they found ways to make it work. And what started as a “summer fling” became what John now refers to as “the summer that never ended.” Their family grew larger in 2007 with the birth of their son, Jacob. And larger more with their daughters, Darby (7), Alice (5), and Mary (2).
When asked if any of them shared his affinity for technology, art, or medically-named rock groups, John responded that they each possessed parts of him. Jacob played the guitar before gravitating towards video games and “the internet stuff”. Darby always seems to be drawing or creating something new. Alice, with her entrepreneurial spirit and love of chickens (her favorite animal), dreams of becoming a poultry farmer. And Mary? Well, she’s only two and just terrorizing everything.
Regardless of who they are in the present, one thing is certain: John is excited to see how they all turn out.
Towards the end of our interview, the conversation returns to the topic of photography and John’s work at Paradowski. When asked to share what drives his passion and creativity, he chooses not to talk about himself. Instead, he reflects on his community.
“The work that these people do—not just the dev team, but also the creative team and the writers and even the account people who put everything together—is phenomenal. That’s probably the most fun thing about coming in to work.”
John claims that one of the best parts about development—both with people and in photos—is in affecting how thing are going to look in the end. How small decisions can impact the overall product, and the importance of getting things right. He quotes his college professor, reminding himself that the entire process is always worth it, even if you only get one good picture from a roll of twenty.
Afterall, the magic happens in the darkroom.