MCCORDSVILLE — Leaning over a photograph with a pair of embroidery scissors, Jon Vance swears that anyone could do what he does; it’s just that no one wants to.
Vance, 56, of McCordsville, spends hours on his craft – the creation of three-dimensional photographs. You don’t need special glasses to enjoy them; rather, it’s the subtle layering of duplicate prints that creates the effect.
And therein lies the skill. It’s not that the task is difficult, Vance says; really, all it takes is scissors, mounting tape, and a good pair of reading glasses. But the patience it requires to cut each piece of the photograph out and then create the layers – about a three-hour process – usually causes others to give up.
“Most people, if they do it once, that’s the end of it,” he said.
Each photograph has about seven layers, meaning the first step is to make seven copies of the photograph, then decide which pieces to cut out and layer.
Vance, who by day serves as a minister in Carmel, discovered his talent almost by accident – and a little bit of thievery, he laughingly admits.
It was Christmas Day 2009, and his niece, then an art student at Kent State University, was lying on the floor with an X-ACTO knife and a photograph.
She layered pieces of the photo on top of one another, creating a three-dimensional effect.
Vance, who was visiting for the holidays, was intrigued by the project.
“I thought, ‘That’s the coolest,’” Vance said. “‘I’ve never seen anything like that before.’”
Vance and his wife were due to visit the other side of the family for Christmas a few days later, and he thought he might give the 3-D art a try as a last-minute Christmas gift for his parents.
He selected a photo of an old covered barn near the farm where he grew up. He copied the photo, then began cutting out pieces to layer on top of one another.
He put the photo in a shadow box, wrapped it up and hoped for the best.
His family went crazy over his creation.
“That’s what caused me to do this – everybody’s reaction was just like, ‘Jon, this is the coolest thing to do.’ I thought, ‘Well, maybe I need to look into this.’”
Vance started small, and he admits there was a bit of a learning curve.
“I avoided doing people for probably six months, because I was afraid I would deform them,” he said.
His niece abandoned the project almost as quickly as Vance became fascinated by it.
“She did one or two projects, and she was done,” he said. “She was like, ‘Well, I think you owe me some,’ so I gave her a photo.”
Today, Vance’s hobby has turned into a small side business. “Dimensions” has its own website and boasts clients from throughout central Indiana, including Conner Prairie, the Indiana State Museum and other area tourism centers. Vance makes about 200 3-D photographs each year.
Lloyd Wright, president and CEO of WFYI Public Media, has been working with Vance for several years. WFYI has commissioned Vance for promotional materials and also regularly has him create parting gifts for WFYI board members.
“I just sort of fell in love with the work because it’s easy to see that whatever it is – whether it’s a family photo or picture of your birthplace – the pictures come to life,” Wright said. “People are just kind of knocked out by it. It’s more than just a photograph.”
Apart from selling his own photographs, Vance enjoys doing custom work for those who want to have a cherished photograph of their own made into a piece of art.
“It changes a special photo into an heirloom,” Vance said.
Stephanie Smith, store manager of the Indiana State Museum gift shop, said Vance’s pieces always draw attention from guests.
“People immediately love them,” she said. “He has a great eye. The moment you tell the story, the item almost always sells.”
The museum purchases Vance’s 3-D photographs of landmarks, then offers them for sale to tourists who come through the museum.
Over the years, the shop has displayed Vance’s photographs of the Indiana State Capitol, Monument circle and other iconic Indianapolis sites.
“First he starts with a wonderful image of the city, … so it immediately draws people in with the image,” Smith said. “Then, you get closer and closer, and then you see all the detail. It wows people.”