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From: John Ellis

January 18, 2011

As Jay’s newest assistant in an obviously long, illustrious career, I’ve had the least amount of time to get to know him personally. And still, in my first year of working with him, I feel like I’ve been exposed to a lifetime’s worth of wisdom, culture, art, business acumen, passion, and above all, enthusiasm.

I’m often in charge of the “guided tour” of Jay’s building when Jay’s not around. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job, because so often our guests are left literally speechless – and usually after only getting to the third floor (of six). Although I am able to repeat the stories Jay’s told me of various parts of the building and the work it contains, when I see the looks of sheer awe on their faces as the sensory overload kicks in, I can only tell them, “ditto.” But what really makes seeing that look on their faces so great is knowing that it’s not just the fact that Jay owns such such a big place – plenty of people own big buildings in New York City. It’s the fact that every inch of the 35,000 square feet in this place reflects the genuine authenticity of Jay’s immense character in all ways artistic, professional, and weird – and that’s what strikes people the hardest. Greg Heisler summed it up better than most when he once said that Jay’s work (and life) is “absolutely about appreciating the fact that God gave him eyeballs to see stuff.”

And that brings me to my next point. Aside from calling such a place my office for the past year, I’ve also had the pleasure of interacting with Jay’s circle of friends and family, all of whom share both a deep respect for Jay, and an insatiable compulsion to bust his balls. As the rookie and the techie nerd in Jay’s life, I thought it best to gather some of his closest friends for some veteran online ball-busting on his birthday.

So to Jay, I want to wish you a happy 80th birthday, and thank you for all the generosity, patience, wisdom, advice, and enthusiasm you’ve shown me in such a relatively brief time. I raise my proverbial glass to you, and will leave the roasting and toasting to the pros.

Cheers,
-John

P.S. So it’s not even lunch time yet, and there are already a few blog posts from around the web celebrating Jay’s birthday. I’ll keep updating them here for everyone to check out.

Seth Resnick – An Early Happy Birthday to Jay Maisel (same as Seth’s toast below)

Scott Kelby – Jay Maisel: Happy 80th Birthday!

Ed Broberg – Jay Maisel

From: Paul Potash

January 18, 2011

There are more anecdotes then I could possibly write about by Jay’s birthday this month. Some were hysterically funny, makes me laugh just thinking about them, and others are more like we were hysterical at the moment, like trying to make a U-turn at the entrance to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel during rush hour to get a sunset shot…

But I never considered myself a good storyteller, and would rather take this opportunity to sincerely thank Jay for what he has given me, all these years, since we were “so” young around 40 years ago. Like a child is taught to walk or ride a bike, Jay has given me the keys within myself to open my eyes to the “design, color, and light” of everything around you. He was at times a real pain in the ass (if I may use some of Jay’s vernacular) working for him when I was in my 20′s, and I didn’t realize at the time how lucky I was to have this “gift” of mentorship to learn from. But any issues I had quickly melted away when we got to eat around the table together on the 6th floor, when we got to look late into the night at the shoot in the editing room, to share the wondrous moments together when the light was beautiful, to get my butt kicked in a game of one-on-one or horse, to joy in the removal of a patina pretty much anywhere in the bank, or on the huge entry doors to the Duomo di Milano. He never treated anyone, including me, disrespectfully. I always felt like his friend, even when he was pissed at me, probably rightfully so. As a matter of fact, it amuses me to think when I hear him tell someone that I was one of his best assistants, how bad some of the others must have been. No disrespect guys (you know who you are).

This sharing of “vision” is very unique, and might need explaining to some who haven’t had the same opportunity. I liken it to a time I had with my son. When he was in Grade school he got interested in model trains, and it didn’t take much to get me hooked. Well, for about a year everywhere I went I was looking at the scene before me as a potentially great “layout” for our trains. It was a way of seeing, to compose these things we see before us, and appreciate it in a very visual sense. With that I evolved into the “seeing” person I am today.

I heard a friend of his refer to Jay as God. Jay, understand, is not your average person. He is a “force”, as anyone who knows him will not argue, who always showed strength and tenderness when needed. Those are difficult to put together, but he always seemed to manage it better then anyone I’ve ever known. I grew from my association with Jay by watching how he went about the world interacting with people in both social and business situations. He always had his own way of dealing with it all, and at times I used to marvel how up-front, bold, and “Jay” he could be, until I finally realized that we all should be who we are 24/7. It allows you to trust the man for his deep honesty with you.

He has no false facades. Just look at the way he dresses.

Photos courtesy of Robert Theile (left) and Paul Potash (right)

And so often he is with a great sense of humor. A dear friend of ours both, who was an assistant to Jay at the time, set up an art director. Jay had been on an assignment for a couple of weeks, a big shoot, and had the A.D., the A.E., the client and others all anxiously awaiting in their fancy uptown conference room for the slide show of the results of all this money they gave him. So Jay’s assistant walks in, everyone seated around and waiting, carrying 5 or so Carousel boxes of rejected slides and as all eyes are on him, he feints a huge lunging trip forward, spewing out thousands of slides going everywhere; very ‘Saturday Night Live’, but years before them. Of course they all about flipped out, but soon were calmed by Jay telling them it was a setup, and the real slides were then shown. I don’t remember if Jay was in on this from the start, but he might as well have been. He treasures the ability to make others laugh, and has said people like Robin Williams should be made into saints for their contributions putting smiles on peoples faces.

At about this time I’m sure he has said, or is thinking, if he is reading this, that I got it all wrong. I know better then to argue now. It has only taken me maybe four decades to learn.

It is wonderful, and encouraging, to see a man who at 80 still goes everywhere with his camera, still enjoys as much as ever the pleasure of the world around him, and who for many years now has been so generous to let others share his vision through workshops.

Speaking of workshops, one of the pleasures that we share is the love of wood (the kind that you get from trees, in this case). I made most of my living as a woodworker, but when he showed me what a million-grit sandpaper could do to a piece of wood, he raised the bar, and as a result I wasn’t been able to get anything out of the shop without at least a thousand-grit going over (I had to make a living at this).

I love the fact that Jay doesn’t get cable TV, and doesn’t spend countless hours in front of the computer. And if anyone in this day and age should have a 6-story building filled mostly with his stuff, Jay is the one! We’re not talking filled with fancy stuff, no, we’re talking the guts of a trashed Xerox machine, 8,000 empty Freixenet bottles stacked in wondrous ways, with many shops devoted to wood, or metal, or just stuff. It is like a special garden of what Jay is into. I hadn’t been back for some time when I was truly amazed to see the “objects” spilling out into the hallways.

And if you think about it, how bad he is at computers and the digital age, but how he never-the-less embraces it fully, shooting digitally almost exclusively since the D1. And if you know him you also know that, where others might get off on a fancy car or whatever, Jay has always treasured having prints made of his work. Now, like a gift from the digital gurus, he is able to print his images right there in the bank, with quality, control, and sizes he could only dream of in the old days of C prints and dye transfers. How lucky we are to be able to enjoy the results.

I realize I haven’t said a word about his work. What is there to say that hasn’t been said already? For me it is looking at his new images up on the website or in the building that are just beautiful, and fresh, and many still of those signature shots that we all so love. He hasn’t “run out” or even slowed down. May he go on forever!

He is probably saying about now “this sounds like a fucking memorial.” Another great teacher and mentor to me said, “don’t save the flowers for the funeral.”

When talking about Jay, one can never leave out the extraordinary women in his life. L.A. is an amazing person, possesses much wisdom, and I highly respect and regard her. Jay is indeed fortunate to have met her, and to have produced a child that holds such great promise. No pressure here. The stories that Jay tells of Amanda leave no doubt where she came from. She might actually be quicker-witted than him, if you can believe that.

I cannot say enough about how grateful I am for everything my dear friend and life-long mentor has given me: his generosity, his caring, his friendship, and his wisdom. Happy Birthday, man….

And one last thing…

Jay… can I borrow the elevator tonight?

From: Stephen Wilkes

January 18, 2011

I can remember the day like it was almost yesterday – hard to believe it was 33 years ago when we first met.  I was so awed by your vision when I first saw your work as a freshman in college, in the Time-Life series on photography called, “Color”.

I know what you’re thinking… “Oh God , he’s going to go on and on here”, but as you love to say,” Listen, Man,” just let me indulge for a minute or two…

I knew I had to meet you the summer of 1978, but never dreamed I would get the opportunity to work with you.  It was a life changing experience.  I was in search of a dream, having been told most of my life that I would never make a living as a photographer.  I knew one thing: I loved taking pictures more than anything – it was my passion. In you, I found someone who loved it as much and even more.   Best of all, you were an incredibly successful businessman, and artist.

When Tom Mason slid open the massive wooden door at 190 Bowery, my world changed, literally and figuratively.  I stood under your basketball hoop (which would later become some of my fondest memories of us playing pick up games after work) my mouth agape looking at an ocean of incredible images.  I never saw that much incredible photography in one room, and little did I know that it was just the beginning.   Your studio manager, Irv Hanson buzzed you on an intercom, “Jay, Jay, Jay,” his voice echoing off the cavernous ceiling of the main room.  There was this long pause of silence, which heightened the drama, and then you spoke. It was if you were speaking at me from all four corners of the main room at once. I instantly thought of the wizard in the Wizard of Oz! Instead of saying, “Oz has SPOKEN,” you said “Yo!”   It was perfect; in my mind and in my heart I had arrived in the “Emerald City” of photography.

Irv mentions my name to you and you say, “send him up to two, man.”  I walk up steps,  in utter darkness.  Irv tells me once I reach the top of the steps to “clap.”  I do as I’m told and suddenly the lights come on.  I never experienced a clapper before I met you!  I now see another enormous room, with even larger prints… I feel that I’m in a museum.  I finally enter a vestibule where I can see an elevator.  I hear the humming motor as it descends downward, where it stops. I hear a sound that would become so familiar to me, when you stop the manually operated Otis elevator and the crank swings into neutral, and then the sound of that old spring loaded door opening.  There as the door opens, you are standing, looking at me and I am looking up at you.  I’m overwhelmed by your physical presence, which with everything I had experienced so far made perfect sense.  You are smoking the largest cigar I’ve ever seen, pulling it out of your mouth; you some how avoid spilling the three inches of ash that’s still on its tip. “Hey man,” you say,” come on in.”  As I begin to focus, I notice you’re wearing no shirt, a pair of jeans, and as I glanced down, the oddest looking slippers (which I figured out later were Sorrel winter boot liners).  You then say, “so how long you been shooting, kid?”  I can barely breathe, let alone talk, and I mumble “…since I was 12”.  You say, “son of a bitch, man… you started earlier than I did”!  We arrive to the 6th floor, where you proceed to give me the greatest portfolio review in my life.  What you may not have realized was just what a moment that was for me.  Someone of your stature viewing my work and telling me I was in your words, “cut the shit kid – you’re really fucking good!”  I remember the piece of stationary I had enclosed in the portfolio.  I can still recite the words you wrote as they are etched in my memory,  “TERRIFIC – Very wide Range…. I almost stole a few, and there are some I don’t even understand yet… Please keep working. …And leave me your phone number.”

You then asked if I was good at book keeping… which at that point I would have told you anything, so I stretched my talents a bit.  I did take accounting but  failed to mention that I was lousy at math.  I can tell you that I never pay any more purchase orders, and  I also promise not to share your driving skills with anyone!

That first summer was just the greatest.  I remember how you exposed me to everything: from cleaning the steps in the front of the building, installing insulation (remember, young Jews from Great Neck have trouble telling a Phillips head from a flat head, so this was a big deal for me); the spider room; and of course, repro mania, which at the time I had no idea was a contagious disease. You even exposed me to my first ride in a helicopter, as I assisted you shooting aerials over NYC. You asked me after the summer, “So what have you learned the last few months?” I responded. “ I’ve learned so much that it will take five years to distill it all.”

Of all the things you shared with me, the most eye-opening was how you defined the work ethic – how talent meant nothing; you said to me, “If you are going to do this for a living…you have to outwork everyone.”  It was something that inspired me, and I now tell those same words to my own children.

Some of my favorite memories were when I would go to Fleet Messenger to pick up your film, and come back to the studio to set it up in the set up box.  I loved going through every single roll, and cherished when you would ask me how everything looked.  I loved coming upstairs and sitting in the editing room with you. We talked about photography, life, and looked at lots of pictures…we had a great time looking at your pictures.  I could never get enough of that….  I realized then that we shared a special language.

Towards the end of that 1st summer, my Dad was speaking to an old friend of the family, who was a pretty good amateur photographer. My Dad mentioned that I was working for a photographer in NY named Jay Maisel. At which point the friend said , Dave, do you know who Jay Maisel is? My dad was simply clueless, so his friend said, “ if Stephen had an internship in music with Leonard Bernstein, what would you think?  My Dad said , “I would be really impressed … Fantastic”  My dad’s friend then said, “ Dave, Jay Maisel is to photography what Leonard Bernstein is to music!”

Since that first summer, I began to realize that you were much more than a photographer and artist. You’re an engineer, (the pulley system to lift a 300lb air conditioner above the door in the main room), a comedian, martial artist, and a loving husband and a terrific Dad.   But most of all, you’ve been a great friend and mentor.  We’ve shared so many wonderful experiences together – too many stories to write here. I still grin when I think about the first time you met Bette and after you greeted her with “Hello,” you quickly followed with “So what exactly are your intentions?”  You’ve always been a straight shooter, and its one of the many qualities that I love about you.

Jay, on your 80th birthday, which is hard to believe, I feel so blessed to have you in my life! And by the way, you really do look MARVELOUS!  Seriously, you look and act like you’re just turning 60. I was there for your 50th and you look younger now then you did then… Bette and I look forward to celebrating with you and Linda soon.

Lots of Love,
Stephen and Bette

From: Mel Di Giacomo

January 18, 2011

To whom it may concern or anyone remotely interested in Jay Maisel:

I don’t understand what all the fuss is about… so he’s taken a couple of nice photos. Alright maybe more than a couple. Let’s be honest, if it weren’t for the photo nerds he’s hired for the past 40 years to make technical decisions for him, he’d be where he truly belongs: on Delancey Street selling Schmattas to Polish immigrants.

From the Jay Maisel Studio cork board.



The man does not know an F-stop from a bus stop – seriously. And nobody likes him! (Marty Forcher liked him, but Marty liked everybody.) His parents did not like him. His mother used to pack his lunch in a road map. When Jay came home from Hebrew school , he found his parents had moved. Speaking of Hebrew school, the Italian kids on Mulberry Street would beat the snot out of him because Jay didn’t speak any English. He was bi-lingual however. He spoke Yiddish and Hebrew fluently. You can just imagine how well that went over with the “wops” who walloped him weekly. My Pisanos used to stuff his sweet Peyus into cannoli shells. For a decade, he was a poster child for Ferrara’s. I know for a fact this didn’t go over well with the Sicilians, i.e. having a 6’4″ Jew wearing cannoli shells, when the average height of my warm-skinned forebears was 5 feet.

Fast forward to 2011. Nineteen sixty-eight seems so long ago. We were wild, competitive and mischievous. Always ready to top one another, not with images, but with jokes.

I did beat him once at hoops after 17 consecutive losses. (Nobody beats Mel Di Giacomo 18 times in a row.) He insists that only Walter Iooss beat him. He wouldn’t accept that a 5’7″ Sicilian with 2 artificial hips kicked his butt. Figuratively of course. I can’t get my leg high enough for a literal butt-kicking.

Why we are friends after 40 years is simple. We are passionate about photography. Jay shoots in color, I prefer black and white, and we appreciate one another’s achievements.

We are also too old to have children under 20. I am sure I speak (in English) for Jay when when I say our kids are the motivating factor in our lives. I am enormously pleased that Amanda shares L.A.’s Italian blood. Some may point out that Amanda and Linda are only part Italian. Look at it this way.. the Lord knows what he’s doing – some people can’t take a full dose of Italian, so he gives one all that they might handle. I am only half Italian and I’m half Sicilian.

Basta cosi, sufficiently with shameless Sicilian passion and a kiss on both cheeks.

-Melchior Anthony Pasquale Di Giacomo

P.S. One thing I can say with certainty is that Jay is a better human being than he is a photographer. If you do not believe me, pick up a Yiddish to English dictionary and find the word “mensch.” There is no written definition, simply a picture of Jay Maisel.

From: Seth Resnick

January 18, 2011

Photo Courtesy of Seth Resnick

I met Jay formally in 1978 when he came to speak at Syracuse University. Stephen Wilkes and I were room mates and Jay stayed at our house. Stephen decided that he needed to work for Jay and I was mesmerized by Jay’s images. His work set off something inside me that made me realize what I love about photography. I also admired his sense of business and his opposition to work for hire. Lastly, my grandfather smoked cigars and Jay smoked a brand that my grandfather smoked so I instantly found that Jay automatically invoked some of my fondest childhood memories. Since 1978 I have stayed friends with Jay and my admiration grew and continues to grow. He was and still is my mentor and I am simply blown away not only by his work but also by the vast quantities of amazing images that he continually produces. I started to carry a camera with me at all times and attribute my shoulder problems to my mentor. When I started teaching I would always show students work of people I admired and somewhere along the line I started telling folks that my photographic mentor was God. I would explain that my God was a little different than theirs because mine smokes a cigar and carries a Nikon. To this day I still tell every class stories about God.

I could write a book about Jayism’s and stories about God but a few particular stories stand out above all the rest. I have heard Jay say that one of the most embarrassing moments in his life involved me. I am honored… I had my two girls with me. Paige was about 11 and Karalyn was about 6 and we were driving from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Santa Fe where I was going to be teaching a course. Along the way I am telling my girls that Santa Fe is very much unlike Boston or New York. It is a gorgeous peaceful place where you don’t even need to lock your doors and a place where kids can ride bikes and play without adults always watching. The girls were very excited to see this Utopia. We pull into the parking lot at the Santa Fe Workshops and I park my car. I notice that on the opposite side of the parking lot in my rear view mirror there is another car and all I can see are two legs and the open door. I don’t think twice about it and tell the girls that I just want to make sure that there is someone still at the school because it is now after-hours. I open my car door and hear a deep voice which says.” Hey we don’t want your type here,” Get the fuck out of here,” “Go Home,” and a few other foul expressions. Both of my girls are instantly scared and I feel like an idiot because Santa Fe is just like Boston and New York. I calmly tell them that it is probably a homeless person and we will all just hold hands and walk to the building. As I am walking the “homeless guy” gets out of the car and my girls are terrified. As I am holding them I turn and the homeless guy is Jay and his face is bright red. I look at him and laugh and say “Jay what are you doing here?” not realizing that he was teaching the week earlier. My girls say outloud, “You know this guy!?” To this day Jay still cringes at the story, but yes, I did know that guy and it was a classic introduction to my family…

I think the other classic Jay story was a few years back and I was having dinner with LA, Amanda and Jay. Jay and I were yapping away and Amanda looked at me and said “You really remind me of my father.” I replied “Thank you, that is quite a compliment.” Amanda replied, ” I didn’t mean it as a compliment…”

Well, I would write a few more but Jay won’t read these anyways and God will probably say ‘What d’fuck is a blog?’

Happy 80th, God!

All the best,
Seth Resnick

From: Arthur Meyerson

January 18, 2011

Photo © 2004 Paul Potash

Some Random Thoughts on Jay’s 80th Birthday

Since we’re all aware of Jay’s brilliance as a photographer, teacher and mentor, I think that this is probably the time and place to share some personal observations and feelings about him:

I’ve known Jay for over thirty years and he’s always been more like the older brother I never had… occasionally giving me advice and constantly giving me shit.

At age 80, he looks 50 and acts 30.

He admits to a “slight” hearing loss, although in a conversation with him, every other word is, “WHAT?”

He’s the dream consumer for Costco and Walmart in that he never buys just one of anything! (That includes everything from toilet paper to cameras!)

Going out to eat with Jay can be hazardous. He has an enormous appetite and God help you if you are within reaching distance of his fork with food on your plate.

Thanks to Jay, my kids, think that the word “fuck” can be used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, etc.

As most of you know, Jay’s voice has an uncanny resemblance to Marlon Brando’s. Every year on January 18th, I call Jay to wish him a happy birthday. Usually he’s partially surprised I remembered (and partially annoyed I remembered!). Last year he confided to me that he was looking forward to his 80th when he could finally say his age without a lisp.

That said, God bless you Jay! If we didn’t have you, we’d have to invent you.

Linda, Jessica, Dylan and I send our love and want to wish you the happiest of birthdays!

To be continued at #100.

-Arthur Meyerson

From: Jamie Smith

January 18, 2011

Jay Maisel is 80 years old today. He is my former employer, current mentor, and one of the greatest color photographers in the world, in history, ever. He is also an authentic and unique artists who has taken some amazing pictures. Some he took with a film camera, but for the past decade he has used a digital camera. In either case, he has always worked very hard and used his mind to create some very memorable images. He always made art. But he isn’t done yet!

He doesn’t play golf and he isn’t retired – he continues to photograph, and he continues to make art. So far, his art has left a lasting impression. He is still working hard to make new art. He still ALWAYS carries his camera.

You might want to take a look at his work. You might appreciate it. You might enjoy it. You won’t be around forever. His art will, but your chance to appreciate it is fleeting.

However you choose to spend your time, please enjoy and appreciate it – even if it is hard for you to appreciate what lasting impression you might leave for others to enjoy by simply being who you are.

Happy Birthday Jay. Did you shoot anything interesting today? I look forward to seeing what you got!

Your Friend,
Jamie

From: Geoff Green

January 17, 2011

Photo Courtesy of Mel Di Giacomo

I came to know Jay and his family only after I was hired as Jay’s first assistant. It is surprising I was offered the job, you see Jay boasts of his technical ineptitude and yet he brought me on. A recent graduate with a degree in anthropology, working as a waiter on the Upper East Side and not a clue what a strobe pack and head were. That’s the thing about Jay, he was more concerned I appreciated the education I had – he asked during the interview if I regretted not getting a degree in photography or art, I replied no, studying people and cultures can apply to anything – and was willing to learn, keep a keen eye, but most importantly, push a broom. He told me later my candor was appreciated during the interview. In fact I was too naïve to realize who I was interviewing with, not being nervous or impressed by Jay and the building/studio was my greatest asset. The indoor basketball court made me think I was in an old school gymnasium, not a former bank.

Luckily Jay relies mostly on that big old sun in the sky as a light source. Of course it meant early mornings, late evenings, looking at shadows and a lot of time for lunch. No not lunch for me, I was running film to the lab, looking at clip tests and stressing over exposure for no real reason, each roll was always so heavily bracketed the clip tests were worthless. This was in the pre-digital era. You might be led to think I had it easy, Jay doesn’t actively light a scene. He uses what is available, waits for the right time, or finds the best vantage point and preaches traveling light; carrying too much gear becomes cumbersome and limits your ability to shoot. Unless of course you have an assistant, then it is everything but the kitchen sink. Ever try carrying a 500mm f4 plus all the usual gear (camera bodies, film, batteries, other lenses, unused model releases, never used speedlights, etc) while attempting to keep up through the crowds of a St. Patrick’s Day or Yankee parade? Good thing he’s tall and I could spot his head with a camera pressed to it from a distance. And don’t forget you have to keep those bodies loaded with film, oh man would he get cranky when the next camera wasn’t ready. Ugh, thinking about it is making my shoulders sore. I hear he is happy with the new 28-300mm, where was that when I needed it?

All in all it was a great experience working for Jay. The opportunity to explore the massive film and print files, travel, meet and build relationships with the crazy cast of characters he calls friends. Not to mention fixing toilets, cleaning the sidewalk, pretending I had a clue when replacing light switches and checking on the always temperamental boiler. But most importantly Jay was and is my surrogate NYC father, his family has always felt like my family and this is what I appreciate most. Thanks Jay – Happy Birthday!

- Geoff Green, 1st Assistant 1997-2001

From: Sam Garcia

January 17, 2011

There are, I suppose, a few things I remember which in many ways define the Jay Maisel experience.

Talk about compatibility. The man bought a refrigerator with no freezer and no ice making capability and managed to find in the World a woman to live with who’s OK with that.

Cameras love to screw with Jay. Over the past twenty five years or so, it has not been unusual to answer a call from Jay, while he was teaching a workshop class somewhere, asking why his camera was doing ‘this’ or NOT doing what he expected it to. This call comes almost inevitably on day two of a workshop–don’t ask me why. In the last couple of years I’ve found it easier to simply call him first and ask, ‘What did you break?’ If I time it right I can usually get him to start laughing in front of a clueless class.

He was, for a period of time and in the rarified upper levels of high concept publications, often referred to by his editors, clients, and photographer peers, with not just a little genuine reverence, as, The Sun King. A name indicating his sheer mastery of, and apparent dominance over, that celestial orb.

I recall an afternoon in Denver, Colorado during the prep days for that eventual monster photo book best seller, A Day In The Life Of America, when, having gone out for a quick bite, Jay and I were sitting in almost the dead center of a large indoor atrium restaurant. I realized Jay’s head, hair, and glasses were all beautifully backlit by an incredibly golden shaft of light. The catch was–as there were NO direct sun exposure windows in the immediate vicinity–I was incapable of determining WHERE the hell the light was coming from. And theoretically, I know a little bit about this stuff.

I remember looking around the large room. Not a single other lunch patron had as much as a specular highlight on any part of their anatomy.
I wondered at the time if he just naturally generated the stuff. Like a halo from the head of…well, you know. Jay was, by the way, completely oblivious to the situation. I didn’t mention it, and I refused to give in to the myth by photographing the evidence, but, ‘The Sun King’, has floated around in the back of my brain when discussing Jay ever since that day.

My favorite story might be apocryphal, but knowing Jay as long as I have I’m inclined to accept it. (And if it’s not true, it should be…)

Jay, the Shining Beacon of Enlightened and Empowered Negotiation–the torch bearer we all emulate–storming out of a meeting with a client, where business aspects of a proposed shoot had been in discussion:

“I refuse to work for someone who’s a bigger sonuvabitch than I am…!”

Now, however, let me counter that with:

September 19th., 2001 – The World still in shock and fear as America tried to deal with the events of a week before. Everyone – especially in the New York City region, was unquestionably traumatized in some fashion, most people circled their family wagons and hunkered down listening to the news and knowing that all our lives had changed, but to what degree we were as yet unaware. But some folks, including me, had scheduled aspects of their jobs which needed to move forward if there was to be a return to normalcy. I was still teaching the U.S. traveling ‘Nikon Shool’ in those days. With air traffic a locked-down mess at that stage, there was the next School, scheduled to take place just outside of Pittsburgh – a do-able one day’s drive from my home on Long Island.

On that clear afternoon, with a fortunately lightly trafficked Pennsylvania interstate, I had the thrill of enjoying a ride almost as violent as the Coney Island Cyclone, when – it was determined later – the back left tire of my Land Rover Discovery disintegrated for some reason, smashing the back of my car into the center concrete dividing wall, where the vehicle rode up the wall enough to, at about 60mph, quickly flip the Land Rover onto the roof, as, fully conscious, I watched the road racing towards me through the instantly demolished wind screen, while I–well seat belted in–slid, in my inverted amusement park ride, across the three lanes, from the center lane to completely off the pavement, where, catching the dirt like a plow blade, the shredded, distorted roof had enough leverage combined with velocity to flip the whole damn thing BACK onto the now, all-four-blown tires, and the dead crate stopped just past the front bumper of the truck which had been in the right lane and managed to miss me by inches.

Battered, bruised, a separated bone in my left shoulder/collar region, but otherwise really ok–the left arm was put into a sling–I was actually able to get to the School location, barely 30 miles from the crash site, and with most of the set-up work performed by my partner, teach the 2 days, and realize I now had no way to get home easily.
I couldn’t drive.
There was no train.
There were no flights.

Some people mouth friendships, some people are your friends.

In a call to Jay to simply be pitiful and elicit sympathy from someone so I could feel more sorry for myself, what I did not expect, had not even considered a possible response, Jay asked precisely where I was, got Linda on the phone for more details, arranged quickly to rent a car, and then drove across the state of Pennsylvania with his wife and daughter on board, all to rescue, and return safely to Long Island in the company of loving friends, my sorry butt.

That’s my kind of a ‘sonuvabitch’…

Sam Garcia
(And I would be remiss if I did not add: Copyright Sam Garcia 2011, All Rights Reserved)

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