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?