As I was Saying...

As I was Saying...

When I moved out of the Bank in 2015, it coincided with my age and arthritis catching up with me. If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have gone for the extended warranty on parts.

Anyway, I lost about 27 steps going to first base, and it became too difficult to shoot the things I wanted to shoot, the way I wanted to shoot them.

Since I was always an obsessive person, I had to figure out something to do. 

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have Jeffrey Chong and Matt Dean working with me. They have lightened the load considerably. Here I was with 61 years of shooting, 45 of them with film and Matt figured out a way to scan my film into digital. 

This sounds simple today, but we had been trying using scanners, and it was a tough, slow, expensive unsatisfactory experience. Matt figured out that we could do the job by using a Nikon D810 with a Nikkor Macro 60mm lens. Since he’s started, we’ve done almost 14,000 images. We have now switched to a D850, and he’s even happier with that. 

I now spend my time looking at all the stuff I shot on film over the years. I enjoy immensely going back over all the work. I feel very lucky to be able to have the chance to edit all the work that I never had time to edit because I was always shooting.

What you will see on this website are collections of work that I shot from 1954 to 2000 in film.

Some of it was new to me. It was so long ago I was seeing it with a fresh eye.

I learned a lot about myself in the process, and the experience was joyous and humbling. Joyous when I found stuff I loved and humbling because there was so much crap.

I used to tell my classes when they raved about my work and compared it to theirs, Believe me, I’ve taken more terrible images than all of you put together.” 

The trick is not to show them to people. 

I’ve got a sign over my desk that says, Editing is next to Godliness.” The editing process itself is constantly changing. I find myself changing my standards and criteria for picking pictures. Someone said, That causes a lack of consistency.” 

I remember the quote from Ralph Waldo Emmerson, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

I’ll add more subjects to the website from time to time, and I hope some of you will let me know how you feel about the stuff. 


- Jay Maisel

As I Was Saying

A few months ago, I promised that I would write on an irregular basis. Ain’t that the truth?

My daughter Amanda wrote (at age 17) something about her photography a while ago while she was applying to colleges. I lost it somewhere in my editing room. Now my editing room, at best, is crowded. At worst, when I can’t find anything I need in there, I devote an enormous amount of time to cleaning it up. Hercules and the Augean Stables come to mind. In the process, this little gem came to light.

A little background first. If you are a parent, you will understand this. If you’re not, listen carefully. It may explain the mood swings of your friends who are parents.

When your child reaches 15 or so, certain transformations take place. Some say it’s hormonal, others know it’s the work of the devil. Your child suddenly perceives you as an imbecile. If you’re lucky, a lovable imbecile. You are also relegated to a position of irrelevance and a source of unbelievably stupid announcements and pronouncements.

But never fear, as they grow older, you will get smarter; they don’t understand how or why, and it just amazes and irritates them.

This thing Amanda wrote came as a complete surprise to me, as I’ve always made it a point to avoid “teaching” her anything about art or photography. I guess, in a perverse way, it’s helped her to make her own choices (which was my intent). Here’s the quote:

These photos are not cropped, retouched, or altered. None are artificially lit or set up. At this point, I am more concerned with observation than with creation. This series is an attempt to show how the act of looking can totally redefine objects and moments in everyday life.

It took me 80 years to get to this point and she nails it at 17, says it better than I ever did, and isn’t even interested in photography.

I said to her, “I’m amazed at this. I never told you this, and you never listen to anything I say anyway.”
She smiled that little smile that usually precedes her “one-line killers” and said, “I listen, Dad. I just discard most of it.”

She just turned 18 and an old friend of mine, Tanya Chuang, texted me and said “You’re about to have your daughter graduate from high school soon. Are you going to cry?” Now I don’t do email, and texting to me is a one-finger, long-term project, so understand that this was a commitment: I texted back “L.A. (my wife) asked me the same thing, and I honestly told her I didn’t think I would. She then gave me the graduation invitation and program to look at. I choked up and almost lost it right then and there. So fuck you all, I will probably be sobbing the whole week. You guys make it so hard to keep up any semblance of a tough façade.”

Part of the reason I’m writing about this is that 18 and graduation are pivotal points in Amanda’s life and mine. Our relationship has, over time, changed as all relationships do.

My wife has been the best mother Amanda could have wished for. Me, not so much. I’ve gotten better though. L.A. has reminded me that in the beginning I was too busy being an “artist” to spend enough time with Amanda. But the point of mentioning this is the old Harry Belafonte song, “Turn around and she’s four, turn around and she’s a young girl, walking out of the door.” It’s so damn true. She was just a child yesterday, and today she’s a beautiful young woman; smart and hard-working, sarcastic, funny and leaving.

I’d like to share some favorite images of Amanda over the years. I promise to write more often.

Happy Birthday Jay: John Ellis

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.


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

Happy Birthday Jay: Paul Postash

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...

Happy Birthday Jay: Stephen Wilkes

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...

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