Sam Garcia

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)

Having Fun

These days I don’t often see that many pictures that knock me out. I picked up a copy of the December issue of Outdoor Photographer yesterday and saw two absolutely wonderful photographs by Dewitt Jones. The one on page 50 can simply be described as a man walking, but just look at it:

The other is of water, but that too is an understatement (pages 86-87).

Also, he writes well and doesn’t make you choke on long rows of numbers and technical things. Read what he writes. It’s sparse and to the point. It’s so great to see work you love.

Every once in a while, I stop and think how lucky I am to live in NYC, where there is such an amazing wealth of galleries, museums, theatres, etc. – the list could go on forever, but you know what I mean.

Once I got back from a trip to Wyoming and was walking down the street with my daughter trying to explain how excited I was to be back in New York.

“My God, Amanda – look at the people, the color, the kaleidoscope of energy!”

Her reaction: “You must have been lonely out there in Wyoming.”

“No, it was monumental in its silence and size.”

And her final answer, “Dad, you are so sappy!”

And right she is. I’m sappy. I’m just so delighted with what’s around me wherever I am. I bitch and moan like hell about everything, but I am having a hell of a time – always have.

I realize that this is one of the basic things I try to convey in my classes. That you should be having fun, and if you’re not, how do you get to go back to it? And why are you shooting if it’s not fun for you?

I’m teaching a class now, and I’m taking time off to write this while the kids (average age, 60) are out shooting. I love shooting; I love teaching. The combination is enriching from one to the other and back.

Winter is coming and lazy bastard that I am I know I’m gonna shoot those great snowfalls from inside the house at least until I feel guilty and trudge dutifully outside in the snow to get close to the action.

And as I complain about the cold nose, frozen feet, wet cameras, numb hands, and non-functioning fingers, I think, “Stop whining – you know you’re having fun.”

— Jay

Carry Less

If you remember, I always advocated walking around with as little equipment as possible. I used to wear a small belly bag with a 24-70mm and there was a 70-300mm on my camera. Also, if you recall, ever since the D3, I’ve been shooting most of the time at ISO1600. (I know you can’t do it on a Canon, but that’s your problem – I never told you to get a Canon.)

Now, with the D3s, I’m comfortable at ISO6400 and even 12,800! These are numbers that in my earlier days had the same resonance as Carl Sagan’s legendary “billions and billions of…”

I am now able to shoot with great results in light that neither the meter or I can see in. For example, here is a picture I took of Dave Burnett, an amazing shooter for many, many years in sports and politics mainly, but overall, a world class photographer in whatever he touches.

David Burnett presenting images to the Jay Maisel Workshop.

This was shot in the back room where we looked at pictures. The light is from the projection of his pictures coming off the screen about 16 feet away. It’s handheld, but my elbows are on the table for support. If you want to try figuring out how dark it was, the exposure was 1/4sec. at f/5.6. The ISO was 12,800. Fucking amazing.

Also, and most importantly, Nikon now has a 28-300mm lens that has replaced the 24-70mm and the 70-300mm that’s the lens that made the picture of Burnett. Now I don’t have to carry the 24-70 at all and I don’t have to wear the belly bag which Amanda said made me look like an even bigger dork than I usually do.

Join our list for latest on new collections and more