Excerpt from Not About the F-Stop:
This picture was taken on my first assignment for a national magazine.
I want to set the scene: It was 1954 and I was 23 years old. Marilyn Monroe was at the zenith of her career. Sammy Davis Jr. had come back from having lost an eye and was dancing, singing, and acting his way across the color line and into America’s heart.
My assignment was a simple one: go to an after-party. The event was the premiere of East of Eden with James Dean. Cover the party; come back with pictures of people at the festivities. Make ’em look good, and kid…don’t f*¢% up.
When I got there, the first thing I was aware of was I was the only photographer there! The second thing was Sammy Davis Jr. playing the piano with Marilyn Monroe sitting next to him.
They were delighted with each other. He was trying to get her to sing with him, she was all little girlish in her refusal, both flirting obviously and happily with each other. And me? I was so excited, I was amazed I didn’t wet my pants.
There were no motors back then so it was shoot, wind, shoot, wind, and all the time I’m thinking, “Oh my God, this is the best.” I shot over 100 frames and the small, still voice (that overrides your lack of intelligence) said to me, “There aren’t 100 frames on that roll of film.”
Oh s#[†! I knew what that meant. I checked the take-up spool (for those of you under 40, that was the gizmo that took up the slack when you wound the film— you do remember film , don’t you?) and it wound freely. Of course that meant I was shooting with no film going through the camera. I was suicidal. I reloaded the camera, but by then Marilyn and Sammy were gone.
I tell this story to all my classes because it’s important for them to know they are not alone. Everybody screws up; it ain’t just you, and any photographer who says he hasn’t is either a liar or a guy with a bad memory.
Oh, the picture of Marilyn. I took it earlier or later that night—I have no recollection of shooting it at all. Trust your intuition. It will take you places you haven’t thought of.
This picture is an example of what I have written about elsewhere in this book. You have two chances: (1) get it in the shooting, or (2) catch it in the editing.
Though I don’t remember shooting it, I found it in the edit. I had rejected it because of the focus, but then decided I loved it.
That’s my second chance. Yours, too.
From the Favorites collection
What constitutes a favorite is that after seeing it every day for years, it doesn’t lose its power.
I know some photographers who are always quite delighted with everything they do. I wish I was like that, but I find a great many of my images lose their power or at least my interest at some later date. Either I’m not interested in the subject anymore or I’m just no longer impressed with the image.
Arthur Meyerson, a very good Houston, Texas, photographer, is a buddy of mine. At one point he offered me his studio for an exhibit of my images for FotoFest in Houston. This was an exhibit of 85 images. Another friend of mine, Gary Winter, was doing a video on me. He’s one of these guys who doesn’t intrude when he’s shooting—a real “fly on the wall” type—so when he asks a question, it’s a rare occurrence.
“So, Jay,” he said, “What’s the reason you picked these particular 85 pictures for this show?”
“They’re my favorites.”
“I was hoping for something a little more insightful and articulate, ” he replied.
I thought about it and realized after looking at one particular image what was behind my choices. I explained that when I shot “Man with Headband,” I was anxious, even terrified because I knew all the things that could go wrong. It was like a litany: “Please don’t let the light change,” Please don’t let somebody walk in front of him,” “Please don’t let him turn around.” I realized at that point that each and every picture in the show was a variation of this. A moment charged with all the things that move me, and the fear of losing it. The apprehension, the near certainty that something or someone, if not myself, was going to compromise the image.
There is an emotional seesaw on perceiving what you think is a great image. It moves between glee and trepidation. The more excited I am, the better the image, the more naked emotion I feel, the more exhilaration there is, the more it is counterbalanced by the certainty that something is going to f*¢% this up.
This anxiety never happens with pictures that are less compelling or less emotional. It never happens with pictures that are intellectually motivated or studies, or with pictures that are about information, history, or pure documentation.
These favorites have stood the test of time, even though they’re mine they still work for me, and I do love them.
Paper & Printing
Epson Ultra Premium Luster (13x19)
This paper produces vivid, lifelike images, superior ink coverage, and a high D-Max to ensure high reproduction quality prints. More about the paper...
For shipping , it's placed on backing board inside a clear plastic bag. They are then boxed in a custom 15x21x3 corrugated box protected inside 3 inches of charcoal foam. More about shipping...
Epson Legacy Baryta (20x30 and 40x60)
Baryta paper has a white, smooth satin finish with the look and feel of the revered silver halide F-surface darkroom papers and provides excellent image permanence. More about the paper...
20x30 prints are shipped flat in MasterPak PrintPak Art Shipping Sleeves. A "container within a container" with multiple layers of protection.
Dye-Sublimation onto Aluminum (Metal)
Transferring the print to aluminum produces a vivid, archival quality print that is scratch resistant, doesn’t require glass or framing, and is lightweight and easy to hang. More about the paper...
Metal prints are shipped in a sturdy 44x63x3 crate. More about shipping...