Tree and Goalposts
Sometimes there are pictures you take that you just can’t talk about. You look and—bang—that’s it. Thinking is not an integral part of the process. Intuition takes over. I’ve never had the ability to intellectualize about this kind of image. However, I can easily slip into escape mode and tell you what others have said about it.
Phil Perkis, in Teaching Photography: Notes Assembled , said: “And how the photographer got there is indescribable and mysterious. It stops dead in their tracks, those who would explain the whole business for us and make logical and predictable the content of photographs.” Ernst Haas said that we don’t take pictures, we are taken by pictures.
I was trying to explain this kind of image when I wrote: “I was walking along, minding my business….” Suddenly, I realized I was quoting the wonderful Nat King Cole song, and it explained how I felt about the whole question:
“I was walking along, minding my business
When out of an orange-colored sky
Flash! Bam! Ala-ka-zam!
Wonderful you came by”
That’s about it. If you are fortunate enough to be open to what’s in your field of vision, something wonderful happens. The most memorable and touching photographs are inexplicable both in their motivation and execution.
They are not about the photographer’s conscious desire to go out and shoot this or that. It’s the other way around. The photographer is waylaid (or “taken”) by this amazing juxtaposition of form and content in front of them that leaves them with no choice but to shoot. There is no, “That would make a nice photo.” There is no, “I ought to take a photo of that.” There is no intellectual analysis. The event cries out to be recorded. You respond, and your response is visceral and instinctive and intuitive.
The photograph is not the result of the clicking of the camera, but of all the years of your life up to the moment you take the picture.
Therefore, on the following pages are a series of images that I hope will be beautiful, touching, and provocative for you.
I leave you with the following thought: If the picture speaks for itself, let it.
As for the unanswered questions, one of the things that I’ve always loved about Henri Cartier Bresson’s work, and the thing that separates some photos from others, is that some photos don’t tell you things, but rather, ask questions or stimulate thought.
Could mere answers ever be more rewarding than that?
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...