The first, and only time, I met Jay Maisel, he asked what kind of photography I did. At the time I was busy with humanitarian assignments and I told him so. He looked me in the eye, having just met me, and said, “You mean people pay you to do that? You’re an evil man.” And then he laughed. I think I love Jay Maisel for the same reason I love anyone willing to be themselves and still not take themselves so seriously. Jay is, without a doubt, his very own person. And his photography, often copied, is very much his own thing. He is no-nonsense in his approach, has lived long enough to get past the bullsh*t, and has created a very impressive body of work in his lifetime. Everytime Miles Davis Kind of Blue album comes on on my iPod, there’s Miles Davis on the cover art, a photograph Jay made long ago.
So when Jay’s book, Light, Gesture, and Color was released recently, I was in a hurry to get my hands on it. And it is, like Jay seems to be, no nonsense, and perfect in its own way. The cover is uninspiring (I didn’t include a cover photograph because I couldn’t readily find on online, and these images are representative of what I love most about Jay’s work, they are not necessarily in the book itself), the typography, with its long line lengths, is a little tiring to read. It’s blunt. Jay will never be accused of an over-fondness for words as I have been. The book is simple – an image on one page, and a short, to-the-point lesson on the facing page.
But what images, and what lessons! And like so many of the great voices in photography, he shuffles past the trendy technical stuff and focuses on what matters, on the stuff that will, ultimately, make long careers (professionally or not) making compelling work for those that heed the wisdom.
If you wanted to sit down with a celebrated photographer with a lifetime of making photographs behind him, and ask him: “What does it take to make great photographs?”, this book would be that chance. Highly, highly, recommended. Sure, I’ve got a bit of a man-crush on Jay – but I know good wisdom when I see it. This one – eventually, when I’ve read it a few more times and dog-earred the pages – will go beside my treasured copy of Freeman Patterson’s Photography and the Art of Seeing.