“Always carry a camera, it’s tough to shoot a picture without one.” — Jay Maisel
Jay Maisel, photographer
Jay Maisel’s sixty-plus yearlong career as a professional photographer started in 1954 after he studied graphic design at Cooper Union and Yale. His portfolio includes jazz musician Miles Davis and Marilyn Monroe. His photo of Miles Davis graces the cover of the 1959 record Kind of Blue. Jazzwise named it number 1 of the top 100 best jazz recordings of all time.
Jay has made the cover photograph that appeared on five Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues along with the first two covers of New York Magazine. His commercial work included 12 years of advertising assignments for United Technologies and others. His awards are from a who’s who of photographic organizations like the International Center for Photography, the American Society of Media Photographers, the Professional Photographers of America and many more.
Jay buys a bank
It was 1966 and a real estate broker shows Jay a building on the corner of Spring Street in New York City. The building had housed the Germania Bank and was for sale for $102,000 which was a lot of money in the 60s even in the severely declining neighborhood. Jay had just gotten an assignment that paid $25,000 which happened to be the cost of the down payment. Jay bought the bank and moved into 190 Bowery. His new home was a 6 story, 72 room home, studio and space for his collections. Jay married Linda Adam also known as L.A. in the lobby of the bank in front of 500 guests in 1989.
The couple raised their daughter there. Jay recalls a junkie helping right her stroller when it had tipped over in front of the entrance. Jay lived there for 50 years. In February of 2015 in what New York Magazine called “maybe the greatest real estate coup of all time” Jay sold his bank to developer Aby Rosen for $55 million. The video below is the trailer for the movie “Jay Myself” that tells the story of life in the bank and the months of work it took to move out of it. The film was directed by Stephen Wilkes who started in photography assisting Jay.
The bank now serves as Totokaelo’s new home where the vaults are used as fitting rooms.
has over 50 collections of his work that ranges from walking around New York City to travels to Ireland, London, the Philippines, Jamaica, Kenya and many more places. Some of his most endearing work is of his daughter, Amanda. In the introduction to Amanda I, Jay says, “I had never thought about having a child. My wife, L.A., thought otherwise. I of course fell in love with Amanda and started photographing her even before she was born.” He goes on about her saying that “”I ruined her life” and embarrassed her a “million times” by always pointing my damn camera at her. As I’m now crowding 90, I bag her not to take pictures of my half dressed decrepit self. She just continues, smiles and says, “Payback’s a bitch, ain’t it Dad?”
Take some time to read the introductions to each collection to get wonderful insights into this playful, creative genius.
Books and prints
Jay has written several books. Titles like It’s Not About the F-Stop and Jay Maisel Light Gesture & Color are classic studies of the art of photography. Jay breaks down how to see and what he looks for in creating his work. Most of the photos on his website are available for purchase as are his books. Best of all, the books are autographed.
Jay is a wonderfully direct character who answers questions with short but thoughtful phrases. One of the best Q&As I have ever read is John Paul Caponigro asking Jay a series of questions. Treat yourself and read it here.
Jay delights in giving short, quick bits of advice:
- “Never say you’re going back — SHOOT IT NOW!”
- “When finding the right angle for a shot…’Move your ass.’”
- “If the light is great in front of you, you should turn around and see what it is doing behind you.”
- Last but not least is my favorite: “If you want to make more interesting pictures, become a more interesting person.” — Jay Maisel
Jay and L.A. purchased a 10.000 square foot home in a Brooklyn historic district. The rest of the Jay’s stuff is in a nearby storage building.