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One of the highlights of my 2012 was meeting legendary photographer Jay Maisel at PhotoPlus in New York. He’s one of a handful of photographers that have deeply influenced me as a creative person.

Jay doesn’t think in terms of subject matter, but instead shoots whatever he likes, visually seeking what he describes as light, color, and gesture. While light and color are fairly easy to understand, gesture is certainly more elusive. Jay says “Gesture is the thing that gives everything its intrinsic character,” an idea I really love and think about whenever I’m out shooting.

For me it’s that connection to a subject that gives a photographer a deeper understanding of how to photograph it. The way trees create a particular pattern, or how light brings attention to shadows, making for a more interesting composition. By themselves these things are not that unique, it’s when they are used within context of a particular image that they become so important.

At PhotoPlus, I had six large images on display at the Canson booth, and you can imagine I was somewhat more attentive when Jay dropped in and took his time to study all of them. He was very generous, and his feedback was both flattering and humbling. But most importantly, his attitude was one of kindness and respect, a sign of someone who is both confident and humble as an artist and human being. These are qualities in short supply these days, and can help you grow more as a photographer more than any workshop you can take.

Here’s a great short documentary on Jay, and I highly recommend you check out his work if you’re not familiar with it.

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting the video Robert. Both Maisel and Greg Heisler are among the greatest.

    I heard Maisel speak three decades ago, and have never forgotten a story he told. He and his crew were on a location shoot and the shot just wasn’t coming together. At one point, an assistant said to him, “Turn around Jay, look what’s happening behind us.” And there was the picture, 180 degrees opposite what his camera had been pointing to. It was a lesson that served me well on several occasions throughout my professional career.

    It doesn’t surprise me that he admired your work. Your images are exquisite and your writing on this blog, which I’ve only been introduced to recently, is inspiring. I look forward to meeting you at your upcoming show in Beacon.

  2. Robert,

    I really enjoyed watching this video. I’ve always been intrigued by Jay’s approach to photography and his thought process. Thanks for posting this so that others can watch and learn from one of the masters!

  3. Thank you for posting this video of Jay, Robert. The thing I most cherished about it and took away from it was his absolute joy in what he does. He goes out there with his camera and it’s always something new, a surprise, a discovery — no “I have to.” What an attitude! We can all profit from that — well, I speak for myself, in any case.

    1. Appreciate the feedback Nancy, and you are absolutely right – his passion and single minded focus are lessons for all of us to learn as we chart our own course as visual artists.


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