Collecting Photographers: Jay Maisel

Saturday, August 10, 2013

My assistant and I were racing, doing almost 80mph on two lane roads. Driving directly north. Risking life and limb. Obviously we were in a hurry. 
I had been teaching commercial photography at the MAINE PHOTOGRAPHIC WORKSHOP all week but I got a special assignment back in Boston that I could not pass up. My assistant and I drove down late the night before the job and were well rested for the early morning shoot. The only problem was I was supposed to present at the weekly "all-campus" lecture that same night. We finished the shoot a little late and set out on the long journey back to Rockport, Maine. Traffic was terrible. We crept along behind vacationing tourists, slow moving RVs and an inadequate highway system. 

For several years I had been secretly documenting men and women incarcerated on death rows all over the USA.  The only people who knew were my studio employees. At the last minute we decided we would reveal the project to the world that week at MPW. We labored over a slideshow and audio as I planned to surprise the audience with something they would never expect. 
But we were stuck on Route 1. Just in case, my staff had a contingency plan. If I did not make it back in time, my rep, Lorie Savel, would go on in my place. She was integrally involved with the whole social documentary and since she had followed me into many of the prisons, she had the appropriate gravitas and stage presence to pull it off. 

My long suffering assistant, who had been with me on many ad campaigns and annual report shoots, broke every traffic law in Maine. But time was working against us. No cell phones in those days and we dared not pull over to call because who would answer? We plowed on at breakneck speeds, weaving in and out on back roads. I ran up the steep staircase to the auditorium. The lights were already off. I took the microphone out of Lorie's hand and began the long saga of photographing inside prisons. 

To stunned silence at the end, I opened the floor to questions. One of the questions inspired my response, "Well, as Jay Maisel always said, 'f/8 and be there.' " Out of the total darkness except for light from the projector shining on the screen, came a deep voice: "No I didn't." My hero Jay Maisel was in attendance that night. I was mortified. We argued over the efficacy of capital punishment for quite a while after the lecture. Despite our differences we have been good friends ever since.


Ellis Vener August 26, 2013 at 5:21 PM  

I met Jay as a student in his 1983 MPW workshop. His work and himself are still inspiring me to work harder at seeing more freely and live more generously.

King World February 28, 2015 at 6:01 AM  

I am already done it and find that this post is really amazing.

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blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.