About the Photographer
British, b. 1940
An eminent critic and historian of photography, Bill Jay has authored more than 400 articles and 20 books. His own photographs have also been widely published, including selections of his black and white snapshots of the photographers he encountered over the course of his career. Of the hundreds of casual portraits he took over the past three decades, 78 are represented in MoCP's permanent collection. In 1999 Jay wrote in Photo Techniques magazine, "I believe that good photography begins with the simplest of premises: the act of recording, directly and without pretense, a subject which is emotionally or intellectually engaging. In 1968 I decided to keep a visual journal of my photographic life. At the beginning, this was a spasmodic, half-hearted notion—but it gained an impetus, even a sense of urgency, due to a singular event that took place in 1971," the death of photographer and friend Tony Ray-Jones, at the age of 31.
Jay's snapshots provide momentary views of the demeanor, and in some instances the working methods, of multiple generations of photographers, including Weegee, Cornell Capa, Aaron Siskind, Barbara Crane, Robert Heinecken, Duane Michals, and Mary Ellen Mark. But they also provide a sense of Jay himself, primarily through the inclusion of hand-written annotations on the prints. Jay describes, "The words which accompany each image were instant reponses to the memories of the individuals triggered by the picture. They’re verbal snapshots. As such, they’re not contemplative, analytical, factual, or—necessarily—true. Like the snapshots themselves, the words are intended to provide personal glimpses through my personal—and therefore prejudiced—eye." (Ibid.) Characteristically frank, if still largely affectionate or admiring, Jay's anecdotes reflect on his relationships with the subjects of his photographs, while also commenting on their personalities and their work.
Born in England, Bill Jay was the first Director of Photography at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, and before leaving his native country he served as the editor of the photographic journals Creative Camera (1968-69) and Album (1970). In 1972 he moved to the United States to study with Beaumont Newhall and Van Deren Coke at the University of New Mexico. Afterward, he founded the Photographic Studies program at Arizona State University, where he taught photography history and criticism for 25 years. He continues to write, following his retirement.