Reading and Research: Jay Maisel

With the terror of a massive hard drive failure here at home, work on my colour exercises has taken a temporary hiatus whilst we are in the hopefully magic hands of the data recovery specialists. A new backup strategy has already been deployed to avoid future repetition of this crisis in the future.

At the suggestion of my tutor I’ve been taking a look at the work of Jay Maisel, an acknowledged master of colour and specialist in street photography for many years. I’ve found reading his perspective on a variety of photography related subjects both enlightening and challenging. Jay has been a photographer for over 50 years and has consequently seen a series of dramatic revolutions in photography, not just the inevitable evolution of hardware but more the rise of colour film and the move from film to digital to name just two examples.

Jay talks a huge amount of sense with regard to the application of the variables available to you as the photographer but at the same time challenges much of what you may have already been taught or read. He is a strong advocate of getting the shot ‘right’ in camera, something not untypical of photographers brought up with the constrains of film rather than limitless memory cards. Perhaps not surprisingly for someone of his age Jay is not a huge fan of extended period of time in the ‘digital darkroom’ but more from a perspective of its ability to consume time than anything else. I’m not suggesting he is a technophobe, he is patently able to get his in camera shots much closer to what he wants to achieve than many of us currently.

I was refreshed by his openess to the use of all the variables to get the exposure right, don’t be afraid of the higher ISO values in particular. It certainly had been a significant change for Jay when digital gave the opportunity to shoot in light levels impossible to succeed with in film days, especially the ability to shoot at night.

So what about the photos themselves. His work throughout his career has involved pieces for various magazine covers and daily life portrayals, he has explored various cities for his work despite being forever associated with his home city of New York.  His style doesn’t vary much whether its a commercial shot or something more personal. The style is one of simplisticity but with real thought and ‘life’ behind each one, the simplisticity makes even the small details stand out. The element that I found most appealing was how colour and light are key to the success of the photos, not just what happened to be available. There is often use complementary and contrasting colors to make clear the subject and allow it to be what sticks in your mind. Often colours used both within the key subject and around it would in description seem to take the stress away from the subject but they are actually always plain colours devoid of distracting texture or design. Despite this simplicity  subjects are detailed and life-like.

The other element of the photography is what it depicts. Known for capturing daily life thi is often depicted with either a flow on sense of movement.  This means people working rather than posed, movement, happiness, angst, a piece of their lives.  You do start to feel  the experience of the subject. This really feels like the magic ingredient but in reality it only works because of the control of the rest of the variable mentioned earlier.

I’ve picked three of my favourite shots to show here, all feature those elements mentioned above. Great to view the work of an acknowledged master of his craft.

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