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Matinee: Jay Maisel Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

17 December 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 166th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Inspiration From Jay Maisel.

This 10:33 clip from the Santa Fe Workshops is about twice as long as our usual Saturday indulgence but it won't seem that way as you listen to Jay Maisel talk about photography and look at a slide show of his images.

That's because each image you see is worth studying and everything he says is worth remembering.

He begins by recounting his unconventional education as a photographer. Which was studying painting and graphic design at Cooper Union and Yale. He explains the influence Josef Albers had on him, both in discouraging him as a painter but also in teaching him about color, optics and the "joyousness of perception."

So, no, this isn't a greeting card of inspiring quotes behind lovely images.

"If you're not your own severest critic, you're your worst enemy," he teaches his students. Good photographers know what they missed, regardless of what they come back with.

'If you're not your own severest critic, you're your worst enemy.'

Light, color and gesture are the components of his photography, of any photography, he continues the lesson. He juggled them for over 40 years as a commercial photographer in New York City, retiring about 11 years ago to devote himself to his personal work.

He has a particular approach to personal work.

He always takes it along when he leaves the house, which surprises some people. But he has a good reason. "It's so much easier to take pictures if you have the camera with you," he points out.

And what more fun can you have than to go out with your camera with nothing to shoot? No assignment, just freedom. Even to put the camera down.

"The real crux of being a photographer for me is the moment of perceiving something that is new to me, that I've never seen before," he says.

"You have to decide at some point whether you're interested in a process or the product," he warns. If you chase the product, the awards, the recognition and don't get it, "you've wasted your life." But if you love what you're doing, it's its own reward.

Pigeons scrambling excitedly into the air overhead accompany that point.

He follows that with a critique of the word "composition" to describe what he prefers to call "framing." After all, you're just framing a scene you did not construct, he points out. It's cropping.

The big story is how you decide what goes in the frame and what you leave out. How do you decide? "First you have to look. And then you have to see," he says. And then decide what you can throw out. Less is more, he insists.

"Shooting with nothing to say is worse than talking when you have nothing to say," he continues. "Because at least with talking it's over. With shooting you still have to edit them."

Maisel's images have a lot to say to us. And we're fortunate he loves talking about taking them. Put the two together and it's, well, inspiring.

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