Bill Jay (1940 – 2009) was a British photographer, writer, curator, magazine and picture editor, and lecturer. He was the first editor of the important British magazine ‘Creative Camera’, and he was for a time European manager of the international picture agency, Globe Photos, as well as picture editor for The Daily Telegraph Magazine. He also established the Do Not Bend Gallery, the first gallery in the UK entirely dedicated to photography.
Jay was the first Director of Photography at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, where he founded and directed the Photo Study Centre. He moved to the USA in 1972 to study, and later became professor of art history at Arizona State University, where he founded the Photographic Studies course, and taught the history and criticism of photography for 25 years. He wrote more than 20 books on the history and criticism of photography, as well as hundreds of essays and articles. In his life time, he also gave hundreds of lectures at colleges, art schools, universities and camera clubs in Britain, Europe and the USA.
His views on photography were down-to-earth and forthright, and he had little time for fanciful pseudo-intellectual waffle. Here are some typical remarks from his 1992 collection of essays, “Occam’s Razor”:
“Deeply and strongly rooted in subject matter, [photography] has had an uneasy and tenuous alliance with authorship [i.e. artistic construction] since its introduction. Therefore, what a photograph depicts has generally taken precedence over what a photograph means”.
“A photographer with artistic aspirations has a very small audience — one which is increasingly congregating within the faculty at colleges and universities… Indeed, about the only way it is possible to earn a healthy living from being a photographic artist is to become an academic.”
“The idea of teaching photography-as-art in colleges and universities is of relatively recent origin. The first MFA [Master of Fine Arts] in photography graduated in 1946 (from Ohio State University)… Also, most photography courses are located in art departments, where the air is permeated with the ideas, issues, attitudes and history of art (meaning painting, printmaking, sculpture, etc, not photography). It is is understandable if these [lecturers] and students adopt rag-bag notions of art-attitudes and wrap them around photography.”
“Photography is not an intellectual activity and therefore cannot bear the weight of intellectual scrutiny heaped upon it by its academics. Photography, at its core, does one thing supremely well: it shows us what something looked like under a specific set of circumstances.”
Jay’s own photographs were widely published, and he had a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He is particular known for his portrait photographs of photographers, and Oriel Colwyn is hosting an exhibition of some of these pictures entitled ‘Do Not Bend’, from 12 May to 30 June, 2018.
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