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Bill Jay is one of my favorite photography writers: Fiercely smart, grumpy and enthusiastic in equal measure, and ever-eloquent, Jay was the first editor of Creative Camera and author of countless essays about photography. Recently retired from Arizona State University, where he founded the Photographic Studies program, Jay has graciously archived more than 100 essays at his website. [Part One, Part Two]

Be sure also to check out his fully archived PDFs of Album, Jay’s fantastic 1970 photography journal that introduced England to the likes of Les Krims, Elliot Erwitt, and countless other young faces.

From Why Weegee Was Not a Westerner (PDF):

Suffice to say that photography, like pornography, is subject to community standards. The golden rule out West is this: if you do not generally see it out a car window, it is probably immoral or illegal; if you can see it out a car window, that’s what the local photographs will look like.

From Photography, God, and the Devil (PDF):

Incidentally, The British Journal of Photography in 1896 reported a controversy in Germany over whether or not a signature claimed to have been made by the devil was genuine. A Roman Catholic newspaper claimed that it was impossible to secure a genuine signature of his Satanic majesty; the Catholic Director of Feldburg stated that such opinions were untrue to Catholic teaching and traditions. The journal did not take sides in the dispute but recommended to photographers that a picture of the signature would be good business.

From The Camera Fiend (PDF):

The amateur was hated by everyone – by the public who was likely to be snapped in a compromising pose without his or her knowledge, by the photographer’s family and friends who saw in his snapshot craze a change in behaviour bordering on lunacy, by the serious photographer who was affronted by his atrocious productions, and by the professional whose business was already in decline but now had to compete with the freelance amateur. No wonder that the amateurs banded together in camera clubs as a form of mutual protection and support. In 1880 there were 14 photographic societies in Britain; in 1890 the number had leaped to 131; by 1900 there were 256 amateur clubs in the country.

From How to Be Famous, Sort Of (PDF):

The point is that if you want to be famous the least likely route is via photography, which concerns the media hacks about as much as a flea on a wart-hog. As a case in point, look at the much-touted extravaganza called “American Visions” by Robert Hughes of Time; its special issue devoted to art history includes examples of quilts, lamps, gravestones and chairs but its time-line does not even mention the birth of photography, although the date of 1839 is marked – by the introduction of the rules of baseball.


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