Name: Jay B. Wilson
City, Country: Cos Cob, CT, USA
Website or Portfolio Site: jaybwilsonphoto.com
Preferred Social Network Account: Twitter: @jbwphoto Instagram: @jaybwilsonphotonyc
What is your name? Jay B. Wilson
When did you begin listening to The Candid Frame? Only about three or four months ago. I had been following Ibarionex on Instagram, and another Instagrammer mentioned his podcast, so I had to start listening.
How long have you been shooting and what inspired your interest in photography? My first real memories of photography involve a Kodak Disc camera and a trip to New York City when I was about 8 years old. That trip taught me two things - I needed a better camera, and I despised New York. I upgraded the camera quickly - to a Quantaray SLR, but it took me at least another ten years to fall in love with the city I now call home. In the meantime, I took my camera everywhere - on a six week trip to England, where I loved photographing castles, both ruined and pristine. When I think about it now, that contrast between the beauty of what once was, and the beauty of that which remained, set the stage for my love of the same dichotomies found in New York City, or any urban environment. Here we have the richest, most beautiful streets in the world, but you can turn the corner and see strife and decay. I love that.
Do you have a preferred genre or specialty of photography? Why? Moving to New York in 1996 is really what reawakened my love of photography, which had gone dormant over my high school and college years - I think I was a little too enamored of keg parties and sorority girls to spend much time thinking about my childhood hobby. But no matter how deep that passion is buried, New York will make it rise again, and I quickly began shooting mostly urban landscapes, with a particular focus on Central Park, where I spent some time volunteering as a guide. After living in Manhattan for about ten years, we moved to the suburbs, but I continue to shoot in the city almost every day. Since my first child was born, I've also developed a love of portrait photography, particularly of families and kids, and I also do some event work.
What subject matter, themes, ideas do you like to explore or inspire your photography? Why? When I walk around New York, I keep in mind that every building, every vista, every little "discovery" has probably been photographed a thousand times over. And there's value in shooting the Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal, and Central Park, even if your perspective and vision is similar to what others have had. But I earnestly attempt to seek out new vantage points, different perspectives on the landmarks we all know, and I'm constantly searching for the little details, the unusual arrangements of buildings and angles and light and shadow that I'm seeing for the first time, even if I've walked that particular block a thousand times before. It's amazing how many times I see something familiar in an entirely new way.
What creative or professional goals do you have for your photography? I balance a full-time job in advertising with a part-time professional photography business. Fortunately, the two are overlapping more frequently - the full time job gets me to cities and into events that I wouldn't otherwise see or be a part of. For the past few years, I've said my goal was to eventually do photography full-time, but my view on that may be changing, slightly. Not because I love photography any less, but perhaps because I love it more. There's a great book out there - Visionmongers, by David duChemin, in which he successfully argues that while many semi-pro, or part-time pro photographers feel like their ultimate goal must be do photography fulltime, this is really a default position - it's just assumed. You might be just as successful, and more fulfilled, if you don't make it your full time profession. So I'm leaning a bit in that direction at the moment.
Do you have an interesting story or anecdote for one of the images you have submitted in your portfolio? The photograph of Grand Central Terminal is a good example of seeing something every day for years and then it all comes together at one moment. I was ascending the stairs from the lower level, fortunately with DSLR in hand, and saw that streaming light that you get in late morning at the Terminal. The light itself, the clock, the people, are nothing new, but it just seemed so perfectly balanced, in that moment. When I saw the scene, what struck me was the cluster of people at the information booth, and the empty space between us. The space was only there for a few moments - usually it's full of people, so I had to shoot fast. In looking at the image later, what strikes me is that up to the furthest reaches of the Mezzanine, the shadows and figures are also balanced, almost symmetrical. I didn't consciously, I think, see that balance at the moment I took the shot, but I think it registered with me. Sometimes you frame things in a certain way, and you may not even realize until later what made the image work, but you knew, at the moment you pushed the shutter, things had come together in the right way visually.
Do you have any personal projects that you have or are working on that we would find of interest? I have a friend, Kevin, who was a photographer and event planner for many years here in New York. One morning, when he was in his mid-thirties, he noticed his vision was just a little blurry. He went to specialist after specialist, and they finally told him - you're going blind, and there's nothing we can do. Within a few weeks he was almost completely blind. A devastating condition for anyone, but as a photographer and event planner? Horrible. Kevin struggled, but eventually thrived. He approached me one day and told me there were three or four buildings in New York that he never got a chance to really photograph. Would I be interested in photographing them, with him by my side, giving art direction from his memory? Of course I was interested. The first project brought us to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge on a frigid December morning, and since then we've photographed the Chrysler Building and the San Remo together. I select a few shots that I think best represent what he told me he had in his mind, and send them to Kevin. He then has a friend, who is familiar with the work he did before the loss of sight, describe the photos, in detail, to him. The best feeling is when he tells me she says "Oh, this is a 'Kevin' photograph!
What is your favorite piece of equipment, software or accessory that makes a difference in your photography? Why? Tough question. I don't have a ton of equipment - two DSLR bodies, a few lenses, tripods, a speedlight. I'm an outlier because I don't shoot Nikon or Canon, I shoot Pentax. Growing up, many of us used the Pentax K1000 in high school photo class, and I just stuck with it. I had an amazing uncle, Roy, who was a geologist and avid hiker, and he always shot Pentax. He had a closet full of Pentax SLR's, and he gave me one before I first moved to NYC. So when I finally went digital, I stuck with the brand, and it's served me well. Their DSLR's offer a ton of features that you'll only find on the high end Canons and Nikons. And the weather sealing and magnesium alloy bodies are great for shooting in the streets of New York - you tend to get your equipment banged up a lot, and they can take the abuse, the rain, the grime of Gotham.
What tip or suggestion has best helped your development as a photographer? Why? I feel like I'm so immersed by tips and suggestions that it's hard to name one. Between listening to The Candid Frame, going to seminars by folks like Brian Smith and Tamara Lackey, and attending events like PDN PhotoPlus Expo, my head is swimming with advice from fellow photographers. But I think the one piece of advice that I think of nearly every time I press the shutter is "Why?" - why am I taking this photo? Especially in New York, or Chicago where I travel a lot, there is so much visual stimulation that you can find yourself trying to take photos of everything. Slow down, think before you make an image - what are you trying to say? Why are you making the photo?
Which episode of The Candid Frame photography podcast would you recommend to others? Why? I really enjoyed Episode 202 with Don Giannatti. It lived up to the podcast's name - the very blunt and honest assessment of some of the issues emerging photographers face in developing their own vision, the conversation about the current state of the industry, all of the exchanges between Ibarionex and Don, they were very, well, candid. Excellent episode, one I think photographers at any stage in their careers or explorations with the medium would benefit from.