British photographic history

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I am working on a film project documenting the life of photographer, writer and lecturer Bill Jay and would be interested in hearing from anybody who knew him, worked for him and/or have material relating to him. The project is being supported by a number of established photographers who knew Bill well.

Please leave a comment if you can help with this. Thank you.

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Hi Grant,

Bill Jay introduced me to the music of Erik Satie: Gnossienne. It was part of a lecture he gave at the art college I was attending about 1969. If I remember correctly he talked about tonality, using the work of Satie and comparing it to the lyricism of Debussy. Weegee and I think Doré were the visual artists he talked about. As this was nearly fifty years ago I don't remember much more. I had just discovered Weegee in the pages of Creative Camera which was edited by Bill Jay at the time which was exciting. I am sure there are many stories concerning Bill, better than mine, for you to use for the film. I am looking forward to seeing it.

Alex

HI Grant

Bill is credited with "finding" the Frith archive and persuading Rothmans to buy it to stop it being destroyed.  He was subsequently appointed as the part time curator of the archive so I got to know him as  I started looking at commercially exploiting the archive on behalf of Rothmans, who were my employer at the time.  In the following 30 years I had periodic contact with Bill and always found him to be a mine of information and incredibly helpful.  You might also want to talk to Barry Lane who worked closely with him on some projects.

John

Hi Alex

Thanks so much for that information. It is this kind of detail that adds so much to the narrative. We start filming in the next few weeks and you will be able to follow its progress on Twitter @unofphoto and at www.unitednationsofphotography.com

Best

Grant


Alex Tymków MA ARPS said:

Hi Grant,

Bill Jay introduced me to the music of Erik Satie: Gnossienne. It was part of a lecture he gave at the art college I was attending about 1969. If I remember correctly he talked about tonality, using the work of Satie and comparing it to the lyricism of Debussy. Weegee and I think Doré were the visual artists he talked about. As this was nearly fifty years ago I don't remember much more. I had just discovered Weegee in the pages of Creative Camera which was edited by Bill Jay at the time which was exciting. I am sure there are many stories concerning Bill, better than mine, for you to use for the film. I am looking forward to seeing it.

Alex

Hi John

Thanks so much for your response. Would you be able to email your contact details if you are happy to speak about this in more detail? Please send to grant@grantscott.com.

Best wishes

Grant


John Buck said:

HI Grant

Bill is credited with "finding" the Frith archive and persuading Rothmans to buy it to stop it being destroyed.  He was subsequently appointed as the part time curator of the archive so I got to know him as  I started looking at commercially exploiting the archive on behalf of Rothmans, who were my employer at the time.  In the following 30 years I had periodic contact with Bill and always found him to be a mine of information and incredibly helpful.  You might also want to talk to Barry Lane who worked closely with him on some projects.

John

I worked with Bill at the Photography Study Centre at the ICA in the early '70s, at which we had a slide archive of contemporary photographers' work and four Kodak Carousel projectors with rear-projection set-ups for viewing. Two of these projectors were donated by Kodak and two by Peter Sellers (yes, the actor; I don't know how Bill managed that). Local photographers would gather at the Study Centre, often at lunch time, to meet each other, discuss the field, encounter visiting photographers passing through London (if they had work with them we'd whisk it into the back where we had a copy camera and make more slides for the Centre archives then return the prints to the photographers before they left). There also was a darkroom, which I built. I'd come across the pond from the US, drawn by the work Bill had done with Creative Camera and Album. I arrived just in time to help paint the Photo Study Center. Someone who can tell you more of the origin of the Centre was effectively its manager, Murray (can't recall his family name), a friendly, bearded Australian bloke (others must remember Murray and know how to contact him). We presented lectures in the ICA auditorium, which Bill would introduce (dressed, as I recall, in a kind of green velour suit with over-the-knee boots... does anyone else remember this?) All sorts of people came through the Centre, including HC-B at one point. It was a terrific concept.

We also presented exhibitions in the ICA galleries. It's really where I got started curating. I recall poignantly an exhibition of Tony Ray-Jones' which I think we acquired from the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY. Tony flew in from the US for cancer treatment, feeling excited that the disease would focus him on photography in a more serious way, but the disease had progressed too far. Bill visited him in hospital and told me he was asking for me, but he died that same day before I could get there (I was installing the exhibition), only days after returning to Britain. His partner Anna was on a plane to London at the time and we did our best to shield her from newspapers until we could tell her ourselves about Tony. I seem to recall too a Bill Brandt exhibition, possibly acquired from MoMA in NY. Brandt had not had a retrospective in Britain at the time. Bill (Jay) took me to visit Brandt at his home; it was a huge thrill (and a bit intimidating). Brandt's arm was in a cast and he was upset because a British photographer had come by to do his portrait and he'd made the guy promise not to include his damaged arm in the picture; but when the photographer's exhibition opened (at the NPG I think), there was Brandt with his arm in a cast. The story made me decide not to ask to photograph him, which I regret. Brandt died a few years later I believe.

Bill was an avid proponent for the recognition of Francis Frith's work. We discussed a book title which sounded somehow a bit rude, of Wet Plate Up the Nile. Bill had piles of prints in his home, like stalagmites, columns reaching from the floor to the ceiling. He told me a story of visiting a house somewhere in the countryside at which he found, stacked in the greenhouse, thousands (or perhaps hundreds) of Frith glass plates; there would have been many more except the owners has been using them for decades, scraping off the emulsion to replace broken glass panes in the greenhouse (themselves probably scrapped off Friths).

Bill is often credited for talking Barry Lane into getting the Arts Council involved with funding photography (took or sent him to tour the US to see how we Yanks were celebrating the medium) and also getting Sue Davies into launching The Photographer's Gallery. His enthusiasm for the medium was boundless and infectious. There were negatives too; I've heard many stories about his acquiring people's prints but never returning them (probably related to CC and Album).

No one accomplishes something significant without the assistance or involvement of others, yet Bill Jay can be seen as almost singlehandedly establishing the modern role for photography as an art medium in Britain. He certainly showed me how great a difference a single, passionate individual can make (which got me into trouble, as often as not).

Bill was himself an avid photographer, quite fond of taking female nudes as I recall (Alan Porter published a few of these in his Swiss publication Camera). I thought it wise that he didn't show these that often, as to my eye they had a rather dated, camera club feel.

We largely lost touch when Bill moved to Arizona (although I recently found some letters from him to me in the UK that I had not remembered receiving, so the loss of touch likely was my fault).

I wish you great success with your project and hope some of this information stimulates further investigation.

Reading your text Bill, made me directly think of Peter Turner and CC. Thanks. Fond memories of CC, Peter, ICA and exhibitions at those times.

Hi John thanks for your response. You can find out more about the film at www.donotbendfilm.com

hi Grant,

I noticed an interview in issue 23 Spring 2008 of 8 Magazine between David Brittain and Bill Jay.  David is at http://www.art.mmu.ac.uk/profile/dbrittain

best,

John Duncan

Editor Source Magazine

Thanks John I missed/forgot that which is weird as I art directed 8 with Jon Levy. 

Hi Grant, drop me an email john@source.ie maybe this is something we can run as a small news item? best, John

will do

Hi Grant,

I tried to contact you in February about your Bill Jay post but apparently it didn't work... I'd be glad to exchange with you. You can email me at: j.faureconorton @ ehess.fr

Best,

Julien

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