Photo Courtesy of Jay Maisel
Photo Courtesy of Jay Maisel


Jay Maisel, American Photographer and Storyteller

A few years ago, I created two photo books titled “New York Said: Volume One” and “New York Said: Volume Two.” Interestingly, the covers of both books featured different photographs of the 190 Bowery building, formerly known as the Germania Bank, in 1898. At that time, I was surprised to find out that the building had been the residence and workplace of photographer Jay Maisel since 1966.

One of Jay Maisel’s most famous photographs is on the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. However, he is best known for his images, which capture the light, color, and movement of everyday life.


Listen to Jay Maisel tell his Story


Years later, when Jay sold the building, his good friend and mentee, Stephen Wilkes, made a beautiful documentary about the experience. It was called Jay Myself, and because of that film, I was blessed with the opportunity to record a conversation with Jay about his 65-year run of photographing New York.

One of the first takeaways from our conversation was the importance of embracing the unknown. Jay doesn’t shy away from insecurities and uncertainties – instead, he views them as opportunities for growth.

His experience also highlighted the power of editing. It’s not just a post-processing afterthought; it’s a crucial step in refining your vision and selecting the most impactful images. This aligns perfectly with Maisel’s emphasis on storytelling – each photograph should be a chapter in a larger narrative. Just like a writer wouldn’t publish every draft, a photographer shouldn’t present every frame.

Perhaps the most fundamental lesson was the difference between looking and seeing. Maisel urged a more discerning approach, one that goes beyond simply capturing an image. It’s about genuinely observing the world around you, noticing the details, and waiting for the moment that tells a story. His photographs are as much about composition and form as they are about content.

Another key theme was the need to adapt and evolve. Maisel’s career proves his ability to stay relevant and expressive over the years. Creativity is a lifelong journey, one that requires constant learning and exploration.

Having a conversation with Jay Maisel was such an honor. I enjoyed talking to him that day, but that wasn’t my favorite part of our interaction.

Partway through our conversation, I stopped and said, “You know, who was your costar in your documentary film?”

He said, “No, who?”

I said, “Your costar was a cigar!”

Then, in the middle of our episode recording, I handed him a Yamazaki cigar Davidoff Yamasá cigar. He smiled and jokingly said, “It’s a little dry.”

“Yeah,” I replied, and we joked around about it.

I thought that was the end of it. Fast-forward two weeks, and I’m standing in the lobby of the Film Forum when I hear someone yell, “Hey, Amon! I’ve been looking for you!”

I knew it was Jay because he had a very distinct voice. I looked back and said, “What’s up, Jay? I didn’t do it, man! I didn’t break it. I don’t know what happened.”

He said, “I’ve been looking for you!”

“Alright,” I replied.

“That cigar you gave me,” he said.

“Yes,” I answered.

“That was excellent,” he said.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it, Jay. You’re welcome,” I replied.

“Here’s my number,” Jay said. “Call me on Friday. Come out to my studio. I have a cigar for you.”

“Oh, for real? Yeah, let’s do it!” I said.

“Great,” he said. “Don’t bring a cigar when you come.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I have a cigar for you,” he said. “Are you listening?”

We joked around, and shortly after that, I went to Brooklyn and met Jay Maisel and his photo assistant at the time. We just sat around, smoked cigars, and told photography stories. It was a bucket list item I didn’t know was on it, and I am forever grateful for that moment.

While I don’t recall the specific things I learned from our conversation that night at his studio, I do remember that we laughed a lot. We even went to his rooftop and caught the sunset with his wife and photo assistant, a beautiful memory I will forever treasure. Thanks, Jay.

This short reflection on my conversation with Jay Maisel offers a glimpse of his story. However, for the full spectrum experience, try scrolling back up and listening to the entire conversation to unlock the complete story.

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