I was very saddened to be reached by news of the death of David Alan Jay, who succumbed to his longtime disease at the age of 61 last October. David Jay (he was often called by both names together) was the Editor of Photo Techniques (itself recently deceased) from 1985 to 1994, when he handed the reins to me. (The magazine was called Darkroom Techniques and then, after it merged with Creative Camera magazine, Darkroom & Creative Camera Techniques [D&CCT] while under his stewardship. More recently it has been called Photo Technique [singular instead of plural].)
David's magazine was a true reflection of the man himself: courtly and courteous, unsensational, rigorous, and highly ethical. David had a "dread disease" (Flannery O'Conner's phrase)—a hereditary degenerative condition that had killed his mother in her 40s. I apologize that I cannot specify what it was—medical nouns do not stick in my head. (Each time we talked of it, I had to ask him again.) At any rate he told me in no uncertain terms that he always felt himself doomed to live half a lifespan: when he was 46 or 48 he said to me that he felt he was already living on borrowed time.
David loved to talk on the phone, and I talked to him regularly throughout my tenure at PT and for a number of years afterward. Unfortunately his disease gradually made it harder and harder for him to speak and to be understood, and our phone friendship gradually tapered out in the early-to-mid 2000s. I had not spoken to him in probably seven or eight years at the time of his death.
My favorite David Jay story, just one of many:
Like so many wordsmiths, David was an introvert, and the Photo East show in New York City (now called Photo Plus Expo) frequently overburdened his circuits (as it did mine—the constant stream of demands on one's attention would be enough to test a politician or a movie star, and it could sap the socializing resources of an introvert dry as a desert gulch within hours).
Fred Newman of Darkroom Innovations (now called The View Camera Store) had commissioned Ron Wisner of Wisner Classic Manufacturing Co. to build him a 20x24-inch view camera, and Fred shared space in Ron's booth at Photo East, where his huge view camera was put on display.
So when the "demanders" got to be too much for him, David Jay would go to the Wisner booth and get under the dark cloth behind Fred's giant camera—and stay there. He'd just stand there, quietly, motionless, for an hour or more, alone in the midst of the crowds, recharging his introvert's batteries and escaping from all the insistent demands, watching the steady stream of showgoers pass the booth upside-down on the groundglass. Makes me laugh even now.
David Jay told me when I took over that any reader who wanted to participate fully in the life of the magazine had to own three things: a view camera, a spot meter, and a densitometer. After he left D&CCT, David and his wife moved to an old farmhouse in central Illinois, where they made an agreement: his wife got the house, and David got a finished and insulated 40x25' outbuilding on the property. There he had his laundry machines (laundry, which he apparently enjoyed, being one of his household responsibilities), his darkroom, his library, and his workshop. Apart from his space-age custom-designed and -built enlarger and many other cunning computerized darkroom gizmos of his own invention, I'm sure he was never without the three essentials. He was way too unsentimental to be buried with them (there were no funeral services, at the request of the deceased), but there would have been a touch of poetry in it if he had been. I can only imagine the many happy hours he must have spent in his domain at that remote farmstead way out on the Illinois prairie, "forty-five minutes from anything" as David put it.
61 is young in absolute terms, but I know it's much longer than David Jay himself expected his life to last. I hope the last years were not too hard. Farewell, friend.
(Thanks to Wendy Erickson)
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Featured Comments from:
Geoff Wittig: "The passing of David Alan Jay, David Vestal, and Photo Technique magazine within a short span seem to punctuate the end of an era. Reliable and thoughtful information on visualizing, creating and refining the optimum print as a physical artifact seems to be fading into the sunset. Certainly in print form this is true; even stalwart sources such as Lenswork magazine are relentlessly shifting their emphasis to online access.
"Ctein's recent comments got me thinking. Physical prints obviously comprise a small and ever-shrinking percentage of photographs going forward. But I dearly hope the vast and expanding sea of digital images can sustain enough of this shrinking sliver to maintain it as a living, breathing artform rather than yet another 'alternative process' performed on occasion as a parlor trick. Because for me, at least, the beauty of a perfectly crafted print trumps the gaudy appeal of that glowing image on the LCD."
Richard Kelley: "I was shocked to hear of David's passing. I was lucky enough to have been one of David's friends while we were going through Journalism School at Indiana University. He was just an outstanding guy, always ready to offer an idea and always positive about life. He was a pleasure to be around at a time when the competition was so fierce it kept many of us in our own little silos. He never spoke about the disease, but knowing David, that's not surprising. At the end, he went his technical direction and I took my documentary path and I just lost track of him with the passing of the years and work. When I saw his face in the announcement, I was just stunned. Those who never met David really missed knowing a true gentleman and a very decent man. Thanks for crossing paths, David. It was a pleasure learning from you."