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[21Oct20] I enjoy Bill Jay's writing enormously. He wrote elegantly and wittily and knowledgeably and enjoyed pricking the bubbles of pomposity. Although his cynicism went over-the-top occasionally, he was usually right on target.

I bought On Being a Photographer by Jay and David Hurn many years ago and still go back to it. I have reached the point now where I make regular checks on the Bill Jay books that I haven't read and buy anything selling for £20 or less.
I recently found a copy of Occam's Razor for £10.15 (fig. A1) and it's now skipped back to £200+ (fig. A2), meanwhile its companion volume, Cyanide & Spirits is currently £155 (fig. A3).
Sun in the Blood of a Cat is now £260 (fig. A4), but there's one on the way from Oz for £14 (you have to grit your teeth and ignore the cost of postage, here £13).
LensWork #83 was a Bill Jay memorial issue of extracted from his Endnotes pieces. Back issues are not expensive, but here postage is (I thought of buying 5 and putting 4 of them on eBay to recover the cost, but the postage, while not 5x, is excessive). I bought the PDF, printed it and bound my own.
There's also a book about Bernard Shaw and one on nudes, both available inexpensively.
Finally on my search list is Negative / positive: A philosophy of photography (1979).

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Occam's Razor, 2000

Jay, B. (1994) Occam's Razor. Tucson, AZ.: Nazraeli Press.

Here's the list of articles.

Keeping the Photograph at Arm's Length
The Thing Itself
Threshold - The Disturbing Image
The Naked Truth
Diane Arbus: A Personal Snapshot
Creating A Viable Dialogue Situation
Professors and Professionals
Bill Brandt: A True But Fictional First Encounter
So Much for Individuality
Something Fishy
The Family of Man
Past Perfect
Original (and Reproduction) Thoughts
W. Eugene Smith: A Personal Snapshot
The Ethical Anarchist
Explosion of the Hindenburg
Confessions of an Artisan
E. 0. Hoppe: A Personal Snapshot
The Critical State of Photography
Madonna Made Me Do It

And some quotes.

From the Introduction,

Photography is, at heart, a very simple act, but exceedingly difficult to do well. It is a visual response to an emotional confrontation with the subject. The aim is to create a picture of this confrontation which can be divorced from the emotion which triggered the response. After that, anyone (including the photographer) can say anything about the image with varying degrees of relevance, because all subsequent meaning is supplied and applied by the viewer . Bill Jay, Occam's Razor, Introduction, p.8

From The Thing Itself

The photographer is, first and foremost, a selector of subjects. The photographer makes a conscious choice from the myriad of possible subjects in the world and states: I find this interesting, significant, beautiful or of value. The photographer walks through life pointing at people and objects; the aimed camera shouts, "Look at that!" The photographer produces pictures in order that his or interest in a subject can be communicated to others. Each time a viewer looks at a print, the photographer is saying, "I found this subject to be more interesting or significant than thousands of other objects I could have captured; I want you to appreciate it too".
This immediate emotional or intellectual response to the subject matter is at the core of photography. Is periphery is the photographer's manipulation of framing, focus, exposure, lighting, and all the other variables, in order that a bland record is invested with depth through the production of an intriguing image.

you are not making any statement about urban poverty by wandering back streets and grabbing shots of derelicts in doorways. That's exploitation, not exploration. Bill Jay, Occam's Razor, The Thing Itself, pp.25-6

From Threshold - The Disturbing Image

In the 19th century the church held a dominance in societal values. Therefore, some of the most disturbing images, to the Victorians, were those that offended religious notions. A most shocking image depicted an actress against the light, and "the glory round her head is giving great offense." It was a 'blasphemous' image because the woman was aping the Virgin Mary! It is impossible to imagine mere back-lighting being so disturbing in our own secular society. Bill Jay, Occam's Razor, Threshold - The Disturbing Image, p.41
Photographers, like all other specialists, cherish the traditions of their field of expertise. New departures create cracks in the shell and signal a period of vulnerability and anxiety. Paul Strand produced such cracks with his brutally direct portraits in 1917, images which cocked a snoot at pretty pictorialism, signalling a conflict epitomized by the verbal battles between Ansel Adams and William Mortensen during the 1930s. Robert Frank disturbed the status quo in The Americans, not only by disregarding the formal etiquette of Henri Cartier-Bresson but also by injecting existentialist despair into the images of affluent, self-satisfied America of the 1950s. Bill Brandt's Perspective of Nudes was also almost universally condemned when it was first published.
After several decades of photography dominated by the 'straight" image, Jerry Uelsmann created a disturbance in the medium with his fan­ tasy blends of the 1960s. At the same time Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand were also shaking the visual conventions of the decade with their own idiosyncratic images.
The are many, many other examples. It is impossible to impress on young photographers just how disturbing were the photographs of these individuals when first made because, of course, the images have been encompassed by a new shell and the authors accepted into the pantheon of picture-pioneers.
The point is this: all the innovative image-makers have this tendency to rock the boat in which we feel so comfortable, huddled together with our peers. They disturb the settled order of things - before we let them in the boat and, once again, feel safe, until some other individual sum shaking the vessel. Bill Jay, Occam's Razor, Threshold - The Disturbing Image, p.42

From The Naked Truth

Ideally, photographic criticism should provide one or more of the following services: introduce you to photographers of whom you were unaware; expand your appreciation of a photographer's work; place the images in the context of photography's history; place the images in the context of the artist's culture; and, while accomplishing these services, throw light upon the creative/artistic process. These services demand that the critic demonstrates superior knowledge and insight. The result will be photographic writing which is informative, elevating and, above all else, useful.
The problem with so much of photographic writing at present is that it is destructive, mean-spirited and useless to the practicing photographer. Critical opinions should always be taken with a large grain of salt. For the most part, they are manifestations of the critic's debate with himself as to what opinions he should hold in order to be a fully paid up member of the group to which he aspires to belong. These opinions may have no direct relevance to the photographs being discussed.
So when critics tell you that all nudes are political in meaning, what they are really saying is this: in order to be accepted and liked by our peers we have decided that all nudes should be considered political. In this sense, critics are telling you more about themselves than about the photographs.
Remember this. All meaning in photography is imposed; it is not intrinsic to the images. Criticism is not a true/false test, with the critic acting as examiner, deciding which images pass and which fail, by the application of an infallible decree. More likely, the image is merely a springboard from which the writer dives into his or her mental pool of doubts, frustrations, complex and competing motives, and subjective fears and wishes. From such a stew of uncertainties and ambiguities we are indeed fortunate if anything of value is dredged. Bill Jay, Occam's Razor, The Naked Truth, p.46

From Explosion of the Hindenburg

Waiting for the Hindenburg to arrive at its mooring mast at Lakehurst, New Jersey, were about twenty-two still and newsreel cameramen. Practically all of them took pictures of the disaster. Nearly all of the still photographs are practically identical to each other; certainly it would be impossible to assess authorship from the intrinsic nature of the images. Bill Jay, Occam's Razor, Explosion of the Hindenburg , p.127

From The Critical State of Photography

Photography, at its core, does one thing supremely well: it shows us what something looked like under a specific set of circumstances. And that is not very profound. As soon as our talk about photography moves too far away from this central fact it no longer sounds as though it has any connection at all with photography, but more with personal wandering through the labyrinth of the critic's own psyche - and that is about as interesting and relevant as listening to a stranger's dreams. Bill Jay, Occam's Razor, The Critical State of Photography , p.


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I&P Part References

Jay, B. (1994) Occam's Razor. Tucson, AZ.: Nazraeli Press.

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