Magazine Memoirs – Bill Jay

Anyway, I spent an inordinate amount of time on the first issue in order to provide a sense of what we considered important. It included my editorial lambasting the state of British photography at the time but ending with a tone of optimism (“… all the signs are that the scene is moving into another great era in British photography . . . The pressure is building up. The next years should witness the explosion of photography in Britain”).

The cover featured a major portfolio of images by the ever-gracious and supportive Bill Brandt, who selected and sequenced his own favorite photographs especially for Album. It also included text and images on Sir Benjamin Stone, a late Victorian photographer then completely unknown; an interview with Jeffrey Blankfort, photographer to the Black Panthers; and contributions by Eikoh Hosoe, Paul Strand, Philip Jones Griffiths, Roger Mertin, Lee Friedlander, Jim Dine, George Rodger and others.

We were also fortunate in that one of the best letterpress printers in the country, Balding and Mansell, agreed to print the magazine, even though it had reservations about our financial viability. In the end we agreed that it could handle all incoming subscriptions directly, and apply them to our printing bills. In exchange each month they sent me a first class rail ticket to the company’s plant in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, sot hat I could check printing quality as the plates were being run. But, in the end, this concession also contributed to Album’s demise.

Nothing, however, could shake our excitement, as we packaged the spanking new first issues in their envelopes and mailed them to names and addresses “borrowed” from lists supplied by the George Eastman House, Museum of Modern Art and elsewhere.

How eagerly we picked up the mail, expecting to be flooded with subscriptions; howdisappointed when they trickled in, in dribs and drabs.

The letters of support and encouragement were heartening. Some samples:
Album is magnificent – absolutely first class. All of us send congratulations! Peter Bunnell, Curator of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

I am glad your Album monthly meets with the success it deserves. The presentation and choice of pictures is excellent and its cultural level makes it just the type of publication Britain has needed so badly for a long time. Helmut Gernsheim

Album is superb. More than that even. John Loengard, Life magazine

Many thanks for sending me… Album. Absolutely first-rate job of printing which gives extraordinary quality to the photos… I’ll be sending my subscription along soon. A. Whitney Ellsworth, The New York Review of Books

You have certainly succeeded in being “different” and it is just about time that something different appeared. I like the presentation and find it impressive. George Rodger, founder member of Magnum Photos

Congratulations, it’s beautiful! Album, that is – and I’m circulating it among the photographers here. Charles B. Bloch, President of Globe Photos, Inc.

Album is a very distinguished addition to photo publication – shape, layout and content
– Sir Benjamin Stone is a great new discovery – at least for me. That makes me want to sit down and look at the 25,000 legacy he has left us. Paul Strand

Thank you very much for your good letter as published in Album 1. You have certainly delineated the thoughts I tried to express when writing my piece on Bill Brandt from which you quote. Congratulations. You have achieved a brilliant summation on the subject of creative photography in England. Congratulations, too, on the publication of Album. It is exciting, informative, and badly needed. The piece on Sir Benjamin Stone is incredibly valuable, and reveals him as a major artist who deserves a full-scale monograph on his life and work. Please accept my best wishes for the continued success of your publication. Robert M. Doty, Curator of Whitney Museum of American Art

I would like to express my satisfaction with the ideas, style and presentation of Album . .. Moreover I completely agree with your editorial on page 1. May I offer you my congratulations on the courage expressed in this opinion. Unfortunately, the major photographic firms are just business enterprises, which little realize how much they actually are dependent on what I call “the cultural side of photography.” Nevertheless I
must personally be more grateful for the support I have always received from the organizers of “photokina” when I tried to present this noncommercial side of photography, an effort I have now been making for twenty years. Well, once more, my best wishes for the success of your magazine. Fritz Gruber, Head of Cultural Section of photokina

With letters like this arriving daily we may be forgiven for having expected an avalanche of subscriptions to follow. It did not happen…

Most of these individuals did subscribe, but there were hundreds more who told us the equivalent of “the check is in the mail.” Basically, we had crippled ourselves financially right from the start. But we limped on, each month eating into our remaining capital and relying increasingly on new subscriptions. The hope was that the subscriber’s money would reach break-even point before we ran out of “top-up” cash. It was going to be close, very close.

On the editorial side, I was in seventh-heaven, collaborating with photographers such as W. Eugene Smith, Tony Ray-Jones, Thurston Hopkins, Cas Oorthuys, Les Krims, Imogen Cunningham, Emmet Gowin, John Claridge, Andrew Lanyon, George Rodger, David Hockney, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Patrick Ward, Edouard Boubat, John Claridge,Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Naomi Savage and the list goes on. I was producing a magazine which I would want to buy, the only editorial policy I ever had. And there werethe endless visits by young photographers, such as Chris Killip, Andrew Lanyon and Homer Sykes, showing prints, discussing photography with passion, volunteering tot ype a letter or stuff envelopes, engaging in the magazine’s life with enthusiasm. Support was unstinting from a wide range of individuals – poets (Peter Cundall), painters(Jim Dine and Ron Kitaj), as well as filmmakers and writers. And I must make a special mention of David Hockney who as both painter and photographer regularly attended and was an active participant in so many of our meetings and lectures. All this creative interchange and enthusiasm was most encouraging.

Much of the talk, and action, was how to force photography through the closed ranks of the art-establishment, breaking through into the sanctums of the Royal Photographic Society, The Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Arts Council of Great Britain. The spearhead was a loose group of young photographers calling ourselves C.R.A.P., Committee for Radical Action in Photography.

They were heady days, and nights. Even the frequent frustrations had no apparent effect on our unquenchable fire of enthusiasm. When I look back on these events, the particulars blur into a haze of exhilaration, an unalloyed sensation of doing exactly what I wanted to do, of being who I wanted to be. Gradually, specific moments swirl and coalesce into vivid images. I remember. . . .

. . . impertinently banging on the door of Lord Goodman, then Minister of the Arts, being graciously received, and bending his ear about the appalling fact that photography, the most vital of the contemporary arts, was not welcome at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. I was appointed Director of Photography on the spot.

. . . being invited to serve on a Royal Commission to investigate why the Royal Photographic Society was losing so many members. The conclusion: the aging membership was dying off at a faster rate than young members were joining. I offered to organize a series of lectures for young photographers at the RPS headquarters. They were too successful. Not only was the meeting hall packed to bursting for each lecture but also young photographers were standing outside leaning in through the open windows. This was too much. Kenneth Warr, the RPS Secretary, told me that members had complained about “long-haired yobs cluttering up the Society’s building,” so I was ejected and the lectures were canceled.

. . . working long hours with a team of volunteers to convert storage rooms at ICA into a Photographic Study Center. We invited 60 people to the opening; 300 showed up, including Peter Sellers who brought his silent “Running, Jumping, Standing Still” film -and narrated all the parts.

. . . meeting Lindy Dufferin (the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, no less) who instantly became a warm, spirited benefactor of contemporary photography.

. . . accompanying Margot Hapgood (Time-Life Books) to look at some old postcards inReigate, Surrey, and stumbling into Francis Frith’s archives, containing 250,000 prints and 60,000 negatives.

. . . receiving a heavy package of prints from W. Eugene Smith, to be used as an “epitaph” because “by the time you receive these, I will be dead.” In letters he poured out his anguish; he was ugly, unloved, unappreciated and incapable of further work. He reiterated his intention to commit suicide. Many of the images were highly personal, including a self-portrait of Gene in the act of sex. A few months later, Gene wrote again: he had found a new woman and he was happy – please send back the prints.

. . . staying with Beaumont and Nancy Newhall at their home in Rochester, New York, while preparing a special issue on the George Eastman House Collection. I can see Beaumont in the kitchen where, after a full day as Director of the House, he would prepare a meal for the three of us, washing up and rehanging copper-bottomed pans assoon as they were used. It is not often appreciated that Beaumont was a gourmet chef, who had written scores of articles on the art of cooking.

. . . helping a lady named Clody to organize the first photographic gallery in England, called “Do Not Bend,” which opened just up the road from Album’s office.

. . . opening the mail one day to find an air ticket to Paris, sent by Marc Riboud so that I could attend the annual meeting of Magnum Photos, Inc. and meet the photographers.

. . . hiring a pub, complete with barmaid, and filling it with photographers to see slides of contemporary American photography, “60s Continuum,” projected by Van Deren Coke, then Director of the George Eastman House. From the first image, of a finger stuck in food (Paul Diamond), the audience burst out laughing in derision and became increasing raucous as the slides progressed. Britain was not ready for the American “artists”! The barmaid became so loud and boisterous I had to ask her to leave; Van Deren Coke took it all in magnanimous stride.

. . . receiving regular letters from Tony Ray-Jones who had left England to teach at the San Francisco Art Institute. Typical sample: “Dear Bill, How are you, you auld sod? I have heard of your efforts across 6,000 miles of land and water. How is the workshop going? – mine isn’t. There are about 200 photo students in this school and most of them think of themselves as artists. Favorite subjects are naked women and pubic hair, cocks, grainy landscapes, trees, rocks, the sea, shadows – you’ve heard it all before. It’s a bit of a drag. I don’t like teaching and will try to avoid [it] in the future. It saps my vital energies, don’t even feel like making love. The kids are precocious, they’ve got all the answers and they’re [sic] work is fucking dull…”

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