Museums, collectors and galleries treasure prints from Art Shay's seven decades of making memorable images. Joan Brunwasser of OpEd News caught up with the peripatetic photographer recently and asked how it all started. Here's is Shay's response, from Art Shay: That Was Then, Part One:
In 1939, the year I was 17, I noticed that the windows of shops on downtown 57th Street were lit by then-new neon lamps. I lugged my $5 tripod downtown at night and began making Graflex time exposures of displays. My first and best sale was to the Hammond Organ Company. They bought five at $5 each and began sending me to churches, where I photographed Hammond organs.
From those church visits, it was a short step to navigating B-24 over Europe in World War II and then to Life magazine.
After the war and stops in Washington and San Francisco, Shay and his family settled in this house in the Chicago suburbs (backyard Hula Hoop photo by Art Shay). Top names, big events and high-profile photo assignments dominated his schedule. A driving curiosity and a powerful sense of the moment dominated his work. Brunwasser, in Art Shay: That Was Then, Part Two, asked Shay to describe how he worked. Shay's response:
My eye was ever the hunter in employ of my mission. Good example: my early Time picture of Sen. McCarthy at the Stockyards Inn. I "covered" his speech - but also got a great image of him juxtaposed with a circular ceiling lamp - giving him an unearned halo, underlying how little fit he was to wear one. Most of my pictures were taken in off moments of great event assignments.
Another example was published this week by Shay on the Chicagoist. It was 1960 and Elizabeth Taylor was in Chicago to promote a movie. In this installment of From the Vault of Art Shay, the photographer describes Taylor as "otherworldly gorgeous in her purple-eyed, curvaceous prime" and goes on to describe the time a few weeks later they shared a TWA flight and Taylor fell asleep on his shoulder.
Shay is hard at work on his next Chicagoist column. For all the time spent looking back, it's always been the next project that has attracted his focus and enthusiasm.