The Big Picture Documentary on Iconic Photographer Jay Maisel

Jay Maisel is a photographic legend who is known primarily for two things: his amazing photography, including the shot on the cover of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue; and the lower Manhattan mansion he bought in 1966 for only $102K (a purchase that has been called “the greatest real estate coup of all time”).

This short documentary tells you a little bit about both. But mostly, it contains phenomenal photography, followed by phenomenal insight, followed by more phenomenal photography. It’s hard not to find everything Maisel says inspiring. (Warning: the video does contain a few curse words).

The amazing thing about Maisel is that, as photographer Greg Heisler puts it, his work is “purely and simply about the joy of seeing.” And although we won’t spoil any more of the gems in this great little documentary, one comment by Maisel really stuck out to us:

Any picture that I’ve done that really is worth anything, I’ve been terrified the entire time I was shooting it. If you’re not scared that you’re gonna lose it, it ain’t that great a picture.

You heard him, so go out there and take some terrifying pictures. And if you happen to have seven and a half minutes to kill before you grab your camera, do yourself a favor and watch this documentary.

(via Nine Volt)

  • Michael Comeau

    Thank you for posting this video. It’s absurd that it has so few views. Forget the unboxings and the lens reviews, THIS is the important stuff.

  • Steve

    It’s too bad Maisel outed himself as a crotchety, self-important luddite by suing a small artist who made an 8-bit interpretation of the Miles Davis cover image in a way that was 100% okay under fair use. The legal costs to defend himself utterly ruined this artist’s life when all he was trying to do was release a small pet project (8-bit covers of Miles Davis music). Google the story if you’re interested, but it really makes Maisel look like a douchebag.

  • Richard

    Excellent, thanks for the post.

  • Piotrek Ziolkowski

    Spot on. If more people paid attention there would be a lot of great photographers out there. It’s not the gear they use (masters of photography) but their mindset that interests me.

  • Mary

    lol. it would like to see your reaction if some random guy decided to use your most famous shot without permission. completely understandable to fight back.

  • Goofball Jones

    I have to agree. I lost all respect for the man when he did that. While I understand that some feel that their entire lives are encapsulated into only one, single photo like Maisel’s seems to be, and the rest of your career is mediocre at best, so you feel the need to defend that one photo because its defined you as a person. He could have handled it with a little more humility.

    What am I saying… I don’t want to mince words. The man is an ass who made one iconic photo, which judging from the rest of his body of work, was a fluke, as the rest of his career has been “meh”.

  • Goofball Jones

    He did use anything. He recreated a picture from scratch using the photo as inspiration. He didn’t take the photo and just put a filter on it. It’s obviously a derived work and perfectly legal. Didn’t stop Maisel from suing of course…and the kid couldn’t afford to fight it.

    It’s like if I shot a picture of Winton holding his trumpet at the same angle that Miles did in the Maisel photo. That would be legal, but I’m sure Maisel would cry bloody murder.

  • Mary

    i think all artists would agree that it sucks if somebody else takes your work and uses it for profit (!) without even asking for permission. this is not cool and if you still do it and get sued, well, you deserve it.

  • nate parker

    Herman Leonards Jazz photos are better anyways.

  • nate parker

    (in response to Steves comment below)

  • MMielech

    “the lower Manhattan mansion he bought in 1966 for only $102K (a purchase that has been called “the greatest real estate coup of all time”).”

    Uh…….mansion? Really? It was an old bank building on the Bowery, covered with grafitti that he saved from demolition, basically. I said, the Bowery. It’s not too far from where CBGBs operated for years. Now, kids, today the Bowery may have some spiffy new condos and cool bars, but, back then and even well into the late 80s, it was decrepit. You know that song the Rolling Stones recorded with the line about “people dressed in plastic bags, directing traffic”? That was the Bowery back then.

    Pretty cool building, though. Huge space, and, he used the ground floor as a basketball court. I haven’t seen it lately, but, even today, I highly doubt someone would call it a “mansion”.

  • Jake

    “If you’re not scared that you’re gonna lose it, it ain’t that great a picture.”

    One of those things that I always felt but never knew, and now, hearing them spoken, they are my words to live and shoot by.

  • Michael Comeau

    Mediocre at best? Jay Maisel was a hugely successful advertising photographer.

  • Andres Trujillo

    Sorry, Andy “Launcher of (Sold to yahoo), ex-member of board of directors of Kickstarter, host of controversial content which some parties wish to suppress” Baio is a poor guy now? screw that.

    Baio release a commercial venture, got licensing for EVERYTHING but the artwork, and got nailed on the artwork, the fact that he has a history of challenging copyright law as he sees fit just proves that he should have seen it coming.

    This wasn’t a case of “starving kid mugged by copyright steamroll” that Baio (and now you) made it seem. Read the whole story from both sides before continuing to spread misinformation

  • Andres Trujillo

    The same could have been said about the music (ok, 8 bit noise is music for the purpose of this post), yet he made DARN sure to get licensing for it.

    He would not have won in court for one simple reason, the work was commercial in nature. Period

  • Maisel was in the right

    i emailed the guy who did it and he admitted himself that he screwed up. He claimed fair use for the image. Did he do that for the music? No he didn’t he got licensing to use it. He should’ve got the image license as well. He chanced it, got caught and it cost him.

  • BernalChic

    commercial nature alone is not dispositive on fair use.

  • BernalChic

    As mansion is defined as “a large dwelling house”, his is certainly a mansion. It’s probably one of the largest single-family residences in Manhattan and pretty well restored inside.

  • BernalChic

    would love to see this magical email as this is currently his public, counsel-approved position

  • DafOwen

    We’re used to mansions being large grand out of town country houses – but IIRC it’s also historically been used as a term describing a inner-city residential building of a certain size – I THINK it’s over 4 floors. For London anyway.

  • MMielech

    Well, as they imply in the article, still looks like hell from the outside. And, it’s not really a single family residence. It’s a combo work/live space, that, I’m not too sure has a lot of value, because most photographers in NYC rent space these days, rather than taking on such an overhead.

    There were other more impressive RE “coups” bought back then. I was once offered a three bedroom co-op on E72nd St, one block from the park, for 72,000. Of course, I couldn’t afford it because I was a young, poor photo assistant. Now, it’s probably worth 3 million. And, it’s still on the upper east side, one block from the park. Not the Bowery, which is still a place for men to go urinate at night.

  • BernalChic

    Wow, you really have a poor understanding of what’s valuable in NYC real estate nowadays. UES is dying because that’s where the old people live. If you want cheap rent, you live on the UES.

  • MMielech

    You sound like you are very young and naive. You should buy on the bowery.

  • BernalChic

    I’m 32 and recently made a killing on my apartment in Williamsburg. Enjoy the park, grandpa.

  • MMielech

    ….That daddy and mommy probably bought for you.
    Have fun. Maybe somewhere in Greenpoint there’s an old bank building that people have been peeing on for decades you can buy and hide yourself in for the rest of your life. Like Jay.

  • BernalChic
  • Mike Austin

    The biggest let down of my life….!

  • BearCrow

    I teach 2 college level digital photography classes in a small town in Alaska and I am always searching out inspirational photographers to share with them in the hopes of conveying some of the passion of the art. This hits it on the mark. Thank you so much for this video and thank you so much for Jay Maisel. I sieh that someday our paths would intersect, but due to our proximity…probably not! In any case, I respect this man’s work, identify with his attitude, and am fascinated by his vision! THIS is what photography is all about! Thank you MR. MAISEL!