Jay Maisel – Jay Myself – A Documentary

Photographer Profiles

November 7, 2018 ·

Kevin Raber

A Film by Stephen Wilkes

Before You Can See, You Have To look

Who doesn’t know Jay Maisel?  Many of look to Jay as the god of photography. He’s one of the most influential photographers I have ever met.  His wisdom and words are never contrived but always full of wisdom and inspiration.

Jay is one of those rare individuals who calls it as he sees it.  He is never boastful yet always taking his photography to the next step.  His vision and ability to see an image is just incredible.  Like many photographers who have ever spent time with Jay, we have found a place in our hearts for him.  I know many times I’m out photographing and the words and wisdom of Jay come floating through my mind.  It’s like he is always with you.

A number of years ago Michael Reichmann and Chris Sanderson visited Jay’s studio in the Bowery of New York City.  In short, Jay lives in a giant old bank building.  And in this building, Jay made his world.  I have included the video of this below. 

However, this is not what this article is about.  It’s about Stephen Wilkes a very well known photographer who has also been an inspiration to me and many of my photographer friends. When Stephen learned that Jay was going to move out of this incredible building, he set out to tell the story of Jay and how this amazing piece of property grew into a legendary location.

While this film will only be showing in NYC to begin, it is hoped that a wider method of distribution can be found so photographers everywhere can enjoy this amazing film.



DOC NYC also screens in the heart of Chelsea at the School of Visual Arts Theatre (on 333 West 23rd Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues).

DOC NYC‘s principal location is in Greenwich Village’s IFC Center (on Sixth Avenue at West Third Street).

Please visit DOC Center for tickets, Prices, Dates and Times

PRESS SCREENING: FRI. NOV. 2, 12:00 PM, IFC Center, 323 6th Ave. at W 3rd St.

Jay Myself is a documentary feature about renowned photographer and artist, Jay Maisel, who, in February 2015 after 48 years, begrudgingly sold his home; the 30,000 square‐foot, 100‐year‐old landmark building in Manhattan known simply as “The Bank.” The lm documents Jay’s monumental move through the eyes of filmmaker and Jay’s former associate, artist and photographer, Stephen Wilkes. It is through this intimate lens that the viewer is taken on an exquisite journey through Jay’s life as an artist, mentor, and man; a man grappling with time, life, change, and the end of an era in New York City.

Jay Maisel purchased the 1898 Germania Bank Building in 1967 for $102,000. For 48 years, he lived in the building with his wife and daughter, using it as not only as his studio and home but also as his personal museum of extraordinary things. A collector of anything and everything in which he found beauty, each floor of the building represented a cross-section of his mind; for the bank was more than just Jay’s home it was his muse, and he never, ever dreamed he’d have to leave.

Enter photographer Stephen Wilkes, the only lmmaker Jay would allow into his universe for the most significant transition of his life. At 19 years old, Stephen rang the bell at 190 Bowery and dropped o his portfolio. The next day, Jay brought him upstairs, past the studio Roy Lichtenstein was renting and hired him becoming Stephen’s lifelong mentor and friend. The year was 1979 an incredible time in the New York City neighborhood, the Bowery CBGB’s was thriving, Jean‐Michel Basquiat was writing “Samo” and Keith Haring was drawing “Barking Dog” in chalk on an old dilapidated bank building on Spring St. and the Bowery. “The Bank,” as it would soon come to be called, appeared abandoned for almost 40 years it’s windows boarded up, its walls covered in grati. But the rare few, lucky enough to venture inside, discovered a thriving artist paradise, home to the eccentric, barrel‐chested, cigar‐smoking photographer and artist, Jay Maisel.


2015, due to the high costs of taxes and maintenance, Jay was forced to sell the bank, for a staggering $55 million dollars, making it the single largest real‐estate sale in the history of New York City. Upon learning of the historic sale and Jay’s massive imminent move, Stephen knew he had to document it. And miraculously Jay let him in with a camera crew. Captured through an intimate lens of deep personal love and respect, Stephen takes viewers on a journey to the Wizard of Oz of the Downtown Art Scene an up close and personal look at the man behind the curtain and the mystique of “The Bank” he lived in.

The lm explores the true meaning of wealth in a time of excess, the joys, and complexities of a mentor/mentee relationship, and the journey of a man grappling with the onset of time and change. With unprecedented access to Jay, “The Bank” and everything in between, Jay Myself captures a moment in New York City history that we will never see again.

Directors Statement

My life’s passion for photography was discovered at a young age. During my last year of high school, I came across the iconic Time/Life books on photography, and it was through a volume entitled “Color” that I first saw the work of Jay Maisel. I remember flipping through the pages and every time I stopped on an image that struck me, the photographer’s credit remained the same, “Photograph by Jay Maisel.”

Jay’s pictures spoke to me. I knew that I wanted to be this master photographer’s apprentice. In my junior year of college, I mustered up the courage to call Mr. Maisel’s studio to ask if he would look at my work. Jay answered the phone (a rare occurrence), and he agreed to look at my portfolio. He asked me to leave a piece of paper in the portfolio so he could give me his comments. I went to his studio the next day, 190 Bowery, the old Bank of Germain building. The paper in my portfolio read, “TERRIFIC!, very wide range, I almost stole a few and there are some I don’t even understand yet. Please keep working and leave me your phone number Jay.” I interned for him that summer, spending every day in “The Bank,” as it came to be known. So began a mentorship that became a 38‐year friendship.

The building was Jay’s muse. Every floor represented a cross-section of his mind. There were 6 floors, 5000 sq. ft each of space for Jay to create in. It had a room just for his cardboard collection. It housed thousands of dye transfer prints, every issue of Fortune magazine ever printed, and a room filled with a collection of porcelain hands from a rubber glove factory. For a time, Roy Lichtenstein rented a floor.

Every major NY graffiti artist in the history of the medium tagged that building – including Basquiat and Keith Haring. Jay has lived without bounds in the busiest city in the world, ensconced in 30,000 square feet of creativity.

As years passed, and our friendship deepened, I told him that if he ever moved, I would have to document it. I never thought that day would happen. In 2014 due to severe financial pressures, Jay reluctantly decided to sell the building. He did so without a broker, and at the time it was the single largest private real estate sale in NYC history. Jay had purchased the bank for $102,000 in 1967 and sold it for 55 million dollars. I began shooting prior to the move with unfettered access, capturing the magic of the building as it was, as well as the remarkable, often sad and poignant emptying of this legendary space.

This film is about Jay the artist, Jay the man, Jay the mentor, and Jay the unwitting real estate mogul. It’s also about the building and what it represents to him, to me, and to New York City. The loss of the Bank mirrors the loss of creativity and diversity in NY, and beyond to all of America’s major cities – the unrelenting voracity of gentrification. Jay’s life as an artist, his unique way of seeing the world, his fascination with beauty, his childlike enthusiasm permeated the Bank – as it permeates this film. It is this quality that has inspired me throughout my career, and inspired the decision to make this documentary. We see his struggle with time and the loss of his home, which almost leads to a loss of his identity, but just when we begin to feel he has lost hope, he instead reinvents himself – finding new purpose at the age of 84. ‐ Stephen Wilkes, director

About Stephen Wilkes

Since opening his studio in New York City in 1983, photographer Stephen Wilkes has built an unprecedented body of work and a reputation as one of America’s most iconic photographers, widely recognized for his fine art, editorial and commercial work.

His photographs are included in the collections of the George Eastman Museum, James A. Michener Art Museum, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Dow Jones Collection, Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation, Jewish Museum of NY, Library of Congress, Snite Museum of Art, The Historic New Orleans Collection, Museum of the City of New York, 9/11 Memorial Museum and numerous private collections. His editorial work has appeared in and on the covers of, leading publications such as the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Time, Fortune, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, and many others.

In 1998, a one‐day assignment to the south side of Ellis Island led to a 5‐year photographic study of the island’s long-abandoned medical wards where immigrants were detained before they could enter America. Through his photographs and video, Wilkes helped secure $6 million toward the restoration of the south side of the island. A monograph based on the work, Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom, was published in 2006 and was named one of TIME magazine’s 5 Best Photography Books of the Year. The work was also featured on NPR and CBS Sunday Morning.

Day to Night, Wilkes’ most defining project, began in 2009. These epic cityscapes and landscapes, portrayed from a fixed camera angle for up to 30 hours capture fleeting moments of humanity as light passes in front of his lens over the course of a full day. Blending these images

into a single photograph takes months to complete. Day to Night will be published by TASCHEN as a monograph in 2019.

Wilkes directorial debut, the documentary film, Jay Myself, will premiere at DOC NYC in November of 2018. The film is an in-depth look into the world of photographer Jay Maisel and his move out of his 35,000 sq. foot building at 190 Bowery.

Wilkes, who lives and maintains his studio in Westport, CT, is represented by Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York; Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles; Monroe Gallery of Photography, SantaFe; Holden Luntz Gallery, Palm Beach; ArtitledContemporary in The Netherlands and ProjectB Gallery in Milan.

About Jay Maisel

Jay Maisel studied Graphic Design with Leon Friend at Abraham Lincoln High School. He then studied painting with Joseph Hirsch and attended Cooper Union. He received his BFA at Yale where he studied Color with Josef Albers.

Maisel began his career in photography in 1954. While his portfolio includes the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Miles Davis, he is perhaps best known for capturing the light, color, and gesture found in everyday life.

Some of his commercial accomplishments include five Sports Illustrated swimsuit covers, the first two covers of New York Magazine, the cover of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (the best‐selling jazz album of all time), twelve years of advertising with United Technologies, and awards from such organizations as ICP, ASMP, ADC, PPA, and Cooper Union.

Since he stopped taking on commercial work in 1995, Jay has continued to focus on his personal work. He has developed a reputation as a giving and inspiring teacher as a result of extensive lecturing and photography workshops throughout the country. He also hosted workshops at his residence at the 190 Bowery in New York City, from 2008‐2014, instructing approximately, 640 students over eight years. He continues to sell prints, which can be found in private, corporate, and museum collections.

Luminous-Landscape Visits Jay

Michael Reichmann and Jay having fun touring Jay’s studio

After traveling on a photography workshop together in the Amazon, Jay invited Michael and Chris to his studio.  The interview and tour of Jay’s home is part of this hour-long trip through Jay’s mind, life and home. 

This is a video that you should watch and listen to as Jay has some great thoughts about photography and life and shares them throughout the video.

Jay and Michael


Final Words

There is no one like Jay.  There is also no photographer like Stephen Wilkes.  I met Stephen back in my Phase One days when he began doing a series called Day to Night.  I was blown away by his images.  But, the ones that touched me the most were the series he did on Ellis Island.  Stephen did a lecture where he showed the images from this project and they were hauntingly beautiful. I applaud Stephen for undertaking this project about one of the living greats of photography.  Jay Maisel will capture our imaginations and wow us with his images for decades to come.

While I wish I could be in NYC for the showing of this film, I will be waiting impatiently for the film to come to a theater nearby or online.  It will be a film I will watch over and over again.

Thank you, Stephen and a big thanks to Jay for all you have done for photography and playing a key role as an influencer of my photography.

Kevin Raber
November 2018

Kevin Raber

Photography is my passion and has been for 45 plus years. My career in photography has allowed me to travel the world, meet some of the most interesting people on the planet and see things I could never have dreamed of. My goal is to share the passion of pictures taking through photographs and teaching with as many people as I can hoping it brings them as much joy and happiness as it has me. I do this through Rockhopper Workshops and other projects as well as teaching at my Gallery in Indianapolis.

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