~ An AmeriCollector.com Exclusive ~
The famous Chicago-based photographer, at a spry 88, collects his thoughts on collecting, collectors and how his world-class collection came to be collected
Introduction by David Chesanow
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A few months ago I was purchasing a couple of books via long-distance phone call from a very nice lady named Florence who owns a bookshop in Highland Park, Ill., called Titles, Inc., which sells rare books. Never having been to the Prairie State and unfamiliar with its geography, I assume every city in Illinois is near Chicago, so I asked Florence if she had anything by one of my favorite writers, Nelson Algren, author of “A Walk on the Wild Side” (published in 1956 and set in New Orleans, but many of Algren’s stories – like “The Man with the Golden Arm” and my favorite, “Never Come Morning” – take place in the Windy City.)
Florence paused, then said, “Are you asking about Algren because my husband and I were friends of his?”
“I had no idea,” I replied, completely taken by surprise. “I don’t even know your last name.”
“It’s Shay,” Florence said. “My husband is the photographer Art Shay.”
Those who believe in coincidence – and even those who don’t, and who are sure that all good things happen for a reason because cosmic forces are at work – can imagine my rare moment of speechlessness and delight!
That’s because Art Shay – one of whose photos is on the dust jacket of the first edition of “A Walk on the Wild Side” – is one of the greatest photographers of the last century and this one as well. Even if you don’t know Art by name, you probably know photos he has taken: Jim Brosnan’s mitted hand extending from a vine-covered wall at Wrigley Field (like the Arthurian arm in the lake holding Excalibur) to make a catch; Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa blustering from a podium with his own giant image as the backdrop à la “Citizen Kane”; National Guardsmen poised in front of Chicago’s Conrad Hilton Hotel (cheerfully emblazoned with “Welcome Democrats”) before confronting angry protestors at the 1968 Democratic Convention (originally taken for Time magazine, but Art says they didn’t use it, opting instead to use a shot of a tank and soldiers in a haze of teargas as half the story’s lead page, and one of youths swarming a statue in Grant Park as the full-page closer); and any number of others. Art has captured amazing images of some of the most celebrated Americans of our era – from John F. Kennedy, a young Marilyn Monroe and Hugh Hefner to Marlon Brando and Muhammad Ali – as well as taken many wonderful photos of Nelson Algren, the people of Chicago and thousands of other subjects.
Now 88, Art is originally from the Bronx and served as lead navigator aboard a B-24 Liberator flying missions over Europe in World War II (and twice helped lead the entire Eighth Army Air Force – 1,200 planes – to Berlin a week after D-Day); he also navigated the first non-combat flight from Guam to Tokyo following the Japanese surrender, bringing Gen. Douglas McArthur’s advance staff to Tokyo to organize GHQ and the occupation.
Art’s photographs – both black-and-white and color – have appeared in and/or on the covers of the America’s most popular magazines over the past six decades: from Life to Look to Esquire, from Sports Illustrated to the Saturday Evening Post, from Playboy to Boy’s Life. I absolutely love them, and I invite you to check them out at as well as see some of Art’s images at the Museum of Contemporary Photography Web site (collections.mocp.org) and to read his illustrated essay “The Democratic Convention – Chicago 1968” at www.swans.com.
Art is hugely admired by photographers, collectors and a legion of fans who just love a damn great photo. Nor is he one to sit on his laurels and play golf all day: He continues to make pure art with his camera.
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For example, rock musician Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) recently hired Art to shoot a three-year project involving Corgan’s creation of 41 new songs for some possible new albums he plans to market himself. Art explained that Corgan, “an astute businessman as well as artist who can’t believe the flurry of interest the tabloids have in his romantic life with celebrated and beautiful young performers,” got the idea of documenting the evolution of the albums after reading Art’s book “Chicago’s Nelson Algren” in one sitting. Corgan’s studio is only three miles from the Shay house in Deerfield, so Art just drops in at daylong rehearsals with digital Nikons, Canons and his trusty film Leicas whenever it’s convenient for both artists. (In fact, Leica Camera Inc. has just offered Art the use of their new M9 digital camera for the rest of the project. Art also proudly remembers being the first professional photographer to try the Canon 7 with its humongous .095 lens. He has the uncanny ability to recall each camera, lens and exposure used on most of his pictures: “I did my portrait of Liz Taylor by candlelight at the Ambassador East with that fantastic .095 lens: 1/30th of a second at .095. What a lens! What a woman!”)
Art is also a great and prolific writer – the author of dozens of books on a variety of subjects, all featuring his photography: “Album for an Age: Unconventional Words and Pictures from the Twentieth Century,” “Art Shay: Chicago Accent,” “Chicago’s Nelson Algren,” “Couples,” “Animals”; children’s books (“What Happens at the Circus,” “What Happens When You Turn on the Gas,” “What It’s Like to Be a Fireman” and many more); and sports (“40 Common Errors in Tennis and How to Correct Them” and similar titles for golf and racquetball). Some of the older books are bylined “Arthur Shay,” if you want to search for them online.
Having had the great honor and pleasure of corresponding with Art, I can attest to the fact that he is as “real,” down-to-earth and captivating as the pictures he takes. I’m also OVERJOYED to say that he has graciously written a warm, often funny and very moving story for AmeriCollector.com, which appears below …
Finally, if you want to give yourself or the photography lover in your life a real gift, Florence Shay (who writes a fantastic blog that any bibliophile will enjoy: It’s at http://tr.im/florence) has copies of Art’s most recent books, “Album for an Age,” “Couples,” “Animals,” “Art Shay: Chicago Accent” and “Chicago’s Nelson Algren,” which you can purchase signed by Art. (“Couples” and “Animals” are especially popular sellers.) Contact Florence through her blog or by calling Titles, Inc., at (847) 432-3690.
And if you want to purchase prints of Art’s photos, contact Paul Berlanga at Chicago’s Stephen Daiter Gallery (www.stephendaitergallery.com, where you can see excellent examples of Art’s work): Call (312) 787-3350.
A photographer looks at his work – and his collectors
By Art Shay
[singlepic id=288 w=320 h=240 float=left]My favorite practitioner of graphic satire before I entered the lists is, of all people, Honoré Daumier, who wandered the streets and courthouses of Paris 150 years ago as I did in Chicago in the more recent fifties and sixties: Daumier with his caricaturizing pencil, I with my caricaturizing camera – wicked instruments both. Henry James, again of all people, attributed the swelling of journalism by Daumier and George Cruikshank to the rise of pictorial satire.
“The stream of time is in this case mainly the stream of journalism …” James wrote presciently in an 1893 essay on Daumier.
My entire oeuvre rests on another James observation in the same essay: “A society has to be old before it becomes critical, and it has to become critical before it can take pleasure in the reproduction of its incongruities by an instrument as impertinent as the indefatigable crayon” – or, in my case, mutatis mutandis: my Leica.
I just got off the phone with the great Paul Berlanga, chief of staff at the Stephen Daiter Gallery (Chicago’s best) and my friend of the past 30 years. Paul has almost single-handedly guided my pictures up the money slope from the $350 I was glad to command for the vintage prints I had made for myself after shooting a story, say, for Life magazine to a median of around $1,500 for 11 x 14s. When I showed some 80 prints at the Galerie Albert Loeb (www.galerieloeb.com) in Paris in 2008, it was Paul who helped convince Albert Loeb (who came from a family of Picasso and Matisse sellers) that he should charge 1,725 euros (about $2,200 per today’s exchange rate) for my Chicago pictures.
“Shall I send some of my aerial combat pictures made over Paris in World War II?” I asked. “And some lovely candids of a beautiful American girl alone with the ‘Mona Lisa’?”
“No, my dear friend,” Albert said unhesitantly. “Our Paris collectors are more interested in your views of Cheecago, not Paris. They know Paris and wonder about Cheecago.”
[singlepic id=276 w=380 h=280 float=left]We sold around half of the photos, and the orders are still trickling in – especially for my famous dorsal nude candid of Simone de Beauvoir, who was my friend Nelson Algren’s Cheecago girlfriend. The French press (in the form of a cover of Le Nouvel Observateur) and a New Yorker article about the picture helped sales to no end, so to speak.
(Ironically, my wonderful archivist Erica DeGlopper recently found several frontal nude bathroom pictures I had done of Simone but planned not to release until my death. Erica and my collection were honored by the Society of American Archivists in the May/June issue of Archival Outlook.)
As it happens, the redoubtable publisher Eric Vieljeux of 13e Note Éditions (13th Note Editions) and I have a handshake deal for a small French book next year, telling the story behind my nude picture of the great philosopher and, according to Algren, lousy novelist. He reviewed her book “The Mandarins” (purportedly telling of their great Chicago love affair) in Harper’s and noted that the lady had invaded her own privacy.
“I’ve been in whorehouses all over the world, and even in the Far East they have the decency to pull down the blinds,” Algren observed.
(When Simone phoned Algren from France to berate him for his negative review, asking him if he hadn’t enjoyed their lovemaking as much as she, he replied, “Yes, but I wasn’t reviewing the fucking, I was reviewing the fucking book.”)
One of the rarer dishes on my table at the moment is a plan by Johnny Depp to film the Algren–de Beauvoir Chicago love story. Depp is considering casting his beautiful French wife, Vanessa Paradis, as Simone, and has hired the Swede Lasse Hallström as director. This is for 2011, with the film apparently to be shot in Chicago after Depp finishes yet another pirate movie. His agent avers that “Johnny will be in touch with you.”
(Hollywood has its own clock and calendar. In this connection my wife gave me Joseph Heller’s sadly humorous book on his adventures with the mañana-mouthed movie people who kept him on a 15-month series of tenterhooks even after he got his money.)
Depp’s agent has sent him my two books on Algren and has so far bought two of my Algren–de Beauvoir pictures, framed them, and given them to Depp for his birthday, reporting that the actor likes them.
So now, among my showbiz collectors, I can add Depp to rocker Billy Corgan; actors Jennifer Aniston, John Cusack and William Petersen; and my old friend, the late Marcel Marceau. Oh – and one of my favorite collectors and the writer of the forewords for two of my books: David Mamet. David says he’s cheered up when he comes down to his desk to work in the morning “and I see your picture of Maxwell Street at dawn hanging over my desk. I used to live there.” Recently David asked me for permission to use the same picture on the cover of his upcoming autobiography. He’s likened my pictures to the bums who used to tug at his sleeve.
[singlepic id=278 w=320 h=240 float=left]I perhaps made a mistake joking with master jokester Mamet. I had helped him “collect” a World War II–era Kodak Retina III, the kind of camera Mamet owned and lost long ago. Periodically he’s sent me a snap or two to critique. Of one pretty good self-portrait of David in a mirror, I wrote back: “It’s fine, but don’t give up your day job.” No riposte came back, so I guess I’ll stick to photo criticism and lay off the humor.
Another of my favorite collectors – who collects bird pictures as well as my grungy Chicago views, and whose nickname is Birdman – took me to the recent Chicago Art Institute exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson. I thought it a great 500-picture display, but only a very few pictures filled me with a sense of joy. (In this area I much like the picture of two human strollers compositionally repeating the two statues on the background structure.) Albert Loeb, on his recent visit from Paris, told me, “I knew Bresson and I know you. He is such a cold man. Your pictures are much warmer and have great sympathy in them.”
Of course, Loeb himself is a gracious man of the arts and a friend. He attributes the warmth in my work to my being Jewish. Perhaps. I also attribute it to my visceral love of life and my understanding of death’s insistence. I learned that from flying 52 combat missions in my B-24, Sweet Sue, in World War II. And with the heartbreak that comes with having my oldest son, Harmon Shay, murdered at 21. And not even having his body returned from the Florida swamps, where he presumably perished in 1972. Florence and I have four spirited children: Richard Shay, Steve Shay and Lauren Shay Lavin are much-published photo-journalists; and our-daughter-the-lawyer, Jane Shay Wald, an intellectual-property attorney, was recently named by Super Lawyers magazine to their 2010 “Top 100 Lawyers” list for Southern California.
My wife, Florence, knows collecting better than I: She’s the proprietor of the world-renowned antiquarian bookstore Titles, Inc., in Highland Park, Ill. Florence’s collector-clients have included a Chicago Bear, a Chicago Bull, Billy Corgan, David Mamet, 11-time champion professional wrestler Bret the Hitman Hart, two unjailed Illinois governors and many others. She carried on (if that’s the phrase) a correspondence with Joseph Heller – one of her favorite authors – and so has an extensive collection of signed first editions of “Catch-22.”
[singlepic id=285 w=380 h=300 float=left]One of the glories of selling to collectors is usually not having much of a clue to their likes … This week I’m pulling up some prints of Life magazine photos of society ladies Hula Hooping on Michigan Avenue in the sixties, as well as some prints for a prominent legal firm in Chicago collecting Chicagoana. They like my picture of the first Mayor Richard Daley exultant on a grandstand in front of City Hall, celebrating the 1957 Chicago White Sox pennant with his young son, now mayor of Chicago himself. My old friend and subject, Bill Veeck, owner of the Sox, is up there with the Daleys. It was Veeck who set off baseball’s first home-run fireworks. This helped light the night sky for my first Sports Illustrated cover, on July 4, 1960. (Attention baseball collectors: Someplace in Veeck’s estate my print must still exist – autographed by Minnie Miñoso, who hit the homer that precipitated the fireworks. But not, alas, by me.)
I didn’t become aware that people were collecting my photos until years later when one of my first collectors, a Chicago restaurateur, bought my picture of Muhammad Ali (still Cassius Clay at that time) knocking out Alex Miteff in Louisville in 1961. The restaurateur gave it to his then-partner, Michael Jordan, for the “Celebrities Room” at their ill-fated LaSalle Street restaurant. I heard Jordan praise my picture on his wall on opening night. Michael had gotten Ali to autograph the print next to my proud signature. I’m sure it’ll turn up in some collection one far-off day – possibly in the house of one of Jordan’s handsome, smart, sports-savvy children.
My royalty check from – bless ’em – Time Inc. this month includes payment for my famous picture of Ray Kroc in the sixties, eating a hamburger in front of his first McDonald’s, in Des Plaines, Ill. (My gallery has a one-off 4 x 5-foot framed copy of the Kroc photo that cost me $900 to frame. My gallery man, Paul, aims to approach McDonald’s about buying the print: better on their wall than on mine.) The same check covers photos of Arnold Palmer winning the 1960 Masters, some Teamsters picketers, the 108-year-old last survivor of the Civil War (from the Union side) and Dolly Parton.
Time Inc.’s picture choices have always been enigmatic. Now these secondary-use sales are further funneled through Getty Images. Last year a friend of mine at the photo agency Polaris Images discovered that a New York hotel chain was using my dorsal nude of Simone to illustrate their dinner menu. The chain came up with a considerable sum for an out-of-court settlement. The hotel admen apparently thought I wouldn’t care or was dead.
Hell, I’m only 88!
Incidentally, I’ve had photos on more than 1,000 covers of all kinds, from Ford Motor Company and 3M annual reports to magazines like Time, Life, Fortune, the Sunday New York Times Magazine and Sports Illustrated to all the covers on the 50+ books I’ve published. (Heck, it wasn’t a cover, but four years ago the New York Times Magazine ran six of the pictures I did of my own heart surgery- shot before I went “under” – as their back-page “Lives” feature. They even used a picture of Florence.)
Two of my plays have been produced professionally: “A Clock for Nikita” in 1963 and “Where Have You Gone, Jimmy Stewart?” four years ago. (Stewart was my Air Force squadron commander, though I didn’t fly with him. “Nikita” was about a creative Russian who designed an alarm clock that played Tchaikovsky and woke the workers up happy … and what happens to a free spirit in a closed society …)
I can’t decide whether to send Johnny Depp’s agent, the ebullient Tracey Jacobs, two of my unproduced attempts at a play about the great Nelson-Simone love affair. She might advise me not to give up my day job.
All Art Shay photographs copyright (c) Art Shay and used with the kind permission of the photographer