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Photographer Art Shay at Mon­roe Gallery

The vet­eran photographer and writer Art Shay cites Honoré Dau­mier as a long­time in­spi­ra­tion for his fo­cus on civil rights, so­cial jus­tice, and crime. The 19th-cen­tury car­i­ca­tur­ist “taught me to aim my preda­tory cam­era at the con­tu­mely, at snob­bery, pre­ten­sions, cru­elty, and the ma­chin­ery of petty power,” Shay writes in his 2000 book Al­bum for an Age: Un­con­ven­tional Words and Pic­tures from the Twentieth Cen­tury. “Dau­mier was the only mas­ter I re­ally rec­og­nized,” Shay told Pasatiempo in mid-Novem­ber, “be­cause I fig­ured out that what he had done and the time he had done it, like the mid-1850s with a sketch­pad, was an ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ment. I feel that some of my pic­tures cap­ture some of what he was try­ing to cap­ture.”

A ret­ro­spec­tive of Shay’s images as a street photographer and from as­sign­ments with Life, Sports

Il­lus­trated, and other magazines, is now on ex­hibit at Mon­roe Gallery of Pho­tog­ra­phy, and Shay plans to be there for the open­ing on Fri­day, Nov. 25. The last time he was in New Mex­ico, he was an air cadet — it was World War II, and he would soon be serv­ing as a nav­i­ga­tor in a Con­sol­i­dated B-24 Lib­er­a­tor bomber on more than 50 mis­sions.

Shay was born in 1922 and grew up in the Bronx. In a 2013 piece about his years at Life, he writes that his fa­ther, Herman Shay, was once friends with Leon Trot­sky in Rus­sia but “had a fall­ing out with him. He came to Amer­ica and ended up in the fam­ily trade, a semi-em­ployed tai­lor dur­ing the De­pres­sion who taught me chess and gave me a life­time rev­er­ence for Chekhov, Tol­stoy, and Hem­ing­way. He taught me to be a men­sch and how to for­give. And as a bar mitz­vah present in 1935, he gave me his fold­ing Ko­dak.”

Shay some­times had oc­ca­sion to use a cam­era in the war years. “As a mat­ter of fact, I be­gan my real photo ca­reer at an air base,” he said. “Af­ter land­ing from a mis­sion, I heard this great noise in the sky, and I looked up, and there were 200 planes gath­er­ing around a buncher bea­con, which is a ra­dio sig­nal; they were all go­ing out on an­other mis­sion, and two of the Lib­er­a­tors sud­denly hit, and 20 kids were killed. I had seven pic­tures of them com­ing down from impact to the ball of fire on the ground.”

Af­ter the war, Shay was em­ployed for two years as a staff writer at Life mag­a­zine. He wrote about those times in a 2011 story in the Chicago­ist. “The best show,” he wrote, “was the great Life pho­tog­ra­phers and con­tribut­ing ge­niuses like Ansel Adams who desul­to­rily milled around on the 31st floor where most of the mag­a­zine happened. The day I met Adams, a big, bald­ing out­doorsy man, he was flum­moxed by the very first elec­tronic flash, sent by Hei­land, a Milwaukee strobe firm. ‘Imag­ine — not hav­ing to use flash­bulbs!’ Adams ex­claimed to Mar­garet Bourke White.” She then told the story of the time dur­ing the war that a flash­bulb ac­ci­den­tally ex­ploded as she was pos­ing Joseph Stalin; after­ward, the Soviet leader de­manded she give him the film she had ex­posed as he hid be­hind a sofa.

In 1949, Shay be­gan work­ing on a free­lance ba­sis for Life, Time, Sports Il­lus­trated, and other magazines. A small sam­ple of his deep port­fo­lio boasts pic­tures of Mar­cel Marceau, the Supremes, Vince Lom­bardi, Jimmy Hoffa, Johnny Cash, Nikita Khrushchev, nine U.S. pres­i­dents, Cas­sius Clay, Judy Gar­land, and Ti­mothy Leary. There are also hun­dreds (or thou­sands) of images of non-celebri­ties, the re­sults of his can­did work as a street photographer, which in­cluded a se­ries of ex­plo­rations of Chicago with writer Nel­son Al­gren dur­ing the 1950s. Shay also worked with photographer Fran­cis Reeves Miller on about 40 sto­ries. Ac­cord­ing to the Chicago­ist piece, Miller was the one who taught him “the art of hid­ing cam­eras in shoe shine boxes, brief­cases, cig­a­rette lighters, in elab­o­rate bow ties, in holes in jack­ets my wife would come to hate. He taught me the art of the stake­out, espe­cially of Mafia types.”

More than 70 books bear Shay’s author­ship. “There were a lot of kids’ books,” he said by way of ex­pla­na­tion. “I raised five kids, and I did things to an­swer their ques­tions: ‘What hap­pens when you mail a let­ter, daddy?’ ‘What hap­pens when you put money in the bank?’ ” So his re­sumé in­cludes What It’s Like to Be a

Nurse and What Hap­pens in a Car Fac­tory, as well as 40 Com­mon Er­rors in Golf and Win­ning Rac­quet­ball ;in 2012, this ver­i­ta­ble Re­nais­sance man was in­ducted into the National Rac­quet­ball Hall of Fame.

Among the images in a 2002 book ti­tled An­i­mals are Ken­tucky Derby thor­ough­breds and mon­keys in lit­tle rac­ing cars. “As a Life reporter,” he writes in those pages, “I named the first pair of oc­to­puses that mated in cap­tiv­ity.” His 2003 book Cou­ples has some splen­did pho­to­graphs of cou­ples — and of a cou­ple of pigs, a cou­ple of men out­side Ed’s Tap & Restau­rant, a cou­ple of nuns, and a cou­ple of clowns. He also wrote sev­eral plays. His most re­cent book is My Florence ,a photo-es­say on his beloved wife, who died in 2012. “She was a fa­mous rare-book dealer and the friend of a lot of writ­ing types and act­ing types,” he said. “We just sent an in­vi­ta­tion to one of them, David Mamet.”

An­other book is now in the works at Univer­sity of Chicago Press. Its sub­ject will be the same as was fea­tured in last year’s Shay ex­hi­bi­tion at the Gage Gallery in Chicago. Called Trou­ble­mak­ers, the show fo­cused on “the chaos Chicagoans ex­pe­ri­enced in their fight for civil rights from 1948 to 1970,” ac­cord­ing to a gallery de­scrip­tion. “One of the images is of black peo­ple with a sign that says, ‘If you be­lieve in hu­man rights, Mr. Mayor, how come there are no blacks in your neigh­bor­hood?’ It’s about the ironies of so­cial change,” Shay said. “There are pic­tures of kids demon­strat­ing, a lot of po­lice bru­tal­ity, the 1968 Demo­cratic National Con­ven­tion, and also a lot of good kid pic­tures and some oth­ers about a hu­man-rights battle in my own com­mu­nity, Deer­field, Illi­nois, in the early 1950s. There’s lots of ac­tion and lots of violence. I’ve al­ways been the go-to photographer in Chicago for this kind of pic­ture, as well as for in­tel­lec­tual sports pic­tures like the guy in the vines.”

It was less than two weeks af­ter the Chicago Cubs had stunned the sports world by win­ning the World Se­ries, and we had al­ready dis­cussed Shay’s great 1961 photo of an out­fielder try­ing to catch a fly ball while al­most to­tally sub­merged in the fa­mous ivy at the back of Wrigley Field. The im­age shows a line of fans lean­ing out of the stands re­act­ing to the base­ball about to en­ter the gloved hand stick­ing out of the tan­gle of vines.

Asked about fa­vorite cam­eras over the years, Shay said, “I was mostly a Le­ica user, an ex­per­i­menter, and I’d adapt to all kinds of ac­tiv­i­ties. My back­ground was as a reporter and then a bureau chief at Life mag­a­zine; I was the youngest bureau chief. When I was twen­tysix or twenty-seven, I was head of the San Fran­cisco bureau. I still have a bunch of cam­eras and cam­era parts that I gaze at fondly ev­ery now and then. And I would de­sign trick cam­eras for cer­tain uses. I did about 80 Mafia sto­ries — with a hid­den cam­era, usu­ally. My wife was my as­sis­tant, and she had a fa­vorite purse cam­era, with which she nailed the head of the Cleve­land Mafia, a guy named Moe Dalitz, who was two ta­bles away.”

The Mon­roe Gallery show features 50 pho­to­graphs, a pithy sam­pling from a very long ca­reer. “I’ve had some­thing like 1,200 mag­a­zine cov­ers,” Shay said. “That’s a lot of com­ings and go­ings and pack­ings and un­pack­ings.”

Art Shay: Muham­mad’s Grand­child With Black Mus­lim Sis­ters, 1969; top left, Two Chiefs — John F. Kennedy Re­ceives Na­tive Amer­i­can Re­quest, 1960; op­po­site page, “Be Kind Now,” circa 1950

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