The Wonderment of Jay’s Creative Vision

“The Wonderment of Creative Vision” is not only the title of Martins Ferry photographer Jay Stock’s new book, but also a succinct definition of the master’s approach to his craft.

The exclusive volume, measuring 11 by 14 inches, contains 96 of Stock’s classic images, selected from less than 5 percent of his complete body of work. Alessandro Baccari, a curator, photographer, educator and author from San Francisco, chose the photographs and wrote the captions. The book, printed to order, was designed by H&H, a color lab in Kansas City, Kan., Stock said.

This photographic masterpiece book will be part of the permanent collections of 25 art museums in the United States, Stock said. The images date from 1946, when he started in the business, to the present day.

The selected photographs represent a variety of subjects – from coal miners, Native Americans and Amish to fields of flowers, hobos and Wiccans -and a wide range of locations throughout the United States and in Mexico, Nova Scotia, Europe and Africa.

In the book’s forward, Baccari wrote, “In his photography Stock explores the development of imagination and the creative process from start to finish. For Stock creativity is a survival skill, and the cutting edge is within one’s mind. As a photographer with an independence of mind he has made his own laws of composition, and in so doing has brought originality to his work.

“His photography serves as a reminder of the continuing wonderment of creative vision,” Baccari observed. “Each of his photographic images is dramatically unique, and they present his insights pertaining to composition, lighting and design.”

The curator concluded, “Capturing the essence of emotion is what Stock excels in. He continually explores for maximum self-expression. Each of his photographs dares to be different and dramatically unique. Each of the images in the book relates a story as told by a master storyteller.”

Another educator, author and photographer, William S. McIntosh of Virginia Beach, Va., observed that Stock’s work “does not fit any niche” and “his style changes to fit whatever he feels will make the best image of his subject, be it scenery or people.”

McIntosh commented, “The feelings, moods and emotion in much of his work is visual and cannot be described with words.”

Praising the new project, Jason Hailey, an artist and photographer from Playa Del Rey, Calif., said, “The handsome book is of the highest quality – images of astute vision and sensitive feeling glow and vibrate.” He told Stock, “Your viewpoint is astonishing with unique insight in a diversity of subjects, all treated with selective expertise and passion.”

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Baccari, who, like Stock, is in his 80s, said, “I’ve known Jay Stock for a number of years. I met him at photographic sessions. He came out to California when I was representing the Professional Photographers of California. We brought him out to speak. He was also in Tennessee when I gave a major lecture. We have been old friends.”

He called Stock a treasure and a legend. As a photographer, “he (Stock) is endlessly searching for how to express emotion,” his friend observed. “His work stands out.”

The Californian said, “Photography is a miracle of instant images of what we see … When it becomes an art form, they (photographers) seem to find something that is quite exciting. That exictment to me is the eye, when the eye becomes the window of the soul. It’s a primary means by which the sensory part of the brain does something wonderful. We begin to contemplate the infinite works of nature. This is what an artist does.”

Through photographic images, “he (Stock) captures almost the essence of a subject, the soul of a person,” Baccari said, adding that Stock sculpts with light so that “the image takes on a new meaning.”

Citing another aspect of Stock’s work, Baccari said, “Jay still prints. The excitement comes when you go into the darkroom. In a sense, it’s like a church or a temple. The image comes alive before your eyes. It’s an exciting experience. You get something similar in digital, but not the same as in film.”

Reflecting on his friend, the curator said, “In the twilight of his life, he’s daily making this pilgrimage, this journey. He’ll call and say, almost child-like, ‘You’ll have to see what I’m sending you.’ He’s an amazing individual in that he has this deep sensitivity. He has this miner’s spirit … He has this beautiful Midwestern quality. Oh, it’s so beautiful. It’s the spirit of America.

“From his work, you see drama and excitement come into focus. He has sculpted and planned it through the use of light. His work is beautiful to see,” Baccari commented.

“I find a joy in the gift of his friendship. Because we’re able to share pleasure and laughter, and creativity keeps this man alive, and that, to me, is very, very exciting,” Baccari said. “When he calls, I encourage him. We, in our 80s, go on and on … Like Johnny Appleseed, Jay goes and he photographs.”

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Regarding the “Wonderment” project, Baccari said, “It’s a joy, and I had a lot of fun doing the book. I got to see kind of the inside of Jay. I got to see inside his mind, his heart. I also got to see that eye, that I feel so strongly about. The eye is the window of the soul.”

The curator noted that Stock takes pictures that no one else would think of capturing, such as a shot of an abandoned Volkswagen in a desert. “Jay can take a swamp and give it beauty beyond its own reflection,” he said.

In Stock’s image of two older prostitutes in a doorway, “he sees their tears, but also their dignity. They’re sorry that they are who they are, but they can’t escape who they are. He captures that,” Baccari said.

Referring to Stock’s shot of a tribesman, the curator remarked, “Wow, he captures the soul of Africa in that face, with the hanging earring and the weight of that earring.” Through photos of a sculptor, Stock evokes the traditions of old-world craftsmanship, the curator added.

Admiring the diversity of Stock’s work, Baccari selected contrasting images for the book, including shots as varied as a clothes line, a rock formation, a child laborer and an old man in a church.

“All these things leave me an everlasting memory of his work,” Baccari said. “I have a gallery in my head. That’s when an artist hits you hard. I’m blessed that they stay with me. When I think of Jay, I guess I can see his face, but more than that, I see his work.”

Stock is “self-taught in his knowledge for the journey. He just sees the beauty in people. He applies something that is precious. In this manner. he enshrines humanity,” Baccari commented. “Each time he takes his camera, with his little fingers that are gnarling and his vision that is going, he’s up there making that journey. He’s making friends. He’s making this journey almost a prayer … Jay drops these little seeds of love … Once Jay puts that camera to his eye and looks in the viewfinder, all of a sudden his imagination goes to work.”

Drawing a parallel with the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” the San Francisco photographer remarked, “That camera will lead Jay home. He’s made his journey. Jay, with that camera, truly pays tribute to God’s creations. There’s spirituality in Jay’s work that maybe he doesn’t even realize himself. But he captures things that, when they’re there, they’re prayers. That’s fabulous, in my mind. He constantly searches. He’s curious. He’s self-educating himself. He’s doing it constantly.”