For over 70 years, American photographer Art Shay has documented life, combining his gifts of storytelling, humor and empathy. Born in the Bronx, New York, in 1922, Art Shay has pursued photography since his teens, and he took his first Leica to war with him. His first published photographs—documenting a midair collision over his English Air Base—were printed in a September 1944 issue of Look magazine. In fact, during World War II, he was then lead navigator on 30 missions in the Eighth Air Force. His service, which also includes 23 combat supplies missions, earned him five Air Medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.
Upon returning to civilian life, Shay then wrote Sunday features for the Washington Post before becoming a staff reporter for Life magazine. In San Francisco at age 26, he became Life’s youngest bureau chief. His specialty was story ideas and he wrote text and captions for photographers such as Alfred Eisenstaedt, Peter Stackpole, Wallace Kirkland and Francis Miller.
Shay moved to Chicago in late 1948. A longtime fan of literature, he befriended novelist Nelson Algren, the winner of the first National Book Award for Fiction. Throughout the 1950s, they wandered Chicago documenting Algren’s “rusty heart” neighborhoods. And there are portraits of other novelists. “The first author I ever shot was Ernest Hemingway,” he says. “I was given the job of escorting Ernest around our base because I was the only one around who knew his work.”
In 1951, Shay left his staff position at Life magazine and became a freelance photographer. He found success shooting for major magazines including Life, Time, The New York Times Magazine, and more. Shay earned a reputation for getting the shots editors wanted. As former editor of Life and Fortune Roy Rowan put it: “Art Shay’s extraordinary talent lies in capturing the human spirit of all those who come before his lens.”
Shay’s images range from photographs of nine US Presidents, to the early 1960s Post cereal box baseball card photographs, to a forty-year ongoing essay of a local shopping mall. He is the author of nearly 70 books, including several dozen nonfiction children’s books. His last formal assignment was in 1988, when he shot the night the lights went on at Wrigley Field for Time Magazine. He is first of all a wanderer of the different streets throughout the United States, as one picture of the streets of Chicago in 1950 shows it. “I took this street montage near 26th and California Ave,” he recalls. “It’s a lovely accident, created by a mis-wound Super Ikonta B. The Super Ikonta B’s main feature was an 80mm lens that focused through a range finder and you focused it by turning around one element. I was playing around with the camera because I thought it was peculiar that it took 11 shots on a roll. I shot this, essentially four frame, montage while shooting out from my 1949 Pontiac car window.”
October 6 to November 19, 2017
Monroe Gallery of Photography
112 Don Gaspar Ave
Santa Fe, NM 87501