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Jay Maisel : Amanda


JAY: I had never thought about having a child. My wife, L.A., thought otherwise. I of course fell in love with Amanda and started photographing her even before she was born. She is now a young woman who has wit, wisdom, and a wicked sense of humor. I stand in awe of her. She is amazing. She also hates when I compliment her so I’m getting great joy here. I followed her everywhere, inside the bank and everywhere else. I was so afraid of missing moments that I had extra cameras hanging on hooks outside of each room.

L.A. was instrumental in making this all happen. She was, and is, the best mom this kid could have had. At one point I pointed out to L.A. that now, she had to think of my needs. She replied in a ice cold voice, “What exactly are your needs?” I said, “Do everything with her in good light.” I was 62 when Amanda was born and I just knew that this kid was going to be a Lulu. So I decided that she should be named Lulu. The nurse-administrator thought otherwise. “No child that I do the paperwork for is going to be stuck with that name just cause her dumbass father thinks it’s cute.”

Hence, Amanda.

Amanda did turn out to be a lulu and a joy. She claims I “ruined her life” and embarrassed her a “million times” by always pointing my damn camera at her (she loves looking at the pictures now). As I’m now crowding 90, I beg her not to take pictures of my half dressed, decrepit self. She just continues, smiles and says, “Payback’s a bitch, ain’t it Dad?”

And L.A. just laughs and laughs.

PS – There are 54 more boxes, of 750 slides each, of Amanda to edit…

when I’m older.


AMANDA: Most fathers take their children inside during a snowstorm. Most fathers tell their children not to use expensive technical equipment as a jungle gym. Most father do not publish pictures of their toddlers—via feats of incredible gymnastic flexibility—inspecting their own reproductive anatomy. My father is not most fathers. He is a man who looked at all of the above scenarios and thought to himself, “what a shot!” best not disturb the creature in her natural environment. But that impulse is exactly what makes this body of work more than just the saccharine showing off of an old, doting father.

These photos are evidence of the fact that I had much more freedom than most children. My mother and father let me paint my body and surrounding with just about any material—or food group—that caught my interest. They did not discipline me when I pulled apart drawers, suitcases, or pocketbooks. They did not yell when I poured out all of my sand sculptures on the ground to create a “beach” in front of the area heater in our bathroom, or when I filled it with about twenty rolls of shredded toilet paper so that my mom would not be sad that we hadn’t gotten any snow that winter. My father, who is by no means a patient man, even spared my young life, upon one occasion, when I thought it would be an exciting experiment to crouch down and pee directly into a box of slides he was about to edit. All for the sake of keeping my young imagination free.

People who have never met me, regularly tell my father that these are their favorite of his photos, and I used to wonder how that could be. But, with age, I have come to love these photos just as much, because I have realized what they really are: they are just as much a portrait of my father as they are of me. Taking pictures of me playing was his form of play and, in that way, he was always just another kid in the room.

My dad is a big kid. He looks at the world with the same sense of wonder and curiosity as kids do. He likes to take things apart to see how they work, just like kids do—he is really just a toddler with access to cameras, cigars, and a budget. But that is exactly what makes his work what it is: he is not concerned with presenting something complex to his viewer—he is concerned with sharing with them his excitement of what he is seeing and with bringing them into his world of play.

He has said his whole philosophy can be summarized by two words, “Hey, look!” And in these photos, he is discovering me as I discover the world and all its beauty and baffling complexity. When I look at these photos it is hard to tell who is having more fun, my father, or me. That is his magic: the world is always as new to him as it is to a child. He has never lost that sense of wonder and curiosity and joy. And he has always tried to instill in me the same sense of boundless wonder. For that, I thank him—and my mother, who is always behind the scenes making sure neither of us inadvertently kill ourselves in the process of seeking that joy.

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