Men Like Me.  Photographs and text by Bill Jay.
Men Like Me.  booktease preview.

Men Like Me.

Photographs and text by Bill Jay.
Nazraeli Press, Tucson, 2005. 52 pp., 40 duotone plates, 6½x9".

At the risk of sounding soft and sentimental, this is a beautiful, soulful, poignant little book. Jay has earned his place in the pantheon of photographic critics by dint of decades of dedicated iconoclasm, but his own work as a photographer, other than his 1983 book of portraits, has been relatively seldom seen. Men Like Me should be a brisk awakening to anyone who thinks that those who can't make art, write about it instead. Jay’s routine has been to walk around his adopted Southern California beachside town at dawn, photographing the weathered walls and alleys, and the equally weathered men who live there. The men are down and out (or outright homeless), and Jay has made a strong series of close-ups of the arroyos and whiskery groundcover that surround their open, knowing eyes. The black-and-white portraits are juxtaposed with color images of the alleys, and all of the pictures are tied together with bits of the conversations Jay has had with these men. This is a risky aesthetic combination, but Jay’s skill as an image maker and writer, and his empathy with the men, ties the whole package together to form an affecting whole. The book isn’t a documentary or a social polemic, and doesn't feel like it panders to its subjects. As the title suggests, Jay is simply drawn to the men he photographs because he senses his kinship with them. In fact, part of the power of the book lies in what the photographer reveals about himself between the lines: an admiration for men who’ve seen some of the worst that life can dish out and still retained their self-respect; and the all-too-realistic fear that, should we fall away from the small world that knows and cares for us, we may well be left to die alone and unremembered. PHIL HARRIS

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