When did you know that you wanted to be a photographer?
J S: I had a darkroom in my house already when I was 14 years old. My dad built it for me, not knowing why. I was a farm boy growing up upstate New York, photography wasn't in our family, didn't know anyone who did it, but for some reason, I fell in love with it. I think once I got a camera-you probably have heard the story, for Christmas-I wanted to learn how to print, so from early age I was making pictures. In high school, you couldn't take a photography class until senior year. I just immersed myself in it, loved it so much. I couldn't stop reading those popular photography magazines. But I almost feel as much passion for photo art-making today as I did back then-I am very grateful to feel that way.
You have worked and lived as a photographer; how was that for you? Did you separate the work of photojournalism and your “artistic” work or was it all one world for you?
J S: It was all one world for me. After I graduated from high school, I went to the New England School of Photography in Boston, Mass., right off the farm kind of thing. The big city was quite an adjustment. The school was in its infancy then, but it's a good school, and it's still there. I picked it because I didn't have to take any other classes, it was strictly a technical school, and that's all I wanted to do. The instructors I got to know would take you to their studios. It was mid to late seventies, and it gave me, for the first time, a direction where to take my photography. It was very influential.
During this time my parents retired. They didn't have a lot of money, and I was in Boston having too much fun. I started feeling guilty, and I found out that the Navy had a photography program, so I checked into that. I never thought I would be in the service, but I did it. I was in for seven years. One of those was a sabbatical, when I went to Syracuse University for photojournalism graduate school. All my jobs for the Navy were journalistically related, and they took you to pretty incredible places, like Iceland. Yes, I lived in Iceland for a year. My first station was in Key West Florida for three years, working in a little photo lab and doing assignments out of there; no uniform, people would ask what do you do? I would say I'm in the Navy, and they would laugh. But I was, and had free supplies, and wherever I was stationed I would go to local Community College classes and in one of them I learned about Robert Frank or Cartier-Bresson and to me that's journalism. And it is.
So, yes, it is all in one bag, and always has been to me. I've been to places where they don't want it in one bag but, I'm sorry I can only do it my way. So yes, the answer to your question is that it is one thing.
Because a lot of artists grapple with that question and have a hard time with it whereas for other artists it is impossible to separate their “artwork” and their “work for hire.” And you can see it in the work. Was it a challenge to not separate the two?
J S: It's very difficult to make a living when you are not really adjusting to people's needs. I remember when I got out of the Navy-which I did here in Jacksonville, that is how I ended up here-because they left me alone in the Navy. I did their work, and they were happy with it. There was never any discussion. Then I was out, and I had to make a living, and I started exhibiting right away. There were some local places and I got involved with the art scene-I was only 23 years old. Ad agencies, Annual Reports … just because you are good in some small part of photography doesn't mean that you might be good at commercial portraiture. Plus, you are told what to do. And I did that for a while. And I guess it was all right, but when you don't like doing it, it doesn't matter what it looks like, it's not going to be good enough for you.
Something I find very interesting right now which is the analog/digital issue that many artists are facing. Because you are completely analog, you don't even own a digital camera, do you?
J S: No, and the other thing is, I've made my living as a photographer all my life and I don't even own flash equipment or things like that. All my cameras are second hand-one lens, one film, that's it-the most minimal stuff. And your portraits are square…That's a camera they used to make, a twin lens reflex…that camera I used for ever. It is extremely durable. I could throw it underneath my car seat, and I could always have it with me. I got that in a garage sale in Riverside
I don't know if everybody knows this, but Kodak has been phasing out analog films-I have friends who bought special refrigerators to stock as much film as they could, because, like Jay, it was their life. But it's not only the film, it's the chemicals you use to develop, it's the paper…how are you facing that?
J S: Well what I did was to say, “That's it.” And moved on. And so, photography, I kind of don't do it anymore. I am hands-on, like a carpenter with a nail and a saw, that's the way I approach my photo work in the lab, and I think digital photography puts a distance. I can't wrap my hands around it in the same way.