Nancy LeighPhotography

Stephen Wilkes

November 21, 2013

Batter up: Stephen Wilkes!
If it weren't for Stephen Wilkes, I would have given up photography a long time ago. I met Stephen at Syracuse University in my freshman year. We were both in the same graduating class, and had dual majors at The Newhouse School of Communications (photojournalism) as well as the School of Management. Interestingly, we came from the same hometown but didn't know each other because we went to different high schools.

Stephen was a superior photographer. His work as a freshman was outstanding and he clearly stood out not only among our class, but all classes. I was awestruck by his work and admired his dedication, knowledge and work ethic as a photographer. His artistic eye for light and composition was well beyond his years. We both had to start in black & white photography classes before we advanced to color. When Stephen began photographing color, his work exploded like a super nova. It was though he had been set free to explore his true talent.

I will always be grateful to Stephen for his encouragement, patience and guidance. I remember in our sophomore year, we found out that our favorite professor, "TR", was teaching the first semester of our junior year in London. A limited number of students would be accepted into the program and a portfolio review was required. Stephen encouraged me to apply. It was a miracle that I got accepted into the program and I always said I must have been the last one selected. Bob Sacha, Seth Resnick and Stephen Wilkes were among those accepted into the London program that semester and they all went on to become very successful photographers. There I was taking photography classes side-by-side these terrific photographers.

One day after our semester abroad when we were back in Syracuse, Stephen took a loupe and lingered over a slide of mine on the light box. He loved the image and was genuinely excited for me. I still remember the moment as if it were yesterday. His opinion meant a great deal to me and he gave me confidence. He was my very first mentor and to this day, I consider him among only a handful of people to have had such an impact on the way I see and photograph the world.

Soon after London, Stephen went to China. His work had taken another leap forward. Like any great artist's work, I still remember the images he took on that trip. He has since returned to China several times. Once again, he has so many great images to choose from but I love this one.

After we graduated, I continued to follow Stephen's progress and success. To no surprise, his images were magnificent. Time after time, he displayed beautiful examples of wondrous light with the color interpretation of an accomplished artist. His composition was always perfect; subject matter, light. color captivating the viewer to linger longer and enjoy the story or mood he was illustrating in a single image.

Let's fast forward to his book -- "Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom". The cover photograph...oh the cover alone is spectacular! This photograph lures the reader into his book to come visit this world. It feels as though you are literally walking into the book, back into history and another dimension of time. My words simply do not do this photograph justice -- you must see it for yourself.

The first time I carefully paged through this book, I could feel that Stephen had put his heart, soul and every ounce of his being into photographing this project. I was exhausted when I reached the last page. All I could think of was how deeply he immersed himself into this project because every one of his photographs told a story. Once again, each image so descriptive of a time and place in history. Stephen devoted himself and became completely absorbed by this project, in order for us to visually understand the history of Ellis Island. CBS Sunday Morning did a feature story on Stephen and his book on "Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom". Bill Bradley wrote the introduction. It's a "must have" book for any collector, serious photographer or historian.

Stephen has now taken on a colossal project: "Day to Night".
He photographs iconic areas from a bird's eye view in a bucket truck. Stephen is stationed in the sky for up to 15 hours straight; always looking, scanning the scene, and photographing from 1,200 to 1,500 individual frames. It may take him up to four months to carefully select images from that series, assemble the selects like little puzzle pieces and produce one complete image showing the transition from day to night. As Stephen says:
“It’s like a Rubik’s Cube in real time in my brain,” It's mind-boggling indeed! This concept is so unique, that the photographs must be seen in person, up close. It's remarkable that this idea can be accomplished at all, but once again, Stephen has shown us something we have never seen before. The photographs to the left are of Coney Island and Times Square in New York. Here is the link to his website that showcases more of his "Day to Night" series.

To everyone in the world who thinks it's the expensive camera equipment responsible for great images, follow Stephen's photographic journal of pictures he takes with his iPhone. It's really incredible how Stephen's iPhone photos are little treasures of art. Even though he has worked with advanced photography equipment his entire life, Stephen reminds us all that no matter what camera you use, even if it's the camera on your phone, great photography is all about thoughtful composition.

Stephen's website is filled with photographic projects both personal and commercial; fine art and commissioned work. In addition to his photographs, it also includes: video clips, his numerous gallery showings, articles, and awards he has received over his accomplished career. You can also see the clips of his multiple appearances on CBS Good Morning showcasing his work on Ellis Island,
Hurricane Sandy and "Day to Night". By mere coincidence, as I am releasing my "Hero" story on Stephen, the November 25th issue of "Time" magazine has an 8 page layout of his "Day to Night" project. I encourage you to visit his website:, go his gallery showings, purchase or study his books and enjoy the work of this remarkable photography master.

Jay Maisel

August 17, 2012

The first time I saw a photograph taken by Jay Maisel, it was in the late 1970s when I was studying photography in college. I remember the jaw dropping moment as if it were yesterday. It was like when Dorothy opened her front door and saw the vibrant colors in the Land of Oz. Color. Shake your head, blink your eyes in disbelief, heart racing, exhilarating "Jay Maisel" color.

Jay's ability to capture deep, saturated, mesmerizing color was like nothing I had ever seen before. He carefully composes his images with strong graphics, a sense of place, dimension, mood, expression; they are simple and uncluttered. He captures the beautiful qualities of light. As though that were not enough, there is always a gesture that adds depth and interest to his image. The gestures in his photographs always draw me in closer and I find myself lingering longer to study the moment. This is Jay Maisel. In his words, it's all about: "Color, Light and Gesture."

He shoots through everything and anything to add a new dimension or texture. Jay is always aware of figure/ground relationships and loves to capture the unusual combination. Nothing is off limits. If it means lying on his back in the middle of the craziest, busiest street in Manhattan to get the composition he wants (which he did), well, so be it. He is completely immersed in photographing life's details and moments that most of us never see.

One of the most prolific photographers, Jay always carries his camera. He doesn't understand why everyone makes a big fuss about it. He will tell you: "it's easier to take pictures that way". Jay is one of the funniest, savviest businessmen and generous teachers I have ever met.

Jay is a devoted family man, has a great sense of humor and loves to tell stories. After the birth of his daughter, he announced to his wife: "You know -- I have my needs too. Whatever you do with the baby, do it in good light". He told a story of when he took a family vacation in Italy with his wife and teenage daughter. The girls wanted to go shopping and Jay asked them: "Can you just drop me off at the train station?" -- to photograph of course.

A story he told at his workshop in the 1990s that I have never forgotten. Jay was hired by a client to do an assignment and they were in a helicopter at the time. Jay asked them to circle around a moment so he could take a photograph for himself personally -- nothing to do with the assignment. When they replied that they were paying him a hefty day rate, Jay replied: "a happy photographer is a good photographer. Which would you prefer? Let me take this photograph for myself and you will have a very happy photographer today". They obliged. A life's lesson tucked away in that story.

While there are many great photographers today, in my opinion, Jay is in a league all by himself. Photographers around the world admire and respect him for the quality of his work, being a strong and vocal advocate for photographer's rights, getting manufacturers to design or add features that make sense, and last but not least, his endless energy. Jay is a Yale graduate, a student of Josef Albers (The Interaction of Color) and an artist in his own rite. He is a collector -- of everything. His workshops at home are filled with objects of every size, shape and color imaginable with studies set up on tables and windowsills. To this day, Jay continues to experiment, explore and discover new ways of seeing things. In this age of digital photography, with so much hocus-pocus post-production manipulation, it's refreshing to see that Jay concentrates solely on good composition in the camera.

His passion for photography and teaching never wanes. Jay continues to lecture, participate on panels and teach workshops. He has been interviewed numerous times and has a terrific collection of books and photographs. I encourage anyone with an interest in photography to study the work of this master ( On a personal note, I never seem to learn enough from Jay, and am forever grateful to have learned of his work, been his student and met this great mentor.

Ernst Haas

July 20, 2011

My numero uno photographic hero of all time is Ernst Haas. I was very fortunate to have learned about Haas' work soon after I began photographing in the late 1970's, and had taken his workshop in Japan (1984).

This photographer had it all. While he is well known for his work as a color photographer, his black and white work is equally impressive. To this day, I have not come across another photographer like him. To best describe Haas, he is an artist using a camera. As with great paintings, you can look at his photographs for a very long time; like any great piece of music, you can linger and dream; like a ballet, you can feel the movement in his images. Ernst was photographing abstracts; something that was unique at the time. In addition to his many successful books, Ernst narrated a video using a series of his images: "To Dream with Open Eyes"; a title that describes him well. I believe his wish has come true -- Haas is remembered for his total vision rather than a few perfect individual images.

There is much written about Haas, but I encourage you to visit the website of Ernst Haas' estate,, created by his son, Alex, and daughter, Victoria; they have done a wonderful job collecting and archiving his life's work. It's filled with galleries of his images, philosophies and sayings, books, biography, awards, and much more.

On a personal note, I will write about Ernst Haas often on my website; my first book recommendation is The Creation and can be found in my section titled "Bookshelf". In addition to being a great photographer, he was a wonderful man. He had a terrific sense of humor, gentle soul, simple approach, and a special gift for teaching and relating to people. He was charming, absolutely charming.