At the age of 12, Jerry Gay had already decided he wanted to be either a minister, a photographer, a firefighter and or a football star.
Today, as Gay reflects back on a life as a photojournalist, he said he was best able to recognize and capture on film the truly heroic saints who appeared to live ordinary lives in ordinary places.
Gay, who grew up spending his summers in Blaine on his grandparent’s farm, would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize at the age of 28 while working as a staff photographer for The Seattle Times.
The prize-winning photograph entitled, "Lull in the Battle," captures exhausted firemen in a moment of deep reflection after battling a house fire.
Gay was also the recipient of the first Edward Steichen Award for news photography and was named regional Photographer of the Year in 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977 by the National Press Photographers Association, an organization for which he also served as president.
He has worked at major newspapers across the country including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Los Angeles Times and New York Newsday as well as smaller papers such as The Northern Light, where he worked as a contributor in what he called his “last major journalism effort.”
He will be speaking about his life and his new book “Seeing Reality,” at 7 p.m., March 18, at Village Books in Bellingham.
As a freelancing photojournalist, Gay traveled nearly 500,000 miles in 48 states on America’s backroads and highways to “research” everyday life, randomly stopping at small towns and documenting the daily lives of citizens he encountered.
With nearly 100 images full of philosophical musings, compassion and irreverent humor, “Seeing Reality” celebrates Gay’s reverence for common people and every day life.
“My pictures simply mirror my own personal philosophy, my love of photography, and my spiritual reverence for the Earth and the creatures that populate her,” he said. “My greater prayer is for my photographs to inspire us to see as sacred our inner-connectedness with each other and with the Earth, while putting aside judgment of self and others to recognize that we were all created equally in The Creator’s image.”
Q: What happened after you left Blaine – for the second time?
A: I worked for a few years on my book and kept changing it. Then I thought, let’s just talk about reality, let’s not talk about spirituality. I had spent every summer on my grandparents farm and then with the Westman Family on Dakota Creek, before the freeway cut the farm in half; they raised chicken, dairy cattle and sheep. They were John and Rannvig Westman (formerly Johnson) named after Westmann Island in Iceland. They spent years and years in Blaine and their grandchildren – including Jan Hrutfiord – still live there. To be able to say I lived in Blaine, it was a wonderful place to have my career come to an apex.
I had my radio program, and the editorial photograph on people, places and situations that made interesting commentary. For me to be able to come and live there later in life was a wonderful opportunity.
But now I’m going to start a new career public speaking and working with various groups. A lot of my columns were about small town reality, which is about people, places and situations. I want to start teaching other photographers to take pictures not just from their head but from their heart as well.
Q: You talk about photography as being “the language of the soul.” Can you explain that?
A: I really sense this whole dimension of earth was created for all of us to understand the source of life by being god-like and being able to create.
Each of us on the other side is one thought in the mind of God, and we get to come and interact with other thoughts and we all get to create and understand more about God by being able to be god-like and give love to others. We’re all in this together.
When I photograph people, I take my whole personality and put it in the background and try to work with them to make the best picture that really speaks about them. I want it to have an impact on them and to have it be honoring. The three H’s, humanity, humility and humor, are what I try to work around.
Q: What’s the next step for Jerry Gay, photographer, social commentator and humanitarian?
A: I’ve worked in newspapers all across the country and my journey to create the book by self-assigning myself from Washington state to Washington D.C. searching for the heart of America and letting myself find things.
It’s been a marvelous life studying people. Now I’m starting to focus on Jerry, and now I’m creating a new lifestyle speaking about what I’ve learned.
Jerry Gay’s website is located at www.theotherjerry.com