Underwriter Profile: Jay York Affordable Photography

Walking into the photography studio of Jay York, I was struck by a few things: first, the stereo was on and it was tuned to WMPG: second, there were a dozen or more photo ID season passes from Mount Abram (dating from the ’72 -’73 season to last year) displayed on the side of a metal cabinet for all to see. It became apparent after speaking with Jay for an hour that skiing and the music heard on WMPG are both very important to him, and they are both connected to his daily life, as they have been for years.

You see, it’s not easy to make a living as a photographer specializing in fine art reproduction, but owning his own business has allowed Jay York to branch out. In business for about 16 years now, Jay says he has learned to find a balance that allows him to keep doing the things he loves and pay the bills. He is, he says, ‘a resourceful Mainer, with a couple other irons on the stove.” In other words, the photography studio is open three days per week, he owns a few rental properties and a parking lot, he moonlights as a ski instructor, and he dabbles in the refurbishing of outdoor clothing (which he then sells at the studio).

All these irons have allowed Jay to keep doing the things he loves, and photography is certainly on that list. In fact, his first experience with photography was back at Kennebunk High School in Arnie Amorosos English class. Mr. Amoroso assigned photography as a means for students to interpret stories and poems. Whereas many photographers enter into the field after being seduced by the technical aspect of processing their own film, Jay feels a great sense of gratitude to Amoroso for emphasizing the expressive side of photography over the technical.

Kennebunk High School also gave the young Jay York another invaluable opportunity. It was there that a teacher by the name of Pam Wood decided to launch a magazine focusing on documentary arts called Salt. Yes, that Salt, which would eventually morph into the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. The model for this first incarnation of Salt magazine was a similar publication in Raven Gap, Georgia, Foxfire. After a stint in Georgia to help Kennebunk High School launch the magazine, young Jay was hooked on photography. He went on to spend a summer at the Maine Photography Workshops in 1975 and he graduated with a fine art degree form Maine College of Art.

Jay’s professional career began working for a film processing firm in Portland where he picked up extra cash handling the business his boss didn’t want: fine art reproduction. Jay explains, “he said he didn’t want to do the work for artists because artists have no budget, but they’re picky.” Jay soon found himself making more on his off-hours taking photos for artists than he did with his day job. Was his boss right in his description of artists, I asked. “Well, I found that artists are no more demanding than other people, but they have no budget.” It was work he enjoyed, though, and there was very little competition in the field, so he stuck with it, adding the occasional iron to the stove to help make ends meet.

Jay York Affordable Photography now has a client list of about 2,000 artists whose work is photographed by Jay and, occasionally, by a few folks he subcontracts. Most of the artists are from the New England area, but a few come from much farther away, including France.

Jay enjoys his work with artists, though at one time several years ago, he thought about building up his business to include a full-service photo finishing lab. The reasoning behind the expansion was to eventually sell the business, but he decided he wanted to stay in it to do the work he enjoyed. So he scaled back and created a business he could run from a studio connected to (but separate from) his home.

Now about the other passion in Jay’s life: music. There is no doubt music plays a large role in Jay’s day to day routine. Upon moving into new spaces over the years, priority number one, he says, has always been to find a spot for the stereo where the reception of WMPG is good. It’s on all day as he works and, on average, five or six visiting artists ask him what CD he’s playing. They are consistently amazed at the quality and variety of music played by the little community radio station in Portland. And it’s the consistent quality and variety of music on WMPG that has kept Jay on the underwriters roster for almost twenty years (probably the longest continuous business supporter of the station). While he certainly appreciates the nonprofit and noncommercial aspects of the station and WMPG’s value to the community (“it’s like a neighborhood association”), it is the music that impresses him most. Asked why he underwrites, Jay didn’t hesitate to reply, “it’s the best entertainment on the radio dial.”

Jay has also always been impressed with the station’s responsiveness to its audience. Back in 1984 he remembers meeting with a group of friends every Friday for a fish fry. One of those in the group was WMPG volunteer DJ Steve Hirshon (still on the air with “Hukkin a Chainek,” Thursdays, 6:30 am-8:30 am). The conversation turned to radio drama on one of those Fridays and Jay told Steve about a compelling series he had heard years before called “The Fourth Tower of Inverness.” Jay offered to underwrite the series if WMPG could find it. The station did and he’s been underwriting ever since.

Of the programming currently featured on WMPG, Jay is drawn to “Soul Mates,” (Saturdays, 7 pm-8:30 pm), Democracy Now! (weekdays, Noon-1 pm), and the Folkways strip of shows Monday through Friday from 8:30 am-10:30 am (“The Blue Country,” “In Your Ear,” “South By Southwest,” “Saltwater Farm,” and “Us Folk”, but he appreciates the diversity and surprises he hears throughout the day. “I tell people that it’s like the weather. If you don’t care for a particular bit of music being played, just wait thirty minutes (WMPG programming is) not stagnant, it adapts. It isn’t governed by ratings or advertising and it’s very worthy of support because there’s people out there who love the shows I don’t.” More often than not, though, he loves what he hears and that’s why he “invests in WMPG.”