ABOUT RAYMOND... BY ELEANOR JACOBS, estate executor
I met Raymond in July of 1953 at Stanbrooke, a riding ranch in Rhinebeck, New York. While I was not a horse fancier, my girlfriend Doris and I were told that is was a good place to meet men. After arriving on Friday evening, we had dinner and then proceeded to the recreation room. It took me exactly ten seconds to realize that the women outnumbered the men by about ten thousand to one. I did notice, however, a group of men and women at the bar who appeared to be regulars -- at least, they seemed to know one another pretty well. They were laughing and were having a great time. Doris and I felt like creatures from another planet, never to be noticed by the in-crowd, destined to be ignored.
Among the group was a tall, good-looking-center-of-attention-joke-telling guy who struck me as the only one I would like to get to know (it turned out that he loved horses and had his own at the ranch). However, I assumed my chances were non-existent, so I suggested to Doris that we might as well go to bed early and at least get a good night's sleep,
The next morning, after breakfast in a dining room filled with women, I asked if anyone wanted to play tennis. The group's response was, "We don't know how." I suggested that although I was an amateur I could teach them a few strokes, so four of us went out to the courts. Within a few minutes, the tall man I had noticed at the bar came trekking up the hill. Like John Wayne looking for his horse, he stopped to observe the disastrous scene I was involved in and quickly asked me if I would like to hit a few balls later. "Would I ever," I replied, "How about right now?"
My tennis strokes improved immediately, as Raymond was a good player, and we literally, 'hit it off.' Later in the day, we all swam in the lake, had drinks, and went to dance in the rec room. I felt fortunate to have a guy to talk to, even though I played it cool. I figured that on Sunday, when everyone left, my connection with Raymond would end and I'd never see him again.
I was wrong. He asked if I had a ride back to the city. I said my friend and I would take the bus, He offered to drive us back, which he did, and en route asked if I would like to see his photographs. We dropped Doris off and drove to West 96th Street where Raymond had a charming garden apartment in a brownstone off of Central Park West. By this time it was late in the afternoon, and after some small talk, he showed me the darkroom he had built in a tiny closet alongside his minuscule kitchen.
He was a big guy, and I wondered how could he work in such a confining space. But he did. Then out came his black-and-white prints of people from all walks of life: Coney Island, Broadway, Harlem, jazz clubs, museums, photographs so strong they blew my mind. I had never seen anything like these before. I thought, "This is no ordinary guy. This man has an intense sensitivity and poignant view of life even at its grittiest. How sweet." I was beginning to be interested in him. When he drove me home across town and asked to see me again, I immediately said yes.
So began my romance, and my life, with Raymond Jacobs, who was then and always remained the most intelligent, humorous, and interesting man I knew. While I had a full-time job at a fancy advertising agency, he was a freelancer, with no steady income. No, not a freelance photographer, a freelance mink cutter. His father owned a fur factory and needed Ray to work for him when he returned from service in the Army Signal Corps during World War II. Although he didn't like it, Ray worked in the fur market a few days a week. Known as the fastest ambidextrous mink cutter in the industry, he earned a bundle of money then took off for a while. He studied at the Art Students League and took pictures all around New York, which is what he truly loved to do.
Before I knew him, in the early 1950s, Ray studied with Lisette Model at the New School. Lisette was one of the most cultured, brilliant, critical, and perceptive photographers and teachers in New York. To be accepted into her class, each applicant was required to show a portfolio of work. When she saw Raymond's, she asked, "What is your work, young man?" "I am a furrier," he said. "You are not. You are a photographer. You must become a photographer. Not only that, but you are one of the best printers I have ever seen" Those were the words he needed to hear to inspire and encourage him to become a professional photographer. Lisette remained a life-long friend to both of us.
In the fall of 1953, Raymond studied with Sid Grossman, another icon of photography. The classes met on Friday evenings in Sid's studio apartment in the West 20s, and he invited me to attend the classes with him, which I often did. Sid's classes were like nothing else in the universe, except perhaps if there was something that could be described as photography/primal scream session. They started around 8:30 p.m., and on an early nigh, we might leave the studio at 2:00 a.m.! Believe it or not, no one ever wanted to go home. Sid loved to talk about photography.
Here is where we truly felt alive, were compelled to face what was real, what was artificial, and began to understand what it meant to be a human being. Yes, through photographs. Those sessions were magical. Here was another brilliant, passionate, intellectual whose powerful photographs of the human condition were matched only by his boisterous critique of each student's work, which he ruthlessly dissected and deconstructed so that there was no doubt left in our minds as to the difference between a good and bad photograph.
What an education! Sid was like a mean director who would accept nothing less than the absolute best performance from each student. And that is what he got. Students started to show up with better photographs that what they had first presented. Underneath this scary, judgmental voice was a sweet, gentle, humorous man who cared so much for photography. He was married to dear Miriam, who kept the group alive late into the night with her home-baked cookies and strong coffee.
Once we were married in December, 1955, Raymond opened his studio with the realization that in order to earn a living he would need to do commercial work, which at the time was the only way a photographer could survive. His first paying job was for the Pottery Barn. Our friend Paul Secon started and owned 'the Barn,' and asked Ray to photograph the unusual assortment of Scandinavian and imported objects for its first catalog.
Gradually, small jobs came his way, including an ad campaign for Oreo cookies, for which he was paid $25, then one for a plastic shower curtain company, for which he received $100. Over a period of years, however, his talent and reputation spread throughout the advertising industry. Soon, he had major clients for whom he developed ideas and photographed entire campaigns. Among them was Tareyton cigarettes, and the "I'd Rather Fight Than Switch" campaign. Eventually, major companies such as Campbell's, IBM, Pan Am, General Electric, CBS, and others were booking time for Raymond's specific talents. His work took him all over the world.
While his financial success supported his family, his creative sensibilities were satisfied only when he worked on his own photography -- projects such as Chinatown and Jazz. Most of these works were unpublished at the time, with the exception of occasional photographs purchased for $25 a shot by various photography magazines. Later, a group of Raymond's photographs was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. This collection included the double portrait of teenage girls from Coney Island, which had been part of the seminal Family of Man exhibition curated by Edward Steichen in 1955, before the show toured the world for eight years, and the photo was also included in the book.
Raymond was able to combine his talent for doing stunning commercial work (for which he won more than fifty Art Directors Club aware) with his passion for roaming the real world, observing the human condition, and shooting his favorite subjects.
- Eleanor Jacobs, January 2006