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Bill Jay collection

Identifier: AG 184

Scope and Contents

The Bill Jay collection contains the research files, personal papers, and photographic materials of photographer-educator Bill Jay (1940 - 2009). The materials in the archive date from ca. 1830-2002 with the bulk of the material relating to Jay's own publications dating from 1960-2002. The archive consists of correspondence (both business and personal), teaching materials, books, periodicals, articles, manuscripts, research files, exhibition ephemera, audiovisual and photographic materials.

Jay has collected information on all aspects and periods of photographic history for more than thirty years. These files, he states, "comprise one of, if not the, most comprehensive 'banks' of information on the history of the medium anywhere in the world." Much of the collection had its origin in the original research conducted by Jay on various nineteenth century photographers including Francis Frith, Francis Bedford, Robert Demachy, Paul Martin, and Sir Benjamin Stone. Jay had also read, in a systematic manner, nearly every British and American photographic periodical of the nineteenth century. A large part of the collection is made up of photocopies made from the pages of these publications.

The eighteen file cabinets and thirty additional crates of material reflect the two main divisions established by Jay: Photographers and Topics. A number of actions were taken to make the information more accessible. The audiotaped interviews with photographers were removed from the files and housed separately, the extensive periodical indexes and tables of contents of the nineteenth century periodicals were extracted and arranged in their own subseries. Material directly related to Jay's career (biographical, academic, publications, and activities including judging, conferences, workshops, fellowships, grant applications, and Society for Photographic Education work) were removed and arranged into separate series.

Because of the great volume of Jay's collection, it was divided into ten series. Six of these series relate directly to Jay's career while the remaining four series comprising the largest part of the collection, the research files. The Topics files in Appendix A are reflective of Bill Jay's personal interests and tastes. For example, the topic Sports Photography is represented by one small folder while the topic Spirit Photography comprises ten large folders and a three-ring binder. The Photographers are not listed by name because of their enormous volume (14,000 names), but are accessible in the file drawers.


  • Creation: circa 1802-2007


Language of Materials

Material in English

Conditions Governing Access

To access materials from this collection, please contact

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission from the copyright owner (which could be the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates or literary executors) prior to any copyright-protected uses of the collection.

The user agrees to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the Arizona Board of Regents, the University of Arizona, Center of Creative Photography, including its officers, employees, and agents, from and against all claims made relating to copyright or other intellectual property infringement

Biographical Note

Born in Maidenhead in 1940 Jay received a grammar school education and spent two years at the Berkshire College of Art. He joined a consumer photographic magazine and worked for a number of others before becoming the first Editor/Director of Creative Camera and Album magazines. During this time, he earned a living as a picture editor of a large circulation news/feature magazine and as the European manager of an international picture agency. Jay was the first Director of Photography at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and gave over 400 lectures to art schools, camera clubs, and universities and wrote hundreds of articles for his own and other photographic journals.

In his own view his crusade met with a limited response and in 1972 he left Britain to study photography at the University of New Mexico with Beaumont Newhall and Van Deren Coke. He was awarded a MA in 1974 and a MFA in 1976 - his dissertation topic was on the nineteenth century British photographic Francis Bedford. In 1974 he founded the program of photographic studies at Arizona State University, where he taught history and criticism classes for twenty-five years becoming Professor of Art History. For four years he was a Board member of the Society for Photographic Education.

Jay was the editor of Creative Camera during its formative years in the 1960s and the originator of the journal Album in the early 1970s. He went on to teach on all aspects of photography at Arizona State University, in Tempe, Arizona. His career provided the encouragement and opportunity to collect information on photography from a wide variety of sources for his books, articles, and lectures. Although he has published more than four hundred articles and written more than fifteen books on the history and criticism of the medium, Jay said that he has barely "scratched the surface of the available material."

Bill Jay published over 400 articles and was the author of more than twenty books on the history and criticism of photography and he also contributed essays to monographs by well-known photographers, such as Jerry Uelsmann, Bill Brandt, Michael Kenna, and Bruce Barnbaum.

His own photographs were widely published and exhibited, including a one-person show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

After retiring from Arizona State University in the late-1990s Jay moved from Mesa, Arizona to Mission Beach near San Diego and very recently to his adopted hometown of Samara on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.


149 Boxes (approx. 114 linear feet)

Metadata Rights Declarations

  • License: This record is made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Creative Commons license.


Papers, writings, research files, teaching materials, audiovisual and photographic materials, books, periodicals, and computerized database of photographer and educator Bill Jay (1940 - 2009).


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

Series 1: Biographical materials

Series 2: Realia, objects, artifacts

Series 3: Academic career

Series 4: Publications

  1. Subseries 1: Books
  2. Subseries 2: Published Articles
  3. Subseries 3: Manuscripts and Typescripts of Articles
  4. Subseries 4: Periodicals Edited by Bill Jay

Series 5: Activity files

Series 6: Teaching materials

Series 7: Research files

  1. Subseries 1: Photographer's files
  2. Subseries 2: Topics files
  3. Subseries 3: Periodicals

Series 8: Audio visual materials

Series 9: Other materials

  1. Subseries 1: Books
  2. Subseries 2: Oversize materials
  3. Subseries 3: Other materials

Series 10: Photographic materials

Appendix A: Topics Cabinets

Custodial History

The collection was purchased from Bill Jay in 2002.


Accruals of materials assessed by Center for Creative Photography Research Center were processed into the collection in 2018 and 2019.

Existence and Location of Copies

Audio cassettes, CD-ROMs, Reel-to-Reel, DVDs, and VHS tapes.


  1. Jay, Bill
  2. Photography—History—19th century
  3. Photography

Processing Information

Shaw Kinsley processed the initial materials in 2002 and 2003. Phoenix Smithey processed the accruals and updated the finding aid in 2018. Sarah Jardini processed the remainder of the accruals and finalized the finding aid in 2019.

Bill Jay collection, circa 1802-2077
Finding aid created by CCP Archives Staff
© 2019
Description rules
Finding Aid Based On Dacs (Describing Archives: A Content Standard)
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid encoded in English

Repository Details

Part of the Center for Creative Photography Archives Repository

1030 N. Olive RD
Tucson Arizona 85721 United States