Jay Colton: A Remembrance

Jay Colton: A Remembrance Longtime Time magazine photo editor Jay Colton passed away suddenly last weekend at the age of 57. Jay had a remarkable history as a magazine maker, and was very well-known and respected in the industry. We asked his friend and former co-worker Arthur Hochstein to write a remembrance.

Photograph of Jay Colton by William Coupon.

Arthur Hochstein: Jay Colton, who died on September 18 at age 57, was a photo editor in Time magazine's picture department for many years. At one point Jay spent six months working as my assistant doing the covers. As a photo editor Jay could handle any subject--he was far too bright to be pigeonholed in one job. He could go gritty or go pretty with equal ease. Jay was that kid in class who raised his hand high and waived it until the the teacher would call on him. It made me love him. He was, from an art director's perspective, the truest of creative partners. Jay didn't make boundaries between photography, design, and writing; for him the collaboration and the end product were what mattered, and he would crash through brick walls to get there. He didn't just get the picture, he got the big picture.

Jay approached his work the way he approached life--with great humor, boundless enthusiasm, extreme intelligence, and the nose of a truffle hound. He was a hedonist, professionally and personally. He cooked and consumed fine food with refined gusto, and on many occasions we took the edge off a tough deadline sampling a great Bordeaux and debating the notion that anything but a French wine was even worth drinking. I'm kind of an Italy guy, but every time I have a Chateau Angelus or a Ducru Beaucaillou, I'll see his radiant smile.

Jay displayed this incredible joie despite physical challenges that would stop most of us in our tracks. Several years ago his kidneys, which for years had caused him health problems and were rapidly degenerating, began to fail. Waiting for a donor he went through excrutiating dialysis. The combination of illness and powerful medicine almost killed him. But he took time off from work only when he absolutely needed to, and never, ever complained about his fate. Then, against overwhelming odds, it turned out that his wife Moira was a genetic match, and she was able to donate one of her own kidneys to Jay. I remember saying, "Dude, you are going to be taking out the garbage for the rest of your life!"

After his surgery, he returned to work in full Jay mode, a half-Irish, half-Japanese Energizer bunny. When he wasn't working, he was traveling to just about anywhere (especially Brazil), making pictures and teaching at workshops, and of course, taking tremendous pride in his son Chris, who someday may channel some of that Colton stuff into a career as a musician.

At some point Jay decided that spending too many hours in the hallways of the Time & Life Building wasn't the healthiest thing for him, so he packed it in to pursue photography full time. We lost contact for long stretches, although sometimes we'd bump into each other in Tribeca and promise to get together. But anytime the right gig came up, I'd call Jay to see if he could jump aboard.

Recently the photo editor on a book project had to bow out suddenly and my first instinct was to call Jay. When he said that he could take the job, I was encouraged and excited, because I  knew that his participation would make my job easier, raise the bar, and be great fun at the same time. The only catch was that he had a two-week commitment to teach at a photo workshop in Brazil. No problem--he could get things rolling from down there, and I knew that he'd make up the lost ground when he returned. We had a quick meeting, and when he was getting on the elevator, I meant to hug him, but gave him a quick wave instead. After all, I'd be seeing him in a couple of weeks...

We emailed back and forth a few times while he was in Brazil. The last one was on September 12, responding to my report of a snag that meant we might have trouble getting pictures in time to meet our first closing deadline. His reply, "As they say in Brazil, Nao Problema."

A week later another email came, from the person Jay had replaced on the project. Jay had died, suddenly, doing what he loved, critiquing portfolios and mentoring young photographers.

For so many of us, not having Jay Colton in our lives...Problema.

Media and design consultant Arthur Hochstein is the former art director of Time magazine.

  • Rosemary Cantali

    so sorry to hear.... I so loved Jay.

  • jimcolton

    Beautifully said Arthur, thank you!

    Jim Colton

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