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Teenage Self Portrait circa 1970s

For My Friends and Fans,

Some of you may have heard that I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer back in January. It’s been a journey filled with the expected ups and downs. I’ve had an amazing life – and even now there are amazing moments to every day. Don’t feel sorry for me.

That said, I did want to take a moment and thank you. Up until I became ill this year, I had blogged about my photography here every month without fail for six years – starting in January 2011. That’s more than 75 blog posts in case you’re counting. And you and you alone made that possible. You read my stories behind the pictures and inevitably responded with love and support. Your energy and feedback kept me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for that.

Yes, there were months when the blog came easy. An image jumped out at me and demanded to be written about. And then there were months when I lacked a spark –when I floundered and felt like I was forcing myself to write about an image I might have otherwise overlooked. But that’s when magic happened. Staring at my selected image, my heart and soul would awake and the story would inevitably pour out of my fingers. In those moments, I was an explorer, looking deep into my spirit as an artist and finding something new and unexpected. I have you to thank for that as well.

I’m not writing about my photography any more these days – but this blog will stay here for years to come and with six years of entries, feel free to revisit anytime.

Art is Love.




Hundreds of people are getting slaughtered in Syria every week and the world appears incapable of figuring out how to get the killing to stop. Every time I read about the deaths across Syria I remember the few weeks that Helen and I spent there in 2001. It was a remarkable time for us personally and, ultimately, for the world.

This picture was taken in Aleppo on September 7th, 2001. In this snapshot, I am making falafel at Aleppo’s most popular falafel joint… a place where day and night men lined the street out front in order to eat here. There were no tables or chairs, just a storefront, a counter and the best falafel I’ve eaten anywhere in the world. I was so impressed with food that I asked if I could help cook it. You can see from the snapshot that they readily agreed and had fun teaching me how to help out.

A few important notes about my time in Syria. Firstly, I did not tell anyone that I am Jewish. Indeed, a lot of men asked where my father was from – I clearly have Middle Eastern features. I never lied, but the answers I gave them were inconclusive. My father’s family is from Europe, I answered. How about his father, they asked? Also from Europe… (it was always about the father).

Secondly, Helen and I were in Hama on 9/11. Hama is known in Syria for having been the scene of a brutal government crackdown in 1982 in which 1,000 Syrian troops killed 10,000 Syrian civilians to put an end to protests and potential revolt against the government. Shades of what’s happening in Syria today.

Contrary to what some people believe, there were no parades on the streets of Syria when the Twin Towers came down. No one celebrated openly. No one was rude to us in any way. In fact, on the days following September 11th, countless Syrians came up to me and offered their condolences, apologies and assurances that the attack on civilians in America was counter to the teachings of the Koran. They were shocked and saddened. They were human.

Were there people in Syria who celebrated the attack? Of course there were – and so what of it? There are zealots everywhere who celebrate the despicable, including here in the U.S. Importantly, so far as I could see, 9/11 sparked mostly confusion and grief in Syria just as it did in much of the world. Here’s what I took away from this experience… most people in the world want the same things we want. They want to be able to live their lives and raise their kids in peace. It’s that simple.

Every day I read about more killings in Syria. Every day, this makes me sad. I think of this photograph and of the people in Syria just hoping to earn a living, lead their lives and raise their kids… without threat of being killed by their own government.

I hope they find peace soon.

Dear Ms. Jung,

On November 27th, I had an unfortunate incident with a guard at your Suffern, New York offices.

I was in Suffern to create images of the town. My goal, if I’m successful, is to make art, to capture the essence of a town’s character and architecture through my lens.

Over the years, I’ve had some modest success. Images I’ve created in far flung places from India to Egypt as well as closer to home – New York City and Charlotte – are now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Some of my photographs of the Louvre are now in the permanent collection of The Louvre itself. One of my photographs of the Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles is in the permanent collection of famed architect Frank Gehry.

When I arrived in downtown Suffern I was delighted to see, poking out from amidst the classic and timeless Tudor architecture of the town, your shiny, modern new office building, filled with great lines, angles and shifts in color and texture.

Avon Offices in Suffern, NY

As an artist, I was drawn to your building immediately and was excited to photograph it. Even better for me, it was a Sunday, so no cars filled the lot and no people filled my viewfinder… it was all steel and glass and terrific design.

And then your security guard approached. I had taken but 5 or 6 pictures when he walked out and instructed me to stop taking pictures. He was polite and was doing his job and I have no complaint with him. But your policy against photographing your building is unfortunate and I am writing this open letter to ask you to reconsider and to repeal it.

The guard pointed out that your building is private property and that I am not allowed to photograph it. I asked him what his instructions were had I photographed your building from public property, say from the sidewalk across the street. His instructions, he told me, were to cross the street and ask me to stop photographing the building.

I asked him what his instructions were if I didn’t comply and continued to take pictures from the public sidewalk. His instructions, he told me, were to call the police.

From my perspective, it’s sad, counter to our sense of freedom and artistic expression in America, and certainly the wrong use of public resources if your security guard is indeed instructed to call the police if someone is taking pictures of your building – the shiniest, most modern building by a longshot within downtown Suffern – and doing so from public land.

I’m not sure how the police would have reacted… and I wonder if they would have shut me down. Which would have been, to my way of thinking, the modern version of a police state – a state in which the police are called into action when an artist, a photographer, takes a picture.

To put this in perspective… when I was in San Jose, California recently, I was taking pictures of another shiny building, the Adobe headquarters. The security guards there met me as well and pointed out that I was on private property and was not allowed to take pictures of their building. I asked the same question I asked your guard about moving to the sidewalk and was told that so long as I was on public property I could photograph whatever I liked. I slid back three feet and captured the images that sparked my imagination.

Since 9/11, I have been accosted by private security all over America. The police, I might add, have never harassed me. But private security seem to believe that taking pictures of a building is at best an offense and at worst a threat, whether I’m in Rockefeller Center in the middle of Manhattan, downtown Charlotte, or in this case in the sleepy and idyllic town of Suffern, NY.

Taking pictures is not a hostile act. It is not offensive and it is certainly not a threat. Taking a photograph is at a minimum an expression of appreciation and at it’s best is a form of creating art.

On the Sunday that I visited Suffern I was once again let down by a misguided security policy, in this case yours… and I was once again denied the America I want to live in.

I respectfully request that you revise your policy effective immediately and make an easy and bold statement that there is nothing to fear from a camera and that artistic and photographic freedom is indeed alive and well in America.


Jesse Kalisher

Statement by Jesse Kalisher in Support of The Fisher House Foundation
December 1st, 2010

Since March 2003, 6,000 American volunteers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Forty thousand more volunteers, our friends and neighbors, have been wounded.

What does 40,000 people look like? Fill the entire Dean Dome here in Chapel Hill. And then double it. That’s 40,000 people. Take the entire population of the town of Carrboro, North Carolina. Every man, woman and child. Double it. And add another 6,000 folks. That’s 40,000 people.

It doesn’t matter what your politics are. When it comes to supporting our soldiers and the Fisher House, we are not hawks or doves, republicans or democrats, liberal or conservatives. We are all Americans and we all owe an un-payable debt of gratitude to the men and women who volunteer and risk their lives as a matter of course day after day, month after month, year after year.

My position on the war in Iraq is no secret. But this is not the time for politics. It is instead a time to thank the folks at The Fisher House Foundation for all they do to support the families of wounded soldiers. It is a time to thank the men and women who volunteer to serve our nation, represented today by U.S. Army combat veteran and Chair of Military Science at the University of North Carolina, Lt. Colonel Monte Yoder. Thank you Lt. Colonel Yoder.

Finally, it is a time to thank all the good folks who helped us raise a record amount this year, $2,835, to support The Fisher House Foundation. Over the past five years, our gallery has raised $9,000 for the Fisher House through our annual fundraiser in which we trade our art for a donation to this well regarded and highly worthy charity.

My hopes today are twofold. First, that more Americans who love their country will step up and show love for their fellow citizens by donating to The Fisher House Foundation. And secondly, that the Fisher House mission will, in my lifetime, become obsolete.


Jesse Holding Norsigian Negative

Jesse Holding Norsigian Negative

Here’s a picture of me holding one of Rick Norsigian’s negatives in our gallery in Carrboro, North Carolina. It was a treat to handle these and to play a small part in bringing these new images to light. As I’ve said from the start, I’ve no idea who created these images, but whoever did was a terrific photographer and created more than a few timeless treasures.

That said, my work on these has come to an end. I’ve been concerned about the safety and integrity of the negatives as they traveled back and forth from Rick Norsigian in Fresno, California to us here on the east coast. In the end, Mr. Norsigian shared my concerns and has opted not to ship the negatives across the country to be printed.

Ultimately, I believe this is in the best interest of the negatives and, as a result, the historic record.

My hope for these negatives is that they get their due – that the different sides find common ground in determining whether Ansel Adams or Earl Brooks (or someone else) created these.

There have been a lot of accusations tossed about, including a lot of criticism directed at the Beverly Hills Art Dealer David Streets for his his valuation of these negatives at $220 Million. That anger then focused on David’s past record which dates back a couple of decades.

I’m no apologist for David’s past offenses. But all the anger directed at him is an unfortunate distraction. In this story, only the negatives matter. They exist. Someone created them. There is an honest conversation to be had to try and determine in good faith who created these.

For the past two years, I was on the outskirts of this story and did the best I could to get the right people to look at these negatives and consider their origin. While I have created the digital fiber prints that will be on display at the David Streets Gallery in Beverly Hills later this month, my role in working with these negatives has ended.

It’s been interesting. I appreciate the time and patience both Arnold Peter (Norsigian’s lawyer) and Matthew Adams (Ansel Adam’s grandson) have afforded me in the past couple of years.

Good luck to all in the pursuit of truth.

Newsflash… if you read my previous post about my images being stolen by Parkstone Press, they’ve just paid us. I’m not happy that the pictures were used without permission, and I’m not happy that they were cropped and put into a compilation book about Buddhas. That said, they’ve paid what we invoiced and this is, so far as I’m concerned, entirely behind us. I will add that one of our lawyers had drafted a demand letter and was prepared to serve papers in New York and the UK – but all of this was, thankfully, avoided. Sometimes, truth and justice do in fact prevail.

I received hate mail today for having agreed to print a few magnificent 90-year-old glass negatives. For those who don’t know what the story is about, Google “Ansel Adams lost negatives” and you’ll see that a construction worker purchased 60 glass negatives in a garage sale 10+ years ago, and now his lawyer has introduced them to the world as possibly being the lost negatives of the iconic and important American Photographer, Ansel Adams.

I have spoken with Ansel’s grandson Mathew Adams on several occasions about these negatives. Last year, I helped facilitate a meeting between Matthew and Norsigian’s lawyer in which Matthew was able to look at the negatives and all the evidence that the lawyer had accumulated.

In my conversations with him, Matthew concluded that we’ll never know for sure who created these pictures – and he shared his perspective that he firmly believes that his grandfather didn’t create them. Bottom line, he can’t and won’t authenticate them.

No worries. Matthew’s right… we’ll never know who took the pictures. And for me, it doesn’t matter.

When I was asked to print the negatives, I agreed with the understanding that I wouldn’t be asked to authenticate them. They are magnificent negatives, negatives that should be well looked after and preserved. I’m honored to print them… whoever happened to take the pictures.

Just to be sure I wasn’t running afoul of the Adams legacy, I checked with Matthew one more time before agreeing to print the pictures. Matthew agreed that printing these negatives would be a real treat and that his fight, if there is to be one, would be with the folks who might misuse his grandfather’s name… and not with me, a photographer and artist in love with the detail and texture in these images.

Of course some will still disagree with the choices I make… that’s fine. I just like to think that those folks can be a bit more civilized in their discourse.

In 2001/02 Helen and I traveled overland through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Egypt. We flew to Ethiopia and then to Kenya, went to Tanzania and Zanzibar and then flew onto India.

In any story I might tell, there is the risk of being accused of selling a stereotype. And there are always exceptions that stand in stark contrast to whatever I might write here.

Women in Istanbul lead a substantially different life than those in Sanlurfa. An orthodox Hassidic woman in Jerusalem leads an entirely different life than that of a Tel Aviv socialite.

But that doesn’t change what I saw and how I felt. In nearly a year of travels, I witnessed women being treated as second-class citizens in country after country after country. I’m not talking about not getting equal pay for equal work. I’m talking about getting no pay and not being allowed to work. I’m not talking about not getting on the ballot because men won’t vote for women, I’m talking about not being allowed to vote in the first place.

In an earlier trip to Vietnam I wondered why women were doing all the hard labor, even on construction sites while men smoked cigarettes and drank coffee. I don’t know the answer, but I do know what one Vietnamese man told me. “Because the men are saving themselves in case something important comes up.” That was 1996. Perhaps things there have changed.

By the time Helen and I had traversed overland from Istanbul to Cairo, we realized that we had hardly seen any women in a place of business. Women didn’t work at the restaurants we ate at. They were never at the front desk of the hotels we stayed in. They didn’t drive buses or taxis and they didn’t work in –or even drink at – the myriad of cafes we saw everywhere. Where, we wondered, were the women?!

In East Africa women had a singular job no man would undertake. They carried sticks on their heads and backs, often for miles. Day after day after day.

I came home affected by what I had seen. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of women. If the women I had seen were black and their male counterparts white the world would have called this apartheid and an international uproar would have ensued. Where, I wondered, was the outrage?

“Women hold up half 
the sky,” is an old saying and is now the inspiration for the title of a best-selling book 
by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. Their book delves into detail what I witnessed 
on the surface in my travels and is our newest best hope to bring attention and 
subsequently real change to the plight of women in developing countries.

This collection 
of photographs is a tribute to my mom, Ilse Kalisher, to my wife Helen and to my daughter 
Tamar. It’s my view of the divergent lives that women lead today. It’s my pebble in the 
pond. It’s my contribution to Half the Sky.

See the collection.

In 2006, Chronicle Books published my collection, “if you find the Buddha” as a book… needless to say, the images were registered with the U.S. Copyright office.

Earlier this year, I noticed that “if you find the Buddha” and my name came up in the bibliography of another book, “1000 Buddhas of Genius” published by Parkstone International in 2009. So naturally, I ordered a copy of that book… Guess what I found? Two of my pictures were cropped and used in “1000 Buddhas of Genius” and without my permission. I contacted Chronicle Books to see if they had sold the reproduction rights without letting me know (per the contract, they had some limited rights to do this, but would have had to pay me additional usage fees).

The folks at Chronicle were as surprised as I was.

And so I contacted Parkstone International (in the U.K.) and followed up with an email back on March 17th. After three months, eight emails and more phone calls since my initial contact with Parkstone, the publisher has still not responded to me.

I need to be clear… we register all of my images with the U.S. Copyright Office. Our next step is to send a Demand Letter and from there to pursue legal action. Such a waste of time and energy… but we are required to defend our copyright whenever it’s infringed or risk losing rights to our images.


I love this… I asked the folks here at the gallery to add some zip to our bio pages. They came up with this format, brought in their own pictures and now we have a much better window into who we really are. Wonder who the Company Muscle is? Our Cupcake Queen? It’s all online and it’s all here.