First I want to say a thank you to Mackenzie Cates-Allen for inviting me to do this and for some reason being interested in my thoughts!
I also want to thank the Winston-Salem Ambassadors for their hard work in trying to make Winston-Salem the best city it possibly can be, a city that is welcoming to all with a strong economy and a thriving city where you can live, work, enjoy, connect and learn. (Yes, I stole that from their About Page!)
What’s your name?
Jay Sinclair/J. Sinclair Photography
What do you do for a living? How did you get started?
I’m a freelance photographer. I mostly shoot for local, regional and occasionally national magazines but also shoot a lot of design and architecture for various clients.
As I tell most people when they ask, “I don’t do weddings d I don’t do portraits of families jumping up at the beach.” Ha! I really admire those who do that well but I knew when I started photographing, I wouldn’t sleep at night photographing weddings! Bridezillas and their moms scare me!
I’ve been shooting professionally for about 13 years. I loved photography in high school but went away from it for years. I began to casually mess around with it again 17 years ago but when I borrowed a friends early digital camera to put some things on eBay, I began playing around with it and something connected… the immediacy, the digital darkroom, the timing, whatever it was, I was completely obsessed.
I knew I wanted to do something with my photography but didn’t know what. As fate would have it, I traveled a lot with my work for one of the Inmar companies and on one flight I sat beside a man reading a camera manual. I struck up a conversation and I asked if he did much photography. He modestly said he was a professional magazine photographer. I asked who he shot for and he said he had done some stuff for National Geographic. He introduced himself and I didn’t know who he was.
Turns out he was David Alan Harvey and for those who don’t know is a true master, world-renowned photographer who’s shot over 40 articles for National Geographic and who’s an extremely giving teacher as well.
He was gracious enough to look through the photos I had on my laptop and was very encouraging. This was Sept 2004. That next Feb, I took a workshop with him and at the end he asked what I wanted to do with my photography. I told him I loved it and wanted to see where it would take me. He said he doesn’t usually encourage trying to do it professionally but thought I had an eye for it and would help mentor me.
We worked out a plan for me to take a year off, working on my craft by shooting a personal project on the backroads of the Carolinas. I thought I would do a book and do fine art photography and sell through galleries and art shows. I did that for the first few years but at the end of my first year, Winston-Salem Monthly magazine was starting up.
I started shooting for them, just a little at first, and found I really enjoyed magazine work. I must have been fairly decent or really cheap because they began to use me more and more. Then doors opened for other magazine and travel work and here I am!
It’s a good fit for me. I meet a lot of people from many walks of life, photograph everything from beautiful scenics to portraits to editorial stories, lifestyle, fashion, food and design.
I shoot most of Winston-Salem Monthly’s photography along with work for Our State Magazine, various city visitor guides and back when they had the budgets, Delta Sky Magazine and US Airways’ in-flight magazine. That was a blast, getting paid to spend a week or two in a city and photographing it. Lots of pressure and long hours but really fun… New Orleans, Albuquerque, Savannah, Santa Barbara, wonderful places!
Why do you live and work in WS?
I both live and work in WS. It’s home. I was born and raised here except for college years. I threatened to move away several times to be closer to the coast but family, family business and friends always kept me here.
Having spent the last decade documenting, photographing and learning the city in a completely different fashion than growing up here, I have to say that I adore this town and the people in it. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to a lot of cities and now know what a special place Winston-Salem is.
It’s a wonderful blend… large enough to offer quite a bit to do but small enough to be sane and great for raising a family. It’s close to the mountains and not too far from the coast. Winston-Salem is vibrant and has a certain unique warmth, charm and character. It’s less corporate and impersonal than many other cities our size.
Through WS Monthly and Our State, I’ve been fortunate to meet so many people in the community that are trying to make WS a better place in all it’s different facets. And it’s paying off.
I remember when you had to have a bit of a pioneer spirit to live downtown. Now it’s vibrant, thriving and yes, becoming gentrified but it’s been beautiful to observer, document and hopefully be a part of the reason for it’s successful renaissance!
I actually moved downtown about 4 years ago. It was something I always wanted to do and wanted to experience it for a couple of years. It’s been wonderful to be within walking distance of so much our city has to offer. Yes, it’s noisy and the sirens and weekend traffic can wear on you but I really have enjoyed it!
What do you love most about WS?
Since photographing the city these past years, I’ve been very fortunate to meet so many talented and passionate people here from all walks of life: Native Winstonians along with long ago and more recent transplants. I now can go out and it’s rare I don’t see a friend or an acquaintance or someone I’ve photographed and it feels like an embrace when that happens. It brings a familiarity and warmth that I imagine living in a smaller town would bring.
Where is the ONE place you would send someone in WS if they were visiting?
Ok… I’m going to cheat in honor of our hyphenated city! Winston… the downtown is so special now. As it began to crawl back to life 15-20 years ago, you would occasionally see activity or events with lots of folks attending but rarely anyone out after 5pm. Then you began to see evening diners and people out walking on the weekends… hints of what was coming. Now I can drive or walk through lots of the downtown and people are everywhere, day and night.
Salem… Old Salem is a must see just for it’s uniqueness. Other than a handful of other US cities, we are very fortunate to have this living museum, especially on this scale. It’s known far and wide, even if some people do think it’s because we had the Salem Witch Trials here! Just a simple drive or walk through Old Salem quickly shows a visitor what a lovely place it is! And there’s sugar cake!
Where do you see WS going in the next few years? In the next 10?
In the next few years: A couple of years ago, I photographed a digital article for Our State on Winston-Salem and one of the aspects they wanted was to show some of the older unrestored empty downtown tobacco factories and warehouses we were known for, in juxtaposition to the newer renovated and repurposed areas.
They weren’t there! All the major tobacco buildings have been redone or were in the process of being repurposed. It was a sign to me that we were reaching a first milestone in the downtown revitalization. People want to live, work and play in downtown WS and there are lots of opportunities. Unfortunately for a lot of people, there’s a cost to that gentrification.
There aren’t many spaces available for artists and creatives to work or live now in downtown. I know it’s not a unique problem for Winston but for the formally known “City of the Arts”, we are now the “City of Arts and Innovation” and sadly are in danger of moving further away from the Arts aspect.
Fortunately we have a lot of talented and passionate people working on keeping the “Arts” strong in our name but it’s a challenge and one that will only get harder. The arts dollars have shrunk and have to stretch further now as well. It’s a tough problem!
We also haven’t been inclusive in our resurgence. The Highway 52 divide is still present and strong. Hopefully, now that we have a solid core downtown, our energies and monies can expand into and be invested in those areas as well. I know there is a concern and push to work in that direction and I hope it will be as successful as the central downtown revitalization has been.
The next 10 years: I’m certainly not a visionary or mover and shaker but I think a lot will hinge on the additional outside businesses we can attract. Our internal growth has been great and we can all see the results up and down 4th Street and in the expanding Arts District along with Bailey Park and Innovation Quarter and throughout downtown.
All these commitments and energies business owners and leaders have made and applied are going to anchor the downtown solidly but attracting 1 or 2 new large businesses from outside would be game changing. Exciting stuff when it happens!
Jay Sinclair / Sinclair Photography