I caught the photography bug in a serious way at the age of 14. My dad was the Managing Editor of the largest evening newspaper (Detroit News) in the United States during the heyday of print media. He loved photography and as such we had a darkroom in our house (both black & White and Color film). My dad was thrilled with my level of interest and let me have access to all of the gear. My interests were sports and music. Because I enjoyed writing – as luck would have it – I found myself being published (with pay) in the newspaper as a stringer on a frequent basis. Under the pen name Jay Hilton articles and or photos soon began to appear in TV Magazine, Sunday Magazine and in other newspapers and magazines on subjects ranging from the NBA playoffs to concert tours for music groups such as the The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Peter Frampton, Aerosmith, The Doobie Brothers, Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac and Kiss. To my surprise music groups and record labels contracted with me for work. A manager of a chain of record stores in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania convinced me and his upper management to sell my work on high quality glossy stock in sizes up to 16″ x 20″ instead of inexpensive posters. The idea actually worked.
The events associated with life back-stage and at post concert parties was interesting for a short period of time. However, the lifestyle was fairly brutal and couple of events led me to belief there was not a future for me as a professional photographer. The first being I lost a good deal of equipment and almost my life as a sold out crowd rushed the stage at the onset of the concert for ZZ Top. As a favor, I had brought along my roommate David Lee (from Greenville Mississippi) to the event. ZZ Top was one of his favorite groups. Both of us were being crushed to death by the crowd – literally – not 60 seconds into their concert. Luckily the stage crew spotted me and pulled David and myself to safety. Next was the constant harassment by groupies using me to try to get to the stars. A writer for the State News (the student daily newspaper at Michigan State with a daily circulation of 50,000+ at the time) spent an entire semester trying to convince me it would be a great to do a story about my work and with example photos. Ultimately I gave in and an entire back page of a Friday issue was devoted to an interview with me, accompanied with a large photo of yours truly sitting in front of a full wall collage of my shots. The article was nicely written and a good stroke for the ego. Afterward however, a whole bunch of phone calls and unannounced visits ensued and made my life miserable. I was pretty bummed about the situation and decided to stop. While the money and the creative electricity were temping, I stuck with the decision.
In 2007, I decided to get back into taking photographs as an avocation. It became been extremely rewarding. Landscape photography in the backcountry of Idaho became the focus. As time passed more and more people asked if I would sell them copies of my work. I was uncomfortable getting back into selling my work – so I would give it to them. By 2009 I had purchased a large-format commercial printer and the top-of-the-of-the-top-of-the-line camera gear. The implication was I was giving away 40″ by 100″ artworks on paper and canvas.
Linda (my wife) and Kyle (my son) called the operation The Jeff Give It Away Gallery. In the late spring of 2013 Kyle presented the summary and detail plan for an art galley in Sun Valley. We both invested equally in the startup and opened the MESH Gallery on June 30th, 2013 (my birthday). The company and gallery were named after our two dogs Merry Christmas (ME) and Shae (SH).
Linda and I (along with real-estate busines partner Jack Dies) purchased two buildings located on Town Square in Ketchum in 2014. The key building being the original Catholic church (1884). This would become MESH Art Gallery at Heritage Hall in 2016. We have operated at this location since 2016.