I caught the photography bug in a serious way at the age of 14. My dad was 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 around the country 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 the music groups and their record labels contracted with me for work. Soon thereafter the General Manager of a chain of record stores in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania convinced me and his upper management to sell my work. Ultimtely they would promote and sell my work on high quality glossy stock in sizes up to 16″ x 20″ instead of inexpensive posters. This idea actually worked to the benefit of all parties.
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 a number of events led me to belief there was not a future for me as a professional music group 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.
The second, being life on the road with high-profile groups. The members of these groups were rather terrific as people (in general) and as creative persons. However, while Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll may sound thrilling, it gets boring pretty fast.
Last, was the constant harassment by groupies trying to use 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 great to do a story about me, and my work, with example photos. Ultimately I gave in. 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 was forced to hide in my friend’s dorm room in order to avoid girls with names such as Zena. I stuck with the decision. It should be noted that the girl named Zena, was as attractive and smart as ever. But ultimately, I knew she wanted the Rock Star (and not me).
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 to me, 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 business partner Jack Dies) purchased two buildings located on Town Square in Ketchum in 2014. The key building being the original Catholic church (built in 1884). This would become MESH Art Gallery at Heritage Hall in 2016. We have operated at this location since 2016.
The Hawaiian islands have been part of our lives since the 1980’s While in some respects, it is dramatically different than the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, both have similar traits. The geography and landscape are mesmerizing. The people who call it home are independent, yet ultimately welcoming.
Today, The Rocky Mountains of Idaho, and the Island of Kauai are on my brain 24×7. Both are part of my daily passion. We are exceptionally fortunate to have both residences (Kauai and Idaho) considered as our home.