I have had the pleasure of knowing Jay Cagney for a little over two years now and I'm so glad to call him a really good friend. Hailing from the great state of New Jersey, he highlights some of the best motorcycle culture coming out of the East Coast. Jay always has a smile on his face every time I see him and he's genuine to the core. Not only is he one of the good guys of the world but his talents shine even more. His photography separates itself from others with his crisp detailing, super clean framing, and rich color choices that always capture the good times, the way life is supposed to be. He has a very natural eye that just happens to always be in the right place at the right time. It's so easy to get lost in some of his photos as well and you can put yourself right in the moment very easily. Every time I see a new picture from Jay, I get so excited to see what adventures he maybe on. It's a true honor to have Jay come out to exhibit some of his brilliant visions at Fuel Cleveland on May 9th.
Jay Cagney, where does one rest his head at night?
J: I am currently and have been for a long time in North West New Jersey. Kind of where New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania meet. If this means nothing to you and you just think New Jersey sucks, it’s the pretty part - full of trees, lakes, and the Appalachian Trail. It’s awesome and fuck you if you bring up “the shore”.
Did motorcycles find you or did you find motorcycles?
J: Well, I guess that they kind of found me. I grew up on two wheels, my whole upbringing revolved around BMX and dirt bikes. It dictated what I did every day, and who I hung out with. I’ve had the two wheel bug for as long as I can remember. However, one day my mother gave me my grandfather’s motorcycle jacket, an old Schott NYC. I didn’t get to know him very well before he passed, but he rode motorcycles for a long time and was an all around awesome dude. I was talking to my friend Marc about it and I mentioned that I feel like I can’t wear the jacket without actually owning a motorcycle, so he suggested that in that case I should just get one. He had one. So I thought, yeah, maybe I should. A few weeks later I brought home my first 80's Honda, and I’ve been screwed ever since.
What motivates you as person and artist?
J: I’m motivated by the things I like, such as motorcycles, bicycles, snowboarding, whatever. I’m very activity based. I’m actually pretty bad at being a social person, and hanging out in a room talking to people. However if I’m around or involved with something, I have a much easier time. It’s like oh you think this is rad? Well so do I! I think that’s why I enjoy being an artist. The act of photography, or creating media of any kind is that “thing” which allows for me to really connect with people. I put photographs out in to the world, and people respond to it. I think that’s awesome, and it makes me want to do it more. I’m not sure if that kind of comes across as vain, but hey it’s the truth! Pretty much what it comes down to is, I get really excited capturing or creating moments, and it’s really awesome to take something I really enjoy and share it with other people, especially when they enjoy it to.
Black and white or color photos, what is your preference and why?
J: This is a tough one. A long time ago, I thought I was a purist. I only shot film, and mostly black and white film at that. I developed it myself, and made prints in the dark room. I thought digital sucked and was cheating. However, at this point I haven’t shot film (seriously) in years. The control and instant gratification of digital is great. Not paying for film and processing/scanning doesn’t hurt either. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for film, and for larger formats than 35mm, but at this point in my life I’m pretty much strictly digital. I hope I can change that and kind of get back to what made me fall in love with photography in the first place, which was using light meters and seriously considering every shot. Who knows, maybe 2015 will be the year I take some of the old cameras off the shelf.
What's your favorite lens?
J: Also a tough one, there are so many that I love. To name a few, and these all happen to be Canon since that’s what I shoot, the 70-200mm, 85mm f/1.2, 15mm, and the 24-70mm f/2.8. They are all awesome for their own reasons, and I only own half of them, but if I had to pick I’d say the 24-70mm. It’s one of the sharpest lenses I’ve gotten my hands on and makes beautiful images. The focal range is pretty broad, you can get those on the road shots as well as those zoomed in creeper shots of the guy who doesn’t know you’re taking his photo. It’s just great all around, but I don’t actually own one. I do get to borrow one every so often. Photography happens to be really expensive.
What's your camera of choice?
What's your camera of choice?
J: My go to is my Canon 5D Mark II, aside from my truck it’s the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought. More than any of my motorcycles. I’ll throw my film choice in there too, which is my Bronica SQ-A, my medium format 6x6 camera.
Who or what inspires you?
J: It’s hard to nail down any single thing or person that really inspires me, I guess if I had to choose a person it would be my girlfriend Virginia, better known at “Virninja”. She’s always pushing me to be better, to put myself out there, and to actually do the things I want to do. I can tell you I certainly wouldn’t be given the opportunity to be writing any of this stuff without her. So yeah, I think she’s a good choice for that one. As far as what inspires me, that list could go on forever. Everything get’s me excited. As silly as it may sound, Instagram, or I should say the people using the app, inspire me. I can’t tell you how stoked I was to find out that there was an app that was focused around the sharing of photographs. I mean shit, I’m a photographer, that’s kind of perfect. While there’s a ton of crap on there, there really is so much great media that would be so much more difficult to come across 5 years ago. You can spend 5 minutes on your phone and come across the most amazing shit, from amazing people, and get completely pumped on anything in no time. I think that’s one of the things that keeps me motivated, is just being able to stay connected with what’s currently going on in my worlds, see awesome shit and get excited.
Other then photography and motorcycles what are some of your other favorite things to do?
J: Oh man, I’m kind of a “I’d rather be pretty good at a lot of things than really good at one thing” kind of guy. I don’t really ride much BMX anymore, I think I have enough scars on my body, but I’ve replaced it with 26” bikes. So dirt jumping, cross country bikes, downhill mountain bikes, snowboarding, surfing, skating, dirt bikes, I guess anything that has an element of risk in it. My mother used to be worried about me but it got to a point where she figured if I didn’t kill myself yet, I’ll probably be OK.
What is your take on photography and the way it effects you as a person and others?
J: I guess I lightly touched on this earlier but I think one of my favorite things about photography is the connections it makes. I love hanging at events and meeting awesome people, and photography just takes that experience and multiplies it. It’s this shared thing that involves me, and anyone who I happen to point a camera at, or anyone who happens to be stoked that I pointed a camera at someone, and gives us all an excuse to be like yeah, this is awesome. It’s mind blowing when people get excited to meet me or work with me just because they liked something they saw, it’s like this surreal thing that feels like it shouldn’t be happening. I mean hey, I never thought I’d be invited all the way to Ohio just to share some moments I thought were neat enough to take some photos of. That’s pretty rad.
Where are some of your all time favorite places to ride on your motorcycle?
J: Well, I’ve only really ridden on the east coast, and I have to say I love the area in which I live. I mean all of Gypsy Run takes place 30-90 minutes away from my house, and Gypsy Run goes through some epic places. I just love those summer days where I can get out there with a handful of my close friends, and we just cruise all the empty farm roads around us during golden hour. It’s warm, it’s beautiful, it’s close to where we live but still big enough to get lost. While its hard to imagine not having this in my backyard, I’m excited to explore new places.
When I met you two years ago on the Gypsy Run 7 while your bike was broken down. I remember sitting there while you tried kicking that Iron over and over. In the end what was wrong with it? (I don’t think I have ever asked you and I have seen you like a million times since haha)
J: Hahaha oh man. Wasn’t that something. I was the last one in the pack, and my bike is slowly dying. It eventually craps out on top of a mountain, really far in the woods, and no one notices that I drop out since I’m last. Oh yeah, there’s also no cell phone service. So since I’m parked on top of this mountain, and my bikes definitely not starting, I start coasting down it in neutral. I eventually came across this old couples house who were splitting wood. I asked to use their phone, but it’s the middle of the fucking woods and no one owns a phone. So I called the chase truck with their 15 year old computer, using a headset and a microphone on a stand. But oh yeah, there’s no service and the driver, Radar, didn’t get my call. I left a message and continued down the road. Eventually two guys catch up from behind me and stop, and it’s this guy Billy, and his buddy (I suck at names). I ask them to tell my girlfriend who was with you guys that I’m not dead. I’ve ran into Billy a bunch of times since and he’s awesome. You guys came back when you realized I was gone, and the Lowside crew tried to revive my bike, but it was toast. Chase truck it was. SO, what happened was, my points went. While fixing this I knocked off my positive battery wire. My bikes wiring was absolutely horrible. This was the first year of my trying to learn how to do Chopper stuff, and I had no idea what I was doing. So apparently that unpolarized my generator somehow, and my bike stopped charging. Also when I put the new points in I didn’t know how to time it properly on the road without multimeters and stuff so it took anywhere from 5-15 minutes to start it. So the bikes not charging, and it sucks to start, so I just rode it with you guys until the battery went dead. Got a ride to the final campsite, and I met Nick Toscano. He had an extra battery with him that we duct taped to my bike so I could get halfway home. He’s also now a friend. So yeah, I learned a lot that trip, and looking back now, sorry to the Lowside guys, especially Tim, for how shitty my bike was haha. Now I know! and I promise it’s gotten better.
I found that day to be a bit surreal, you couldn’t have broke down in a more beautiful spot honestly. Not only that but the fact that I can call you a good friend today because of that break down. Do you feel like things like that happen for a reason sometimes? Fate?
J: I’m not sure how to describe it, but fate could certainly work! I mean it was definitely shitty having my bike break down in this absolutely beautiful part of New York and having to end my ride early, but you’re right, if that didn’t happen I’d miss out on all those experiences. There’s a good chance I wouldn’t of met you, or Tim, or Nick, and a bunch of other people I’m happy to have crossed paths with. Maybe that’s why everyone rides old shitty bikes, if we all just rode stock new Harleys no one would break down, everything would go according to plan and everything would be boring as fuck!
Any big projects or upcoming things you are working on that you would like to share?
J: Nothing colossal yet, I’d say the biggest thing is this show, which I’m super excited about. But I’m just getting started with all this, last year was just about getting out there and seeing what happens, and that went really well for me. So this year, I want shit to happen, I want to get out there and shoot everything. I want to be excited about what I’m doing and it’d be rad if other people felt the same way.
What is your dream bike?
J: My opinion changes like the wind, there’s so much awesome stuff out there. The bike I always go back to though, is a panhead. There’s just something about them, and I’m not sure what it is, but it practically gives me butterflies. I don’t think I’ve physically laid a hand on one, and I definitely have not ridden one. That’s probably for the better though, I can barely afford to keep up with my ironhead and if I get on a pan, I’ll end up buying one and be poor. Happy, but poor.
Have you ever dropped your camera while shooting or have any crazy stories while shooting?
Have you ever dropped your camera while shooting or have any crazy stories while shooting?
J: I mean, crazy stuff would almost happen daily when I used to shoot BMX in NYC. Shooting there you were almost always breaking the law, and plus the people are just wild. Plenty of shooting in ghetto areas where I felt like all my camera shit was going to get robbed. I shot with this guy who went by “Blackman” who stole bikes for a living. I had a guy hit my flash and send it across the road in a million pieces, and was told if I didn’t get the shot he would probably beat me up. I had to use the “I’m shooting for a school project” a million times with cops and security. I never dropped my camera though! Although the first week I had it I spilled a can of beer all over it. Still works.
What's the most chaotic thing you have ever seen or been apart of?
J: I guess the things that come to mind are the times I’ve almost died, which aren’t too many. First one, I developed diabetes when I was around 10, which most people don’t know about me, but that was a pretty chaotic change in my life. They almost killed me in the hospital by typing the wrong measurements of medicine into the IV computer thing. 1 unit an hour is less than 100 units an hour. The second time was when I ruptured my small intestine riding BMX. I had my insides pouring into my stomach and I lost 20-25lbs throwing up. I hate throwing up. The hospital said I just bruised my stomach. Went back since I was in unbelievable pain and was apparently within hours of my life. But hey I made it and now I have kind of a gnarly scar on my stomach that I can make up stories about!
What's a favorite band that you loved as a kid and still love now? Don't be scared!!!
J: Haha oh man, I’ll go with the first band that comes to mind, which is horrible. I don’t actually listen to them now, but it makes me happy ish when I hear them. Taking Back Sunday, I think they were even from New Jersey too. Such a big deal in high school.
What was 13 year old Jay like?
J: Ah, middle school. I was super awkward and didn’t talk to girls. I guess not much has changed except I wear sweatpants less. Haha I try not and think about that part of my life! I think I was kind of goth and had frosted tips with spiked hair too.
Peanut butter, smooth or chunky? ahah
J: Chunky, for sure. Unless it’s on ritz crackers, then smooth. But I keep 1-4 jars of chunky in my desk at work and have PB&J every day to save up money to blow on my chopper dreams. Some people think it’s a bummer I invested all his money into a sportster but hey, big twins are expensive!
Anyone you would like to shout out and/or thank?
J: Oh gosh, these make me real nervous since I know I’m going to forget people. So maybe I’ll skip this one. Alright I’ll try, thank you Mikey for including me in this! It’s awesome. Thanks to my girlfriend Virginia for supporting me and being super awesome. Thanks to Marc for getting me into motorbikes in the first place. Thanks to Lisa at Chopcult, and Bill and Mike at Biltwell for helping get my photo’s in front of so many people that I could never on my own. Tim at Lowside for working on my shitty bike haha, Kenny, Cal, Ben, Matty, Chris and everyone a part of Strange Days for letting me get involved. All my friends for letting me point a camera at them. Just everyone who I have met along the way, who’s supported me or said something nice to me, it all means a lot and I wouldn’t be doing any of this without all of those people pushing me forwards. And lastly how could I not thank my parents for always supporting me and not being mad or ever once saying “you know those things are dangerous”. And if you’re reading this and thinking hey what about me, well then you too. Thanks!
Check out Jay's work at Fuel Cleveland on May 9th, and for more of his work check out his website: www.jaycagney.com