“Art Shay’s photography shakes you up, sets you down gently, pats you on the head and then kicks you in the ass.” Roger Ebert
Art Shay was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1922. During World War II, he was lead navigator on 30 missions in the Eighth Air Force. His service, which also include 23 combat supplies missions, earned him five Air Medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. He is credited with shooting down one Focke Wulf 190, a German fighter plane.
Shay has pursued photography since his teens, and he took his first Leica to war with him. His first published photographs—documenting a mid air collision over his English Air Base—were printed in a September 1944 issue of Look magazine. Upon returning to civilian life, Shay wrote Sunday features for the Washington Post before becoming a staff reporter for Life magazine. In San Francisco at age 26, he became Life’s youngest bureau chief. His specialty was story ideas and he wrote text and captions for photographers such as Alfred Eisenstaedt, Peter Stackpole, Wallace Kirkland and Francis Miller.
Shay moved to Chicago in late 1948. A longtime fan of literature, he befriended novelist Nelson Algren, the winner of the first National Book Award for Fiction. Throughout the 1950s, they wandered Chicago documenting Algren’s “rusty heart” neighborhoods. In 1951, Shay left his staff position at Life magazine and became a freelance photographer. He found success shooting for major magazines including Life, Time, Fortune, Ebony, Sports Illustrated, The Saturday Evening Post and The New York Times Magazine. Shay earned a reputation for getting the shots editors wanted. As former editor of Life and Fortune Roy Rowan put it, “Art Shay’s extraordinary talent lies in capturing the human spirit of all those who come before his lens.”
Shay’s images range from photographs of nine US Presidents, to the early 1960s Post cereal box baseball card photographs, to a forty-year ongoing essay of a local shopping mall. He is the author of nearly 70 books, including several dozen nonfiction children’s books. He has also written five plays, two of which had professional stage runs: “A Clock for Nikita” in 1963 and “Where have you gone, Jimmy Stewart?” in 2002. Shay is also a member of the U.S. Racquetball Hall of Fame (having been a state and national champion) and has been the official photographer of the racquetball association.
Since 1958, Shay has lived in Deerfield, Illinois, where he and his wife Florence raised their five children. Florence Shay, an esteemed rare book dealer and his wife of 67 years, died in 2012. Art has since published “My Florence: A 70-year Love Story” which honors her as his intellectual and loving partner.
Shay’s photographs reside in major permanent collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art – Chicago and the National Portrait Gallery (Washington D.C.). He is currently involved in several photographic and literary projects including an expansive book of his civil rights photographs and a documentary on his life and work.