Cynthia Kirk

We will miss Jim Leisy, and not just the photographs

The Portland publisher, photographer, music and art lover dies at 64

The Emerson's Finckel peeks through. Photo: Jim Leisy.

The Emerson Quartet’s David Finckel peeks through. Photo: Jim Leisy.

Unsurprisingly, the first time I ran into Jim Leisy, several years ago, he was doing the photography for Chamber Music Northwest. Alert and genial, he had a great eye for the interesting visual moments in an art form that I didn’t believe had any—until I saw his images and the transport they contained, musicians at full throttle immersed in great music. Gradually, our paths began to cross more often, usually in a music context, and in recent years at a coffeeshop in Northeast we both frequented. I knew that his “real” job was as a publisher—his imprints specialized in technical and English usage books, but I loved his own recent art photographs, called “Amateur Physics,” quirky and otherworldly, an art that acknowledged, explained and speculated deeply and whimsically about the scientific world. Deep and whimsical sounds paradoxical maybe, but somehow Jim was that way himself, at least to me.

JFL Louvre Jan 2013

Sadly, I’m using the past tense: Jim died last week from a heart attack, at 64 and with a great project on the verge of reality, the first book of his new imprint Media F8, a combination of the work of photographer Dianne Kornberg and poet Celia Bland, Madonna Comix. Late last year, we sat on the floor of his office where he displayed the proofs of something bigger, stranger and more beautiful than I could fully encompass, something only someone with a deep knowledge of printing, photography and art could have conceived. It’s due to come out in Spring, but this is what we will also miss: The next volumes, the next feats of imagination, the next set of photographs.

Jim Leisy, "Dodgson" 2011

Jim Leisy, “Dodgson” 2011

I’m going to miss Jim’s smile, which could be “conspiratorial” sometimes and always let me in on a cool secret that I didn’t expect. It makes me laugh to remember that smile. Even more, I’m going to miss someone I trusted completely to work on and create in and enjoy this particular micro-culture, our micro-culture, in the most positive ways possible—not to mention that he was the nicest man possible.

A group show that included “Amateur Physics” just closed at Santa Fe’s Verve Gallery. His images can be seen in Portland at Camerawork Galley, April 26 – May 23, 2014, in the drawers at Blue Sky Gallery throughout 2014, and online at

To Jim’s family and friends, especially his partner Cynthia Kirk, ArtsWatch and I wish only the very best at this difficult time.

You can read Cynthia Kirk’s full obituary of Jim on James Blash’s Northwest Reverb website.

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