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 jimleisy.com.

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.

7 Responses.

  1. Martha Ullman West says:

    Thank you Barry for capturing the essence of this kind, creative, intelligent and altogether civilized man. I got to know him through Cynthia not very long after my husband died, when he and Cynthia came, I think with one of Jim’s sons, to have a drink with me at my old home. He spent an inordinate amount of time retrieving my half-grown cat from the street, acutely sensitive to my totally irrational panic. The last time I saw him was here at my apartment, where he was just as attentive to the very same cat, as well as the art on my walls, the dance I was about to go see–he was ever alert and interested. Our encounters were scarce and brief, but I will nevertheless miss them, and him, very much indeed.

  2. Jane Jarrett says:

    Beautifully written, Barry. You have captured a full and gentle spirit not easily communicated. Thank you.

    • Barry Johnson says:

      Thanks, Jane. Hard to believe I won’t be running into him around town all the time.

  3. Lisa Rose says:

    I haven’t seen Jim since our high school graduation in 1968, but everything written above described the Jim Leisy I knew then. He always made me feel whole and welcome. He had a special way of shining his attention upon me so that I felt like the most important person in his life at that moment. My condolences to his family and close friends.

  4. Wally says:

    I got to know Jim in college. He would often entertain us with his slide shows. I remember his laugh, it was infectious.

  5. Alain LeTourneau says:

    I got to know Jim a little during our recent month-long residency at Caldera. Jim was great fun, and a full participant as well as provocateur (in the best sense) during this time in the woods outside of Sister, Oregon. Jim was also someone I was very much looking forward to spending more time with, a fellow traveller indeed! I feel fortunate to have gotten the chance to spend time with Jim at Caldera. My condolences to Cynthia, Jim’s friends and family during this time of grieving. I lost my own father in September of last year, and understand this must be a very difficult time for all who know and were close to Jim.

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