Jake Rajs’ by Peter Kotsinadelis These United States—The Definitive American Landscape
"They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That being the case, one could say the images in Jake Rajs’ new book, These United States, speak volumes. The book is the most recent from the New York-based photographer and took nearly four years to compile from 30 years worth of archived images. Additionally, there is a wonderful introduction by veteran newsman Walter Cronkite, whom Jake remembers seeing on television when he was eight and had just moved to the United States.
These United States (Rizzoli, 2003) is a photo book that illustrates the magnificence of the country and is divided it into six sections: “Land,” “Coast,” “Freedom,” “Trails,” “Country,” and “City.” As you review these sections, the images convey a story—a journey from vast open land to beautiful coasts, national monuments, open trails, cities and country places.
While looking at Jake’s eighth book in a dozen years, I was most curious to learn how these ideas came to him. Jake explains, “They just pop into my head. I treat each image as a paragraph in a story and go through my library of more than 150,000 images. As the concept develops I look for what else I may need to tell the story and begin shooting to complete the book.
“As I edit the images, I try not to become too attached to one photograph, even though it may have taken me 6000 miles to get to. Another photograph, which may have happened in 30 seconds could better tell the story. The public only sees the end product, so once the photograph is taken, you ask yourself if there’s life in the photograph. How long it took you to take it and how difficult it was to take are things the public will not see in your image.”
Born in Poland, Jake’s family immigrated to Israel when he was five, and a few years later to the United States. A graduate of Rutgers College with a B.A. in Studio Art, one does not wonder how he was drawn into photography.
“Originally I thought I would be a sculptor or painter since Michelangelo, Matisse and Picasso were huge influences on me, but I have always been interested in the arts. So one time in college when I was writing poetry I decided to use photography as a means to illustrate my work. What I soon learned was that my photography was a lot better than my poetry, so I decided I had to go with what I was better at.”
Jake’s photography has led him from working on national ad campaigns for American Express, AT&T, Ford and the U.S. Army to traveling to places like Istanbul and Turkey, while doing feature stories for Travel & Leisure magazine. Currently his clients include Nike, Citicorp, CBS Records, Donald Trump, GM’s Chevrolet division, and Marriott, just to name a few.
His photography work speaks for itself, “Good work comes from passion. You reveal yourself. You need to be honest. You cannot lie to yourself, or it will be like diving into a pool with no water in it.”
Jake’s cameras are all film, and include a Fujifilm GX-617 medium format panorama camera with 105mm lens and a Center Neutral Density filter to remove vignetting, a Pentax 67 with various lenses, and a Sinar 4x5. He does use a Nikon F5 and F100 35mm SLRs as well, but prefers medium or large format for his work.
“Sometimes if I arrive at a destination and the light is leaving too quickly for me to set up my medium format gear, I grab my F5 or F100 and shoot. It’s always better to get the image even on a smaller format than to miss it entirely.”
His film of choice is Fujichrome Velvia 50 for almost all his work. “As a painter, I liked colors and was influenced by pop artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and James Rosenquist. I tried newer films including Velvia 100F, but Velvia 50 gives me the image I want with great color.”