Jim McCrary – Photographer Mentor Educator

An assignment from Jim's portrait class

I was saddened this morning to read of the passing of Jim McCrary on April 29, 2012. When the people who’ve made a significant impact on my life pass on I’m beset with sorrow and pain. Besides my dad and best friend and first mentor Dick Burkholder, Jim also had a significant impact on me. Jim McCrary was my favorite photography instructor at Art Center College of Design in 1978. It was the 5th semester portrait class and I hadn’t a clue why my work was at or near the bottom of the class in terms of concept, emotional connection to the viewer, and presentation. I was frustrated and could not and did not know how to get out of my own way. Then I hit Jim’s class.

On the first night he strode into the classroom: all six feet four of him, flaming red hair, glasses, short sleeve plaid shirt, Levis and a grinning swagger. A swagger that told you instantly this was going to be fun and different. I was all eyes and ears. He was causal, which at first was a alarming to me. Alarming because my other professors (up to that point) were conservative, with spit and polish attitudes that didn’t suffer fools very well. But I was used to it. Jim comes along and blows that to itty, bitty pieces. There was no semblance of my previous classroom experiences left. Shocking but it was the perfect tonic for what ailed me. Doing the course assignments, taking in the critiques, applying the knowledge gained, my work shot up in a near vertical trajectory. I wasn’t aware of how much my work improved until fellow students replaced their unkind and competitive comments with comments that acknowledged my improvement coupled with an appreciation of my newly focused vision.

I was then and have always been grateful for his gentle, confident guidance and I’ve often thought kindly about that particular class above all the others. Rest In Peace Jim……..

Your student,

Michael E. Stern

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  1. melissa.jean.johnson@gmail.com'
    Melissa Jean May 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    So sorry for your loss. He sounds like a great man, and this is a wonderful tribute to him.

  2. nigel@zenologue.com'
    Nigel Merrick (Photography Coach) May 7, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    Hi Michael

    That is sad news indeed. Even though I’m new to his work, I can see from the amazing portrait presented here that Jim really had a gift and a talent for his craft.

    It’s always hard when we lose such valuable people, but I know that his legacy will live on through the lives of those he instructed and photographed.

  3. michael@cyberstern.com'
    Michael Stern May 8, 2012 at 7:52 am #


    As I get older the loss of people important to me impacts me in ways that catch me off guard. I’m guessing I realize my turn is coming up and I’d better not dawdle any more than is necessary.

    See ya!

  4. michael@cyberstern.com'
    Michael Stern May 8, 2012 at 7:54 am #


    I appreciate you’re taking the time to write. Without having had the experience of being a student of Jim’s it’s difficult to imagine I’d be in the business at all. He was that inspiring and helpful.

    Kind regards,


  5. editorial@contrarianmonthly.com'
    Contrarian Monthly Blog September 26, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Good bit

  6. Lola_62_1999@yahoo.com'
    Susan September 28, 2012 at 7:19 pm #


    Such a lovely tribute. You described him perfectly!

    Jim was a dear friend of mine and we had such a wonderful time driving up the coast of California. I miss him greatly.

  7. michael@cyberstern.com'
    Michael Stern September 29, 2012 at 12:52 am #

    Hello Susan,

    So sorry for your loss. I hope my tribute brought some small measure of comfort…

    Thank you for writing.


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