Jake McGuire, wearing Irish tweed, a colorfully striped tie, and pocket handkerchief, is a self-confessed opportunist; he is a man who sees possibilities everywhere. He laughs about his peripatetic life, and talks rapidly, hands afly, about himself: “I guess you could say I have Attention Deficit Disorder. I went to four colleges and one cooking school.”
An Arlington resident — off and on — since he was a baby (his parents moved here in 1954), McGuire has just spent a few days driving around Washington marketing “the little book that could.” He stopped at more than 150 hotels to tell them about the book, which he predicts will sell well in a White House transition year.
McGuire has had many years to look at the Washington sights and photograph them. And that is what he has done in his small, square “pocket book” of photographs. He gets up early, and stays up late to photograph the monuments and scenes and adds a pithy comment about the shot, like the one where a young man is climbing into Lincoln’s lap. He notes that is strictly illegal (and difficult) to do, but he just happened to catch it so he snapped it. The book is starting to sell: 150 copies there, 200 there. McGuire is starting to feel less like struggling artist and more like a man who has hit his stride doing what he loves.
McGuire has been a photographer for most of his life. He tried to go down the road of his family — they were architects and chemists. But he thought he would have more fun in the newspaper business. He joined the Northern Virginia Sun as a darkroom attendant. Those were early days and newspapers still used hot type, photo engraving, and typewriters: he was 19 and found himself doing pretty much all the jobs of the paper at once. Arone Publications asked him to leave the Sun and come work for them: he did the Army Navy game and found he loved taking photos and was good at it.
Not long afterwards, he read that the National Enquirer was looking for photographers. He flew all over the country taking pictures of unusual things in the deserts of Nevada or the woods of Idaho, and then realized there was a market for photos for airline magazines, so he started with Piedmont Airlines. How he got that gig tells the story of McGuire’s success: the chief executive of the airline, the man who would have to sign off on hiring him, wasn’t able to talk to McGuire because he was in the hospital. So McGuire found out which hospital he was in and sent him a get well card. It turned out no one else did, so when McGuire called up for the interview, he was recognized as the only well-wisher: and he got the job.
All this time on airplanes led to the inevitable: McGuire married a flight attendant and then travelled all over the world as a family member. Eventually, he got tired of flying and, after being noticed by Twin Lights Publishing Company as a photographer with skill, he was asked to put together a coffee table book of 100 of his best photographs in 2004. His first book signing at Barnes and Noble on 13th and E Streets, N.W. was a relative if not resounding success. When he said he wasn’t that happy with the sales, the bookstore clerk cheered him up, saying, “You did a lot better than the last guy who signed books here.” “Oh yeah?” McGuire asked. “Who was that?” “Mitt Romney.”
It’s not easy to make money as a photographer. McGuire took cooking lessons to be a better food and wine critic. He kept hustling: he did a book of photographs of the coast of Maine, shot from an airplane. He proposed doing a shoot for American Cruise Lines, talking them into giving him one of the 60 cabins on the ship so that he could ride along on the cruise up through Penobscot Bay, taking pictures along the way.
McGuire got the idea of doing a light, small, easy-to-package book of photographs a few years ago: he made the book just under six inches square so it could fit in a 6- inch square gift box; he used Eco Print, a digital press, for the first three runs and now has turned to CSI in Falls Church. Debra Schiff, of J Street Group, LLC said she loves the little book McGuire has produced and bought a couple hundred copies of it for clients. She said, “It’s a wonderful gift and Jake McGuire is a one of a kind guy who is great to work with.”
He markets the book aggressively, stopping in at hotels and visiting NGOs and lobbyists who all have visitors to the area and need a small, affordable gift item to hand out to their clients. David Hill, of the Phoenix Park Hotel said, “I’ve known Jake for 14 years, and I’ve used his images for room decor in the rooms and I’ve put photographs of D.C. in a presentation folder for clients: this year, I’m buying 200 of his little books as gifts for inauguration clients: the little book he does on Washington is a cool shape, easy to take away with you, and most importantly, it has style. I like to give my clients a gift that is creative, original, and has value. And style. I’ll tie a ribbon around the square box he gives me, and provide it with a card to the people travelling here for the inauguration. People really feel like they are getting something special, and they are.”
McGuire personalizes his books, too, so that if someone is having a meeting or convention, the book can have the logo and a message printed on the first page. He calls it “the little book that could,” and he says the book is the love of his life: he basically sells a portable photo gallery. His business model? Hard work. McGuire says he works up to 12 hours a day. Will he ever get bored? Not right now, he says. But he is thinking of doing a similar book on San Francisco. And Chicago. And ….
McGuire’s website is www.DCJakeMcGuire.com.