AAPI Heritage Month: Conner Jay

headshotConner Jay believes in the power of images and their ability to inspire change. His pursuits through photojournalism have lead to a love for social documentation and narratives. Although born in California, Conner has lived in Saudi Arabia, England and Italy. In the future, he hopes to continue his migration, exploring every continental facet of humanity and eventually work in areas of conflict.Currently, Conner is a photographer at the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, working on projects combining layered media, utilizing audio and video with still images. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press and The Star- Ledger, while being recognized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, National Press Photographer’s Association and San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographer’s Association. Conner is based in San Francisco California.

Conner Jay

How long have you been in photojournalism?

I’ve been working as a photojournalist since late 2008. I got my first gig working in Jersey City covering crime and the dense, urban community. After that, I took my first real newspaper job came from an opportunity in the small agricultural town of Salinas, CA. I have been working around Northern California ever since and am currently a staff photojournalist at the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa.

How and why did you decide to become a photojournalist?

When my family moved to the Middle East when I was 13, a camera gave me a license to explore my new home. Ever since, I knew I wanted to tell visual narratives and explore the world in a deep, meaningful manner. Journalism is my excuse. A camera is my tool.

What do you love most about photography?

I love that photography can marry pure storytelling with surrealism. It can hang in a gallery, or be viewed over your cheerios, or seen in almost any platform. It’s still one of the most powerful mediums for its pathos.

How has being an AAPI helped/hurt your photojournalism career?

I’m HAPA, so having a Cantonese father and Irish American mother has given me an ambiguously ethnic look. This has been a huge advantage working as a photojournalist as I feel comfortable in almost any community. While I grew up in Saudi Arabia, most people thought I was Arab. When I was working in Salinas, a lot of people thought I was Hispanic. Having a diverse background has always helped me relate to the communities I cover.

What advice did you wish someone gave you when you were starting out?

I would tell any aspiring photojournalist to pursue the issues and themes that you are passionate about. Truly caring and having an interest in what you cover translates to an image.

Small Towns, Big GangsSalinas police officers and investigators mark evidence around the body of Francisco Hereida, 20, who shot and killed in the parking lot of an apartment complex Tuesday night along the 500 block of John Street night in Salinas. Hereida is the cities ninth homicide of the year and was one of four gang related shooting victims in the last five days in Monterey County. (Conner Jay | The Salinas Californian)

Small Towns, Big GangsThe pallbearers for Rogelio Serrato carry his coffin to carry him into Greenfield Holy Trinity Cemetery on Thursday in Greenfield. (Conner Jay | The Salinas Californian)

Small Towns, Big GangsPolice officer Jose Rodriguez conducts a search after a traffic stop with a car occupied by active gang members September 18 in Soledad. The four cities of Soledad, Gonzales, Greenfield and King City have a combined population of close 64,000 — and about 1,500 of those people are gang members, say police. The largest city in the valley, Salinas, has a population of about 145,000 people and  3,500 gang members. (Conner Jay | The Salinas Californian)

Small Towns, Big Gangs

Rita Serrato, center, screams at officers after discovering that her son Rogelio Serrato died during a Monterey County Sheriff’s SWAT operation January 4 in his home along San Antonio Drive in Greenfield. The sheriff was searching for the suspects of a shooting at the Mucky Duck bar in Monterey. While Rogelio Serrato was a registered gang member with connections to the Norteno criminal organization, he was not a suspect in the shooting. (Conner Jay | The Salinas Californian)

Small Towns, Big GangsFamily, friends and Norteno gang associates of Rogelio Serrato begin his funeral procession towards Greenfield Holy Trinity Cemetery on January 13 in Greenfield. (Conner Jay | The Salinas Californian)

Small Towns, Big Gangs

US Attorney Melinda Haag, on the right, listens to Salinas police chief Louis Fetherolf whisper details about a recent operation seizing nine military-style assault rifles in Salinas during a press conference December 25 at City Hall. The operation was spearheaded by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and incorporated over 70 federal, state and local law enforcement officers. Because of the large gang presence in the Salinas Valley, joint operations between agencies are common. (Conner Jay | The Salinas Californian)

Small Towns, Big Gangs

The Soledad police department listen in to their evening briefing before going out to patrol the streets September 18 in Soledad. The small police force makes combatting gangs difficult, so the the four cities of Soledad, Gonzales, Greenfield and King City have implemented the Four Cities For Peace initiative that brings officers from each city together for joint suppression operations. (Conner Jay | The Salinas Californian)

Small Towns, Big Gangs

Flora Cristobal holds a picture of her 15-year-old son Rodolfo Cristobal while her daughter looks at a picture of her late brother during a peace rally August 1 in Salinas. Rodolfo was shot and killed in a gang related shooting last Oct. 14 on Archer Street in Salinas. (Conner Jay | The Salinas Californian)

Small Towns, Big Gangs

Kayla Armenta, 5, rides next to the coffin holding her uncle Rogelio Serrato during his funeral procession Thursday at Greenfield Holy Trinity Cemetery. (Conner Jay | The Salinas Californian)

Small Towns, Big Gangs

Joel Aguilar reflects about the night he shot in a gang related shooting April 14 at his home in Salinas. Aguilar is paralyzed from the waist down with limited mobility in his arms after he was shot five time in the neck and head. The injury has been hard on Aguilar’s parents, who both left their jobs to care for their son. His mother wakes up every four hours at night to change his position in the bed so he doesn’t develop bed sore. “I don’t think she’s had a full nights sleep since this happened to me,” said Aguilar. (Conner Jay | The Salinas Californian)