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Home » Campus News Latest » Obituaries » James P. “Jim” Mayer ’69
James P. Mayer (Jim) died on May 9, 2022, of pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his wife, Jane Flint, his stepson, Jesse DeKoven, his brother Loomis Mayer (Cary Andrews), nephews Charles Mayer (Amanda), John Mayer (Victoria), Tim Milne-Wallis (Vicki), Peter Douglass, James Milne (Katie), nieces Bess Taylor (Ken), Caroline Goell (Richard Schellenberg), Diana Yankes (Craig) and ten grand-nieces and nephews, all of whom he loved very much.
Born in Berea, Ohio, on May 2, 1946, to Philip Fredrick Mayer and Elizabeth Eleanor Bottrell Mayer, Jim lived his first years in Oskaloosa, IA, Oakland, CA, at Gandhi Farm in Parkman, Ohio, and in Perry, NY, before the family settled in Swarthmore, PA. During middle- and high-school Jim played football, ran track, and was a National Merit finalist. With his Quaker parents and brother, he participated in the Ban the Bomb movement, anti-Viet Nam War activities, and in civil rights marches and protests with Martin Luther King and others.
Jim graduated as a philosophy major from Antioch College in Ohio, where his interest in photography (and motorcycles) grew and expanded to include proficiency in video and film. In his senior year abroad he happened to be in Prague, then Czechoslovakia, when the USSR invaded. He managed to get photographs of that event out to the Liberation News Service.
On graduating, Jim moved to San Francisco and participated in Project One, a technology commune and intentional community anchored by a number of organizations including Optic Nerve, a leftist photography collective, of which Jim was a founding member. Jim and Bill Bradbury introduced the group to the SONY Portapak, the first generation of portable video recorders that was instrumental in what came to be known as the Guerrilla Television Movement. Optic Nerve created several early documentaries in this vein… black and white, “verite” documentaries utilizing ultra mobility, low cost, informal structures, and a cheeky relationship to commercial television; including a documentary on rodeo cowboys, Psychological Bullrider (1973), and 50 Wonderful Years (1973), on the Miss California Beauty Pageant. Both were among the first independently produced video documentaries to be broadcast on Public Television. Optic Nerve worked frequently with San Francisco based art groups and artists, and Jim was the location sound recordist on the Optic Nerve “Men’s Crew” for Ant Farm’s historic media event, Media Burn (1975).
For a period in the late 60’s and early 70’s, Jim studied Shaolin Kung-Fu and Lien-Ying style t’ai chi ch’uan in Portsmouth Square Park at 5:00am with renowned master Kuo Lien-ying. He continued his t’ai chi practice throughout his life, studying with Sifu Bing Gong, a former student of Master Kuo.
For several years during the ’70’s, Jim was employed at Xerox PARC in Palo Alto as a video specialist, documenting the many innovations developed at PARC during that time. While there, with the blessing of the company, Jim gave access to the equipment and ideas available at PARC to many independent film/video makers and graphic designers, several of whom went on to contribute to the growing independent film and video movement and to many technological advancements in digital media.
In 1979, Jim, with Steve Christiansen and Lynn Adler, co-produced and directed Salmon On the Run, a documentary on competition between First People, sport fishers, and commercial fishers for the right to fish for Pacific salmon. The show was aired on the PBS science series, NOVA.
In 1980, Jim left Xerox PARC and with two other Optic Nerve members, John Rogers and Lynn Adler, formed Ideas In Motion in their 10th St., South of Market loft as a for-profit partnership continuing the ideals of Optic Nerve within a sustainable financial structure. For 40 years, Jim and his partners created self-produced documentaries, sponsored videos, and commissioned work, addressing social issues and celebrating the creative spirit, including: The Moral Equivalent (1982) on the California Conservation Corps backcountry trail crews; Saxophone Diplomacy (1983) on tour in the USSR with the avant-garde Rova Saxophone Quartet; Computers in Context (1989) on participatory computer design in Scandinavia; Kembali to Return (1989) traveling to Bali with Berkeley’s Gamelan Sekar Jaya; Faith, Hope, and Capital (2000), a PBS documentary on community development financial institutions; and Rova Channeling Coltrane (2016) on the Rova Saxophone Quartet’s re-imagining of John Coltrane’s Ascension.
Jim was Ideas In Motion’s lead producer, director, and editor of numerous videos for the Electric Power Research Institute, shot in numerous locations in the US, Asia, and Europe. In recent years he also spearheaded a series of videos on the intricacies of complicated watchmaking in Switzerland, produced for Jeffrey Kingston and WatchTime magazine. He was fully in his element in a breakneck production schedule, doing the work he loved, whether in the ateliers of Le Brassus, or under the streets of Queens. But, as a great lover of cheese, he was particularly happy in Switzerland.
Since its founding, Ideas In Motion provided pro bono video services for Bay Area arts organizations, including the Pickle Family Circus and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Jim was particularly devoted to the SFMT, organizing multi-camera shoots of shows in the parks, documenting behind the scenes, conducting interviews, editing booking tapes and the 40th and 50th anniversary screenings.
Amazingly, he still found time to restore a MK II 3.8 Jaguar, study Russian Constructivist art and experimental cinema, read extensively on WW2 espionage, develop a good knowledge of French wine and Scotch whiskey, cook, garden, and in later life took up the clarinet, playing with the Musicians Action Group of Berkeley and marching with them in the May Day Parade in Paris in 2016 with a host of other international political action bands.
With his wife, Jane, whom he married in 2002, he traveled widely, continued political action, including Get Out the Vote, stayed connected to his many, many friends, hosted frequent parties, had the kind of charisma that comes from leaving each person feeling they’ve been heard, and deeply, deeply loved his life.
John Korty '59