Campus & Community

Not afraid to switch focus

3 min read

IT whiz mixes business with pleasure

Ask him, and he’ll tell you.

“I’m a jack of all trades.”

An information technology support associate for University Information Systems, Jeff Mayes transcends what people typically think of as “the computer guy.”

Mayes is a campus nomad, a technical virtuoso whose busy schedule repairing, tending, and upgrading Harvard’s vast computer system belies an artist’s world, a place where few computer technicians dare to tread.

Mayes stumbled onto computers like he stumbled into photography. Back in the early ’90s, Mayes was a freelancer, rigging lighting and technical production for the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) Institute.

“I was what they called a ‘casual laborer,’ ” recalled Mayes. He learned the ins and outs of computers through tracking paperwork for the A.R.T. “People started asking me questions about computers,” he said, adding that offers for work soon followed. “I’m a self-taught man.”

Similarly, taking pictures was always just a hobby for Mayes. He proudly has no degree in anything, just assorted passions and an ethic to try it all.

“I started out taking pictures of objects, landscapes,” he said. “I hated taking pictures of people.” Mayes was uncomfortable approaching people for snapshots, but that quickly passed. A friend employed by the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS) contacted Mayes, and suggested that he send some photos along. Mayes sent his friend one, “a picture of a tech medic on a bike.” That led to a bigger assignment, photographing Boston’s new ambulances in front of local landmarks.

He traveled via ambulance all around the city, taking pictures at Faneuil Hall and in front of the State House. That day, recalled Mayes, was the opening of the Zakim Bridge — not then a Boston landmark, but a sight to see.

“I drove there, right past the State Police, turned the ambulance around, hopped out, and started snapping,” he said.

The shot of the imposing Zakim made it onto the cover of JEMS, which reaches a worldwide audience.

“If I talk to an EMT now in another country, they remember that image,” he said. “It’s become sort of iconic.”

Mayes began exclusively photographing EMT runs, documenting their work. “My wife would say, ‘What did you do today?’ and I’d reply, ‘Oh, I was at a heroin overdose,’ ” he said.

But a photographer friend told Mayes he needed to expand his horizons, so he did.

In sleepy Ayer, where Mayes lives, he took an interest in local politics. “This was my way of being involved in the community,” he said. “I give my time, they get my talent.”

He quickly became chairman of the committee for communications. His first order of business was revamping the town’s Web site. He spent three months behind the scenes, drafting blueprints for a more interactive site.

Most recently, Mayes photographed Attorney General Martha Coakley’s U.S. Senate campaign. Mayes still brightens when he talks about the exposure his work has received, citing the day when Coakley removed her “official” portrait from her Facebook page and replaced it with one of his.

Mayes’ photographs have appeared all over, but can regularly be found in the Lowell Sun and the Public Spirit in Ayer. A hobby no more, photography has become Mayes’ second job, an incognito passion he carries as he travels the campus, tooling and typing on Harvard’s computers.