BILL JAY EXPRESSED great surprise and gratification when he came to Salt Lake City to jury the "Utah '88: Photography" exhibit. Actually, he had expected one thing - and found another.

A photography professor at Arizona State University, Jay had been told that on the map of international photography, Utah was still labeled terra incognito, that Utah remained "a black hole on the grid of contemporary American photography."But he discovered photography that was "alive and healthy in Utah" and that much of the work accomplished by the state's photographers is of national and, in some cases, international stature.

He observed that Utah photographers are not being influenced by national trends. This could be a result of isolation. Or could it be a result of the artists' desire to develop their own unique styles and techniques?

By jurying the show, Jay also became the curator. He sought to put together an exhibition that reflected the dominant lines in the spectrum of Utah photography. In other words, he was looking for the most interesting, significant and/or accomplished examples.

Gallerygoers should be pleased with the exhibition - a show that features 98 pieces, or about one-fifth of the total entries received from 187 Utah photographers.

Just being juried into the show was an honor in and of itself. But 15 photographers received additional recognition by having their prints selected as Purchase Award winners: Wayne Chubain, Kim Granger, Susan Makov, Robert Jay Pennington, Scott Peterson, Barbara Richards and Chris Wangsgard, all from Salt Lake City; Brian L. Bates, Kris Garlick, Barclay W. Hastings, Craig Law and Andrew M. Whitlock of Logan; Bruce Burningham of Ogden; John Taylor of Tremonton; and John Telford of Sandy.

In addition, three Traveling Exhibition Prize cash awards were presented to Carole Gallagher, John Schaefer and David Storey.

The photographers were honored at the reception and awards ceremony June 26, the exhibit's opening day.

As the viewer moves throughout the show, he will undoubtedly select his own favorites. I was particularly drawn to Stephen H. Moody's "L'Homme Solitaire"; Sandria Miller's "Across Alien Plane;" Craig Law's "Bridge Over Snake River"; Diane Gorman's "Flood Plain"; Kent Miles' "David Dornan, 1987"; Laurel Mabey's "Hotel Utah Staircase II"; John Schaeffer's "Tascha"; John P. George's "Indian Paintbrush and Sage"; Charles T. Wiese's "Twist No. 1"; and John A. Ronciak's "Lava Rocks on Bentonite."

Sponsored by the Utah Arts Council, this biennial photography show is the first segment of the council's four-tiered statewide exhibition series. The second segment - "Utah '88: Painting/ Sculpture" - opens this fall in the Salt Lake Art Center. The third and fourth segments, featuring crafts and works on paper, will be held next year.

"Utah '88: Photography" continues at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts through Aug. 14. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 2 to 5 p.m. on weekends. There is no charge to view this exhibit.

When Jay returned to Arizona, he was much wiser. He could indeed state with all honesty that "there is no paucity of photographic talent in Utah and that the standard of work is of high caliber."

"You've known it for some time," he said. After a pause, he added, "Now I know it."