I wanted to put in my own two cents about Gordon's topic of the other day— photographic legacies—before we leave the idea behind.
A. D. Coleman uses two particular words with respect to photography that I think are illuminating. They're both scholarly-sounding words, and I think Allen uses them in ways that he has refined somewhat beyond their dictionary definitions. The words are "reify" and "redact."
"Reify" means to make real. This is of course an important word for artists, since artists are all the time getting ideas. An artistic project can actually have a rich life and and an elaborate structure in your head without being anything more than a notion; but until you "make it real," it's unlikely that anyone else is going to be able to get much out of it. Also, of course, the process of reifying any idea usually changes the idea, which is the fodder for so much of what goes on in art schools, not to mention what happens when you go out with a camera.
You might have the idea that you want to photograph the logging industry, or make a series of pictures that are all blue, or whatever else you might think of, but to be art the idea has to be made real by being put into some transmittable form.
"Redact" is a word the meaning of which, unless I misread him, Allen has extended somewhat. Strictly, it means to edit a text for publication. More generally, it can be thought of as putting any kind of creative project into final form.
Redaction is the reason why so many successful artists prefer to work toward some sort of culmination with any given body of work. For some it's to publish the work as a book, for others it's to have a show. There's no standard form for fully redacted work, of course; the concept simply implies that the work is wholly and completely reified to the limits of the artist's intentions, abilities, or resources.
Redaction, I think, is what really "separates the men from the boys," if the women reading this will forgive the expression. Most of us don't even edit our work, much less redact it into some coherent final form. Redaction, as those of you who have done it even once will be well aware, is very hard work. It requires that edits be hard, sequences be set in stone, final prints be made and matted, and the work be submitted to judgment with no excuses. For some it's even threatening work, requiring a certain kind of courage, since to finish something is to close it off to future improvements either actual or imagined.
The redaction project that is most common among photographers is the portfolio. (As you read this, ask yourself: do you have a portfolio that you could present without a single excuse or elaboration as being representative of what you've done as a photographer?) A custom book is also a great project, or even the humble "photo album." A fine print framed and hung can reify and redact a single picture.
Redaction is anyone's best shot at a legacy of any sort—whether it's to be worldwide fame in times to come or a considerate heirloom for the great-grandkids. The better the print, the less likely someone will be to throw it away. The more complete and finished the project, the easier other people find it to understand and appreciate, and the more likely they are to value and preserve it. It can be anything; but whatever it is, finish it. It will help it to endure.
Whatever form it takes, redaction is really the key to accomplishment, as well as to a "legacy."
Featured Comment by Gordon Lewis: Thanks, Mike. Reify and redact: "Make it real and present a clear statement." The redaction part is precisely the issue I'm struggling with. As usual, you expressed it better than I ever could. [I might take issue with that.... —MJ] The only thing I would add is that if one has the right attitude and approach, this struggle can be energizing and illuminating, for the photographer as well as the viewer. Conversely, I'm convinced that an inability to redact indicts an inability to make sense of one's life. And it's not just deciding what to say—it's having the courage to say it. If you never complete it, you never risk criticism. On the other hand, you also eliminate the possibility of praise and acceptance. To this extent, no legacy is simply given to you: You have to claim it.
UPDATE: I heard from A.D. Coleman after this post appeared. Firstly, he wanted to share credit for his refinement of the word "redaction" with the late photographer, teacher, and theorist M. Richard Kirstel. Further, of his usage of the word, he says he would "probably object to anyone reducing it down to a sentence or so of paraphrase," and refers interested readers to his essay "On Redaction: Heaps and Wholes, or, Who Empties the Circular File?" in his book Depth of Field (University of New Mexico Press, 1998 [OoP]).