It occurred to me that this might be a useful question at this point, if you've been following along with the discussion for the past several days. There's an old expression that I think goes, "That hits me where I live." As I understand it, the expression refers to something the appeals to you directly and viscerally, that you admire most of all, that you find most nourishing to your enthusiasm. Something you might also say "I'm a sucker for." (Pardon my clumsy blundering about, but I think it bears defining.)
As a music listener, for instance, what "hits me where I live" at the moment is Bluenote-label jazz from the 1950s. Can't get enough. (When I was in grade school it was the Beatles, in college it was Neil Young, and for a while in my 30s it was Trevor Pinnock and other Baroque music on period instruments.) Note that these are not value judgments for anybody else. Maybe, for somebody else, where they live might be big-hair rock from the '80s, or Barry Manilow, or the Three Tenors. I have an older friend who loves big band. My son's uncle when I knew him was crazy about the Beastie Boys. For my friend KK I suspect it is the Velvet Underground. But don't most listeners have some artist or other that is right at the core of their love for music, the one that speaks to their heart most easily, the last band they'd want to give up?
Where you live—it's something you just love out of proportion, the thing you'd take to the desert island, the thing you return to again and again, the thing that grounds you. The thing you have a weakness for.
So—photographically, where do you live?
Always dangerous speaking for others, so this is just provisional, but I'll go out on a limb and say that for Ctein, "where he lives" photographically speaking is 6x7 color negative film and 16x20 dye transfer prints (which you can arrange to see if you're in the San Francisco area, by the way). Better hear that from him, though.
For me, the style of photography I simply love best—where I live—is documentary style 35mm B&W. For a superb example, take a look at the Turnley twins' McClellan Street in the new issue of the Digital Journalist. Ambitious to become photojournalists, the brothers just went out and shot their own neighborhood, practicing their craft, warming up. McClellan Street happened to be where they lived. What resulted was a set of simple, honest, straightforward pictures that reek of life. They couldn't be more beautiful.
This is one of those projects that just make me want to hang it up, because I know I'll never do better. For me, stuff like this is as good as photography gets. There's a book, too. I'll have to get it, that's all there is to that. Might as well drop the bucks right now and not worry about it.
Check out the portfolio. (There are always good portfolios at the Digital Journalist.) I notice, too, that the Digital Journalist is continuing the site redesign that they started last month. "From now on, we will be presenting HD videos prominently in our features," the new newsletter says. If you don't have the DJ bookmarked, you should. My friend Pierce writes a column there. This month's is about Leica.
And speaking of videos—this isn't really off-topic—go to YouTube.com and search "Jeff Mermelstein Media Matters." Look for parts 1a, 1b, and 2. The videographers just couldn't resist the Ken Burns disease, zooming in on and panning around within still images, which I (you guessed this, right?) can't stand. But, Mermelstein: I like the guy. He seems almost a little Asperger-ish, he's so focused. I admire that.
This is "Random Excellence" for this week, by the way. Although it's not really very random (the Turnleys and Mermelstein are at the top of the game).
Mike (Hat tip to Kent Phelan and Tom Kaszuba)
Featured Comment by Chris: "Where do I live? While I've ventured into several neighborhoods of photography, the one that keeps calling me back is railroad photography. I'm not talking about the roster-shot cult, either.
"The late Gary J. Benson wrote a book called The Art of Railroad Photography and it truly was a life-changing book for me. Previously, I had been content to stand at grade crossings and shoot the 'wedge' that is the mainstay of many rail photographers (and accounts for about 90% of Lucius Beebe's shots from what I can tell). The wedge is appropriately named. Basically it's a shot with a 50mm (in 35mm terms) taken at a 3/4 angle that causes the train to look like a wedge. It can feature other elements, but is generally a shot of the train (especially the locomotives).
"After reading Mr. Benson's book, several new worlds opened to me, but the greatest was the concept of the 'Trainscape.' Roster shot wedges are okay but they don't tell much of a story. Learning to feature trains in the environments in which they work is a great way to liven up a railroad shot.
"This past weekend I was out railfanning on the Limon Sub. of the Union Pacific which runs east of Denver. The line was originally part of the Kansas Pacific. While it lacks the scenic majesty of the Moffat Sub. which tunnels through the Rockies, the old KP has a charm all its own. The plains are beautiful in a rugged sort of way. It was truly a challenge to feature the trains in this environment in a meaningful way.
"In addition to the concept of the trainscape, Mr. Benson also taught me that railroading extends beyond the world of locomotives. Most railfans are content to happily shoot their grade crossing wedgies of the locomotive. Getting a good shot means getting a rare locomotive more than anything else. Beyond locomotion, though, is a rich, fascinating industry of equipment, environments and people! One of my biggest goals lately has been to add the human element to my railroad shots.
"All this had added up to an addiction. I truly can't wait to get out and shoot more train shots. My 'physical neighborhood' allows me to follow this pursuit of my 'photographic neighborhood' wonderfully. Colorado offers many great railroad opportunities.
"In addition to mainline action throughout the state, we also have several tourist operations. With operations like the Durango and Silverton; the Cumbres and Toltec; the Georgetown Loop; the Leadville, Colorado and Southern; the Colorado Railroad Museum; and the San Luis and Rio Grande (all but one of which operate photogenic steam locomotives) the railroad photographer has some amazing photographic possibilities. Add in mainline steam events by the Union Pacific's mammoth locomotives and it's about as perfect a place as railroad photographer could ever live.
"Of course, my neighborhood comes complete with neighbors, as well. When I'm not out taking railroad photos, I truly enjoy immersing myself in the work of others in my neighborhood. Perhaps my favorite way to spend a quiet evening is paging through the books by Don Ball, Jr. (I have all of them). In addition to his own great photographs, Mr. Ball also included the work of some truly great railroad photographers like Jim Boyd, T.J. Donahue, O. Winston Link, etc. Beyond those greats, I've also really come to enjoy the work of other greats like Richard Steinheimer, Mike Danneman, Brian Solomon, etc.
"It's been a fascinating journey, and as enjoyable an addiction as one could 'suffer' from. I'm glad you posted this piece, Mike. I can't wait to read some of the other responses. There have to be some other fantastic 'neighborhoods' out there!"
Mike replies: You're lucky to have a subject you're that passionate about. I worked for a model railroading magazine briefly and helped judge their annual railroad photography contest one year (I still have Gary Benson's book, too)—it's a challenge all right, not as easy as it looks.
Speaking of the human element, south of town we have a long approach where the tracks don't block traffic anywhere (it passes under the main girdling road, Rt. 59). I'd noticed that long trains sometimes pause there, just short of the first signal. I never knew why they stopped—I assumed it was to adjust their timing to get back on schedule or something. One day I happened to see an approaching train slowing as it neared the crossing, so I swung the car into a nearby lot and hopped out with my camera, thinking to get a shot as it passed. I waited for the train, but it slowed to a stop well short of the crossing.
Then I noticed one of the two engineers hop out of the cab and start walking briskly away from the train. I was curious, so I just hung out and watched. Well, he disappeared into the nearby strip mall for a while. The train waited. A little while later he came striding back—carrying a couple of bags from McDonald's! He swung himself back up into the cab, and they fired 'em up again and off they went.
So that was it! Somewhere I have a shot of an idling locomotive straight on, headlamp blazing, with that guy climbing back into the cab with his and his buddy's lunch.
Featured Comment by All Day Breakfast: "I'm a sucker for photographing quirky looking trees in an urban environment, tall mundane buildings which rise above non-descript urban settings like monoliths, You Are Here signs and the spaces between dwellings. This has been going on for about a year. I photograph other things too of course but I get really excited when I 'see a good one' of one of the above. (FWIW you can see more examples here.)"
Christopher Burkett, Green and Gold Floating Leaves, Arizona (reproduced with permission)
Featured Comment by Geoff Wittig: "I've always loved the perfectly rendered intimate color landscape, ever since stumbling across Robert Glenn Ketchum's book The Hudson River and the Highlands twenty years ago. I signed it out from the library so frequently I was on a first-name basis with the staff. (I finally bought my own copy). Christopher Burkett's work has the same flavor, depicting a single tree as a little corner of heaven. I presume this type of image captivates me because it matches the human scale of things here in the East, in contrast to the monumental Western 'big sky' landscape. Over the last couple of years my own work has evolved to stitched panoramics printed large, so that standing in front of the print distills my sense of what it looks and feels like to stand in a hushed forest quietly enough to hear the small critters going about their business. I can't get enough of 'em.
"Music? that would be the Jayhawks, with a side-order of GooGoo Dolls. The Jayhawks for their witty lyrics and harmonies, and because my kids hate 'em; all I have to do is put on a CD, and they flee the room. Ah, solitude. The GooGoos because I grew up in Buffalo, and know exactly what 'Broadway' is about. I've been in those bars."
Featured Comment by Ernest Theisen: "I live with pictorialists from way back in time to today and with Zeiss Ikon folders and with Kallitype chemicals and with lithographic ink, and with folks like these."