Every essay I write for TOP has the inestimable advantage of inspiring direct, raw feedback. This is very helpful to me as a writer...the feedback immediately points out the deficiencies of the articles by making it clear exactly where and in what way I had been unclear. Often, it points out to me where I should have made my underlying assumptions more explicit.
One of the points that arose from my book review of E.O. Hoppé's Amerika the other day is that several people assumed that my comments could be generalized to all of Hoppé's work. There are several lessons I need to continually keep in mind (and, not infrequently, relearn) as a reviewer. One of them is never extrapolate. If the Tannoy Mercury M4 was a good loudspeaker, you can't assume that the Tannoy Mercury F4, the M4's very similar replacement, is also a good loudspeaker. You have to listen afresh and evaluate anew. If Canon's CMOS sensors are known to have certain shared characteristics, you can't assume that Nikon's or Pentax's implementations of CMOS sensors will necessarily share all, or any, of those attributes. You have to clear your mind out and look.
So I take it for granted that unless otherwise specified, when I review a book I'm only reviewing that book. The things I said in the Hoppé review pertained explicitly to the pictures in the book, not all his pictures. As I said in the comments, I would never want to presume that what's true about some of an artist's work necessarily extends to all of his or her work—especially if I haven't seen it! In fact, the opposite—it's important to remain open to the idea that other bodies of work might be different. You have to look at the work at hand, first, and second, take it on its own terms.
It turns out that E. O. Hoppé had earned his worldwide fame as a portraitist of the great and the famous. There's a good website showing excellent online representations of a fair sampling of his portraits, which are assured, well crafted, and elegant, if somewhat conventional. Worth seeing. And quite different in many ways from the work in Amerika.
Michael Jordan, Baseball Player
There are just some things that people are better at, or best at, and that goes for photographers every bit as much as for individuals in other walks of life. Ansel Adams had a terrible color sense; August Sander did a fair number of landscapes. Even Michael Jordan, one of the most transcendent athletes of modern times, couldn't make it as a baseball player. One of the great keys to accomplishment applies to photographers too: you've got to play to your strengths.
One test I apply to artists to judge whether a certain style or a subject or a mode of working is central to them or not is to ask, if you threw it out—if it disappeared—would it change our estimation of them? You can throw out Michael Jordan's accomplishments as a batter and it doesn't do any injustice or harm to his reputation as an athlete, does it? Toss out Their Satanic Majesties Request and you haven't changed anyone's estimation of the Stones (except maybe for the better, "She's a Rainbow" aside). Ernst Haas did a fair amount of work in black-and-white, some of it very competent and quite pleasant, but if it disappeared tomorrow it wouldn't change his major accomplishments or history's view of him. You could throw out all of Sander's landscapes without affecting his significance to photography.
These thoughts don't apply to a great many hobbyist photographers, who are just trying to have fun, who will try anything, and who really have no idea what their strengths might be. For anyone hoping to create something coherent and lasting, though—anyone trying to accomplish something—knowing your strengths and not spinning your wheels chasing things you're not good at is key.
Mike (Thanks to Robin P)