Blind Spot: Dennis Stock died a week ago. I always find it curious when I find obvious blind spots in my knowledge of photographers. I mean, I do make an effort to pay attention. But...a Magnum photographer, who photographed jazz, no less, and in 35mm black-and-white—and an articulate and enthusiastic man who actively communicated with others about the craft? This guy should have been right up my alley. He even had that one thing that all photographers covet—a single signature image that even most people in the general public know: namely, James Dean, in a dark overcoat, walking on a sidewalk in the rain with his collar turned up. You can picture it in your head, right? And yet I knew almost nothing about Dennis. I'm belatedly just learning about him from his obituaries. I won't stop trying, but my ignorance in this case is a lapse.
Unbelievable: I think I've followed football less closely this year than any year of the past twenty-five. Re-acquainting this weekend didn't fire much enthusiasm. Only one game of the four was close (and blowouts are only satisfying if it's your home team doing the blowing out). There was one game—Minnesota-Dallas—that had me in a dilemma: what if you want both teams to lose? I guess you're bound to end up half happy.
Anyway, the older I get, the less patience I have for dumb guys saying obvious things. Football just isn't that subtle a game, and I've heard all the analysis before. You'll never hear guys so excited about saying things that just don't need saying as when you watch a football game. One announcer even said, "They can do one of two things here, run, or pass"—as opposed to what, FedExing the ball or putting it on a little Lionel train? Then there's all this new jargon about "moving the ball vertically" (this should mean straight up, but it doesn't, it means moving straight toward the end zone) and "going north and south" (same thing). How deep can it be to point out that the object of the game is to move the ball? Then there was this bit of high profundity, from San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding, asked to explain a decidedly off day: "I didn’t kick it between the uprights," he said, thoughtfully. Maybe there's just not that much more to say. At few of my pet peeves of the past few seasons appear to be subsiding—"they came to play" and the overuse of the word "unbelievable" as a synonym for "good." I guess I should be thankful for tiny mercies.
Improvable but imperfectable: You might have noticed that camera straps with sliding attachments seem to be the new hot thing. There are a number of photographic accoutrements that will never be perfected: camera bags, camera straps, and tripods to name three. I generally solve such problems by buying a decent one and forgetting about it—I've been using my Billingham bag since John Hinckley was in the news, and my old Gitzo Studex has been in continuous service for longer than that. I've had a bit more trouble with straps, since those are essentially consumables, although nothing is likely to wean me away from my favorite. But if you're one of those who enjoy the Quest for the perfect strap, you might want to check out the Sun-Sniper, which is apparently a paragon of the new breed. (Here's the B&H link.) Interesting. If you're interested.
Fault line: I can't resist weighing in on the late-night wars. (Forgive me, I'm weak.) First of all, isn't it curious that everyone is blaming Jay Leno? The whole mess is Conan's fault. It's just that he made his greedy play five and a half years ago. Which is too long ago for it to count, apparently.
But never mind that. The shocking news is the atrocity of Jimmy Kimmel's poor suffering family. Do people know that his children are in danger of starving? Forget Haiti; this is serious. In what had to be the most graceless performance by a talk show host since the last time David Letterman made a female guest cry, Kimmel excoriated Leno as a guest on Leno's own show, saying, among other things, "Conan and I have families to feed." I hadn't realized that Jay Leno was jeopardizing Kimmel's show, which isn't even on NBC, but also that Kimmel's children are so close to the razor's edge of going without. In the If-I-Were-King-of-the-World Court, that remark would get Kimmel three weeks hard labor on a Haitian rescue team, to provide a much-needed dose of something called perspective.
No excuses: If you thought yesterday's post was an excuse to plug some book links and make a few bucks, you're forgiven, but not so. I actually am just a book freak. And nobody buys books I recommend unless they're photography books. Besides, suggesting that people read Montaigne is like telling kids to eat their spinach.
Yesterday's post—and others like it—are a net loss, because I always end up having to buy some of the things readers suggest, expenses which more than offset the odd sale here or there that people make through the links.
I have to tell a story on myself, however, related to the idea of collecting that we've been discussing of late. Not only did I write one of the lowest-selling books in the history of publishing, but I also had one of the smallest and shortest-lived book collections in history, too. In my very early twenties I met Larry McMurtry and Bill Hale and some of the guys at the Library of Congress Preservation Department and got fired up about rare books, and resolved to start a serious library. I had read Bruce Rogers' Paragraphs on Printing, and Larry had a copy of Rogers' edition of John Florio's translation of Montaigne, three magnificent folio volumes, for sale in his shop for $800. So I sold most of the books I then owned (this was when I first met Andy Moursund, who would later become a friend and photo-book mentor, but whose purpose at the time was to disabuse me of the notion that my books had any value), added the proceeds to whatever cash I could scrape together from any source I could think of, and bought the Rogers Montaigne.
And that was it. I was working as a carpenter at the time, for barely more than minimum wage, and was having trouble making ends meet anyway. I had my eye on several other volumes in Larry's shop, but I lacked one crucial ingredient needed for collecting: any funds at all. My Rogers Montaigne sat there on my shelf, resplendent, solitary and alone, for eight or ten months, while my very obvious deficiency as a collector seeped slowly through my very thick skull. At the end of that period I resold the Montaigne (Larry gave me full value back, which was very generous), and commenced to just buy pedestrian used books to read again.
I think it qualifies as the only one-book book collection ever, even if the book did come in three volumes. Let's hope my photograph collection fares a wee bit better.
And finally, You can find anything on the web: Michael David Murphy's UNphotographable blog. We all have some things like this in our heads, I'm sure, but this is ridiculous!
(Thanks to Bill Lloyd and Tim Anderson)