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Friday, 01 March 2013


Mike - curious as to how you define "technique". Some combination of hardware, technical skills and subject matter? What was your one chosen technique and how did you arrive at it?


This is a very poignant post that pretty much encapsulates the internal struggle I have been battling the past year or two.

The question I have to answer is: Am I going to do anything about it now that I realize I (my fear?) am the obstacle to my own growth?

At 58, I won't become the next Walker Evans or Edward Weston, and I need to decide whether I walk away from the time I have left and decide that this is a another life regret, or am I going to make a commitment to do something about it?

The details are different but in essence I feel very much the same. I never had a robust technique from early on (I was above average but just in this little town), but I love to read and write, and I earned my living for 15 years reporting about local arts and later printing photographs. Six months ago I quit my last job to focus (at last, at 41) in what I want to do. Still I feel divided, and my first tangible achievement in this months has been putting together a blog on photography (sigh). Anyway, your words are a great reminder, thank you Mike.

Mike, are you writing posts specifically for me? Because it sure seems like it at the moment.

I think focusing on one or two styles or techniques is essential, and will make you a much better photographer than moving from style to style to style or technique to technique to technique.

Personally, I've spent my entire photographic life doing two things: macro critters with one light and nocturnal landscapes on a tripod with exposure blending. I've dabbled elsewhere, but critters and darkness are what I love and where I live, and 95% of my creative energy is directed towards doing justice to those them.

Has that made me a great photographer? I don't think so...but it's made me a better nocturnal and macro photographer than 99% of the people I see online and at least 90% of what I see in print and on teevee.

And I'm not bragging--I do not think my work is terribly good...but I do think it's above average, and there are occasional flashes of transcendent beauty. I ascribe all of that to my narrow focus, endless practice, and love of self-flagellation.

Is it still something you want to do? If so, what's stopping you now?


When you go through phases like that, remember Berenice Abbott, or Ezra Pound.

She was a talented, accomplished photographer, yet despite all of that, her eternal claim to fame rests not on her own work, but on her recovery, and tireless promotion, of the work of Eugène Atget. Photographers will know Abbott, but non-photographers only really know Atget.

Ezra Pound was a mercurial, conflicted, sometimes despicable human being who could write beautiful but medievally intricate poetry that appealed to the few able to follow his quick turns of mind, but he also tirelessly championed James Joyce's Ulysses and ruthlessly edited T.S. Eliot's "Waste Land" until it was a masterpiece, something for which Eliot thanked him at the head of the poem with the dedication "To Ezra Pound, il miglior fabbro" the greatest maker.

If it weren't for you, I would not have discovered Saul Leiter, I would never have paid serious attention to the photobook way before Badger & Parr said so, I would not own two dye transfers (hopefully a third one soon!), nor would I have followed myriad of little tracks inside the maze of photographic history beyond the big surveys and the so-called Greats.

You coulda been a contender, sure, but instead you opened up worlds without ends.

I wasn't aware you were that close to death..
maybe there's still time?
If I am correct, you are in your early to mid '50s. That's a functional 20-25 years anyway. so if you replace the time between 30 and now with the next 20-25 you will be much better because you have so much experience behind you and you are recovered from the chemical demons.
have fun!

So, looking at your old photos do you find your tastes have changed at all? As I get older I find I look more for details and abstractions, rather than sweeping views.

You can't turn back the clock, but, how about pursuing that goal now? As Steven Pressfield would say, just don't prepare too much.

It isn't too late. A good friend of mine is dealing with some health issues and, at least for now, can't go out and take photographs anymore. He serves as a reminder that we should really enjoy photography while we can.

"There Is Still Time...Brother"


Can't resist replying to Michel. Abbot created an entire visual language for science, particularly physics, which is still hugely influential today. Physics education would look very different - literally - were it not for her achievement. That she does not get wider recognition for it - or, as I have seen elsewhere, is even criticised for wasting her talent on the science photographs - is not a true reflection of her worth, or theirs.

One reason I didn't get so many of the TOP recommendations in my annual deluge of books at Christmas was that I put the Steidl Abbot book at the top of my list. Well worth it. As a result, part of me would like to say that she set the bar high for environmental portraits of lab workers too, but she may have had predecessors in industrial photography that I know nothing about.

I truly do not understand those who say that Abbot was a better editor than photographer, or that discovering Atget was her greatest achievement. She obviously had the sort of creative talent that excels best in empathy with others, but that doesn't diminish the quality of her own contributions.


One of your best posts about the essential nature of photography, and how often many of us overlook it.

I'm about to take the plunge, later this year, into trying life as a full-time photographer, as in a maker of images. This opportunity comes about because of my impending retirement from fulltime newspaper writing. I'll have enough money, or so the theory goes, that I won't really need to make a great deal from selling my hand-colored photographs. Which is good, as I never have, but I've for a long time made some money, which is also good.

Contemplating working at visual art full time is already giving me a different orientation to things like gear forums. My occasional addiction to gear worry seems even sillier than it usually does when faced with the idea of going out to shoot more images worth making large prints from, then printing them, then hand coloring them. For me, that's what photography is really about. I just tend to forget that point every now and then.

Thanks for the reminder.


Possibly apropos: The Helsinki Bus Station Theory, by the photographer Arno Minkkinen. There's a recent write-up here in the Guardian:http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/feb/23/change-life-helsinki-bus-station-theory -- and his lecture is here: http://www.fotocommunity.com/info/Helsinki_Bus_Station_Theory

Mike, the irony is very touching. I know I feel similar pangs of a dream deferred... but with what you know now... With time, you could be awesome(and you have connections).

But take a moment an assess what you have now. Sometimes, instead of reading the comments, I click the commenters' links to view their sites. You have a tremendous following of top-flight photographers who read your blog daily. I think you are more well known as writer about photography than you might ever have been as a photographer. We need writers who can move the conversation forward about photography. In this conversation, yours is an important voice.

Pardon me. I got distracted. Just acquired a Zuiko 28/2 for my OM-3Ti and OM-4T and was shooting some B&W film. You were saying something about equipment and technique?

Is that quote one of yours?

Some driven artists drive everyone else right out of their life. I saw an older documentary on Netflix last night, Paul Strand: Under The Dark Cloth. Boy was he driven. His third wife stayed with him until he died, but admitted that though she was also a photographer, she now hated photography. He sure did produce some memorable work though, and he said that if he were given another 50 years, he'd be sure to stay busy.

If your own output ever disappoints you, please remember all the students, readers, and folks you've taught, influenced, or inspired over the years. God knows my own work is nothing to get anyone but me excited, but you've helped me make better pictures. That's a debt I'm paying helping others do the same(moms and boy scouts, god help me), and one I'll always be grateful for. So add a metric to measure the people you've touched, and it's a much bigger wake you've left. Thank you.

[Thanks Robert. This one gets filed, to read when I'm down and depressed. --Mike]

Its all in the hunt for that one good image we take. But to get there, you not only have to be super steady and shoot well, but then edit and cut, then find the ones you think are good, edit and cut some more, then look for a long time, and slowly, oh so slowly, the better one emerges. And its never quite the one you think it is... but you can't get there without doing it all. And again and again.

Easy pleasure? Hardly. The long haul.

A wonderful post Mike, and surprising that more people aren't comfortable with limiting their material to open themselves up more creatively.

First your advice on one camera one lens, now this - thank you for your wisdom - it's much appreciated.

Best Regards,


A lot of life is sleeping, taking out the garbage, fixing the plumbing. There will always be things you could not get to. We've collectively bought into this myth that we can have it all, that we will be famous and loved by all, and immortalized forever and ever. The reason we think this way is because we watch too much schlock TV instead of living our lives.

Are your neighbours glad to have you around. Do you matter to your friends. Does your family love you. I don't mean your TV or Facebook family and friends, I mean the real ones.

As A. A. Milne observed: The nice thing about being disorganized is you're always making interesting discoveries. As someone who specializes in the horizontal dispersion method of document storage, I can relate.

Mike, just this last week I read through several of the Sunday Morning Photographer columns which I hadn't thought about for years. "The 50mm Lens and Metaphysical Doubt", "Image Is Everywhere", etc. I think you've developed and perfected a personal style over the years which just happens to include exactly what you are doing now with The Online Photographer. I'm certainly thankful. I think we've all weathered the digital photography storm with a desire to maintain a focus on style and craft which combined are the foundation of photography. A big Bravo from me for doing just that.

I'm a frustrated filmmaker. After recently looking back at my art school, graduate school, and casual videos, I can honestly rate my techical skills as well above average. The downfall for me in that area is that I can't stand managing or being part of a team.(I do hope that some day I will have an opportunity to teach a college-level film history course.) What I love about still photography is the challenge of making a picture that gives viewers enough raw material to make a short mental movie. I've been familiarizing myself with a recent purchase, a Nikon D800. I have not shot a single frame of video with it. I haven't even had an urge to test it out.


"woulda, coulda, shoulda" is dangerous fun, The subtle, quiet voice of your imagery, is that same voice of TOP, with it's range of topics, from aesthetics through ethics, some tech seasoning, tea,and a reverence for the discussion. I view you as a huge success, not by the metric of money or fame, or a few images, but by the educational and influential voice of your creation, TOP. Another thank you! Be proud of the wonderful masterpiece that TOP is, especially for a medium that is still an infant.

Opening old boxes is an invitation to feeling regrets. This is the reason many of us never clean our closets.

Due to life circumstances and several transcontinental moves, I had to abandon all of those dusty boxes that contained reminders of my past selves. What a relief it is now when I go into the attic to put away the new Christmas decorations and I find out that I'm no longer haunted by my lost dreams. This new lightness of being is the one actual gift that the great recession bestowed upon me.

Mike, you are a fantastic writer and a pioneer of new media. That's not too shabby. Plus, from what you show of your photography, you're work is just as accomplished and full of nuance as any current celebrity photog.

Mike, very good post...... wise words from a wise man.

Mike, let me add my voice to those who are grateful that you write as you do about what you do. My photography is more mindful, and thus, better, for reading what you write.

I would add that the path you have taken may be necessary for the stage in the journey you have reached ... a catalyst and thought provoker for a large audience, with ripples out into the wider world. Not a bad place for a man to be - or to start from.

As others have said, your journey is not yet over. I'm 58 now and shooting more mindfully and productively, with more satisfaction and positive feedback, than ever. I started printing this year and I am not the only one pleased and impressed with the results.

In short, I'm growing by building on the influences, life experiences and skills I have accumulated up til now ... an accumulation that is minuscule compared to your own. I would love to see and read about your photographic journey as you build on your owned technique to evolve as a photographer.

I'll just qualify my qualification of Abbott, with respect to Struan's comment: I wholeheartedly agree with your description of Abbott's real worth and impact, which is why I said that photographers know Abbott whereas non-photographers know Atget.

She is a monument, yet public recognition has consistently failed at seeing her as other than Atget's saviour.

So we both agree that she's worth much more than the current opinion.

May be a better photographer ... But would it be a better live?

I am too scattered in my approach to photography and it has worked against me tremendously because just as I start to get somewhere and make some good images a new technique or subject matter comes along and I'm off following it. Unfortunately I've run out of health and money to do anything about it.

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