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Tuesday, 15 April 2008


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I did read your review of Amerika so I thought the portrait of Frost was posted as an example of poor technique (lapel sharp, eyes not - reaching for aspirin bottle...).

Apologies for being a focus-nazi.

Therein lies the rub for us enthusiasts if we endeavor to become better than "just enthusiasts". How can we know our strengths until we try all the various vagaries of the discipline until we find one that "just clicks" (to excuse the pun, and the vague reference to Joe McNally's recent book)? In keeping with the allegorical reference to sports - I played several sports in grade through high school, and played decent in most, but when I joined the swim team in 7th grade (made the varsity team), I had found the "niche"...and that took grades 1-7 and included basketball, baseball, and football beforehand.

The enthusiasts who strive for higher ground are inevitably going to get there - but if it's been a hobby, then it will likely take proportionately longer to get there. The only way that can be expedited is by tutelage from a respected senior. Since the proportion of "seniors" to "freshmen" is exceedingly low (and continues to get lower as more and more people migrate to digital and photography in general), then those who have a natural inclination toward higher and meaningful impact on the discipline will take that much longer to get there...just the nature of the beast I guess.

I think I did mention the other day that I think Hoppé has a tendency to place his focus too far back....

Mike J.

'' Mikeinmagog,
I think I did mention the other day that I think Hoppé has a tendency to place his focus too far back.... ''

. . . or maybe the sitter moved while the slide was put in the camera back ??? Until pixel peeping became the god a slightly misplaced focus point was not always judged a sin - not a desirable requisite, but not a sin. There are a great many portfolios out there which include shots with misplaced or even missing focus points which still are deemed good pictures.

As one of the people who commented on your review of the Hoppé book, and to whom you responded, I have to say that your piece did - to me - read like a critique of Hoppé's oeuvre rather than simply the book. It would have perhaps have been helpful to make it clear that you were critiquing the specific images chosen for the book, rather than being the generalised criticism it appeared to be. I think that is particularly important as a disclaimer if either you or your readers are not familiar with the work in question. Perhaps the fact that you received several such responses underlines the point.

It's very easy for me to be critical, of course: I'm not trying to produce an interesting and informative daily piece of writing on a wide-ranging discipline that will be read quickly, nevertheless dissected minutely, and subjected to instant knee-jerk replies in that oh-so-delightful way the internet has facilitated. The green crayon merchants with time on their hands must be a perennial problem for a successful blogger.

Anyway, your review had benefit for me in that it intrigued me sufficiently to seek out more information about Hoppé, and it therefore served a useful purpose as far as my photographic education is concerned. Since you mention the focus issue, I would be interested to know what you think of the images of Julia Margaret Cameron, who we know deliberately de-focused her pictures. Did Hoppé? I don't know... Maybe that would be an interesting question.

Having been a tiny bit critical in this one respect, I have to say that as someone who has tried (and failed) to write a regular blog which others might find vaguely interesting, I think your achievement in producing daily, interesting copy that is invariably a "good read" as well as informative and often thought-provoking is first rate. Please keep up the good work!



I am reminded of Isaiah Berlin's essay "The Fox and the Hedgehog". From Wikipedia:

"Berlin expands upon this idea to divide writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea (examples given include Dante, Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, and Proust) and foxes who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea (examples given include Shakespeare, Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce, Anderson)."

So are you a fox or a hedgehog? I think most photographers like to think of themselves as foxes while they would be much better off as hedgehogs.

While i agree that it's easy to spend time 'spinning wheels', it's also important to note hat you do have to try those things at which you suck. Adams kept experimenting and learning until he dropped; no, his color work wasn't much to scream about, but did it influence his thinking on his b/w work?

Occasionally revisiting our weaknesses makes for a better photographer - not necessarily better photos:), but ask any athlete on the value of cross-training.

The nightmarish thing is that it can take a lifetime to actually figure out what you're really good at.

I've done so many different things in my life at which I was pretty good, but not exceptional, that the fear I'm a jack of all trades and master of none can keep me up at night.

At least I know for a fact that I have zero musical aptitude of any kind -- probably saved myself a few years right there...

On the same Saturday a few weeks ago, I saw an exhibition of Michael Kenna's photos of New York City (at some Chelsea gallery whose name I don't recall) and Lee Friedlander's photos of Olmstead's parks / landscapes (at the Met). And my thought was that neither was playing to his strength.

I'm sure many will disagree, but Kenna's NYC photos struck me as cliched while Friedlander's "nature" photos as flat and uninspired. Nonetheless, as Mike says, this does nothing to diminish my opinion of either as a photographer.

Finding one's strengths is where the real work goes in becoming good at something, I think. As others have noted, it can take years. Of course the best way to find out is to try and fail, as long as you've learned to learn from the failures rather than being defeated by them. A major issue that many artists face is that oftentimes their failures, or less-than-ideal output, become public and are subject to scrutiny long after the fact: i.e. after the work is done, the mistake is assessed, and the course correction is made. The failures become, inextricably, a part of their body of work.

Now that's scary.

Mike, Thanks for the information about Hoppe's work. There are no word to describe them. There just Great. They are a great tribute to what beauty is all about.
Thanks again,Carl

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