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Tuesday, 15 December 2009


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Long... long overdue! And as many will point out, who will review it?

I volunteer. Won't do as good a job as Jeff would, but I'm game, at least.


OK,...I love TOP and take a look at least once every day,...really enjoy your treatment of photography and also your pithy and succinct writing, so please dont take this the wrong way or read any kind of attack or nastiness.......

....What is so good about this photograph please? I need to know so that I become a better informed photgrapher with a more 'open' eye.

The whole world clicks a camera.....many unrecognised people have a good eye.

Does this shot have peerless composition? Does it have great meaning? Does it have great symbolism? does it display great technique? Does it record for ever a signal moment in time? Does it tell us about a private moment of a famous face? Perhaps you would like to hang it on your wall......

I would have said it certainly is 'random', but please tell me why it displays 'excellence'

I don't mean to sound either flip or hard, but I don't want to justify my taste. Look at the entire set at Guy Batey's link, carefully. Spend a little time with each picture. You either get it or you don't, you either like it or you don't. Not liking it doesn't mean it's not good; liking it doesn't mean it's good; on your part or my part.

Only important thing to point out is that neither one of us has seen the picture. We've just seen a little JPEG online, an approximate miniaturized deteriorated simulacrum. I fantasize that I know what the print looks like, simply because I've seen or made tens of thousands of prints; but maybe I don't.


A related/ unrelated question. I think the photos are great. I love the street photos. My question: Would it have been necessary to obtain model releases to SELL these prints. Obviously the people are fully recognizable. Obviously they are in public areas. I really doubt that it was practical to obtain a model release in each of these situations, as photographed. I am always confused by "editorial" vs. other uses, and the many explanations that are offered here and there on such requirements. I don't think that selling theses prints is editorial use. Profit is made at retail. What IS the law on requiring a model release for such use?

"My question: Would it have been necessary to obtain model releases to SELL these prints."

No, at least not in the U.S.


I agree, I loved the series, and I would love to have one of these copies hanging on my wall if I could spend a green grand.

I particularly hate the flat colors.

Okay, there are more interesting ones in the series, and the official version of the one Mike shows here looks better than Mike's version (particularly in regard to the flat colors I complained about) .

On the other hand, a number of the photos are to my eye badly technically inadequate, and don't to my eye manage to overcome it. Tech isn't the only important part but it's much the easiest to talk about.

I like the color palette in
NOVI SAD, SERBIA 2002 very much, and the image has a kind of glowing clarity I appreciate.

MRKONIC GRAD, BOSNIA 2001 is great (the hand pointing to the face in a framed portrait).

BACKI JARAK, SERBIA 2002 (moonlit snow-covered street, two people walking) works by the color palette (again) and composition, I think. The lack of any sharpness bothers me, but not really fatally.


You just asked your readers to recommend their favorite photographer sites, as long as those sites were on independent web sites i.e. not on flicker, etc.

And you did this on your typepad.com blog. Why don't YOU have an "independent" blog? How do you expect people to take anything serious that is said at:

theonlinephotographer.typepad.com ?

Brian Thomas


P.S. I do take your blog seriously. I don't share the prejudice against "flicker, etc."

Sorry Mike, I agree with Bob, and yes I've just spent a long time looking at Guy Batey's link.
It's not that I "don't get it" but that that style of colour photography doesn't just not appeal to my eye/brain but it actually offends my eye/brain sensibilities - reminded me of a random visit to flickr!

Cheers, Robin

I would have to say Beth Dow although I do own and value a platinum print, Syricusa made by Dalton...wish he'd do more.

Brian Thomas,
I think you left your comment under the wrong post, but I can't switch it so I'll answer you here: you need look no further for an answer than the comment left by COOP, who said:

"I sometimes get grief from other photographer friends about my lack of editing on my flickr account. I pretty much put everything up there that I shoot, unless it is just completely awful--or too private for public view. I look at my photostream as an easy-to-search index of everything I've shot over the last few years."

My reason for asking for "real" websites is not an automatic prejudice against flickr or SmugMug, but just because I want to stand a better chance of looking at edited presentations as opposed to massive repositories of unedited or lightly edited shooting. That's all. I don't have time for the chaff. I barely have time for the wheat. [g]


Mike,....Just to continue this argument a little,..I'm not trying to push you into any corners.....

I did not ask you to "justify your taste" as we all have likes and dislikes and I don't see why any of us should have to "justify" what we like. However, thinking people such as you and I can usually describe what they find appealing in something that they like enough to lable as "excellence".

I would genuinely like to know what you have seen in these shots that to me are utterly forgetable.......

This problem--my problem here--crops up regularly. Somebody either takes the word "random" or the word "excellence" too literally. It's why there aren't more "random excellence" entries on the site, because people don't seem to want to grasp that the category is just a catch-all into which I can put any picture that I happen to run across that I find interesting--that I either like, or have something to say about, or both.

I need a different name for it, I guess.

Sometimes I'm just talking about one picture; sometimes a number of pictures. In this case, Jeff had a dozen pictures that were obviously snapshots of large prints stuck up on a wall. I liked the set and I was amazed it was presented so offhandedly. Well, I was wrong--it's presented perfectly conventionally elsewhere on Jeff's site, which Guy quickly pointed out. I didn't know. Sue me, as they say.

But, as to the particular picture I chose, I'll bite: here's why I like it. It's not sentimental. It's not pretty. It's not "composed." It's a color picture but it's not a picture of colors. It's not a generic or idealized person, but apparently (my reading, anyway) a real person, caught in an authentic moment, i.e., it's not contrived, not a setup, not a pose. (And yes, all those things it's not are things I tend to dislike, mistrust, dismiss.)

The shot seems offhand--a grabshot or snapshot--but formally the picture has a lot of tension, chiefly because of the stumps or logs blocking the foreground and the strange straight branch or rail that seems to be intersecting his throat, but also in the lines of the road and the slant of the hill (both falling back and away fron whatever is holding the man's attention) and the pole or trunk behind him and the tree with no foliage uncomfortably crowding his head. He seems to be looking right along the line created by the rail. None of this is contrived, just recognized.

The picture raises questions: what's he looking at? Why is holding some sort of fowl? It's a picture that implies some sort of story, some sort of situation, and I don't know what the story is, but I'd like to know. Where is it? People don't dress like that, or wander around casually holding chickens, in my part of the world. So who's the guy? Why the chicken? (Pet? Dinner? Property?) Who or what is he looking at or talking to? What are they saying?

I don't find it forgettable at all. It has that mixture of "recognized" formal complexity and enigmatic meaning and a sense of realness, authenticity and specificity that I like in photographs.

Technically it's true we can't really "see" it from this little JPEG of a snapshot of a print. I'm willing to bet, however, that the print looks good, because I know something about Jeff's standards from reading his opinions about photographs and printing and books for so long. I'm envisioning the actual print having a good deal of presence. But I don't know that for sure.

Can you point me to a picture of a person in a scene that you find better or less "utterly forgettable"? (Preferably holding a chicken!)


Bob - if you can't see it, you just can't see it.

Nothing wrong with that, but it really can't be pointed out or explained to you. I took a friend to see a Matisse show once, and she asked me the same unanswerable "So what's so good about him?" question. Not that I'm comparing Ladd to Matisse...

But he's in a line of contemporary photographers producing a hybrid of art and documentary photography, a personal musing about specific people in a specific place. The effect is cumulative - descriptive and poetic simultaneously.

I just find them self-evidently beautiful and meaningful.

Nooo! Don't close this post. Just skimp on sleep for a few months! :)

Why not just put up one a day - until you see none that are a fit in your view? That would keep us waiting, anticipating. And we could digest at a pace which would feed us and not give us a sugar rush.

Don't make me beg! ;)

Last thing I needed this a.m. was to come across this body of amazing work that I couldn't stop looking at...what a find....

Thanks for sharing....

Ladd is really a major talent...and as you put it, how come no one knows?


Why is holding some sort of fowl?

He's holding his rooster, which apparently was fighting in the previous photo or the photos were switched and the fight is going to occur after this photo.

That series is a funny one for me. It's all quite familiar, for all that Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia are different countries now. Cocks fighting in a yard, gravel roads, ancient photos on walls, people shaking a plum tree to gather fruit for sliwowitz, women washing carpets... Unsophisticated, mostly poor lives.

I won't say that familiarity breeds contempt in this case. But the series doesn't look as strong to me as, for instance, Eyes Before God or Notes from the Road. (BTW, Eyes Before God, wasn't it already mentioned here? I even seem to recall I mentioned in a comment.)

Mike -- I greatly appreciate your taking the time (in your response to Bob) to explain what you can about how this picture works for you, what captures your interest about it. Thanks!

I have an independent website, but (especially) my snapshot section there is not selected carefully enough to meet your goals. And SOME people are very selective about what they upload to Flickr. I think it's a tactical error to go for the easy proxy, particularly in the context of asking people to recommend good collections to look at; you're already relying on the taste of the people recommending the sites.

I've found, over the years, that LONG before I get a collection edited down to where it "should" be artistically or even journalistically, my wife and other close friends start complaining that I've taken out too many. For the snapshot album, those are the people I care about. (The problem is, sometimes Q&D posts from a shoot with artistic potential end up in the snapshot album, and then never migrate. But I digress.)

"I've found, over the years, that LONG before I get a collection edited down to where it 'should' be artistically or even journalistically, my wife and other close friends start complaining that I've taken out too many."

Understood, and that's one reason why I asked other people for their opinions in the "Commentariat" post. I already know what sites and photographers and styles of photography *I* tend to like. I was hoping to get a little of the vitality of contrasting opinions, if you will.

Overall I was amazed at how many of the sites mentioned I already knew, or indeed had already written about here on TOP (which may be because it's a bit of a closed loop!). And also somewhat surprised to get such an erudite comment (from Cal Amari) about a site (Ralph Gibson's Archive) I've never seen before, even though I consider myself well versed in Gibson.

The problem you talk about is a common one in editing. If the photographer is too rigorous--tries to be too perfectionist or maintain too strict a standard--he or she risks sapping the edit of vitality, which is why it's always important, I think, to get other peoples' input on an edit. I have one picture that's among my all-time best that I had to be convinced to print, by a classmate who was voiciferous and adamant about how much she liked it. Years later I understand she was right, but it just wasn't what I was going for at the time, and I couldn't see it. Conversely, some of the pictures that most embody what I craved at that time bore me now.

A similar tension enters in when photojournalists try to tell a coherent story. The demands of the narrative militate for the inclusion of some weaker pictures. You can see this at work even in Henri Cartier-Bresson's pictures of Gandhi's funeral, for instance. He didn't have the luxury of picking just the pictures that "worked" for him in every way...to tell the story properly, he had to include some un-HCB-looking shots that were weaker than his usual. This is a problem that every photojournalist knows, I'm sure.


Savoring a few spare moments, I just wanted to relax and look at some real quality work tonight. So I went through Jeffrey Ladd's website again, and his work is what I call "depressingly" good. Depressing because his photographs are so damn good (not to mention prolific), that it's almost depressing to think of going out there, camera in hand, and thinking you can do anywhere near as good, or as often...

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