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Wednesday, 29 December 2010


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This is the most interesting/fascinating photography blog in the world. Let there be no doubt.

I'll let that statement stand in contrast to your post above.

Sheesh, darkroom ventilation can't be that hard, can it? A quality (i.e. quiet) bathroom fan, some 4" flexible ducting run to the outside wall, replace one of the windows with plywood and rigid foam insulation if that's the easiest way to get out. Half a day to a day's work, maybe?

About some of those long posts - what about breaking them down and doing them serially? I believe that's how Dickens got started.

Given your schedule and the blog format, small bits may be a win-win for you and the reader.

Dear Mike,

I think this is one characteristic of overachievers: Compared to what we've actually done, there's a much longer private list, buried inside our heads, of what we'd like to be doing.

Not that it's bad to flog oneself a bit to do better. I've got a few items I really need to move up the queue -- a web site that hasn't had any really new content in, ummm, forever; a dye transfer portfolio that hasn't been much advanced, let alone finished, in the past four years, a large-print digital portfolio that has exactly one finished print in it after two years. Ahem. Internally embarrassing.

But still, don't forget to remember everything you have done.

BTW, in case you're about to protest that you're not an overachiever... count up how many articles you wrote for TOP in 2010. I'll bet you it's between 1.5 and 2 per day. Very few "real world" columnists can maintain that pace. I know fer shure I couldn't.

Further evidence -- estimate the number of words, illos and captions involved. You're producing the equivalent of at least two books a year.

Not trivial.

pax / Ctein

Don't beat yourself up about it, Mike. I am just happy, that there is such a great blog, not minding the things you don't write about.
Remember: We can't read your mistakes or read about your missed opportunities, except for your last post.

Not to get all fanboyish, but yours is the wheat that I've discovered among the chaff that is the internet.

Your site feels to me like the kind of meetings I have with my friends (we call it a "lime"). Mostly sensible and intelligent, with a reasonable dose of irreverence (and a decided aversion to dogmatic positions), when necessary.

You may not always be able to publish what you think will make the site better, but I think most of us faithful readers like it fine (which is not to say that you are permitted to slack off!).


Thank you for all that you do manage to do by way of content for the TOP audience. It all seems like hard work and a labor of love at the same time.

I noticed you mentioned the Sony A55/A33 and I have done a lot of research but so far no buying. I have a feeling this unique camera design might just signal the future of the DSLR, but what do I know - nothing really so I can only speculate.

Back to the A55, interestingly a local camera retailer had it with the 18-55mm kit lens on sale for 750CDN, an amazing deal I thought, but still not enough for me to rush out and buy one. I was hoping for a good feet on the ground report but so far no luck with that on the Internet - I hope at some point you have time to comment on these two Sony cameras.

Best regards for a great New Year and more great content from TOP.



...you can't work 24/7/365, some stuff always falls to the bottom. The fact that you're even admonishing yourself for your alleged "shortcomings" means you're still thinking like you should and trying your best, and still producing a valuable site for daily visits...

Worry not. Your darkroom project got me going. After ten years of no darkroom work-just digital-I unpacked the darkroom in boxes. Managed to get everything setup,and working. Now in the process of finding materials-chemicals, film and paper. Almost everything I used ten years ago is long gone! Hang in. Things happen.
Richard Rodgers

Sounds like a pre-resolution, Mike. Please do not encourage resolutions, I resolved never to make mine years ago. Result.

Yeah, Happy New Year! Mike.
Just make a list of all these "extra" ideas ...
and take them one by one ... when YOU take the time for it ...

Your openness is refreshing.
One observation for you. While are likely to always be conscious of the projects you did not get to, or did not finish, there is some good news.

I visit TOP because the articles are interesting to me, and so are most of the comments. This tells me that at least for this reader there is a consistency and relevance that keeps me coming back.

There are blogs that have occasional flashes of 'goodness' that I enjoy and find useful. Ultimately, I rarely visit them. My time is precious (well, at least to me) and I will visit blogs that add value. TOP is one of them.


personally, I would probably like it if you mentioned some of your less than fleshed out stories/thoughts on current events/ideas just to get them to us readers even if you have to place disclaimers on them. I know, for myself, I don't like to put anything out there that I'm not completely confident in (be it in content or form), but this is the internet! and in that spirit I'm not proofreading this post=)

Mike, it's fine, more than fine, it's great. We can not be upset about what we do not know that we did not get.

Ahhhh, don't be to hard on yourself. I planned to spend more effort in responding to your hard work, work on my own websites, photograph more, ehhh.

Thanks for another great year!


I've been thinking that it would be nice if you could write one long article a week for the New Yorker. "The Uncle Not Ansel Negatives" story (that I imagine you've written) strikes me as exactly the kind of nuanced, detailed, and humanity-filled article that they love to print when it's written by Malcom Gladwell. You are literate and literary, a student of the human condition, and skilled at seeing the world through (and in spite of) the images that people create. I think you are the kind of person they like to pay to write.

I haven't looked at their rates in a long time, and I don't know that you haven't submitted things to them before, and I don't know if this is your cup of tea at all. But, I believe your "thinky-er" pieces work for that market, and I think you deserve direct remuneration for them.


I don't want to read the proposed article "Ten Great Photo Books You Can't Buy". :)

That's very kind of you Will. I've actually made attempts to query them a time or two (I read the magazine) but it's apparently about like trying to get through to Oprah Winfrey or Prince William. Not easy to get their attention.


I've seen blogs that are largely about the cool things the author means to get around to; those are rather pitiful -- and TOP is nothing like that!

Some of the big projects you mention are things I'm kind of hoping to see still, personally.

I do understand your frustration at having a great idea, doing quite a lot of research, getting interesting information -- and not finishing the project, and having nothing public to show for it (you, of course, have the information in your head still, so you've got the benefit I'm hoping to achieve when I read the published version).

It sounds to me like you're in a place where it probably would be good to finish a few more of those projects you start; and then not beat yourself up over the rest. Especially if there's a good reason it stalled or stopped.

And Rob, bathroom fans aren't generally light-tight, so darkroom ventilation isn't quite as simple as you describe. But add a box with a serpentine air path, all painted flat black, in the path, and then you've got it. That restricts airflow some of course. Alternately, just buy a darkroom ventilator -- if they still sell them.

Harry Pearson has the same problem, doesn't he? And that's in the print media!

Perhaps the inclusion of 'provisional' or 'interm' reports might fill the gaps, and give us more insight as to what is sloshing around inside your head.

Mike, self critic is a good thing.
You see what could be better and you´re acting on it (kind of :-)

I, for one, will love to see all the new stuff you're planning on doing. But for now, your blog is good enough for me and then some. I'm actually downplaying it: TOP is one of my overall favorite sites on the web (and i have PLENTY of other interests) and one of the very few i check daily (sometimes more than once :-).
If you can do more, great. But please don't stop those little timely entries. And the OT stuff, i love that too. Actually, your whole blog ethos, which is what keeps me coming back for more and recommending it to friends.
Have a great '11!

Mike, I really enjoy TOP. It's a place I can come to everyday, even during challenging times, and find quality writing and ideas upon which I can reflect. With all the distractions coming across your desk (so to speak) I'm impressed that you get as many articles completed as you do. On top of living and raising a young man.

From time to time I also recall the many things I've left undone. Sometimes it produces a flash of insight and resolve that's useful. Othertimes, it's just too depressing. I've learnt to carefully step around my tendency towards perfectionism. Life is only so long.

Thanks for being open with your thoughts.

Best wishes for the New Year.

Well, I'm a woodworker by avocation and make pens and other objects. No one seems to see the same flaws in my work that I do. It's OK to beat yourself up a little bit - it keeps you trying to improve. But there is no photography blog like this one and it has educated me and inspired me. I check it every day. It's been a great year for TOP and I look forward to 2011.


You're welcome. Hey, I like your stuff, I think it should get a wider audience. I suppose they must have God's own slushpile. Probably measured in feet per day.

It would be great to point people to your work and say, hey, check this guy out. But, this blog format means stuff scrolls out of sight all the time, so I was thinking you could provide a greatest hits, a list of say, ten really great pieces that I could link to and quote from. You could call it a...tenset. :)

p.s. I have checked out "Columns and Essays" in the sidebar, but I'd also be interested in a little critical apparatus. I.e. why you wrote it, why you think it is significant. Framing is everything. Also, some of the links there are borked.


I know exactly how frustrating this can be to have 100 ideas/projects and only be able to do some of them, but think of what you HAVE accomplished!
We appreciate your efforts.


Y'all are very supportive, and thanks. I guess I just wanted to acknowledge that I had dropped the ball re Vivian.

BTW, one reason for the ball-drop was that I contacted a number of big name museum curators to alert them to the discovery (this was in the very early days, before a lot of people were aware of it). I honestly expected to hear back from at least some of them, and thus have something more to report.

Actually I expected a least some of them to be as excited as I was. I'm sorry (and still rather amazed) to say...nothing came of that. Not a single reply of any sort. I'm still a bit mystified about that.


This is where I go everyday to read the best crafted, most thoughtful writing on photography. You enthusiasms sharpen my appetites. So here is an idea: consider creating your own New Yorker like community. Add to the number of trusted contributors. Give each a beat, and you write the major weekly stories. That way we'd get more of you and you'd create a network of people steeped in your sensibility. I spent 20 years in NY publishing; careful expansion (more like propogation) is my recommendation.

It is a fine blog. I follow very few and this is one of them. I did one on wildlife for a while but just couldn't balance a full time job, sometimes 15 hours a day, with the exploration and research needed to maintain a high standard of both text and image. It has gone back to being a retirement project for me. Keeping up the standards you do is a marvellous achievement to be proud of. But I understand what you mean about writing being the easy bit. Often I have absolutely brilliant ideas for a blog and when I sit down to write them up, the mind is blank or full of detritus. I wish you a happy, prosperous and fulfilling 2011.

Well, for what it's worth, my blog (which turned ten years old two days ago) currently has more than 60 posts stuck in "draft" mode. Some of them date back five and six years, which means they'll probably never be finished and published.

That just goes with the territory. For my money, TOP is the best photography blog on the web. It'll be great if you manage to finish those posts, but even if you don't, I don't think anyone's complaining because what you do publish is so well written, informative, and entertaining. Kudos!

As a regular, meaning at LEAST once a day, reader of this blog I have to agree with the other commentators.

This is by far, I don't hesitate to use the word lightyears ahead of others,the best photo blog there is on this earth. Don't know about blogs on other planets though. Might be something better out there!

I started out reading your columns on another site, www.luminous-landscape.com. Really enjoyed it. Looked for more of your stuff and found a book, "The Empirical Photographer". It's a wonderful little book that I highly recommend. Hope it still is possible to get through Lulu.

you mean reviews like the much anticipated Da15 ltd review you were working on that never saw the light of day?
other than that good work mike let's hope the next year is as good.

Hi Mike,

I admire people who can blog at a consistently high level for years on end. I have never even considered blogging, as there is no topic about which I know enough or feel passionately enough to come up with an interesting thought on a regular and frequent basis.

I've read quite a few photography-related blogs over the years, and I've observed a fairly consistent pattern. Those blogs which remain one-person operations eventually peter out, as (I can only assume) the strain of regular blogging overcomes the reward/satisfaction. The blogs which tend to have the greatest staying power are those that either grow in terms of staff, shift topical focus, or morph into vehicles for advertising.

Although I look in to TOP on a nearly everyday basis, I for one would be happy to forego a daily diet of short posts for the sake of occasional longer-form pieces. If you feel the urge to hang out the "Gone fishin'" sign now and then, while you think about or research an article -- or just hit the road for a little R&R -- given your track record and demonstrated abilities, I would consider that an excellent trade.

Happy New Year to the entire TOP community!


One suggestion I have for reducing your stress re: unfinished projects would be to practice not announcing things in progress unless they are so close to completion as to be faits accomplis. I rather this is like a photographer keeping his contact sheet secret and only showing the 'keepers'. That's my personal secret to success amongst family and friends: I hide the stinkers .

BTW, I really like the 'guest writer' format you've been cultivating (e.g. Ctein's regular posts) and would think adding more qualified writers would benefit the site in giving more content/diverse viewpoints/different expertise etc, while also freeing some time for you to work on longer-term projects.


It’s obvious that the people who read TOP are the people who like TOP and have said so in these comments.

But just in case you think these comments are too sycophantic here is a list of things I don’t like about TOP.

1. Lists - Top 10 here, Favourite 20 here, 15 reasons for doing this and 5 things we learnt about that. Tiresome lists and this time of year we see a veritable plague of them.
2. Off Topic - Who needs it? Everything everywhere else is off topic so it’s not needed here. Take a break.
3. Archaisms and vernacular - I’m English myself and I thought I had a pretty good handle on the idioms of North American English but I get the wrong end of the stick plenty of times. It must be especially tricky for those of your readers whose first language is not English. And apostrophes. Too many. Just sayin’.
4. Nepotism - my Dad told me that this is neither right nor fair.
5. Couldn’t think of a fifth. Oh yeah, things that don’t get finished.

And 5 things I like about TOP and why I regularly return to it.

1. Being introduced to Photographs and Photographers. Old and new, past and present.
2. Being introduced to Photographic techniques. Film and digital, old and new, past and present.
3. Rambling camera and lens reviews which essentially tell us how you got on using a particular type of gear. You can find the detailed stuff elsewhere and I like to read about how the thing felt in your hand.
4. Being reminded of other photographic genres which don’t interest me, but perhaps should and I why I should get a handle on why it doesn’t and perhaps could.
5. Off Topic. Sometimes it’s really interesting and sometimes it’s about cars.

And 5 things I’d like to see talked about in the future.

1. Colour - Black and white seems to get all the kudos, so let’s hear it for colour. You recently made a list of essential reading. None of the books where about colour. I’d recommend

Seven Deadly Colours: The genius of Nature’s palette and how it eluded Darwin.
Colour: The story of dyes and pigments
Nature’s Palette: The science of plant colour
The pigments we get in our ink-jets seem a bit limited. Painters in the past have experimented with using other materials in their paint and used painting techniques in order to represent, say, the green of a Mallard’s head or the iridescence of a Peacock’s feather. Will the future brings us devices (perhaps a 3D camera) to determine colour made by structure, say a butterfly’s wing, and perhaps a 3D printer to reproduce it.

2 White - Why don’t we have white ink in our ink-jets? What difference would it make if we did? Would it be cool to print with white and shades of grey on black paper? Didn’t painters in the past prepare canvases (gesso) usually with white, but not always, and also overlay paintings (scumble) with colour. Could digital printing have an analogue for these?

3 ND Filters - could we have virtual ND filters in digital cameras to extend exposure times? Is this the same as lower ISO’s? Is it the same as using multiple exposures? Are in-camera ND Grad filters going to be with us anytime soon? Are these things needed or wanted?

4 Tilt and Shift - couldn’t you just tilt and shift the sensor instead of the lens? Could we see this in a modular camera system like the Ricoh one?

5 More of the same



Hi Mike,

I keep up with very few blogs, among them are T.O.P. and Talking Points Memo.

Talking Points Memo was started by investigative journalist Josh Marshall and I was lucky to find it at the very beginning of his experiments with the form. It began as a sort of reporters' notebook, where he'd post leads and story ideas, a few of which would attract comments, even leads and tips, sometimes enough to help him develop those ideas into full blown stories and even series. Eventually, TPM spun off several other sites and Marshall hired staff to handle all the activity.

I guess my point is this: TOP is a great blog, by virtue of it being a great daily read--not so much because of its reportage (even if it's doings in that area are excellent and significantly add to the blog's greatness). Blogging may not be a great medium for traditional journalism, but I observe that some reporters who have successfully married good reporting with blogging seem to have done so by bringing their process to their blogs and incorporating blogging into their process, sometimes even to the gestation/percolation phase.

Which is not to suggest that this would work for everyone or for every blog (and even where it does, it must take highly individualized form); I'm just throwing it out there for fodder, as you seem to be in a ruminative mood...

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