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Sunday, 06 November 2011


To go off on the tangent of intended meaning and how history and culture can defeat it, I have a favorite story that occurred within the last few years. A Frenchman was flying on an American airline. The drink cart blocked the aisle and he suddenly needed to get past it to use the restroom. In French, the idiom to express this urgent condition euphemistically is, "I'm going to blow up." He said this to the stewardess. He was instantly dragged from his seat and spent the rest of the flight in custody without any translators available to defend him.

Mike, in all seriousness: When I was a child (before the age of 8), my mother, an Army veteran and a USAF vet told me to tell folks that "my mother wears army boots". It was, in retrospect, a rather sad attempt at humor. Mother had a long history of mental illness, and to illustrate what kind of mother she was, she would give me codeine syrup to put me to sleep during the day. I was also beaten as a matter of course.

When I read that some of your buyers were high-end collectors, I didn't perceive it as a neener-neener comment. I took it purely at face value. Frankly, if I could afford it, and had a safe place to store it, I'd buy one too, and not because I want to prove my bona fides as an art collector. I would dearly love to support other talented artists.

As a disgruntled member of the 99%, I'm aware that just because you have money it doesn't mean you have good taste. Conversely, just because you don't have money doesn't mean you're lazy. Good taste has nothing to do with money. Possessing beautiful things by talented artists does require money, though. Unless you're the talented artist! ;-)

Next time you list what kind of readers you have, remember me: Yosemite Cashier and talented photographer whose mother wore army boots.

"I don't know but I bin told
Wa-all street is paved in gold!
Sound off! One, Two
Sound off! Three, Four!"

After all - what goes around, comes around. I see we understand each other. Thank you Mike.

I was not one of those who were offended the first time. On the contrary, I was both pleased for you and for myself, since I do like the image and, as I wrote, appreciate the intellectual and emotional conception as well--it's at once funny, instructive and poignant; and as far as I can tell, it's professionally executed. Which is just the kind of thing that, in my experience, those "in the know" tend to go for. If anything, I felt validated; maybe even smug, in a vicarious sort of way.

Nor, for that matter, did you imply that *all* of TOP's "in the know" readers bought a print. In fact, I don't recall a one-to-one correspondence of any kind being implied.

That said, and as cute as the army boot analogy is, I'm now wondering if I ought to be offended. I mean, what's my maternal progenitor got to do with it anyway?

Kidding aside, I'm one of those who were a little disappointed that these prints were not hand-crafted by TOP's editor, toiling away by safe-light at all hours, so I look forward to those darkroom prints. (And hope that that offer won't launch before my wallet recovers from the holidays.)


You cannot please all of your readers and devoted followers all of the time.

Forge ahead with your ideas; it is after all, your website.

Hi Mike,

when I read your comment on the "people 'in the know'", I took it to mean that mainly avid collectors and people in the "art world" appreciated the print enough to buy it. That went well with how I perceived the image.

I find it interesting to hear that a number of people felt insulted by your comment. I did not perceive a slight. I guess that proves (yet again) that the written word is, especially on the internet, better weighed in triplicate before parceling it out ... Hopefully, there are no permanent hard feelings.

Thanks, by the way, for explaining where the phrase about the mother and the boots comes from. Very interesting. I knew it was an insult, but I never appreciated its origins (or the finer point of what is really being said.)

Mike, I'm proud of my cheap seats "riff raff" status. No offense taken.

The only time this blog ever offended me was when you disparaged owners of poorly trained dogs. Do you remember that post from years ago? I didn't visit TOP for almost three days after reading that one. You see, I share a house (wouldn't say own) two untrained, spoiled dogs. Back when I lived in the Milwaukee area I was afraid to bring them anywhere near Waukesha's dog parks. There was a good chance they would have stolen your dog's precocious tennis ball. Fortunately for my dogs we moved California and we can go to the dog parks again.

Seriously though, keep this blog highbrow and discriminating. That's a big part of its value.

Mike those of us who have been around this site for a number of years are well aware of your integrity and hold you and this site in very high regard.
It is very disappointing that some readers should misunderstand your account of the print offer,but it is also obvious from the comments received that the vast majority of readers fully understand and are just sorry that it did not work out this time.
Time to put that in the past and move on to newer and hopefully better things.

"...I really wasn't saying anything by implication. I wasn't trying to imply anything bad about anybody who wasn't buying the print..."

Actually you were saying something by implication. Those of us who know you are aware you weren't *trying* to imply, but the words did. A hazard of pumping out so much material each week. *I'm* not offended, but, as Omar Khayyam said:

"The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit, Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it...

Mike, I have never got the impression that you thought of yourself as superior to others but I think on this occasion you were perhaps a little careless with your wording. I, too, got a sense that you were, at least, boasting that the "people in the know" bought your print, and not just "stating the facts". I think you have to remember that there are many readers out there who adore you and will support you in every way. They are the Mikeophiles. I don't know if the person who rates your photo alongside Moonrise, Girl Running Up Stairs and the others is a Mikeophile, being patronizing or is genuine, but perhaps you should take the time to compare your apple to Cartier-Bresson's, Adams' and the others and then decide whether including that persons post was really valid.

I've been reading your stuff since The Luminous Landscape days and have enjoyed every moment of it but in that time your apple photo has come up too many times to be warranted, I think. It's a personal opinion, I know, but I think it's time you went out back dug a hole and planted that apple, once and for all. I'd like to see more of your stuff that you've never shown.

Don't worry Mike...I've never met you in person, but I feel pretty certain you are the last person to look down on anybody. A persons personality comes across in what they put down on paper (so to speak), your following speaks volumes.

As a rule I refrain from navel gazing and commenting on the politics of the situation but prefer to engage on the topics discussed. However, I make a distinction here and scratch my head in wonder as to why, in a freely given arena, folk should choose the belligerent path. Folk have trouble all the time with realising that not EVERYTHING is about THEM.

Mike, your generosity in working as hard as you do at this blog is overwhelming and the board is always about photography. Why can't folk leave it at that?

I say the bellicose are free to exit at any time of their choosing and can have their full price of entry refunded.


Your right. I've never seen myself as riff-raff.

Although I do sometimes feel a special kinship with 'the lunatic fringe'.

Let me jump on this and just say that some people are just too goddamned sensitive.

One of the best examples of this saying something literal and being taken for saying something insultingly metaphorical is the basis for Philip Roth's brilliant novel, "The Human Stain." I had kind of given up on Roth years before after deciding he was doing the same, self-indulgent Zuckerman thing over and over again when I read this. It's searingly ironic.

I was a bit perplexed at the phrase, "in the know." I think its meaning is pretty clear, and doesn't compare to the "boots" phrase:

"If you are in the know, you have access to all the information about something, which other people don't have."

"having inside knowledge (about something)"

While I admired the techniqe you described about your photograph, it didn't jump out at me in an emotional way, so, since it did jump out to many people, I assumed there was something about your photograph that escaped me because "I wasn't in the know."

However, I didn't infer "riff raff!" Just "not in the know!"



Put me down as another who wasn't in the least offended by your post (and who is aware that he isn't illustrious in the slightest and couldn't care less). Keep up the good work Mike - you can't live any sort of life without offending someone, somewhere, at some time. And with a blog as popular as yours, that risk must be multiplied tenfold.

Here's two shovels Mike, take your pick.

I read a clear implication that my taste was inferior there. I let it pass because it's probably true, I've said the same thing myself on occasion (out of step with the in group in photo collecting, anyway). And because taste is a matter of taste.

Also maybe just a touch of defensiveness about your photo, which I'm more than willing to allow to anyone.

Even just stating selected facts can point somewhere; the selection gives the set of facts stated a direction. I think the selection of facts you gave points that way, and then your use of "in-the-know" points that way pretty hard; it's an explicit claim that they have knowledge. Those of us reaching a different conclusion lack that knowledge.

I read the post, overall, as saying "I'm kind of sad my print hasn't sold as well as I'd hoped, but I'm somewhat comforted by finding that the sales it has made are to people I'm particularly happy to sell to."

I appreciated the comment you wrote Mike because it mirrored what I see in my own work.
There is a thrill, is there not, in knowing the people you like and respect and admire are happy to pay for your work.
With my own photography we have a group of people who use us for their weddings. They tend to be designers and artists who clearly get the intent of my work and the proportion of clients with that artistic background is high.
Every now and then I feel like telling other people about that (so far I've only told my wife). It feels like a valid justification of my imagery.

Also: Excellent photo to run with this article!

If I wanted to make the comment for real I'd try something like "Hey, your mom has cool taste in footwear!"

I have a friend named Jack; your readers don't know him. Your readers don't know Jack.

Re-reading your statement about the buyers, from a writing perspective, I think it is the few words between dashes ("people 'in the know' in one way or another") that did for you.
It implies that to buy this print puts one "in the know". Take it out and I think you have a much more matter-of-fact statement.
Indeed, as buyer, the "in the know" comment made me feel rather like on of the cognoscenti which I most certainly am not.
From my own experience, writing to keep things as statement of fact means omitting any form of further embellishment. Short sharp sentences only.

Mike, I think Ctein covered this topic well. As an artist, you can't expect that people will like your art; and, as a writer, you can't expect that people will like your writing.

I took no offense at what you wrote in the original post.

The "mother in army boots" moment, IMO, came in this post, when you listed the elite readers of TOP, ostensibly as an example of how your readers often are more knowledgeable than you are.

Think about it.

Mike, there is an expression that is at least as old as the boot repair photo:"_____
em if they can't take a joke" But then again I worked at a profession where having to deal with hyper sensitive people looking for a reason to be offended was an almost daily occurrence.

"The 'mother in army boots' moment, IMO, came in this post, when you listed the elite readers of TOP, ostensibly as an example of how your readers often are more knowledgeable than you are. Think about it."

Bill Rogers,
I think you'd better read that passage again.


Clearly some readers inferred that Mike disparaged readers who did not purchase a print. But that does not mean that Mike implied any such thing. Just because an animal has four legs does not mean it is a dog.

The drawing of such an inference provides an insight into those readers' states of minds. Not Mike's.

And as a matter of logic and language I think Sal Santamara's assertion that Mike was "saying something by implication" is plainly wrong.

I'd suggest Mike could only have been "saying something by implication" in one of two instances: either he intended his readers to draw a different meaning than the natural meaning of the words he used; or (possibly) that at face value his words made no sense, such that a reader could not reach any other reasonable conclusion as to their meaning.

One thing we can probably nearly all agree upon is that Mike has a well-deserved reputation for honesty. So if you accept his subsequent explanation that he did not mean to offend, then I can only conclude that Sal is suggesting that "the people who are buying it are people with discrimination and good judgment and taste" does not make sense. Which is nonsense.

(Disclaimer: I'm not a language expert. I'm sure that there are more than a couple of TOP readers who are, so please jump in and correct me if I am wrong.)

This is why the gallery system exists; so that artists take less interest in how their work is selling. It's not a good influence.

Mike, some people may be too sensitive. Also, one could blame schooling for not teaching grammar with the rigour they should. You defined your particular meaning of 'people in the know' in the next clause of the sentence.

Aside from that, I considered buying a copy of your picture, but it did not connect with me on an emotional level. I followed its development from a 6 MP colour picture printed large to its current B&W over the years with interest, though. Similarly, I considered previous offers, such as Ctein's dye transfers, but again the pictures did not connect with me. I am grateful for you being patient and allowing me to buy the two Peter Turnley prints last year. I look forward to further offers.

Peter Lenz


I agree with some of the other commenters that what likely caused the negative reaction in some of your readers was using the phrase "in the know" which is frequently used to imply higher status or superiority. The flip side is, of course, that those who aren't "in the know" lack status and are inferior. It really can be a loaded phrase. If you remove that phrase from the description of the people who did buy your photograph it then does sound purely factual.


This isn't just a problem with words - it can happen with pictures, too. A photo can appear completely innocuous yet be offensive to someone "in the know" about its other meaning.

Even if the publisher was unaware of its alternate interpretation, he or she can still be held accountable for causing offence.

You can see where this ends up - anyone with an agenda could claim just about anything is offensive. The only alternative is self-censorship.

A friend has two Renoir oils. I think he's "in the know". He's also in something else...

French is also an often ambiguous language with a stack of apparents and hiddens meanings. And we don't have your funny and so useful Urban Dictionary! Incidentally this is a very good lesson of real English, and a timely reminder of the infinite complexity of communication.

Wow, it's not easy to be a blogger!
Like Marcus Smith put it, I already often felt that in todays internet writing the flow of words is compromised by repeated and prophylactic apologies to the readers who potentially get everything wrong. And the meanwhile ubiquitous "ymmv" or the like.

But that doesn't mean that people are more prone to misunderstanding than before, it is just the fact that they can spread their word now.

... but honestly, here on TOP there is that breeze of exclusivness, and the feeling that an inner circle is mutually negotiating the terms of acknowledgment and appreciation. But I say: that is part of the reason we (the normal people) come back every day - isn't it? Because it is the same mechanics after which the "real" art world is working, only here it is much more democratic and friendly, I guess. So a little bit like an art-world-sandbox, or art-tv?

Out there usually you don't get a long interactive discussion and explanation of how and why and so on. Here you do, and people take opposition to this, I really don't get it. There are other sites where the host is more ostentiously modest and the "guy from next door", but at the same time the content is not on the same level as on TOP (nomen est omen, he?). On these sites every second word is "great", which is telling a lot. But I don't dismiss these sites either, I also like some of them - to each their own, they say in over-precautious internet diction.

Again: there are people around here which are quite successful and/or have interesting jobs and know a lot in their domain and still enough in other domains. That _does_ imply that there are people who know less. That's life, get over it - and learn.

That there are people with more and others with less education is just a fact, no offense, and is one of the main reasons which makes this blog worth reading every day. In this sense it is ridiculous that Mike has to almost apologize for sharing education and deep insights.

Regarding the print:
People from that inner circle were obviously more inclined to buy the apple-print. So what? There may be multiple reasons for this: they have a finer sense in judging art than the average Joe, they have more money to spend on art (big point), they have sympathy towards Mike and want to support him (just like the real art-world works, again). Alas I didn't buy the print for multiple reasons (not my style, digital - lightjet, would not be insipration nor frame of reference [pun intended] for tonal values i like, other than Peter Turnley's kissing couple from one past print sale, which I bought). For example, if money was no object, then I would have bought the print, just to support Mike - life's not fair, either way around. Grow up, get over it...

I read the original as Mike being disappointed that the sale wasn't doing better but that a certain group of people were buying which cheered him up a bit. I certainly wasn't offended but while I can appreciate the image it doesn't 'call' to me.
This debate reminds me of being a Jazz fan and getting blank looks from Prog Rock fans - or vice-versa of course. Each group is in the know and the other isn't, whichever way round you like. Pick any two genres you like....

The internet inebriates the masses.
Ooops, does that offend ?

I agree with Marcus Smith in your featured comments. You write well, with clarity and intent, full stop. There will always be people who misread your intentions, but if you've done your job well, that's their problem, not yours.

That said, there are such things as "loaded phrases," and in this case "in the know" is pretty loaded. The other stuff about "illustrious" and "discriminating" are, as you say, just facts, but no regular visitor to this site wants to be told he isn't "in the know" about (presumably) photography, even if you appended the phrase with "in one way or another."

And that's where that increasingly rare resource comes in: thick skin. As readers, we could stand to be a lot less sensitive to perceived slights. As writers, we should follow Marcus Smith's advice.

"I am responsible for what I say.
You are responsible for what you hear."

To paraphrase a well known portrait sitter;

You can insult some of the riff-raff all of the time, and all of the riff-raff some of the time, but you can not insult all of the riff-raff all of the time.

The Bill Rogers?

I am both amused and fascinated by the incredible number of comments that Color Picture has garnered over the course of the blog entries on the 3rd, 5th and 6th (this one).

Color Picture now has an increasingly interesting 'back story'. I've decided to print out the 3 blog entries together with the comments and save it together with the actual photo as The Color Picture Assemblage - a new, photographically based work of art derived from the original print. I'm going to get one of those cool archival boxes to store everything in.

Yes, I am absolutely serious! Although I may not actually title the assemblage, just assemble it all.

Mike, I didn't buy it because I just don't buy that kind of stuff. But also, it just doesn't appeal to me. I get it, and it's a nice photograph, and I'm sure the print is of a high quality. But I just don't like it all that much. I'd say "Sorry," but I think you understand. You're confident in your work, and there are many people who agree. And some who don't.

One thing for sure Mike, your writing sends me scurrying for the dictionary more often than any ten other photograph sites combined. And I thank you for that.

"That said, there are such things as 'loaded phrases,' and in this case 'in the know' is pretty loaded."

I'm mystified by this objection, which several people have brought up. I defined what I meant by "in the know" IN THE VERY SAME SENTENCE--"well-known photographers, people in the photo museum community, collectors." How can anybody think I was talking about anything other than those specific things?


As others have said, the original post can be read as implying those “in the know” have found something in the image to appreciate which the majority have missed. If sales picked up substantially after the post, how many of those would have been due to those who had previously dismissed the picture deciding to make a purchase? Or does your influence not extend that far?

As a PS, I appreciate your candour in raising this topic. Open Mike, indeed.

Mike said: "I'm mystified by this objection, which several people have brought up. I defined what I meant by "in the know" IN THE VERY SAME SENTENCE--"well-known photographers, people in the photo museum community, collectors." How can anybody think I was talking about anything other than those specific things?"

Mike, it's an understandable mystification. My response would be to point to human error on the part of the reader. (It's not pilot error, it's passenger error!)

We don't all read as well as we should, so when you start with a potentially loaded phrase and then qualify it (as you did), we readers don't always notice the qualification.

I noticed it, which is why I wasn't bothered by it. But if someone is reading quickly or inattentively they might not have. Or if someone is particularly sensitive to that phrase, then they get their back up right away and what follows is just noise.

I'm not saying you did anything wrong, and I'm certainly not trying to tell you how to write. I'm just observing the situation and trying to make sense of it. And this pattern (loaded statement followed by a qualifier that is ignored) happens over and over again, both in the written word and the spoken word.

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