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Monday, 21 November 2011


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Well done everyone. But it's Leigh for me.

Three out of the five finalist photos are made with film cameras.

It would be interesting to the proportions between film and digital for the last twenty images.

Awesome photos, each one! And I think the photographer's notes on each make them even more interesting. While each of us like to speculate on a photo's meaning and how it affects us individually, I think having the photographer's point-of-view often gives more depth to the photo.

An interesting set of photos, taken with an interesting set of cameras.

Hmmm...only one is digital capture. Interesting.

Strangely, with the descriptions I enjoy and understand some of these pictures much better now. And even more strangely, Leigh Perry's garage picture that really didn't touch me otherwise, now makes complete sense in the light of his seascapes on his webpage. I find his seascapes absolutely marvelous. They are the kind of pictures I generally like making myself too - a little different in slant but somehow in that vein: smallness of people in the face of space, and space itself.

I'm hoping that Roy takes a print of his photo to that barbershop to present it to the owner. He could make some folks very happy.

Would Ctein consider making a dye-transfer print of Ms. Pickard's photograph? Wouldn't it work very nicely with that process in the smallish size the photographer herself likes? Besides, seeing that three out of five finalists have been "captured" on film, using a most traditional printing process for the two digital photographs would be fitting.

Well one of my picks is up there but damn me if the others aren't growing on me now

All great choices Mike. My entry was also made on film but to paraphrase the late great Duke Ellington, "If it looks good, it is good!", ("If it sounds good it is good.")

The minimalist shot seemed a joke. But it grows on me. I'd enjoy it printed around 4x5 feet on a wrapped canvas frame I think, in the right setting. Perhaps a commercial setting, or a flagrantly large minimalist home.

Road with pole also looks like a joke. But I like it. I took a similar shot in Montana a few years ago that I love. Its a contemplative shot, but at first impression its a lightly cluttered snapshot, so I wouldn't want it hanging in my house.

The steam train shot it stunning. Do want.

The water and rock mosaic would be a tremendous print, its one that I want badly. I can imagine it framed behind some good quality glass with a spotlight, just glimmering with life on my wall shaming the neighboring reality into second tier existence.

I like the barbershop image. Vibrant and alive and oozing stories for sure, but again, it would be a strange thing to see on my wall at home. Belongs in a book, I think.

So I guess that's my vote, rock mosaic first, steam train second. You could probably publish a book with the other images, and many of the other submissions.

If people want to learn about some of the positive things going on in Detroit, I recommend this video and the other two parts.


Leigh Perry's website has fantastic images suited for this contest.
I enjoy the seascapes especially Vision #P854.

I shot a TV news story on the Challenger a few years back. We got on board in Council Bluffs, Iowa and we went to David City Nebraska which would be a trip of about eighty miles.
We had a second crew chasing the train for exterior shots. Full tilt this thing runs about 75mph and up in the cab that feels really fast.
Next to the firebox the crew keeps a bucket of sand. From time to time the engineer will toss a scoop of it into the fire to "decoke" the boiler. That instantaly caused the smoke to go jet black.
This train attracts a lot of attention whenever it runs and there were people at every crossing along the way taking pictures.
A couple of times on the trip the engineer spotted a gaggle (lamentation, congress,pride,
knot?) of photographers coming up and said "let's give them a nice picture" and tossed in a scoop of sand. Gotta love that.
Great picture by the way. But frankly they are all pretty terrific.

I feel this is a really great selection of pictures you have here, Mike, all of them very good compositions. And your explanation of "choosing prints that will sell" is excellent.
A picture of mine, of a castle, tends to sell year after year. I used to refer to it privately as my "mickey-mouse print" because I thought it too ordinary and a cliche ..etc...But customers kept on saying "wouldn't that look good on our wall". So now I call it one of my favorites...!

Is anyone else saddened by the fact that many people's first reaction to a great photo is a cry of, "Photoshopped!" or, "Staged!"? The Internet has turned us into a gang of miserable cynics. A healthy bit of skepticism is recommended for anything you see online, but I think we've swung the pendulum too far in the other direction to avoid looking like fools for believing an online lie and have instead made ourselves look like fools for calling shenanigans on everything without just and sufficient cause.

Great photos with a nice distribution of styles, subjects, and techniques. Love that you're doing this, Mike. I hope it becomes a regular occurrence because seeing other readers' work is proving inspirational for me and I'm sure many others.

I assume that James and Roy will need model and/or property releases to sell prints of their photos. Correct?

Incorrect. Art photographs don't require model releases.


I find it fascinating how some of commenters mention that they did not really appreciate certain images until they read the explanatory stories submitted by the photographers. This raises the old question of whether art should require explanation in order to be fully appreciated. In my own experience, understanding the context of a work of art often helps, but does that mean that the work itself is inherently weak? I have heard both sides argued convincingly, and I'm still agnostic on the subject.

Not to beat a dead horse:
Some art photographs do require releases.
a)If I had entered the Barber Shop rather than shot from outside of the shop where the view "did not provide a expectation of privacy" I would have asked permission.
b)If I added a false caption that would be a libel(three jewel thieves discussing latest heist).
c)If i were selling something (these folks all drink Coke)
Other than that your good to go for art, editorial or educational use.

Dear folks,

You know, it's interesting, but I always assume that a photograph I'm looking at isn't a “straight print.” Probably because I hardly ever see a photograph that looks better that way then it does after careful adjustments and local corrections. Lots of people assume unmanipulated is better. They're usually wrong.

When I looked at the steam engine photo, I also assumed that the top had been burnt in, but my reaction to it was, “Oh, that's an excellent job of burning in; it looks completely natural.” At the same time, I thought to myself, “You know, the steam cloud at the lower left and the ones along the right edge center need a bit of burning in at low contrast, they are just a little too glaring white and they drag the eye out of the photograph. Not enough of a split-filter burn to be consciously noticeable to the viewer, just enough to keep the eye within the composition.”

I would suggest that if someone didn't like the darkness of the upper plumes when they thought they were manipulated, they shouldn't like them when they find out they aren't. If they look unnaturally overly-dramatic, that's an artistic distraction, whether it is real or not.

Of course the photographer gets to decide the right way to render the photograph, not the audience. I'm just saying that deciding it's wrong when you think it's technique and okay when you think it's on the film doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. That strikes me as just an inverted form of obsessing about the craft rather than the results.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Fascinating: the work of at least three out of five finalists would not look out of place on the covers of ECM records: Leigh Perry, Bernd Reinhardt, Kathleen Pickard. (ECM being my favourite label of contemporary music, especially jazz.)
Back in LP days, I bought many ECM records — more than I could really afford — because of the brilliant cover design by Barbara Wojirsch and Dieter Rehm, usually involving the kind of photographic language exemplified by the finalists' photographs here.
There was a kind of magic adequation between the music and the photography.

(For Jim Tiemann's masterpiece, the musical correlate is all too obvious: Arthur Honegger's Pacific 231.)

Dear Adrian,

Oh, I'll consider anything. Part of my business is custom printing, after all. But that said, I don't think this is a particularly good idea.

For one, it would be a rather expensive print. I have a workflow that will get me from a digital file to a dye transfer print, but I haven't had much reason to exercise it and so there would be some experimentation involved. So I'd end up having to charge Kathleen quite a lot for the first print. Probably a grand. Then there'd be the price for the duplicate prints. Remember that in my own print sales I've gotten to keep 80% of the money. Assuming at least the same amount of profit to me, I'd have to charge her at least $120 a print. Assuming that the artist should make as much off of this as the printer (which only seems fair) and figuring in Mike's cut, you're looking at an over-$300 print price.

And, after all of that, I'm not convinced it would be a better looking print. Read this:

"To Talk of Many Things: Of Digital and Dye Transfer Prints" ( http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2011/08/digital-and-dye.html )

This is precisely the kind of important-highlight photograph that prints better digitally than as dye transfer. Because this would involve a hybrid workflow, I think I could eliminate most of the deficiencies of dye transfer for this kind of subject matter, but I'd still be surprised if it actually is better looking than the straight digital print.

All that said, if there were interest on the part of buyers, and more importantly, Kathleen, I would certainly consider it, and I'd probably be happy to take the work and the money.

I just wouldn't be recommending it if I were a disinterested third party.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Black smoke from a steam locomotive isn't photoshop, but the way it was 'sposed to be. I still have ineradicable memories of being a very small kid, standing on a little bridge over the B&O tracks near home, enveloped in the black cloud of smoke from an inbound freight. When OW Link was photographing the last five years of steam on the Norfolk and Western he was asked by the railroad's management not to show engines making too much steam, or with steam coming from an open safety release valve ("The Last Steam Railway in America," page 35). I guess white steam was wasteful and a bit dangerous. Now that steam railroading is a heritage being preserved, things are different. It was interesting to discover in the paragraphs above that the white steam was in fact the product of a malfunction and a very cold day.



Great selection, thus far.

Question: you've made it clear many times that you don't much care for b/w digital prints, so would those of us who make b/w digital prints be wasting our time submitting images? Not asking to be crass, but I think such clarification is only fair.

Leigh Perry's seascape in a car park is, to me,a pretty profound idea. He's managed to create and capture the feeling of a Sugimoto using nothing more than a wall. I think that the car park photo easily surpasses any of his actual seascapes.

"would those of us who make b/w digital prints be wasting our time submitting images?"

Not at all. Part of the point of the "Mike's Picks" post is that it's *not* all about my preferences 'n' prejudices. I'll keep an open mind--the image is the thing.


The photograph of Uncle Pete's Challenger didn't make me notice, rather suggested to myself that just maybe, just maybe that would win. Steel and steam and cold. I knew it was the Challenger by the two tanks slung under the running board and the dry pipe going to the front engine. And others have done similar shots. The lady from Simcoe her photo rather bothered me, appearing as if some kind of prehistoric critter in the water.

Wonder if she knows a certain natural soap maker at the bottom of the hill in Port Ryerse?

The barber shop because it reminds me a something; perhaps the pipe smoking air polluting Norman Rockwell may have painted.
However he may well not have had the prepondrence of coloured folk in the photo. Yes I am biased, however the wooden structure helps tone down the overall brashness of the image.

My new large (1800 square foot flat) has NO
photographs or paintings on the walls...
less to dust, and besides looking and recalling when, may well not be the best approach to life, ii may in the future.

If James and Roy put the photo on a billboard to sell Marshmallows or life insurance, model releases would be required. Art and photojournalism do not, if I understand it correctly.

This is a fine set of photographs. This exercise has been instructive for me in two ways. First was to get some insight into choosing photographs for print, in other words, what people want to hang on their wall who are otherwise unconnected with the subject or photographer. That's fascinating to me, but also a bit disturbing: I initially found the photographs to be somewhat adrift of context and somehow "cold". Which leads to the second insight...

...Which is what a difference a title and simple paragraph make to the appreciation of a photograph. The five chosen photographs really come alive for me now. The train photograph is more impressive knowing it's not a photo illustration. I rather disliked it before knowing that, assuming that it had been pretty worked up. Not a bad thing but just not my cup of caffeine rich tawny hot beverage. But now I'm pretty impressed with it, capturing an unearthly contrast and clarity that was born of a certain temperature and mechanical condition.

I can tell a similar story about all five selections, though I think i rather liked the garage photo from the start for the sheer whimsy of it.

This is a great exercise, Mike, thanks for putting it together. I'll be looking at my photographs with different eyes next go around.

Ah, the "it's photoshoped" cynics picking on a picture from a Leica film camera. It calls to mind this comic


It's good to have a hobby. :-)


for me, there's an instructive lesson in cropping in the steam train picture. Mt eye is magnetically drawn to the area of tarmac on the lower right, and try as I might, and liking the rest of the picture, that (to me) glaring dissonance from the rest of the picture dropped it to 19th on my mental list (20th was the reclining girl who seems to have drawn lots of last minute votes - not my scene at all). If the steam train picture was cropped to exclude the tarmac, it would have been 2nd or 3rd on my list.

I mentioned before a "digital print sale", which was clearly a wacky idea as no one made any counter-comment. But if you'd like to act as Howard Cubell's agent for a $10 commission, I'll gladly pay him $25 for a high res version of his image (107) and permission to use it as my desktop background. I know there's all sorts of difficulties with control of digital versions, but my desktop and screen saver is how I display my favourite images. I don't have photographs on the walls of the house, only paintings.

Mike, and Howard Cubell,

I've just realised my language in my earlier post could be construed as somehow dictatorial and imposing of a "worth no more than" limit. Please forgive me if that was the impression.

Howard's picture to me is some visual poetry. I'm not a rich man, and my offer of $25 for the right to put it on my desktop is about as much as I can afford. It may very well be that Howard's art is worth considerably more than that, and if so, my apologies for appearing to undervalue it.

I'm very pleased with the finalists. I'd happily hang any and all of these photos on my wall, if only I could afford to. Leigh Perry's photo didn't strike me at first, but after visiting his website and contrasting "Car park wall and floor" with his seascapes, the photo has gained more meaning for me. Also, as G. Carvajal pointed out, Perry's Vision #P854 is gorgeous, and would be very suitable for this contest.

"Incorrect. Art photographs don't require model releases."


I, too, had assumed that model releases would be required. Thanks for clarifying the issue. BTW, is there a legal definition of "art photograph" or is it open to debate as to what constitutes "art"?

BTW, after reading your comment, I did some searching and came across this.

It seems that photographers have a lot of leeway. Of course, one can still be stopped and arrested while photographing for being a "terrorist" :(

I initially voted for the train pic thinking a print of it would make a great gift for my retired father (who is a train nut), but looking at it again, and thinking about the possibility of a fiber print, I may just need to keep it for myself.

"Art photographs don't require model releases"


just interested, how in the heck is "art" defined? I know nothing of this world, but in the real world I can understand how some unscrupulous non-TOP reading photographers might be able to blag their way around that one.

"Is anyone else saddened by the fact that many people's first reaction to a great photo is a cry of, "Photoshopped!" or, "Staged!"?"

Yes, Yohan, yes. A thousand times, yes.

Especially when those people's exposure to Photoshop pretty much starts and ends with putting captions on pictures of cats. Or so it seems at times.

On the film:digital ratio, my effort was also shot on film, so that's another 1/600th of the total number there! It would be interesting to note just what the overall ratio was, how much it differs from what you might expect and why that might be the case here. I do know that when I print a photograph it feels more "real" than does an on-screen display.

Feldman's photograph reminds me very much of The Carpet Merchant by Jean-Léon Gérôme.

All five of them are wonderful photos, but Feldman's seems especially grand.

The picture looks much better with the description and the "making of" info.

For once a favorite of mine made the cut -- Bernd Reinhardt's road shot. I love the geometry of the right angles and shadows, and the muted greens, blues, and browns are perfect. I went to his website and really enjoyed his other work. I've a few projects in mind for the next time I go down and visit my son in the San Fernando Valley.

I'm really glad you gave us links to the finalists comments and websites. I hope I have a better understanding of their pictures and work. There is some good reading there. Thanks.

I agree with the responders who liked the range of styles and how the descriptions help us understand the pictures better. I was shooting with Bernd on the American Road Trip, typically 4x5, and thereby saw what he was shooting most of the time. For this photo, however, I was obsessed with a Colorado River irrigation ditch on the opposite side of the road and didn’t see him take it. Later, when viewing a scan, I was astonished that he saw the rich composition right in front of us that I didn’t. He has worked hard to develop this talent and it shows in this piece.

Is there something about a photograph that demands context over say, a sculpture or a painting? Or is it just the most select works of any art that transcend the need for that context, to venture into the realm of being universally understood statements. Does Guernica work if you don't know it's about a dive-bombing?


Imagine my surprise.

I was on the road and opened up the TOP page on my iPhone to find my picture in your semifinalists list. My first thought was "Oh my God! My photo got picked!"

Then I scrolled through the rest of the entries and almost immediately my next thought was "Oh my God! I hope I don't win, because I *really* want to buy a print of 112 or 116!"

Now that I'm back at my computer I've been reading through all the comments, and I'm really struck by a couple of things.

The first is how hard an exercise it is to select a print for sale. I don't sell prints for a living - in fact I don't sell them at all, though I do occasionally do a shot for a magazine or a CD cover. It took me a long time to pick a shot to submit, and the process was like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle without knowing what it was supposed to look like when it was done. And my confusion was reflected in your readers' comments.

Is it "too decorative" - like a postcard? Is it "too arty"? Would it look good in a gallery but not a home? Would it look good printed huge in a hotel lobby but not in the much smaller prints I can produce myself?

Are pictures of people OK? Would people feel weird about hanging a picture of someone they don't know in their houses?

In the end I decided to stick with what I do most - photograph people, especially musicians, up close - and let the chips fall.

The second thing that struck me is the kindness of your commenters. It seemed to me that a lot of people went out of their way to say they liked my photo, and those who didn't were very good about saying WHY they didn't like it, which is very useful to me. My "best comment" award goes to Mike Milne, who wrote "On my calibrated monitor, the tones to the left of the chin on her jawbone appear too bright for my tastes, and it consequently distracts me." Mike is exactly correct about this (and he's eminently qualified to make this comment, as the many excellent high-key wedding photos on his site attest). Those highlights are zero-zero-zero white; I print the photo on a not-very-bright, slightly textured rag paper to moderate the effect a little. Which brings me to my own bit of context.

My photo "looks like" a photo of a pretty girl, or of a jazz singer - and it is both of those things. But neither of those things is the reason I took the photo. I took the photo because of the extremely bright spotlight which is just out of frame and only a few feet from the singer. I photograph a lot of musicians, and they're usually lit by spots, but the spots are almost always dozens or scores of feet away. I'd never seen a spot this bright used so close. So in a sense the beam of light - and the contrast it created - is the subject of the photo (though of course it doesn't hurt to include a pretty jazz singer...)

You can see two color shots of the same subject here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blakley/4858340287 and here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blakley/4858739066

Thank you for choosing my photo, and thanks to your readers for their thoughts.

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