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Thursday, 28 February 2013


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now if money is more your concern than fame that's another conversation . . . .

Almost every video I have seen of a famous photographer in his digs shows the storage area for the processed film shot in the past. It is always breathtaking in its extent for someone like me who limited his shooting because of budget. Lots of shooting is not an invention of digital photographers. Nor does it preclude great photography. This is just the typical argument of people who did not have a lot of money or were just cheap when they were learning photography with film and have rationalized their penury as artistic superiority.

Greg Heisler is surely one of the exceptions. Just his Time magazine cover hits must be several dozen.

I have sometimes enjoyed the strange surprise of finding out that a photograph I really like was made by a photographer I'm already familiar with: "Oh, wow, that's him too?!?" It's as if, knowing a few of the photographer's hits, I'd just gone on assuming that those were all the good stuff or that any other hit image I recognized just must have been by someone else.

...you're certainly correct about the "volume" thing...it's almost impossible to separate the gold from the "chaff"...and images are everywhere all the time...I remember very early in my career as an advertising photographer, there were years when the "majors" were using as much, or more, illustrations in national ads as photography, it was a real cyclical thing; now it just seems to be photos every where all the time (with photographers making less than ever before)...

I have a pal that was a successful cinematographer/videographer, and a wonderful still photographer. In his semi-retirement, he's doing some wonderful art photography and trying to market it, he's doing some beautiful "Gullah Coast" work, that also has a history component to it. He complains all the time of just trying to get through the "noise" of people imaging all the time and submitting them to galleries and web sites, many of the top galleries won't even consider talking to you or going to your website unless you've been recommended by someone they already know. He sites many cases of important galleries now interested in his work because he was mentioned by someone else, when he called, e-mailed, and visited these same people months before and couldn't get an audience.

There is so much need for content on the internet, that it's just increased exponentially, but the standards have gone way down, not technically; due to digital, but content. He mentions quite a few "known" art photography websites that seem to specialize on "artists" that do nothing but constantly photograph their friends and families, and try to market it as "art".

It's hard to believe all of this isn't marginalizing the industry and making it hard for many to get noticed.

But - to be serious, let's take the example of say Fay Godwin. Any images immediately spring to mind? Is / was she famous? Was she a great photographer? All that glisters is not gold..... and vice versa

Mike, you are so right. This brings up an interesting question though - if you print your work in limited editions, does it preclude you from becoming financially successful if one of your images becomes a big hit?

I am not sure if I completely agree. Sometimes I thought of this a little bit like in music. There are one hit wonders and then there are those who compose great songs over and over and evolve in the process.

Do you suggest that in photography there are mostly only one hit wonders?

This is a quote by Chuck Close (all mistakes in transcribing are mine):

From “Fixing the Shadows”, BBC series on the History of Photography aired on Ovation TV, December 2007.

“Here’s the dilemma and the strength of photography: It’s the easiest medium in which to be competent, but it’s the hardest medium in which to have a personal vision that is readily identifiable. There is no physicality to a photograph. There is nothing there, some silver that got tarnished in the development process or some dyes in a color print. There is no physicality. There is nothing you can point to and say this is the work of this artist’s hand. So, how do you make a photograph that everybody immediately knows is the work of a particular artist? Well, that is a very difficult and complicated thing to come up with. And when someone really ends up nailing down a particular kind of vision to such an extent that they really own that vision you know they have really done something."

I think this is just about the best article from you I have ever read... it will (it should, perhaps it won't, but it should) hit home hard to many... and if it does they should be very thankful to you.

[Ed B. is the former publisher of Darkroom Userand Camera & Darkroommagazines in the U.K. --Mike]

Saint Ansel had a 6 year streak where most, if not all, of his famous photos were made. All the rest was good marketing.

What you say is true. However, one of my joys in collecting books (or attending exhibits) of 'famous' photographers is to discover unfamiliar, but still pretty wonderful, works. The 'greatest hits' compilations are far less interesting to me, and far less instructive.

As a result, there are photographers I admire whose work is much more vast and varied than others recognize. A few really famous ones, like Strand, have notable pics in many different genres...abstract, portrait, industrial, landscape and more, from many different locations. I can remember loads of them. These are the types of photographers, who dedicated a lifetime to their craft, that attract and hold my interest.

With the proliferation of pics today, I'm saddened that it's so hard, if not impossible, to find that kind of true talent amidst all the clutter and attempts at instant fame.


My biggest hit is a photo of my M6 and Domke bag. Groan...

"You gotta get off your ass and get out of the house...."
And keep your camera's batteries charged! Sorry, couldn't resist...:-).

Definately rings a bell with me, and I have to concur whole-heartedly. Although I (like many, if not all, others in this digital age) shoot many, many more exposures these days than I did in the days of film, I am still looking for that one shot each day that's a "keeper," and that one shot each trip that goes up on the wall. My most recent trip to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico (5 days on site) was rapidly (I should probably say ruthlessly) edited down from over 2,000 shots to less than 100 exposures, and then to 13 possible prints, and finally to just 3 that I will use for notecards only, as I wasn't happy enough with any of them to do a large print and pay for matting and framing.

Also.......this way I don't have to keep buying new (ever larger) hard drives on a twice or three times a year schedule like some of my photographer friends.


"Nobody ever got famous by taking lots of pictures."

Thomas Hawk got himself some internet fame by trying to take and publish 1 million photos in his lifetime. He has certainly learned a lot from this project so far. Chances are he’ll have a few hits, too.

[I take it for granted that there are always exceptions to general rules. Thanks for pointing this one out.... --Mike]

Well, Prof. Gursky produces 10 pictures a YEAR.......and even then not all of them are winners (IMHO). Maybe a new exercise just one shutter movement a month please.....(now the Gursk uses more then one shutter movement to produce any of his shots, but not that many), I do 1 shot per subject.....focusses me.....makes me think before I shoot and more then once I've set up the camera (yeps "the Beast" needs setting up).....to put it in it's ready bag (a Tamrac 12) again, batteries disattached and lens tucked away.....

P.S. I've stopped oogling the D600 and 7100.....for my scrapbook camera an old GH2 will do just fine.

Greets, Ed.

Funny, Steve McCurry popped to mind as someone who's famous for a lifetime of consistently great images ... maybe that's not true; maybe is really is famous for the Afghan Girl, but while that picture springs to mind, so do countless others that I've seen on his blog. Whereas famous musicians might be known for the dozen or two songs you could put on a greatest hits album, I think that photographers like McCurry ... or Joe McNally or Jay Maisel just keep producing so much good stuff that it's hard for me to come up with a list of greatest hits. Jim Brandenburg had his White Wolves and Tom Mangelsen his grizzly bear catching the salmon, so they probably fit your theory. Maybe it is true, generally. When I think of Stephen Shore or Garry Winogrand no specific photos come to mind. Galen Rowell definitely had a few famous shots.
In my own library I relate to a few dozen of my very best photos (out of 40,000). It's kind of like golf, I guess, or bowling, where you keep playing, keep improving, and it's always fun, but you live for the very best rounds.
It's also odd that while the commercial photographers I mentioned have tons of really good stuff, when I visit the website of an artist photographer (like maybe someone I investigate after seeing a portfolio on Fraction (should I say "in" Fraction ?) there's often 2 or 3 portfolios of a dozen images, and that's it. And I don't get the impression that they're only showing a subset of their work, but rather, that's all they have (so far) and it's taken them several years. I usually find that disappointing.

Interesting three: One I know too well and their hit. One I know but can't visualize a hit. And one I never heard of.

I hope TOP isn't where I first saw this:


- Tim

Funny... I received the latest British Journal of Photography today and it has an article on Mike Brodie who has just published a book (A Period of Juvenile Prosperity). It says that he gave up photography to go back to school and train to be a diesel mechanic as "I believe there is no future in being an artist". The article closes with a quote from the text of the book - "I don't think about being rich, but I hope I can make a million dollars. I don't want to be famous, but I hope this book is remembered forever.".

It's not surprising, really. You can only keep a small number of things in your head, so you remember the hits. I don't remember names very well, never have, so when you ask me what pic hits I think of when you mention X, I sit and stare dumbly because I can't remember who that is.

There are photographers who are known for more than any particular subset of their photographs. Subject matter, technique and/or style can be the reason for their fame. I'll give two or three examples. Think of almost any really world-famous person from from about 1945 to about 1980, from Bridget Bardot to Albert Einstein to JFK, and (at least among the older generation of us) that name will very probably bring to mind a portrait by Yousuf Karsh. I've read lots of criticism of his work from a photographic perspective, but he did seem to have the ability to capture the public image a famous person. Many here will not know the name August Sander. But show me any image by him and I think I will know who took it, whether I've seen the image before or not. One might not agree with his agenda, but there was certainly a single-mindedness and quality that I cannot help but admire. Seeing any one of his images may not be memorable, but see any ten of them and you will never forget. Then, of course, there is Theodor Scheimpflug. Most - if not all - of us would not recognize a single one of his photographs, but he was a photographer and at least the view camera users - as well as many cartographers and ophthalmologists - will know what he brought to photography.

The late Bill Jay's recipe for 'fame' in photography was (I paraphrase here) to have three subjects: 1) naked people, 2) celebrities, and 3) naked celebrities. Hard to argue with that.

… and then we have those who "think" they can put a name to a picture and go right ahead and blurt it out using it to advertise someone else's retrospective!:


Yes folks this image is by ELLIOTT ERWITT, I'm sure he's not too fussed about the boo-boo but again we're seeing a blatant example of today's lack of basic research by so-called reporters.

How strange that their comments section is unavailable ...

[That's hilarious. I'll bet someone at the San Francisco Sentinel is walking around with a big "KICK ME" sign on his back.... --Mike]

Famous does not necessarily equate to great.

Someone in a photography forum long ago and far away—might have been Ken Tenaka—once wrote a post about what it takes to get a photograph displayed in a museum. The details escape me now, but it involved an MBA, connections, and much else. The message seemed cold, almost cynical, and quite discouraging. In my case, it effectively removed fame from the list of reasons for pursuing photography. No complaints if it happens along, of course, but it should not be the reason for peering at the world through a viewfinder day after day, year after year.

So, with fame as motivation out of the way, your point is still valid. Many of us have online galleries bloated with old chaff. May as well get started with an early start to spring cleaning.

>The only reason to take lots of pictures is to get better ones, not to just have more of them.




The "Delete" key is your friend. Seriously!

Robert Adams. The opposite of a one-hit wonder.

I once observed that no photographer except Ansel Adams has ever become truly famous with the general public without also being famous or associated with someone famous in another field. I.E. Of the three you mentioned only one is famous to me. I didn't recognize the other two names. That doesn't mean I don't know their work, I just don't know them.

Photographers are at a fame disadvantage compared to sports figures, musicians and movie stars. With those other fields, when you see what they do you see them as well. When you see a great photograph it is there all by itself. If the photographer is preset at all, he/she is standing off some distance from the work with no obvious connection to the photograph except to those people who are already familiar with their work, those to whom he/she is already famous.

If you can't take good pictures... take a lot.

I think this is becoming less true, if it ever was entirely so.

It is certainly true of those you listed, but these days many artists are focusing on thematic exhibitions rather than individual images, per se. These artists are far more famous for their style and narrative than for their individual works (even if individually they fetch astronomical prices).

I would include Martin Parr, Andreas Gursky and Cindy Sherman off the top of my head.

However I think this was also true of some of the famous photographers from earlier in the century, such as Stephen Shore and Ernst Haas. I guess could could even include Walker Evans and Elliot Erwitt.

You could make much the same conclusion about musicians. Almost everything Beethoven wrote is widely played and recorded, same for Mozart, whereas Vivaldi is known for (at most) two works, and Berlioz one.

I think it's the difference between an intellectual vision and drive that is constantly reinventing itself and innovating, and a purely natural artistic talent that pops up a few wonderful pictures as the result of circumstance.

[Maybe, but we could argue. I'd take a flier and guess that ten times as many people know the opening bars of the 5th symphony, the "Ode to Joy," the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata, and/or "Fur Elise" than know anything else by him. Hits.... --Mike]

Ed's comment is spot on. Me, I'd like to get just one photograph to C, let alone B+...

Here's an experiment.... you post on TOP that I'm a famous but unknown photographer and lets see what happends! :)

Wasn't it Bill Jay who said that the fastest way for a photographer to get famous was to take pictures of celebrities, or naked people, or naked celebrities?

Eliot Porter: "Redbud Tree in Bottom Land, Red River Gorge, Kentucky, April 17, 1968."

You can see it at the Met's site here: http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/190014380 However, the color in this online version is much more cyan than in the big Eliot Porter monograph published by the New York Graphic Society in 1987.

Mike, I always thought the cover of The Empirical Photographer was the perfect expression of the sensibility I've discerned in several decades or reading your articles. However, I fail to see a title for this photograph anywhere in the book. How are you going to be famous if you don't title your photographs?

An Ansel Adams exhibit last fall at the Peabody-Essex in Salem is a good case in point, to Mike's essay and several prior comments.

It seemed obvious to me that someone had decided that an Adam's show would pack the people in, as was true when I was there. However, they couldn't arrange, afford, whatever, an exhibit of originals of the iconic images.

So, they staged a show with only, as I best recall, 2-3 originals of the real classics, some huge blow-ups, with poor technical photographic values, of other hits, a modest selection of what I would consider good work, much of which I had not seen, and a lot of original prints I had not seen that I doubt would ever hang in a decent gallery, were it not for the person who made them. perfectly good photographs, beautifully printed, but not standouts.

I quite enjoyed the show. Getting to view such a selection of St Ansel's less than stellar work gave me a much better understanding of what he was working on and how the great ones likely came about.

I also came away with the sense, which may not be accurate, that in doing his later work, he may have been feeling the shadow of his famous early work.

I've also seen some of his very early commercial work, focusing on a college and its students. Absolutely technically professional, and lifeless.


"Nobody ever got famous by taking lots of pictures."


I don't know these guys by individual pics, but I know them as purveyors of many if the same kind of thing.

"Can you think of a photographer you believe is famous, who doesn't have a picture that's a particular hit? "

Robert Frank?

I can think of one or two that people might name (but I'll not mention them here).

That's somewhat deliberate in The Americans as he wasn't a "single shot" photographer at that point but his books and exhibitions were about the relationships between the images that he showed as facing photos in books or adjacent hangings in exhibitions, repeated themes, section markers and the like. And one of the reasons he doesn't allow his images to be reproduced outside of his books, I suspect.

Stephen Shore might be another candidate though, again, perhaps there are two photos that come to mind for him as well.

Perhaps the way to test this is to enter the name of the photographer into Google Images search. Does the ordering of the photos there match the photos in your head?

It works for O. Winston Link but if I do that for Ansel Adams then Moonrise is 14th.

I do take lots of digital images. Enough to fill a lot of hard drives. However, I find it curious that in a sequence of 20 to 30 shots of the same scene, the very first exposure is the keeper 70% of the time and the very last exposure is the keeper 20% of the time. I enjoy the exercize, but most of the "let me try this" experiments are failures. 40+ years behind the lens and I know I still have a lot to learn. To be honest, I only consider about 0.1% (or maybe 0.01%?) of my shots to be keepers - one's I'll print and frame. Oddly, some people who have seen my casual work that I would never hang have insisted on getting a print. Oh well, everyone's taste is different. I only sell under duress, preferring to give prints away to friends and family. It is gratifying to see one's work hung on someone else's wall. That is worth far more to me than monetary gain.

"Can you think of a photographer you believe is famous, who doesn't have a picture that's a particular hit? I know too many photographers to do this, but maybe you can. (Eliot Porter comes to mind for me. There are always exceptions to every rule.)"

Sure I can - Galen Rowell, Frans Lanting, Peter Turnley, David Doubilet, etc. just off the top of my head. And I can think of others. Yes, Porter too. If anything, I wonder if Steve McCurry is the exception who is recognized primarily for one single photo?

Well, there are always exceptions and the most remarkable one is Robert Doisneau. As with everybody else, my first acquaintance with his work was through "Le Baiser de l'Hôtel de Ville", but when I got to know the rest of his photographs, I found it hard to pinpoint a single one as his second best. (What am I saying? "Le Baiser..." isn't even his best picture!)
And - guess what? - "Le Baiser" was staged...

Well, my thoughts that no one will care about----
First off, I believe photography is "just" another art form, and the things that make it essentially great are the things that make other art forms essentially great. With that as an a priori (which many may not accept---time for good whisky and talk!), then:

1. Hits come in different flavors, and mean different things to different artists and bodies of work. There's the "one hit wonder" sort of thing, in which somehow all the strands of the universe just came together for a fleeting moment that is spectacular, but the rest of the body of work pales in comparison; and then there's the hit that somehow encapsulates the rest of the whole body of work, a touchstone.

2. some artists seem to crank out a parade of "hits", and this can be alternately amazing and suspicious. One wonders if the broad appeal masks a certain shallowness....

3.some bodies of work elude "hits" altogether, and that is also interesting and illuminating. It's the body of work itself that is the wonder. And, yes, Eliot Porter was the very first photographer that popped into my head!

4. and then sometimes the "hits" completely distort the body of work in its entirety.

Ultimately, I think "hits" are quite problematic. Why is it a hit in the first place?

Richard Avedon and Irving Penn both have multiple bodies of work not just single images that stick in your mind. David Douglas Duncan, Atget, HCB and Diane Arbus also have a plethora of flashcard worthy images. OK Arbus can probably be edited down to 100 , but on the other hand there is Lee Friedlander. The new kids I'm kind of drawing a blank on, although I could recognize Anie Liebowitz's work in a flash (so to speak)

"I find it curious that in a sequence of 20 to 30 shots of the same scene, the very first exposure is the keeper 70% of the time and the very last exposure is the keeper 20% of the time."

The great English portrait photographer Jane Bown said that the keeper was always the first or the last picture of any setup, so she stopped taking all the ones in the middle...she'd only take two. [g]


I really loathe a couple of kinds of painting -- the so-called "Boston School" stuff, and almost any "pleine air," for the simple reason that they are triumphs of technique over ideas. It's like somebody building a crappy house with a wonderful hammer -- not so good if you have to live in the house. The same is true of, oh, 99.99 percent of "art" photography. The technique may be great, but the ideas are usually somebody's else's, and usually Ansel Adams'. I really don't need to see another morning light on the Grand Tetons over the lake, or a "deliberately blurred" stream over rocks, but I probably will...

So if you want to steal somebody else's ideas, at least try to steal Cartier-Bresson's; if you're actually out on the street trying to find decisive moments, maybe something will fall on your head.

But far better than that would be to leave your camera at home and then wander around and just look at stuff, and create a photograph in your mind that you can come back and get later. In other words, come up with an idea and then execute it, rather than just going around executing your ass off, and coming back with 2,000 fresh examples of a lack of ideas.

As for "Running White Deer," I have one, and I love it. I don't really give a rat's ass about how hard Caponegro had to work to produce all of them, nor do I care who else may have them, or that the value of mine is less than it might be because there are so many others around. I love the image, and I treasure it as an "original" because it just really couldn't have been printed any better. It's a perfect example of somebody who had an idea about light and motion and then executed it, and what is more essential to photography than light and motion?.

"And - guess what? - "Le Baiser" was staged..."

Actually it wasn't staged OR posed. The two subjects were models. Collaborators, may be a better word. The three of them wandered around the city together, with the couple being themselves and the photographer taking pictures of them. That doesn't meet the definition of staged or posed, because the photographer wasn't directing them or executing a predetermined concept. There was an element of cultivated spontaneity and happenstance to it it, of accepting what happened and taking what they found.

I used to do portraits that way, and it's a very nice way to work. We'd just try a bunch of things, and see what worked.


Yes, I can't think of more than maybe ten photographs of even my favorite photographers, but when I look at their books, I realize that their other work is just as good. And that's what makes them great photographers.

I have a couple of images that I think would be great commercial "Hits". But what do you do to get them out there. How do you get people to notice them.

@Eric Rose: Saint Ansel had a 6 year streak where most, if not all, of his famous photos were made.

That's a bit of an exaggeration. Yes, he produced a lot of great work in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but he produced plenty of iconic pictures before (Monolith, The Face of Half Dome; The Golden Gate before the Bridge) and after (Moon and Half Dome; Arches, North Court, Mission San Xavier del Bac) his best period.

And there's a big reason he was so much more productive during that short time than he was outside it: for most of his career he couldn't sell enough artistic prints to earn a living. Until close to the end of his career, he had to spend most of his time on commercial jobs to pay the bills. It was only in the few years when he was working on Guggenheim grants or doing photography for the National Park Service that he was able to devote the majority of his time to the kind of work he's most famous for. And he must have done something worthy of note before that time to earn those Guggenheim grants and the job photographing the National Parks.

There is a lot less fame to spread around in photography. Joe Blow can probably come up with Ansel because he had a calendar once, but that might be all. And that might be Dr. Joe Blow.

I have an undergraduate art degree (as a painter, mainly) from a major university and never had much exposure to the history of photography. Admittedly this was 30 years ago, and back then the photography students were stuck in the basement and the art history faculty were a stuffy bunch. I hear they've given photography space upstairs in the new art building, but I doubt even now that most of the students (photographers excepted) know more than those few hits.


Wonderful essay and readers' comments.

Is it tomorrow yet?

(By tomorrow the two other photographers you mentioned will be famous to me.)

@Malcolm Leader:

I think there's a simple explanation for the "first or last" effect. When you see something worth photographing, there's something that draws you to it and makes you want to take the picture. Your first picture is usually an attempt to capture the thing that draws you in, so it often has the most emotional resonance. After that, you start adjusting, trying to see if you can somehow improve on the initial vision. If you can't, the subsequent pictures will decline in quality and the first will be the best. If you can, you'll keep getting better and better until you have it right, at which point you'll quit, so the last picture will be the best.

The obvious exception is when the thing you're photographing is dynamic. It could be a person, animal, or event that's constantly changing, or it could be a static scene where it's only the light that's changing, but in either case it's as much a matter of changes in the thing you're photographing as changes in your vision. You have to wait for the subject to reach its optimum, but since you can never be sure when that will be, you wind up taking pictures before and after the peak.

I believe Brooks Jensen, editor of LensWork has a much different take on the "greatest hits" photo idea, all of the work that is featured in his magazine is usually of a single subject done as a project. I think there are arguments for both approaches, I think it really comes down to vision and how you see your picture(s) in your mind, either as one image ( possibly a great hit ) or as several story telling images.

A very interesting point of view. Which also sparks a few (rhetorical) questions. Fame is only a consequence of one's "hits"? (I have to say that, not being a native English speaker, I am a bit annoyed by the word "hits". It sounds like some Mafia jargon.)
What about content? Or context? If my subject is familiar to the cultural context where it's presented then I might have a chance to be recognized.
Recognition can also be the result of pure chance. One has just to randomly hit the right nail. Without any other quality. Finding something exotic that would please the Critics...
Of course, one doesn't HAVE to be famous.
Personally I am much closer to Saul Leiter's words:
“I’ve never been overwhelmed with a desire to become famous. It’s not that I didn’t want to have my work appreciated, but for some reason — maybe it’s because my father disapproved of almost everything I did — in some secret place in my being was a desire to avoid success.
My friend Henry [Wolf] once said that I had a talent for being indifferent to opportunities. He felt that I could have built more of a career, but instead I went home and drank coffee and looked out the window.”


I know that you are ambivalent about Lee Freidlander, but I think he has a huge and varied opus. Every time I go through one of his books I am amazed by his eye and taste. Yet I couldn't give you an iconic image of his that defines his work.

I would also like to thank you for ridding me of a guilt I have felt sine switching to digital. I don't really take many more pictures now than when I shot with film. I think part of it is my age (66) and the habit of going out with 3 or 4 rolls of 36 exposures. With a 4gb card in my M4/3 cameras, shooting RAW, I get between 130 and 150 shots. That seems enough to me. Even on vacation in Provence, where everything is exotic and draped in beautiful light I don't often have a daily shot count over 160. 85,000 shots would wear me out.

Now I shoot only for myself and am happy to get one printworthy shot out of 300. The real keepers are one a month on a good month. I am very happy with that ratio. I don't think taking more pictures would help this count at all. As ever this is only applicable to me, not a recommendation.

[Jim, actually I love L.F., he's a touchstone for me. And I actually shoot less with digital than I did with film. I wrote a post about that once, but it would take me a while to find it and I don't have time. --Mike]

"The great English portrait photographer Jane Bown said that the keeper was always the first or the last picture of any setup, so she stopped taking all the ones in the middle...she'd only take two. [g]"

With portraits the first photo if you are any good , the sitter has not quite realized that you are taking the photo, and by the last they are exhausted and don't care. That's why they are the best.

Unfortunately you have to do something to fill the time and make the subject tired, impatient and distracted, and taking a lot of photos is pretty good for that.

In the studio turning off the strobe pack and pretending to be trouble shooting it is a good way to get a couple good shots in the middle of the shoot.

Steve McCurry. Rineke Dijkstra. Alec Soth. Who? Honestly, nothing comes to mind. I guess that make me a bad student. Here's one Danny Lyons.

A lot of this depends on what you mean by "famous." The average man or woman on the street would be hard-pressed to name any "famous" photographers aside from Ansel Adams, or maybe Annie Liebovitz. Google the phrase "10 most famous photographers" and you'll discover that very few names appear in multiple lists. Narrow the search to "top ten fashion photographers" or "top ten street photographers" and there's closer agreement. Regardless, no photographer will ever be as "famous" as a Kardashian, Lohan, Sting, or Snoop Dogg.

Mike, I don't mean to perpetuate a sterile controversy, but there is a slightly different version of how "Le Baiser..." was taken:
«The court action [filed against Robert Doisneau by the Lavergnes, who erroneously thought to be the portrayed couple] forced Doisneau to reveal that he posed the shot using Françoise Delbart and Jacques Carteaud, lovers whom he had just seen kissing, but had not photographed initially because of his natural reserve; he approached them and asked if they would repeat the kiss.» (Cf. http://www.famouspictures.org/mag/index.php?title=Kissing_Couple)
Incidentally, with all the work and stuff I completely forgot to wish you a happy birthday... sorry. Hope you've had a nice day.

I am the most famous person in the world and I am also Rich...RICH!!!

That's my name by the way, Rich.

This raises the question of how much of the work of a famous photographer is really just editing.

Garry Winogrand, VIvian Maier are two names that jump to mind as photographers generally recognized for their greatness, who are known to have gigantic archives of negatives. As members of the public, not privileged or interested enough to peruse the whole archive, we literally cannot know how good they were.

Both artists have been carefully curated. How shall we know if they were geniuses, where the curation consists really of dipping in and picking out a fistful of images? How shall we know that they were not medicore photographers who happened to produce something that we can believe is very good every 1000 exposures or so?

Edit, edit, edit. Yes. This means, for most of us, that the correct number of "keepers" is zero. We simply haven't got the combination of talent and archive depth to produce the great work. What then? I for one decline to edit that much, and respond by lowering my standards. What other choice do I have?

[You seem to imply that there's something disreputable about editing. Who cares how much anybody edited if they end up with the work that satisfies them? It's just process. Whatever works. --Mike]

Steve McCurry. Rineke Dijkstra. Alec Soth. Think of one picture you identify most with each of those names. What three pictures come to your mind? Don't say it in a comment, just think of them. I'll put up the three pictures I'm thinking about tomorrow and you can see if we were thinking about the same ones.

I'm all psyched to see if I'm right. When are you putting these up Mike?

Roger Moore is famous

I suppose that was Tim's impetus for the Behind Photographs project. I heard him speak at the inaugural Medium Festival here in San Diego. He had some interesting stories about sitting famous photographer on the wrong side of the lens.


Altogether a very good and interesting read. Mike I think you should re-publish your 'hit' as a Kindle title or at least an 'eBook on TOP'. Hmm that sounds good...

"Can you think of a photographer you believe is famous, who doesn't have a picture that's a particular hit?"

Atget. Richard Avedon. Friedlander. Robert Frank. Gursky. Horst P. Horst. Kertesz. Annie Leibovitz. Sally Mann. Jay Maisel. Joel Meyerowitz. Helmut Newton. Irving Penn. Cindy Sherman.

Most of these are famous for a particular style, subject matter, or technique. But not a single hit photo, I don't believe, or even three.

So I think the way to be famous is to do something outstandingly well--and it helps to do it comprehensively, or obsessively, or in an unusual way.

[Come now. Horst is almost completely known by "Mainbocher corset" now, and if you stand in an airport and ask people passing by, you won't get twenty people who can name an Annie L. shot other than Demi pregnant, Meryl in whiteface, or Yoko and naked John before you go home hungry and with aching feet. --Mike]

MJ, "I suppose there are musicians, too, who are dismayed by the songs of theirs that become hits even though they know they have much better and more serious work, although I can't think of any examples."

Tchaikovsky hated his bombastic "1812 Overture" and it became one of his greatest hits.

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