« Alex Garcia Weighs In | Main | TOP Is Planning to Grow »

Saturday, 01 June 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

But...you are such a great writer.

[Thanks for that. --Mike]


Don't give up.

Try other banks/lenders. Somebody will lend you the money (but your might not get the very lowest rate).

Find a successful Realtor (one of the 5% that do 95% of the business) and ask for advice.

Take heart: Jagger (the Philosopher Jagger, as Dr House called him) goes on to say "But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need".

On the internet, poetry is even easier to rip off than photographs. Google "Donald Justice" and "Men at forty".

Then call your son.

A year... you wanted a whole damn year! All I ever wanted was my 15 minutes- and that's like promised in The Constitution!

Sometimes it takes more than just moving down the street.
After suffering "neighbours from hell" for several years we finally managed to sell the house but by then its value had dropped to the point that there was no way we could afford anything else in the same county (or anything better in the same country).
So we've moved 500 miles south to a quiet rural hamlet in France and now have a house four times the size for less than 70% of the price!

Maybe you don't know what your Year is about. Is it possible that photography is something you do, but not what your life is about?

Some of us spend life in anticipation of something that's is only a figment of imagination, and in the process miss the real high points - "Years". It may be opportunities missed, but is most often actual experiences not really noticed, not "lived", while looking elsewhere, to future and/or past.

I've got almost 20 years more "life experience" than you do. It's clear to me by now that I always get much more than some minimum that I "need", but seldom what my mind thinks I want.

As I let go of past, future and fixation on particular things not here in the present, I find the gap between what I receive and what I imagine I want (i.e. am without) and what I receive, doesn't merely disappear, it reverses.

I enjoy a bounty I never had sufficient imagination to desire.

It's my bet that you have more than one Year still in you.


Mike: I wonder if you have explored Andrew Sullivan's funding approach for his The Dish blog. $19.95 per year for no ads and unlimited access. Non subscribers get ads, and limited access after a certain number of monthly views. Seems to be working for him, and less than $20 per year is a bargain for either of your blogs. Of course, the Joyful Nudes ad would only be available to subscribers.

Dave Kee

Since they're neighbors, perhaps you can work out an owner-contract purchase arrangement of a duration sufficient to get proper mortgage brokers to accept you as a customer?


Hi Mike,
If you really need this house, you should not give up on the idea. The housing market is past it's once in a century correction, and the banks should be more easy going on mortgages now. I imagine, that you would sell your current house, which should cut down the lender's risk. If this house is paid for, it will cut down the risk more, if it is not yet paid for, but you have been paying down the mortgage regularly, then this can be shown as proof, that you manage to service a mortgage. After all, 10 years ago, they would give a mortgage even to a drunken cat, so perhaps you are not such a big risk.
Exploring the matter further, you could try to ask the bank, if they would be willing to accept a collateral guarantee under a form of a savings account. You would open the account in name of TOP, and we (the readers) would pay in a "brick" each. The funds would sit there for as long as the residual value of the mortgage goes under a certain amount of property value, and then would be freed. To illustrate: you buy a house for 100,you put down, say 20%, and the readers put down another 30%. You take the mortgage for 80%. When your residual mortgage goes below 50% of property value, the bank releases the savings account monies. This is a type of product used widely (example Lloyds bank's Lend a Hand mortgage in the UK) in cases where parents are helping children to step up on the property ladder, when the kids do not have sufficient money for downpayment.
You were talking once about the idea of making a TOP friends project for publishing books. This could work in a similar way. If you have been able to sell to people Ctein's photos, then I see no reason why you could not sell your own. If the bank accepts the idea, you could ventilate it on line, and for the TOP readers the outcome would be, that if all goes well, the money once freed, would start the book publishing business, and if all goes bad, the bank will grab it, and you will send each of us a photo of your dog.
I don't know how much would be needed, but my rough guess is, that there would be more than 1000 readers ready to put down 100 USD each. I would certainly be one of them. Try to think creative, and find out if there are any bankers among your North American readership, who could give you a hand.



Mike, I have the solution to all your problems: take TOP on the road. It sounds like you need to get out for awhile and I am pretty sure that if you put out a request you would receive hundreds of invitations from readers. You'd be the ultimate dinner guest for us photo enthusiasts. You could couch surf your way across the country. Take your dog too. Motel 6 has high speed internet and an unlimited pet policy. When you get to the Bay Area you're welcome to stay in our extra bedroom.

You also might be able to have your year. Do you think your readership would drop if you posted your photos on TOP for a year? I don't think so. I'd love to see the process, the blood, and sweat. It would be a great show.

So, get TOP on the road. Bring the Dragoon and your dog. It'll be like "Travel's With Charley" only this will happen live on the internet with lots of pictures. What could possibly go wrong?

Are you *sure* your bank wouldn't give you a loan? My (local, small town) bank was crazy enough to want to give me a home loan - and I'm living on unemployment compensation. I just wasn't crazy enough to take them up on it.

Mike, even though you are not a famous photographer, your conversation is essential to world of photographers. You run a online salon, rich with ideas about photography. In this online salon thousands of photo enthusiasts and professionals participate daily. This binds us together as a community. Mike, this is your YEAR.

When I get up and flick on the 'puter in the morning, your blog is the first I go to (even before the NYtimes).

Is that (a paraphrase of) an actual response from a bank about financing? I know a lot of people who have bought or refinanced a house without a regular W2 job in the family, including us. Usually what they want is tax returns showing income for a few years. (But these examples are from before 2008 and I don't know how the rules have changed.)

My basic point, though, is -- are you pre-declining your loan for the bank, or did they actually decline it themselves (if only informally)?

But for how long would it be perfect Mike?

[I have only one more house in me, at most. Either this one or the next one sees me out, I think. --Mike]

"Often what we, looking at a life from without, may think is trouble may not be trouble at all, but only a different way of living from that which we prefer. … It may be that an individual may willingly endure handicaps in his personal life because other things are more important to him. That sometimes is the price of genius. It is frequently through the storm and the stress of unfulfilled emotion, through trouble and unhappiness, that the great achievements of art and science are attained."
Karl De Schweinitz in The Art of Helping People Out of Trouble (1924)

Dammit indeed... This sounds so Dutch - in Holland the life of an employee is a lot easier than that of a free lancer or a self-employed professional. But it always seemed to me that in the U.S. free enterprise is valued above all else. Don't your tax assessments of the last three years mean anything to the bank? If I were a banker (...) I would put more trust in those than in proof of, say, a steady job at some Chicagoan newspaper or other. Maybe there is an enlightened banker among the readers of TOP who presents herself? Don't give up hope yet!

Sad story but true, Mike. I think you're about the same age as me and, in the last few years, I realised I wasn't going to change the world. But maybe I can change my little bit of the world. I just bought my granddaughters, aged 4 and 8,cheap point and shoots to play with. maybe they will grow up to be the artists I wanted to be.
Or maybe they will grow up to be honest, responsible, cultured women. And that will be good enough for me.
Legacy, set your sights realisticallty and it work.

On the other hand, you would never have brought so many people and ideas together, you would never have learned to write so well, and it is highly doubtful, even as the HCB of Wisconsin, or of the entire United States, that you would have furnished so much good cheer and such interesting news so reliably to so many people so often. Thanks a lot, and I am so sorry about the house.

Words to live by those. I always thought that if I could sing like John C. Fogarty or photograph like Gene Smith my life would be complete. C'est la vie. Rather than worry about why I'm not, I rest on what I am. Very comforting words (but I do wish you could have the house).

Mike, have you looked into FHA lending? That might work for you.

Mike, I don't remember what it is called, but supposedly there are lending institutions that lend based on an evaluation of facts of your income. Imagine that! Not by your credit score or formulaic stuff. It is a strong point of the Dave Ramsey presentation. You have that much cash for a down payment and can't get a traditional bank to talk to you? Their loss. Keep looking for a lender, talk to a Real Estate agent, research it, persue it!! Best of Luck!

I don't know Mike, sound like your beating up on yourself.
To me, and I expect to a lot of your followers, your a "huge" success, whether you have the additional square feet or not.
I hope you don't mind my saying this in a comment, and you may think the idea would be biting off more then you can chew, and crazy at that, but I see you on TV. Public television to be exact.
For years I've been a fan of Public television, a lot of their programming were the first "reality shows", like This Old House and the Victory Garden.
I can see The Online Photographer as that kind of program. I can see segments with Ctein and some of your other contributors.
I can visualize instructional segments on buying and caring for equipment; high end and point and shoot. Understanding depth of field and the reviews of post production software. I mean if you use the concept of those two above mentioned programs as a template for TOP on TV, you can see how it could work, and be interesting enough for even the casual non-picture taking viewer.
I can even see a off topic segment every so often.
I'm just sayin' Mike!
And I bet a lot of your readers would agree.
Know anyone in Wisconsin public TV?

Dear Mike, Here is my left field suggestion: convert to 100% raw diet! I am about to do so myself. Amazingly, it changes everything. Here is a good account of one family's experience -- takes one hour to read.

You are having a good run of years on TOP, and bringing a lot of pleasure to your readers.

I like your common sense, down to earth writing. Although you send me to the dictionary once a week or so. I also never fail to learn something from the guest writers and the comments.

Here's to a great year.

You know what Mike, you are the best. Heck with getting a Guggenheim grant. You write and edit the best photographic site on the Internet. So many learn so much from you. You cause us to think, really think about our craft, our art, our creative direction, our evolution and our futures. You teach us more than photography. I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm really pleased you are a premier photographic writer rather than an eccentric and idiosyncratic photographer. I know my life is richer because of you.

Thanks, my friend.

It is of course supremely ironic that bankers turn up their collective noses at potential borrowers, when the proximate cause of the 2008 economic melt-down was their own grotesque corporate malfeasance, particularly the bizarre weapons of financial mass destruction known as 'mortgage-backed securities'.

At least after the S&L debacle back in the 1980s, several thousand bankers went to jail for fraud and other crimes. Nowadays they're apparently too wealthy to touch.

This week's Archdruid Report seems apt..

"Therapists call it provisional living: the belief that life will become what it’s supposed to be once x happens .. but it always has two distinctive features. The first is that x serves as an anchor for a flurry of unrealistic fantasies about the future that will supposedly arrive once x happens; the second is that x never happens".

Completely unrelated, if you do another "ask Mike anything" post, as a fellow NEX-6 owner, any thoughts on using a lens turbo like this? It's cheaper than getting the 24mm Zeiss.

Open Your Mind to Other Means to the Goal, and Indeed to Other Goals.

There is no rule saying that you must move to a house in the same state, let alone down the block. This need not mean Australia. It might mean Elkhart Lake or Mason City.

There is no rule that you must use a conventional mortgage to buy such a house.

There is no rule, nor even real pattern, that one will do great or defining or even best work on "a year", or "when retired from the day job", or "after ...". (Though one might...)

Can't you just go to the bank and ask for a loan to find out what their answer is? The worst that can happen is they turn you down, which you are expecting anyway. You never know, they might see you as a self-employed business person and approve the loan. Or, they might knock you back but tell you how you could better organise your income, or how to present yourself to them as a more attractive loan proposition which will be helpful for the next house you want to buy.

Banks have gotten really silly about income and they are not able to see past the rules to understand the situation. Maybe you could send them some of Ctein's glasses.

After a decade of living and traveling in a motorhome my wife and I decided to settle down in Idaho a couple of years ago. We found a great house and applied for a loan, but were told that we did not have enough income. The fact that we had enough in IRA's to pay for the house four times over did not matter. We finally had to convert an IRA to an annuity to satisfy the income test.

Want to buy the motorhome?

I feel your pain. After three years of unemployment, I have a job. But, my credit report only reflects the damage of the jobless time...

Might as well be unemployed.

Have you considered alternate sources of financing, like Prosper or Lending club? they evaluate people's ability to pay using more contemporary assessments of ability to pay. There are a variety of peer-to-peer lenders you may wish to investigate on the web.

Aren't you self-employed with an internet business? And have several years of tax returns to prove the business make an adequate profit to pay you a viable income? Perhaps another institution that lends? A mortgage broker? Or have again demonstrated my woeful ignorance?

About The Year -- I never had one, either. I thought I might get one once, but as it turns out, I didn't even come close. I worked for a newspaper in the Knight-Ridder chain, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and there were these things called "Knight" fellowships at Stanford and Michigan, in which you'd spend a year studying the subject of your choice. Working for a Knight newspaper was a large advantage, and further, I'd just won my paper's first Pulitzer Prize in its hundred-plus-year history. I applied for a Knight fellowship, flew out to Stanford for the interview -- I thought I had a lock on it -- and when I got back to St. Paul, the executive editor asked me, "What in God's name did you do out there?" Turns out that there were a certain number of applicants chosen for interviews, like I was, then this was about cut in half for finalists, and then the fellows were chosen. Turns out, I didn't even make the short list. I guess the deal was, you were supposed to explain how studying romantic poetry or Australian art would broaden your perspective and help you be a better newspaper reporter. I told them that I thought newspapers were in desperate trouble, and that I planned to spend the year studying media issues, mostly so I could figure out if I wanted to continue with newspapers at all. Never got the year. Did get out of newspapers, and, looking back, I have to say, just in time. As for the Knight Fellowships, I would like to be generous, but basically, f*** a bunch of Knight fellowships and all their interviewers. And their offspring, if they have any, which I doubt, because, frankly, they are not attractive people.

Well, that's the American Dream for you....

Almost any American can become President of the United States, but very few will. The problem with society at the moment is those that don't make it seem to want to blame someone else for not making it.

People don't seem to be satisfied with what they have got, any ability or skill is just a step on the ladder to somewhere else, when it could actually become a great achievement. But spending time perfecting something - becoming a great craftsman would delay that ever upwards climb.

Just shooting out an idea, how about registering an LLC for TOP, and making the ad revenue your own salary? Could cost a bit in setup fees, etc. (not much, a couple hundred) and you'll pay income tax on it, but you can have a W-2.

Well just brainstorming here, and yes it is not a short term solution.

Funny Mike I envy someone who can pull off finances via the web without a real job. A photo enthusiasts dream!! You have the best Photblog in English speaking world. (maybe the whole world) Be proud of of what you have done. My job is Retail management. Wanna switch :)

Have your year! Blog from the road. Q; What's stopping you? A: (fill on the blank --blah blah).
Rebuttal: oh really? You believe that BS? You have to wait for someone to give you the year? Just take it yourself!

What! I'm not going to get a Year!? I wasted 50 years thinking I might still get a Year, and the few years since thinking maybe I should have spent more time enjoying first 50. (Although, maybe when I retire...)

Mike, Look into private equity mortgages in your area. There are small companies and individuals who will write the mortgage based on their own set of rules, not a bank's rules. My brother is in that business (in California only) and if he feels like someone deserves the chance they get it. Yes, they will pay 1% above what the MegaMortgage Company would charge them but at least they get their shot and can refinance down the road when they are better situated.

I don't get it.Instead of all the cursing and whining why don't you use the strength of your website and try to find investors?

Crowd funding?

Show some American spirit (whatever that is) ;-)

Fear not dear Michael; some also get their "Year" - after departing this earth.
Vivian Maier, Vincent van Gogh, John Kennedy Toole ...

Hi Mike,
I've just turned 64 and my 84 year old father asked me tonight for copies of my demo tapes from like 1972. I burned them years ago. I was too naive to want to be anyone famous. I spent a weird 15 years exploring some of the weirder aspects of the show business world.

I reckon all of those years let me have a great 6 months! My father can't understand why it didn't continue. I've tried to explain about the legions of lost stolen or strayed, but he just doesn't get it. I've got some great memories & some excellent pictures of me masquerading as a razor thin long haired style guide for the times.
There were long stretches of time when I was caught up in every cliche you can imagine, and more than once I was almost a statistic.
Now I've got a small house, a huge mortgage, play with a Nikon d7000 and Fuji x100, and I get to teach English in China once or twice a year. Life's okay.

I could never have even imagined that the (small, anonymous, but appreciated) life I have now was possible for someone like me, or that I would be grateful for it.

Point is, you can never know what's coming next. Deep breath and fingers crossed ...
Oh, I wish the small gods of real estate and special finance smile upon you ...

The trick is in how 'the year' is defined. 'Here's cash, go work...'?
In that case, people can have that occasion not just once but even more than once in a Life time. It is just hard to recognise those moments or even those years while they are happening. In my case and in retrospect, I had at least 3 of those years; 1983-85, when I was in art school. 1989-90, when I was unemployed. And 2007-08, while I thought nothing special was happening, my part time job allowed me to work for myself on the side, and I was -now that I look back at it- in 'the flow', resulting in about 200 paintings, a solo show and a painting trip to Norway.

I think the trouble lies in what is usualy not said. Getting the freedom to work is important, but to make it 'the year' most people also envision ever lasting fame, glory and happiness as a result from that year. And that is an entirely different kettle of fish. It has not even much to do with being good at what you do, lots of people are good at what they do. It has more to do with timing, with somehow being in sync with society and its needs.

I had almost a year once. Wasn't much of one, though.

One day in my clueless youth, I quit my job (wasn't much of a job either) and decided I would take some time and become a Real Photographer. I had saved a few bucks and had access to accumulated retirement funds. It wouldn't be enough to survive on for very long so I moved back home with my mother. I'm sure she was thrilled.

At any rate, I did take several months to photograph and print and generally goof around. I didn't get any travel in, however. Not enough money for that. But I did shoot a lot of bulk loaded Tri-X and I did print a fair portfolio that landed a job at a small weekly newspaper that eventually landed a job with a daily newspaper. My almost-a-year led to close to 20 years as a Real Photographer. Reality finally set in in my early 40s when I grew up, realized newspapers were dying and the future was pretty bleak. That's when I moved on to another, non-photography job with a future considerably less bleak. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and work for The Man.

It wasn't much of a Year but I guess it was more than most photographers ever get. In that respect, I'm very lucky.

Shop your loan to other banks until you find the loan officer who is a Photographer.

Mike, you hit the point with your "double starred" aside at the bottom of this column...for all the time I think about how crappy it is to be in an industry where people are giving their work away, I know for a fact that music and the "rock band" scene is three times worse! Everyone, wants to be a photographer/writer/actor, BUT, everyone and their uncle, grandma, siblings, parents, extended family, and aliens in space want to be in a rock band. Entire groups of music stores in every city in the United States stay afloat entirely on buying and selling used music equipment to wanabee rock stars...sheesh...

I've never identified with one of your posts as much as this one. Work for oneself without a preconceived notion of success, that's the key to happiness as I have finally realized. But then again there is always the possibility of a Vivian Meyer "Year"

Kudos to you for acknowledging what damn well most folks feel at some point in life, but seldom verbalize. Walker Percy is one of my heroes, as a literary figure and an author.
To end, look up Aristotle on being a just man

"Comparison is the thief of joy."

“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”
―G.K. Chesterton

Best of luck, Mike, your reasoning makes good sense and I would certainly like to read more on the Best Photography Blog (tm).


You never know,.....until you try.....
Do or do not, there is no try.....

Enough words have been exchanged;
now at least let me see some deeds!

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, Begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it !" (whoever really said it)

a journey of a thousand miles.......

A stitch in time saves nine.

And maybe there is a creative mortgage banker among TOP readers.

Great good luck, and 'Move confidently in the direction of your own dreams'
; - ))

Mike, you're only in your 50s, so that is most definitely not too old to "have a year."

I had a year. It was 1993, and my year involved a whole bunch of things that resulted in a total reset of everything for me. So it wasn't specifically a "photo" year (although that was part of it), but it was, and shall forever be (to me) "the year of Ed."

I won't go into details, but I'll say this: it started with my (then) wife leaving, quickly followed by my house being robbed of all camera equipment except for a 50mm lens. It all went uphill -- way, way uphill -- from there.

I like to think I'll have another year, perhaps one more focused on something specific (aside from the specifics of taking a train wreck and turning it into a happy and productive life). So don't give me any of that "I'm too old" crap. You're only a few years older than me and I am fully planning on having a year.

Good luck with it!

By coincidence, at age 66 I'm about mid-way through my "year" - thanks to the wonders of 401K and a surprise gift from a generous relative. I don't expect to get rich or famous, but I want to see how good I can get at the kind of photography I most enjoy. Oddly enough, though I made my living in photography for most of my life I was always more concerned with doing the job and running the business than with the actual photography. At best, for most of my career I was a B or B+ photographer - but I did the job and met the deadlines and people gladly wrote me checks. Now I want see if I can do some A quality work in whatever time I have left. I want to see just how good I can be at this stuff. At the end of the year if I am doing work that pleases me I can take next year to look for an audience and/or market. Or I can go on to something else.

Reading the responses here, I realize I had several years along life's way. Some of them I appreciated at the time, some only later. Some of them I outright squandered - unless one somehow gains wisdom from hangovers. But overall I was lucky. A small inheritance made my last 2 years of college pretty much worry free and let me take my time looking for a "real" job. A part-time college teaching job let me do pretty much anything I wanted, except I had to stand up and talk about photography a few hours a week - which I would have done anyhow. Two years as a newspaper photographer was so much fun I would have done it for free - which I'm afraid is where the business is headed, but I got in (and out) while it was still good.

I never got rich or famous, but I had a lot of fun, did a few things I'm really proud of, and have some really good friends. All in all, not too bad.

On the house, as others have said, there should be a way. TOP appears to be a going business and you have a huge reservoir of good will and contacts. Something will work out -- though not necessarily the way you expect or plan.

Go for it Mike. We are with you. Tell us how we can help you.


Mike, you have reached more people as a journalist than most photographers ever manage. What makes TOP special is your writing style, honesty, occasionally thrown gauntlets and refusal to be anyone but yourself.

The internet is a godsend for those of us who look for something non-mainstream, educational and thought provoking, but TOP more than any other site has heightened my knowledge and awareness of photography as a genre, for which I will be ever grateful.

Go for it. Just don't lose the "Mike Johnston" signature style. It's your editorial elegance and choice of content that makes this place such a treasure.

Once you take the first step, things will fall into place. Don't worry about the odd change of direction or failed experiment. The intent of the journey is to travel, not to arrive.

Boy, does this post resonate. Thirty years ago and fresh from grad school I took a job teaching photography at a small post secondary school. I was going to work there for a couple of years until I became famous, got stabled in a prestigious gallery and had work in a few museum collections. Then, I figured, I'd take a tenured position at some university and make photos. I never thought in terms of a year, but just that critical success would come.

I'm still waiting for fame to find me and still teaching at that small post secondary school. As I write this I'm in class, proctoring a lab and printing my own work while the students print theirs. I've got a decent middle class life, a nice family and still fight the waves of disappointment. Perhaps it's the luxury of time--accorded by our relative affluence--that allows us to feel so unfulfilled: if we were struggling to feed ourselves we might have a different perspective.

Your post was oddly reassuring: knowing I'm not the only person out there with the same anxieties.

Be present in the "now", Mike, and every year is "a year". Some are bigger than others and some are big in quiet ways.
I wrote a letter to my daughter for the end of her senior year in High School and gave her some thoughtful words of wisdom, but I ended it with this quote which I think applies to all of us as we fret about what didn't happen or what we want, or hope, to happen:

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tone. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."
- Ranier Maria Rilke

Keep doing your thing, Mike - its wonderful that you are able to and it has touched many many people.

I had my year. For almost exactly 12 months I got to call myself a professional artist. I spent most of my time painting and trying to sell paintings. I painted plein air in France and nudes in the studio (which my wife was supported and encouraged). I even did some modeling at a local life drawing studio. It was wonderful. I could only swing it for a year, but I could not ask for more.

I know quite a few self-employed people that have obtained mortgages. You don't need a W-2; you need to show earnings consistency for several years vis-a-vis your federal tax return.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007