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Thursday, 12 December 2013


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Jim Hughes: Thank You for this article.

Both W. Eugene Smith and David Vestal have been influences on my photography. Smith thru Life magazine in the '40s and early '50s. He and Margaret Bourke White, as well as other Life photographers were significant in my decision to start taking pictures. I was sorry to see Life go away (and its "resurrection" was a failure). I wonder if it could survive today?
David Vestal's columns in Camera 35 and in Photo Techniques were always first to be read when I got the magazine. Usually I agreed with him, or learned something new. Occasionally I disagreed, but never had the nerve to mail him my comments and start a dialog. (This was mostly pre-email). However, their influences lingerin me.
W.Eugene Smith is gone.
Life magazine is gone.
Camera 35 is gone.
David Vestal is gone.
and now Photo Techniques is gone.
Boy, I feel old. But, I ain't gone yet...

I still miss "Camera Arts."
My complete set was kept available for immediate reseatch under the lav in the bathroom (also known as the library), until a catastrophic leak ruined the whole stack. It was a sad day!

I very much enjoyed reading this post. I was not aware of Mr. Vestal and I'm happy from the small snippets offered here to be introduced. As my study of photography progresses I find myself more drawn to people that are able to offer perspective as well as technical instruction.

I would pay good money for the collected writings of someone like Vestal. I hope someone is considering publishing a compilation.

What a great article. I will have to read some David Vestal now. I love this quote, among many: "Only weak pictures need perfection. Strong ones can survive considerable faults."

Any chance we could see a higher resolution version of The Whole Photography Chart? Not quite enough there to make it readable ...

Back before I could afford to buy photo books (because I needed the money for film, chemicals and paper) I checked out the Craft of Photography several times and visited it in the library many more. I am now on my second owned copy, the first having suffered water damage in the darkroom. Thank you, Mr. Hughes, for helping Mr. Vestal share his knowledge with the world.

A beautiful tribute to the passing of a gentle and creative soul...and the addition of Camera 35 (my first published photograph in 1965), Camera Arts and Photo Technique.
Damn, I wonder what Mr. Vestal would observe now?
My two pesos.

Very nice piece. Is there any way to get a higher resolution photograph of that chart? It's a bit hard to read as is.


Jim Hughes: thank you. Incidentally, your beautiful article and the equally beautiful quotes re-awakened my old jealousy of all you American (or USA-based) photographers in what was my formative period in photography, say from 1963 to 1975. The quality of and the respect for photography, and its enormous variety - both in supply as well as in opportunities to get published, we simply did not have that in Europe at that time (Holland, in my case) - Magnum and Paris Match notwithstanding.
I am living and taking photographs pretty much in the present (obviously the only time to ever take photographs in, which is the doom as well as the essence of our craft), but IMHO this was the golden age of photography in America (and of Tri-X and D76, but now I am getting sentimental). What a pleasure to read about it once more.

Thanks for that beautiful article.

This is about as beautiful a tribute as I can imagine to anyone. Thanks for sharing.

I really haven't heard of him until your last post. I suppose David was a bit before my time. When I saw your post, I realised he was important, but now I know why.


What a wonderfully nuanced piece. I used to read Vestal's columns . . . was it in Lenswork? . . Don't remember. But the routine was the same every time the magazine hit my mailbox. would turn to the back to read his column first, then read it again. And then get to the rest of the magazine. Thanks for some insight into a writer who I felt was speaking directly to me.


Gene Smith is one of my photography heroes and Jim Hughes' biography is a masterpiece. I'm sure I read David Vestal in Camera 35 as I had a subscription for several years. Always enjoy what Hughes writes on TOP. Almost met him once at PhotoPlus but we both live in Maine and should get-together!

Jim, thank you for the very enjoyable and informative article.

Yes, David's statement "Only weak pictures need perfection. Strong ones can survive considerable faults" is perceptive. I think it's even more applicable today.

Thanks for this wonderful insight. I have a copy of "The Craft of Photography" that I picked up cheap somewhere, well after I stopped shooting film. Much of it is uninteresting to me, but plenty is spot on, straight to the point advice that's apparently timeless. Like:
"Don't Get Equipment-happy.
Equipment sometimes makes pictures possible or impossible, but it seldom makes them better or worse in any important way. Pick the equipment that lets you do what you need to do , and stop there. Change equipment when you change needs. "
I keep a file with a number of photography quotes I like, and there are probably more quotes by Vestal than anyone else.
As an aside, I live pretty close to Bethlehem. My daughter enters crafts in the Bethlehem Fair each fall. There's also a great (or so I've heard) holiday festival held early each December and every year, my mother in law goes to the fair and takes her stack of Christmas cards with her to have them postmarked from Bethlehem. When we get her card in the mail this year, I'll think of David Vestal again.

Regarding the Whole Photography Chart: Nice to see Pete Turner, going off in his own direction.

Could use a big print of this!

I too love the quote: "Only weak pictures need perfection. Strong ones can survive considerable faults."

Great article.

I was surprised that Jim was involved in the magazine I read in my young years and that just I was asking for something about this article about Gene Smith. Just in time. In this days, all is searched first in the web. And I am worried that there are so little about Vestal. I give my thanks because I hope this will infect another people to share experiences about him. If your read there are lot of things that they contributed to photography, he was light for this subject matter. Not the opposite. I think he deserves a better memory in the web, the place things will be taken in account for coming years. And Jim, I really want to do an interview to you if TOP don't win me about that. Hughs

sorry, I want to say "are lot of things that he contributed to photography"

Great piece of writing this, and a fitting tribute. Thank you. We need more of this sort of stuff!

I always found David Vestal's writing to be honest and insightful, never formulaic. I came across a copy of The Craft of Photography a few years back, and found it to be a real gem. So much knowledge and wisdom crammed into one book. I treasure it now, and still refer to it for my darkroom work. He'll be missed. And speaking of gems, I also found a few copies of Camera Arts a couple of years ago; and consider it to be the best photo magazine ever. They sure don't make them like that any more...


The little Christmas Prints, complemented, as Jim Hughes points out, by their Bethlehem postmark, were originally an idea of David’s teacher and mentor, Sid Grossman. David printed four pictures to a sheet on 7 x 10 inch paper then sliced between them vertically and horizontally.

(7 x 10 inch paper because it was normal of David to cut one inch off the long side of an 8 x 10 sheet to get both a large piece proportioned to a 35mm negative, plus a one inch test strip. Similarly, his large prints were made on 10 x 14 inch sheets, made by chopping the one inch test strip from 11 x 14 paper. This allowed him to store both large and small prints in the same size boxes, without wasting space. No minor consideration when you have the number of prints to keep as David)

David also made a powerful picture of Eugene Smith, in a New York street at night, shortly after Smith, had been the victim of a robbery. The blur of camera shake and movement don’t matter – in fact add to the pictures effectiveness.

During conversation when the first Aperture monograph on Smith came up in conversation David, in his laconic way, said, or at least pretty close to, “I edited that, though mostly all I had to do was keep the pictures out of the gutter.”

While David made arrangements for its physical preservation, I hope that an appropriate and competent organization will soon be given access to his archive, thereby allowing a wide audience a true appreciation of the strength of his photographs.

Bravo! Encore!

With the demise of Bill Jay four years ago and now David Vestal, the age of the iconoclast in photography seems, sadly, to be over.

As usual, Jim Hughes has written a great posting. Thank you, Jim and Mike.

You knew David much better that I did, although I consider myself lucky to have had what time I did with him.
He was an excellent teacher and I learned much from him. Both what to do and what not to do.
Len Kowitz

Can we please, please, somehow, have that 'Whole' chart made available in purchasable form? I could spend a season seeking out examples from each node, trying to track the reasons for the connecting lines.

I can't quite read all of that chart , but I had forgotten what a huge effect Naomi Savage's work had on me in the early 70s when I was first learning photography. I think I spent a couple months printing the same image over and over on every paper imaginable , zinc plate, copper plate, electronic printed circuit board material, etched into glass, every photocopier that existed, KPR on everything ( kodak photo resist on junk car door, then wash it with acid or brake fluid was a good one ) Kodalith on the lawn. I think asking my parents to get me embalming fluid and nitric acid was a high point of my high school years. I think it all started when I read an article about Naomi Savage in Modern Photography in 1970.

A wonderful tribute to David Vestal and a lesson in the craft (or should I say, the principles) of photography. Thank you.

Little to say, except Thank You, Mike and Jim!!

It would be wonderful to have a copy of the chart that had enough resolution to make it readable; however, in the meantime it is absolutely the best photographic puzzle that I've ever encountered!

"The Craft of Photography" was the only textbook I ever recommended to my photography students.
Thank you for the loving tribute about a man that spoke truth to mediocre academia.
Thank you for Camera 35 and Camera Arts.
For your courageous editorial commitment to serious photography.
Julio Mitchel

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