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Sunday, 08 December 2013


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David Vestal will be missed. He was so genererous with the most precious thing any of us have, his time.

He had the ability to get directly to the heart of the matter. Like his books, what you needed to know with no fuzziness to confuse.

Mike, just a quick whisper in your ears...

Accord the adjective to the noun :
Eminence Grise


Eminences Grises

Cheers, keep rollin'

Dang it. Another wonderful person I won't get to meet. David Vestal, I mean.

His columns for Photo Techniques were flat-out brilliant, with an irresistible combination of incisive observation, common sense, and mordant wit. I would dearly love to seem them collected as a book.

Good column, Mike. I have spent the last few days marveling at the life and career of Nelson Mandela--the rare revolutionary who, having won the revolution and been anointed leader of his country, not only disavowed retribution against the oppressors, but also presided of the peaceful transfer of power by stepping down after his first term.

Now I'm saddened by the passing of David Vestal. I know him mostly from a set of class notes that were published as a sort of magazine some years ago. I'm not sure how I got ahold of them, but they are filled with just the most sensible and practical information and advice about darkroom work.

I realized last year that he was still teaching an annual workshop at the Formulary, and had kind of resolved to take that class if he did it again this year--thinking there would not be many more chances to take a workshop from him, or from anyone remotely like him. I intermittently spend a bunch of time in a darkroom and would have loved to spend a few days with such a master practitioner.

[Robin, Check the editor's name on that "sort of magazine"...could be me. --Mike]

"But we don't have a corresponding hand gesture which would mean "sorry / excuse me / please forgive me / I meant no offense."

We do. The mini wave of the hand. I see it multiple times daily. Perhaps it is just a west coast thing but I assumed it was national. Isn't it?

". . . human beings are so much more impressed with violence than peace, with cruelty rather than kindness . . . ."

Factory farms produce our meat, eggs, and dairy through extreme violence and cruelty so for most people violence and cruelty are part of their daily lives. We're numb to it.

From Breaking News For South Africa:

Johannesburg – The National Society For the Prevention Of Cruelty Against Animals (NSPCA) has expressed its grief over the death of former President Nelson Mandela, and the animal welfare society’s Patron-In-Chief.

“For nearly 20 years Madiba has been the Patron-in-Chief of the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA), and we have been truly honoured to call him one of our own,” said the NSPCA’s Brenda Santon on Friday.

“A man dedicated to humankind, to our country and to all her inhabitants, friend and foe, animal and human; he stood for equality throughout his life."

With Minor White and Ansel Adams, David Vestal was one of those figures that have fascinated me in this strange margin of the photographic universe, where black magic encounter alchemy. Very sad news. Salut!

Your words touching me because I always think the same about the first point and I always was sympathetic with Vestal. In the first case we can take the last World Press Photo. There are lots of images that show the things to be fixed, as told Cornell Capa several years ago. But few about why worth the pain to live. Some french photographers catch the thing in the past century, I mean Doisneau, Boubat and Ronis. Maybe because they suffered the pain of war they want to tell other things. I don't want an adorned side of life. But I ask for some balance. Most of the young and successful photographers need to have a war or conflict coverage. Is like the oficial thing for most the awards and editorial work. But I am sure that there are a lot of works that show the imperceptible things of every day life that can make us understand why stupid we are to lost time in those "important things".
About Vestal, I read several old articles wrote by him cause my father was a photographer. He left me a lot of magazines that I read when I was very young. I commented one that I found recently years and I published in my blog about Sid Grossman. The writing and the photo was made by Vestal. And for me they were unforgettable. I am very sorry to hear that he passed away. All my condolences and respect for his family.

by the way, Vestal was just an example of those quiet photos as the French men I mentioned in my other comment. I remembered several photos of him published in Popular Photography in the 60's. I always missed to know more in the times of internet. But appears that there are no links or archives on line. Hope someone can fix that. If I not remember bad he included had an alternative formula for d-76.

David was also on the staff of New York Institute of Photography where he lent much credibility and creativity.
With the passing of both Mandela and Vestal, one will be no doubt be photographing the other in the hereafter.
Thank you Mike for both mentions.
My little peso.

I for one would be very interested in that compilation of Mr Vestals column. My collection (dragged from house to house) is incomplete and a bit tatty, but always one of my go to's along with this site to ground me when I drift (or help me to drift when I feel grounded!).

Nice eulogy of your friend.

Vestal's column in the old Photo Techniques was my favorite part of that magazine. I even tracked down a used copy of one of his darkroom books. Honest and pragmatic advice on how to print without driving yourself nuts. One of the best.

I knew DV by DR&CCT. For me he was a philosopher. I love his articles.

After closing Grump, Vestal relented and in 2006 started a second newsletter called "Finity." two sides of one sheet of paper, appearing roughly monthly, with a small digital print centered in other text on each side. Same pithy style, and dry humor. THis aimhe MCHNY pictures also continued, right up to 2012. He frequently reviewed shows, in the US and in Europe, and a most idiosyncratic group of books, usually found used. As always, he abhorred pictures bled to the edge or spread across the fold. The last issue that I received was May/June 2013. His aim in this last series of newletters, expressed in the first issue:

"spasmodic and inconsistent achievement of imperfection in all that it undertakes. Nothing less will do."

I use the same gesture for "sorry" as for "thank you" when driving (raised hand, fingers spread). I picked it up from my parents, and I've seen at least a few others do it while driving.

Actually we had a hand gesture from the 60's I use to this day that means sorry.. It is the peace sign.. But it means something totally different when used in England.

Living just down the road from Mr. Vestal, I kick myself for not trying harder to meet him. When I retired my darkroom I donated my well worn copy of "The Craft of Photography" to the Woodbury library. That was an ill considered decision; I doubt that anyone has ever checked it out, and now I miss having it.

Hi Mike,
Just to tell that you surprised me with the absence of "I'm sorry" sign in USA: it is so common in Portugal that I thought it was an universal driver's sign. I do it all the time even when the other driver is wrong: it's not being weak is that there are so many fights and if I say sorry I close that possible argument immediately and this fight is forgot immediately, if I reply back _even if when I'm right_ I just enlarge something bad that is really not important. (driver's sorry in Portugal is raise your right hand and optionally nod down slightly your head).
But I learned the "thank you" driver's sign from Mandela's South Africa: blink 4 lights twice. They do it all the time even when other drivers do the obvious. Now I also do thank you.
Peace is a much better thing, particularly when there is nothing to win on these "road battles".
R.I.P. Mandela, peace is really a better option.


"He and I always intended to collect and publish them; no telling what will become of those plans now."

Do everything in your power to bring this about. I have wondered for years why it has not happened yet. It would be a sure block-buster for your new publishing venture and would garner instant credibility for the project.


Two deaths in one week, a master of color and a master of black and white.

Nice commentary on your friend, Mike.

See "shaka".

Although my copy of The Craft of Photography wasn't Dektol-stained, I don't know that I learned as much from any other book.

Sleep well, Mr. Vestal.

For some reason, I have two copies of .."Craft...". Also, mentioning the book always brings to mind the photo on page 309, "Decisive Moment,I, which I always thought was of the author, though probably not.

Dave Baker: the V-sign with the offensive connotation in the UK, is two raised fingers held palm-in, and jerked upward.

So that's 180 degrees rotated from the peace-sign / cutesy-cheesy-photo / papal-blessing gesture, with palm facing outward.

(In wartime photos, Winston Churchill is sometimes shown holding up two fingers, as in his most familiar "V for victory" gesture... only, the rude way around - further accessorised with a rampant cigar.)

Two things occur to me about Nelson Mandela.

One - you don't need to do much to be regarded as a good man. It's not hard to be good. Kindness, politeness, respect for others are not difficult. Forgiveness might be a bit harder sometimes, but you can learn it. And you'll find that what you give, you tend to receive.

To the contrary, you have to work at being bad. Dictators have to claw their way to the top and once there, live in constant fear of someone trying to knife them. Gang bosses need paid bodyguards. Mandela may have had protectors, but they did it out of love.

Second - what about the people who put him in prison for 27 years, robbed him and humanity of those years. Have they been named, shamed, punished?

Yes, we have the mini-wave or held up hand here in Alaska too. It usually means thanks or go ahead, like when a person lets you cut in front. A friendly wave. I think you can also use it for oops.

about a positive gesture - not sure about Europe, but in Germany some are using the thumb and the first two fingers to form the character E for Entschuldigung (apologies).
Kind regards

In Britain multiple variations on waving are used as 'thanks, sorry' etc - ranging from exuberance resulting in 'did I know them?' to merely a finger or two raised while still holding the wheel - an acknowledgement, not the insulting variant! Seems a bit localised, too - where I live the gesture is very subdued, sometimes down to a barely perceptible index finger raised, whereas a clear lifted hand seems far more normal. But then we actually look for it - if thanks or acknowledgment would seem appropriate, it is taken as blatant rudeness if it isn't done! This makes NOT gesturing a gesture in itself... :-)

Sorry to read about David Vestal. I always enjoyed his writings for their clarity and encouragement. Hopefully, his writings will be collected into book form - perhaps a future project for TOP International?
I have the set of prints he made for the (first?) print offer organized when you were editor at Darkroom Techniques.

"Similarly, the world has a name for leaders who are narcissistic, sadistic, and ruthless—we call them "dictators." But we have no distinct, vivid, universally understood name for leaders such as Mandela, who change the world for the better through benevolence, spiritual steadfastness, kindliness, and wisdom."


I, too, am indebted to "The Craft Of Photography" and David's aesthetic sensibilities.

Mike, I love that brief, concise quote you noted. So much is wrapped up in so few words.

Children are often told to do [school] homework and I wonder if there's something in being told to do something potentially unpleasant that plants a bitter seed, thereby placing a roadblock as adults in finding the work we love and [still] should be doing.

I enjoyed very much his columns in Photo Techniques, I think I red every single one. It will be a great contribution to photography and to his memory if you Mike take lead on publish them as a book, in the way Brooks Jensen does with his columns.
RIP David, you will be missed.

Too many eulogies of late.

Vestal seemed to write the same thing over & over again regardless of whatever new material was in his columns: "Be Yourself". Apparently that can't be expressed enough & he crusaded for that notion to his eternal credit.

Last month we lost good old Uncle Saul (Leitner, not an actual relative, but someone I felt kinship with from the first moment I saw his work). Shalom Saul...

And before that Ben Lifson (another whose written output seems to demand anthologizing).

We'll do our best to Live in Peace.

I'm very sad to hear of the passing of David Vestal, a loss to me in much the same way as that of Bill Jay. In both cases, I thoroughly enjoyed their writing for both its content and style. The only reason I bought Photo Techniques was for David's regular column. I think I'll start re-reading them tonight.

I had the good fortune of participating in a few of David Vestal's workshops. The first, (around 1980) was a one-day event in Boston with a large audience, but the other two, much more recent, were small, intimate workshops that David taught with his friend Al Weber. The two had quite different outlooks on many things, but their mutual respect and good humor made for a great learning experience. David will be greatly missed.

But, Photo Techniques magazine does still exist, albeit with a slightly changed name, Photo Technique, and a faint shadow of its former rich content (in my opinion, of course).

Sorry Mike, but it just won't do to represent Mandela as against violence. He wasn't. He explained clearly in his Rivonia speech why he believed that violence against injustice and oppression is sometimes necessary. In this respect he was quite different from Gandhi (and I'm on Mandela's side). He did support reconciliation after victory and therein lies part of his greatness, but part of it also resides in his toughness in the face of injustice. As with Martin Luther King, what we're seeing here is a posthumous reinvention of a great leader to make him palatable to middle America, a reinvention that diminishes and falsifies the fighters against injustice that they both were.

I just bought the new issue of PT last week and it is still in the bag awaiting time to go through it. I got hooked on the magazine with Vestal's insightful columns coupled with humorous observations. While his columns had disappeared, I have enjoyed the new look to the magazine under its current editor. I too would like to see a book of his columns but please try to add a selection of his photos too. This would give both the written and visual efforts for a better view of his output.

[A pity, but when you get that magazine out of its bag I'm afraid you'll find that it's the last issue. (At least if we're both talking about the American "Photo Technique.") RIP PT. --Mike]

Sorry to learn David is gone. He and Bill Pierce were two of my favorite authors on photography.

Mike, I was saddened to read here that David Vestal has died. Like others. I knew his writing through Popular Photography. I particularly recall a series on darkroom technique printed on non-gloss paper and designed as a pull-out section. These came in handy for me in 2002-03, when I was called upon to teach darkroom printing to high school classes. Using them, I was able to quickly bring myself up to scratch, and distributed at least one as a workbook. Since then, it's been interesting to me to spot his name and articles in a surprising variety of publications. He is always mentioned in high regard. Only a few months ago I wondered about his age and state of health. I second Paul's urging to you to bring together his wider writings as a special TOP publication. Thanks for the note.

I fell like an orphan...

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