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Sunday, 03 August 2014


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Scrivener http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

Anyone can take photographs, some better than others. I like also to read the thoughts and intents behind things; what were they thinking, what was the reason behind this?

You do this well and that is why I greatly enjoy reading what you write...

Might be due to the dust but the following doesn't appear to make sense Mike:
"The idea that you can have "just photography" is about like the idea of having writing that's just writing."
(No need to publish this comment).

Wonderful writing , Mike... that's why I click on to TOP every morning (afternoon previous day your time) and will continue to through this slight hiatus. Worst thing that will happen is that ten years from now, you'll remember something you had back then and discover it "disappeared " during the move.Then you "let it go" and then discover it two years later in an obscure place. Oh the joy!! Been there, done that!

Yes do please continue. It's a little like standing on a pass and looking over at the next range. What's over there? I think we all want to know.

Have you considered scanning all those important and sentimental scraps of paper? That way you wouldn't have to feel bad about trashing them, and they no longer take up any physical space—just an entry in Evernote or file on your hard drive.

"I thought this was supposed to be a photography blog."
Any serious TOP reader knows that this blog is not about photography. It's about Michael Johnston, who happens to dabble in photography (and other stuff).

[Ouch! --Mike]

Good luck scanning through your things. It can be hard but also intoxicating. I've moved so many times now I don't have too many extraneous things, and most are familiar enough that they don't trigger any memories or emotions. My MFA thesis was actually about a decade-old exposed roll of film; I had forgotten what was on the roll and didn't care enough to get it developed and I thought that was just about the greatest thing in the world (for some reason).

Trust you to be suspected of shoplifting in a bookstore, Mike. (The child is father of the man. — Wordsworth)

"I wish I'd had the maturity to realize that earlier—wish I'd had the good sense to focus on that. The tale of the paper-piles (which admittedly don't make the best case for me) is a tale of a dabbler."

That could have been written about me. It sums up my perspective on my life as well.

Perhaps most of us are "dabblers".

T.O.P: come for the photography, stay for the writing!



I'm glad you are making the effort to do some "curation" of your past memorabilia.

Let me give you a brief (possibly unwelcome) insight into what happens when people do *not* take the trouble to do this.

My wife and I begun moving her parents out of their home (of 40+ years) three years ago. Her Mom had some hoarding tendencies, though not to a severe extent, probably less than your own - based on what you've written.

However, their minds and bodies were no longer up to the task of "editing" and hadn't been for some time.

There are stacks of photo albums containing "relatives" - but most are mystery people to my wife or her brothers. We haven't tossed those away (we won't while the parents are still alive) but the reality is that there is an excellent chance nobody will look at these albums, again, ever.

My mother-in-law kept them (though based on the dust and mold, not well) but now expects others to take up the same mantle because "these are your relatives".

The pictures were poorly done, poorly organized and are in ratty albums that are falling apart. Too often "keep a lot of pictures" was the only criteria served.

Few of us have the desire and none have the time to sort through all this ore, looking for a precious gem that may or may not be present.

Same for the huge collection of wild flower slides and extensive trays of gravestone slides from mountain mining cemeteries that her father visited. Might there be real historical value in some of what he shot? Possibly. Will it ever find its way to that one person in the country that would be delighted to have carousel upon carousel of slides to review? Almost certainly not.

In reality, taking the effort to curate, to consolidate and prune was something they never found time for, despite 30+ years of retirement. Now, they have a sense of loss and frustration - but there is nothing we can do to relieve that. A nursing home room or assisted living apartment simply doesn't have space for a lifetime of "things".

Odds are, and I don't mean to be cruel, that neither Xander or his kids will care too much about a lot of the things you have saved and kept. If you take the (huge) effort to place it in context (like you did in your blog post), he or they might.

Good luck in your moving effort and best wishes on figuring out what parts of life's flotsam and jetsam to keep.

Best wishes,


Mike, your writing today is another example of how important these 'off-topic' musings are to what makes your site so attractive. Pool playing, cement laying, house buying? These add a richness that is so lacking most everywhere else on the web. Like Bruce above, I look forward to checking in on your writing everyday, to see what new idea you've woven into the TOP tapestry. As always, thanks. (Now if there was just some way that your writing and our comments could be shared over a beer. That would be perfect!)

The experience you describe is both my favourite and least favourite thing about moving.

Good luck with the move Mike. Your prose is lucid and deeply moving when it needs to be. Keep showing the photographs too. My wife and I have just watched Stephen Poliakoff's "Shooting the Past" which we have on DVD. This must be the third time of watching. Have you seen it? It's about a big picture library that's being sold and broken up. Really though it's about the author's love and reverence for photographs, especially black and white. Stunning acting too.

Great writing.

You gotta love TOP!! :) Your writing brought to memory all the times my grandmother told me that there are only two things in life: an opportunity and being aware of it...

Sad I never really appreciated all she had to offer until long after she was gone. Fact of life.

Dear Jim, (Monday, 04 August 2014 at 06:39

My first response to your latest post is that you meant this as the kindest possible rub.

But just it was not let me say that I would not describe TOP this way.

TOP is about photography in delightfully wide and deep ways. Michael is like many of us in our main fields in life: not among the outlying ultra-specialist but rather pretty versed and competent in several ranges of skills that together make you a professional.

TOP is, thankfully, not a clinical physical measurements-only blog of photography equipment or rules-of-thumb evaluations of the photographs of others. Instead TOP has a thoroughly human and real life approach to photography, its practitioners, equipment and images / prints. The only way to elevate this type of blog to exceptional is to have its main writer be an excellent writer and to, as good writers do, let us know him/herself well and unfiltered while discussing any number of topics. Michael is in some real sense a friend of many thousands of frequent readers, a friend we have come to know well. And whose views on a variety of topics we have come to trust, value and look forward to.

On the scale of dabbler to ultra-specialist I would not describe him as close to the dabbler end.

Or did any of this even need to be said?

There are, of course, some things that you can't choose to take with you.
As I am preparing to move on from the house I have rented for 13 years, I am refreshed by considered new opportunities and the dropping of old obligations (No, I never will now need to get around to fixing that sideyard gate, or repainting the bathroom.)
However, my 24 year old son made the observation that this is the house he considers the family home. His older siblings concurred, and the yearly height records duly marked on the kitchen doorway now are a rebuke that every move forward entails a loss of what must be left behind.
This was sobering. At some point soon to come, I will walk these rooms one last time checking for final stray items. I know I will be thinking then of that first walk through, and all the changes and events our family experienced here.
Then, at best an occasional drive by, to see how the ficus tree I planted is doing, perhaps to catch a glimpse of current tenants and wonder how they may have changed "my" house.

Loved the essay. I guess I'll need to deal with my stacks soon enough. I'd like to hear about your organizer's techniques and how she got you to throw many of the borderline papers out. The memories bring me to a crawl.

Great to hear that packing is going well. Hiring that organizer was a stroke of genius. And that you could write this terrific piece in the midst of your move is quite something. Looking forward to reading more soon. Good luck with the move and the reorganization.

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