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Wednesday, 08 April 2015


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I remember seeing Ansel Adams on Dick Cavett many years ago. Cavett asked him why "old pictures look so consistently good?".
Adams talked a little about how we have had a good understanding of optics for a long time but but mostly it's because over the years most of the bad pictures got thrown away.

This should be included with every camera sold. Great job!

On the other hand, it seems inescapable to me that either all pictures don't suck or that nobody really has a good idea what sucks or doesn't suck.

I constantly see pictures that to my eyes are completely prosaic, yet are hanging in galleries. Take your worst photograph, hang it in a top gallery, and have a master photographer defend its artistic verities. Who's the wiser?

If William Eggleston had never photographed his tricycle in front of a suburban house, but you did - do you think if you presented that photograph to ten art directors they would appreciate it enough to hang it and charge enormous sums of money for a print?

There is some art that doesn't suck which doesn't suck for almost everyone who beholds it. But there is also art which doesn't suck only because some art director says so. Which really means it may, in fact, suck. I think.

I think that it's really unfortunate that our vocabulary is limited to a single word, "photography" to describe both optics and film/sensor technology, i.e. equipment, and the act of seeing and making pictures.

The Eskimos got it right when they didn't stop at using a single word for "snow".

I am a photographer, not a camera operator; in the same way that for decades I was a carpenter, not a hammer operator.

And no, most of your pictures don't suck. Neither do mine. They're just incomplete thoughts; rough drafts of an internal narrative that's trying to express itself. Nothing about that process sucks. It's a worthy and edifying pursuit; probably the most significant thing that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Mike --- thanks a lot
I always knew my photos sucked
and now thanks to you the whole world now knows my photos suck

I don't get it, what's your point ? ;-)

Just to say that some days it does not surprise me at all, and other days it does surprise me just how many times and in how many ways you do need to make this point. Alas, you really do need to make it.

I remember finally realizing the same thing for famous poets back when I was an English major and started reading some the "Complete Poems" of a few big name poets. Sure, I could find nuggets that I enjoyed and had never seen, but the number of poems that just weren't that good was surprising, and I realized I had read most of the best ones in anthologies or the better known books. I'm sure if you read a poet's equivalent of a contact sheet, every tossed scrap, it would be much worse.

I suck, but at least now I know why: I use 35mm.
(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

What??? Most of my pictures suck???

No way, my photos are all perfect, both technically, artistically and photographically. I'm using the latest hot camera reviewed at DPR that got a Gold Award! They have to be perfect. What are you talking about?

All facetiousness aside, most of my photos suck, too. Honestly, if I come back with one "keeper" from a day's shoot, I consider myself lucky. Any more than that is icing on the cake.

That's two really interesting posts in one day. This one and another over at Idiotic Hat: http://idiotic-hat.blogspot.com/2015/04/film-fun.html

If everything does come in threes then I've got one more good post coming today.

Maybe it's your next post.

Can't wait.

PS: I already knew most of our worked sucked but you have an enjoyable way of stating the obvious. :)

I told someone (who should know) that I usually edited out at least 90% of my images on the first attempt and then another 90% on the second.

"You aren't editing enough", was the terse reply.

Which is all fine, and probably true, but at this point I lose perspective and have to ask her which ones to keep. This is the dilemma.

The fact that "There is no such thing as a Magic Bullet" won't stop many people from wasting time and money looking for it.

There IS a magic bullet. It's located between your 3rd and 4th rib on the left side. Put your heart and soul into the photos, and I will guarantee that they will suck less.

As Ken Tanaka observes, Why My Photographs are Bad was written by Charles Taylor. In the photo you have provided, Dorothea Lange is clearly paying homage to this seminal work: find a larger version (such as this one) and have a good look at her footwear.

As per the Graflex, that camera is in a category of it's own, truly unlike anything else I have had in hands. But I have made some fine photos with it, especially portraits or details... But I have yet to make a usable landscape photo with it.

(as an example, have a look here:


You're on a roll with the anxiety pieces and this 're-print' from the past. Great reading.

Keep going.

Well, when I do the first pass editing after a session, I am delighted if I have an image that doesn't either suck or is "meh". It is a good day when I feel that I will be returning time and again to a particular photo.

Speaking of rules, I have two: 1) don't show bad photos, and 2) don't photograph people easting because... #1. Well, I might have to remove #2:


If you don't know the reference, google "avengers shawarma"

There are bullets. They not magic.
They have names like "practice", "study", "apply effort", "attend to results and apply learning to new effort" etc....

Sort of like the "bullets" for good health - eat with some restraint, don't smoke, exercise, be moderate or abstain from alcohol, wear your seatbelt and your bike helmet. All mundane things that take decades to have effect - and then offer returns for decades after....

Mike - it wasn't you. If I remember correctly his name was Mark Wolf. It was about 1999-2000, but I still think of this advice whenever I am editing my work (or viewing someone else's poorly edited slideshow).

I really liked what "Dave in N.M." had to say. That resonates with me. Doesn't mean it has to for everyone else though :) It just "feels" right.

As great chef Gordon Ramsay once put it: 'It's not what you cook, it's what you let out of the kitchen.'

There you go again saying bad things about the Graflex. My RB Graflex is probably my favorite film camera, If my life and circumstances permitted, that would be by main camera. It's big clumsy and slow, which is not always a bad thing, because it makes you think about what you are doing.

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