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Friday, 29 January 2016


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I looked through the scanned editions of "Popular Photography" on Google Books and found an article from the early 80's about a guy making images with a Pentax 6x7 and a super-telephoto.

But I don't think he ever got published.

Old PopPhoto issues are fun to read, apart from the obvious move film->digital the tenor of discussions remind me of today's gear forums.

Hi Mike

You clearly haven't looked at any cook books recently

All the best

"Paul Caponigro has a good picture of a pair of pears". Actually, they are ceramic "pears".

"And God told of 13 Potatoes that Look Like Channing Tatum."


Not knowing when John might have made such an observation I can't say that he was wrong. But there are notable bodies of work in the art photography sphere that have been created, in majority or in part, with very long lenses.

Trevor Paglen has an obsession with taking photos of (what he believes to be) secret places with long lenses. They've received some attention in the art world in recent years.

And of course Michael Wolf's The Transparent City ain't normal/wide focal territory, either, although not bordering on astronomical focals as Paglens work does.

And who was that guy who was sued (and won) for creating a long-lensed series of street shots of passers-thru a Manhattan construction canopy? His dealer was selling the prints for a bundle.

No, long-lens work is out there.

But other potatoe images? Dunno. But I will say that I don't find the referenced spud portrait to be any less engaging than Weston's peppers, frankly. In a time when we're seeing close-up fly-by images of comets that look like potatoes the mind wanders while looking at this picture. I think it's well done (pardon me).

I took your post as a challenge to find a good potato photo on the Internet. Searching "fine art potato photograph" was not very fruitful, but it did yield an interesting explanation of the autochrome process...


Just imagine a series of potato photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher... the potential is there.

What about Beat Streuli (for the super telephoto, not the potato)?

Earnest Haas did a lot of (arguably) fine art photography with telephotos, not sure of "super telephotos".
As for the potato, it is a good study in lighting that really can only be appreciated by studio photographers and potato farmers...

Andrzej Maciejewski and VIP (Very Important Potato) portrait gallery?


Bloomsbury Publishing recently released a book Heirloom Harvest, Modern Daguerreotypes of Historic Garden Treasures By: Amy Goldman Photographer: Jerry Spagnoli

- See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/heirloom-harvest-9781620407776/#sthash.EScv6IUR.dpuf

Based on this article there is at least one photograph of potatoes- http://easthamptonstar.com/Arts/20151112/Slow-Food-Gets-Slow-Pics

What about a Super-telepotato lens

I'll get my coat

The closest I got was the rumor that a guy named Tater Red had a film of Robert Johnson playing....but ends up that it wasn't his film, and not Robert Johnson. So, yeah. Now I'm off to shoot a legume with my 300mm 2.8 and 1.4 extender....(does that even count as a supertele now in the land of 600mm lenses?)

It's pretty close to a "body of work", but Andreas Feininger did some pretty cool NYC photos with a super-tele on a 4x5, no less.

Even without thinking of a PICTURE of a potato, give this lowly tuber credit for the lovely AUTOCHROMES, of the Lumiere brothers...

This 'potato thing' has really gotten to you!
I find myself becoming somewhat obsessed about things. It's the times we live in; theres lots to grind one's teeth over!

I think for a time Andreas Feininger worked with a very long telephoto. He used large format, but the lens was something along the lines of 1000mm in 35mm terms. Don't think he did potatoes though.

It seems to me that a lack of art photographs taken with ultratelephoto lenses tells you more about how people classify work as "art" than anything else. There's a huge body of sports photography taken with those lenses that gets automatically ignored because the gatekeepers of art photography aren't interested. It's much the same way that most fiction gets classified as "genre fiction" and ignored by self-styled literary types.

I'm so poor, I always eat the potato before I can take a picture of it...

Does this count?



I once tried to take a photo of a potato latka, but it fell flat.

If you were to include and discuss in this site the Hoga toy camera and phone cameras, etc. for their purpose, I would suggest that the Hubbell super-telephoto camera would meet or excel your criteria of a "significant body of artwork". The intention was not artwork but neither were some of the accidental activation abstracts that I have sold in galleries. As for the Potato Photo Famine.....I hope you share with us how many samples you receive.

Perhaps you are being a little strict in regard to what is a potato and what is not a potato...

...Here in England we have a very good footballer (soccer) called Wayne Rooney, and many people in England, whilst accepting that his skills with the ball are enviable, nevertheless strongly represents a potato.

Viz: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2010/08/27/article-1306586-0AAA93A1000005DC-654_233x329.jpg

Supposedly by Brassai:


A good body of work taken with Super Telephoto lenses? Try some of the Sports Illustrated shooters or some Big Game and bird photographers.

There are lots of great photos taken with super telephotos, but they are called Bird, Nature, or Sports photos. There are absolutely great collections of great photos in these categories. But they're too busy being great photos about a real subject to be called "fine art"

I think I've seen some interesting potato photos though likely only because Devo was involved.

Creating a body of work (in this case, using a super-telephoto lens) just for the sake of having one often will not have the best results.

Mike, A book entitled "The Plant Kingdoms of Charles Jones" immediately sprang to mind. Included in his menagerie of freshly harvested vegetables are a variety of tubers including the humble work-a-day spud:


My apologies if, unbeknown to me, this is the photographer and images that prompted your dissertation.


"The Plant Kingdom: the Photographs of Charles Jones" includes an image of a group of potatoes with title "potato midlothian early". Compares favorably to Abosch's.

i couldn't find it w/ my preliminary search, but i think i remember a series Andreas Feininger took with a super long home made lens/camera. the photos were of Manhattan from NJ.

There certainly is a 'single body of work taken with a super-telephoto lens' if you include wildlife photography. It doesn't have the range or depth of something like (say) Art Wolfe's beautiful photographs, but Artie Morris's oeuvre is a vast collection of wild bird images optimistically labeled 'Birds As Art'. I think some of Morris's photos rise to the level of art, but looking through scores of them sequentially starts to feel like eating too much candy at one sitting.
There are plenty of beautiful landscape images taken with very long lenses, and I would argue they can certainly rise to the level of art, but as a single body of work it might be very difficult to sustain enough compositional variety to maintain viewers' interest. Dang it, now you got me thinking. I might have to comb through my files to see if it's doable.

Perhaps the problem is that, compared to the pear or the pepper, the pumpkin or the pomegranate (or indeed the papaya, plantain or persimmon) the potato possesses no particular paradigm, no primordial pattern of perfection to present pictorially. In its proletarian pulpiness, we perceive no passing prettiness, no pointless pulchritude, purely a profound capacity to provide pleasure when peeled, pan-fried and produced on a plate.

PS I hate myself for this.

There are some great Hubble super telephoto images.

Also, do photos of French fries count?

I have to admit that I'm fond of Andreas Feininger'd tele work

Re Super Telephoto:
There was a guy who worked with a Sinar, (I think) actually a couple of them strung together on a giant monorail, who did Architectural studies of NY and other places. I think on 8x10 film, I remember one of the Chrysler building that was stunning.
He was featured in all the mags way back when and I vaguely recall in the Time-Life Photo series.
I thought perhaps You might remember.
Also Jay Maisel had a Nikon 2000 mm Cat lens he used from his roof for years..

Re whole potatoes , I got Nothing,
but several fast food chains have made a mini art form out of Photographing Fries......
I may have to try that, I'm getting hungry already.......

Well, I seem to think I've got a nice shot of some small potatoes in various colors. Aah, but where ...

So, a slightly alien potato aspect will have to do.

Artwork with the ultimate in super-telephoto gear:


Of course, in yet another discipline, architect Frank Gehry has also worked in the potato medium. http://wdch10.laphil.com/wdch10/wdch/organ.html

Charles Jones, I'm quite sure. Although not perhaps one single potato.

Charles Jones was a famous photographer of vegetables in b&w, including this one of some potatoes. http://www.artnet.com/artists/charles-jones/potato-majestic-W3pQYw76IQAjoaFBqUx0dA2

Whatever you may think of the price, the $1m potato photo was a pretty f*****' good potato photo.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't there a photo of potatoes in "The Decisive Moment"? It's early in the book and has a large tray in the foreground? And the funny thing is it I don't think it's a particularly good photo either, but maybe I just don't get "it". I'd be stoked if someone could explain if and why they think that photo works though... *cough* Mike *cough*

But I must agree, I can't think of any outstanding potato photographers. =)

Dear Mike,

I like the telephoto work of Andreas Feininger. When he couldn't find a long lens that suited his purpose, he'd build his own. Some were quite impressive! Or does he not fit the definition of Art Photographer?


Above is a link to the BBC Master Photographers episode for which he was interviewed by host Peter Adam. I really enjoyed it. He strikes me as a natural educator, and though (or perhaps because?) he had a happy career with Life magazine, he seems under-appreciated artistically.

If you haven't seen this six-part series before, or did and forgot about it, someone has been kind enough to share it all via YouTube:


The episode about Bill Brandt is my favorite.


The Plant Kingdoms Of Charles Jones, Thames & Hudson 1998 features many excellent vegetable photographs including a group of Midlothian Early potatoes. Born in 1866 Charles Harry Jones trained as a gardener. His photographs were discovered in Bermondsey antique market in London, England in 1981, and comprised hundreds of gold-toned gelatine silver prints, made from glass plate negatives. Two thirds of the images were vegetables; the other third, fruits and flowers.
The plant subjects are not depicted within nature, but are posed against dark or light backgrounds in formal studio portraits. Although excellent, his potato portrait is not one of his most compelling images. Those depicting squashes, brassicas, peas and beans are as compelling as Weston's pepper and I am sure you would enjoy them substantially Mike, if you can obtain a copy. Jones was twenty years Weston's senior.

Found one! Potato photograph that is. "Plant Kingdoms - The Photographs of Charles Jones. b.1866 d. 1959. Pub.1998. Preface by Alice Waters.
The photographs were gold-toned gelatin silver prints made from glass-plate negatives. Not one but five potatoes neatly arranged.

A set of fine art photos, one of which contains potatoes.

I could probably get attracted to taking still life photos of potatoes but I've never been interested in long lenses.

Doisneau, late in life, experimented with a super-tele. I remember a series of photos that he took of people crossing a pedestrian crosswalk with a super-tele.

Andreas Feininger made some effective photographs of New York City with very long lenses. But as he later worked for LIFE magazine, maybe he doesn't fit your definition of an artistic photographer?

However, your right - as a general rule, effective long lens photographs that sustain ones interest are few and far between. (Excepting special cases, such as astronomy.)

Probably the main difficulty with long lenses is that they require a route march to vary the camera position in any meaningful way.

I am not sure that 200mm would qualify, but when starting out in photography I have been greatly impressed by Erwin Fieger, Farbiges London (1962), a wonderful collection of impressionistic color (negative) photos of postwar London, most of which were taken with the Leica Visoflex and the Telyt 200 mm.
I also think that Andreas Feininger's large-format telephoto images of New York in the 1940s might be worth considering.

Just about any body of work made by a dedicated wildlife photographer? Douglas Herr comes to mind first followed by Arthur Morris.

I have never wanted to take a picture of a potato, but now I want to go all Edward Weston on one. Then eat it.

What about rutabagas? Or turnips? There may be a whole world out there of neglected vegetables.

I would think there must be impressive bodies of super-telephoto sports photography, especially football.

Regarding the series made with a long lens Beat Streuli and Philip-Lorca diCorcia come to mind. Martin Parr took up the challenge as well, just because it is indeed not done frequently.

Not in the field of fine art photography, certainly. But most sports and wildlife photography would be significantly diminished if shot with a 50. Just sayin'.

IIRC Art Wolfe shoots a lot of his work with a 70-200. Not sure if that qualifies as a "super-telephoto."

There's some pretty good photos of potatoes in the FSA archive! Different sort of a deal, but many of the pictures are pretty decent.

Yesterday I took my about to graduate students to the potato photo. They were not impressed, although they thought it better photographed than the portrait heads included with it. Potato. Heads. Just sayin'.

Is it that no one builds a body of work with a super-telephoto lens or that no one recognizes such a body of work as art?

At what point, on a 35mm body, does a telephoto become a super-telephoto?

My friend Andrzej Maciejewski has produced a lovely series of potato portraits called VIP (Very Important Potato), meticulously recreating lighting techniques of famous portrait photographers, but using potatoes as subjects. The series has enjoyed success, travelling to several galleries around the world. You might find a spud or two that appeals to you in this series: http://www.klotzekstudio.com/VIP01.html

As a follow-up to my previous comment, if you read Andrjez's artist statement, he refers to the "great potatoist" Jeffrey Allen Price, an artist who collects numerous potato-themed artifacts: http://jeffreyallenprice.com/wordpress/featured/2012/10/01/unpacking-my-potato/

It seems there is a small but significant potato movement going on in the arts!

The potato photo for some reason brings to mind Edward Weston's "Excusado" (toilet) photo. Perhaps the greatness of a potato photo will come to us with the passage of time?

Anyway, I can believe that a really well lit, beautifully detailed photo of a common spud could be interesting for a moment, what I can't grasp is that someone would pay $1 million for one.

Many of Franco Fontana's landscapes look like they were taken with a super-telephoto lens.

It is unique then, surely it is art.

NOW you've done it Mike!
Be prepared for the inevitable deluge as you laid the gauntlet down!

Definitely my two pesos!

Feininger's New York?


While not in my mind the artistic equivalent of Weston's "pepper #30", Andreas Feininger certainly had a significant body of work about NYC and it's buildings that I believe was taken with a telephoto long enough that he created a two tripod system to make these images.

However, I can't recall a good potato photo.


The field is oversaturated by Van Gogh:



Contemporary and funny:


Roy Lichtenstein, classical:


Joel-Peter Wilkin, photographs in context:



Bill Gekas, so lovely:


Few photographers? The reign of conformism...and Autochromes are another story.

We should just up the stakes: Somebody make a body of art of photos of a potato, taken with a super telephoto.

There is one: Franco Fontana. He has been shooting landscapes almost only with telephoto lenses, seeking colour and shapes. He hasn't got a website - too old school for that, he about 80 now - but try this link to have an idea of his work http://www.photoandcontemporary.com/artistartworks.aspx?ar=3 and here is the Wikipedia entry https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco_Fontana

I'm thinking Martin Parr must have potatoes.... He has a few...


Hi Mike, the Magnum Martin Parr linkjust brings you to a Magnum search results page for potato, this might be better



I have a similar visual memory. The moment you threw out the challenge, a photograph by Steichen came to mind. It's not "a picture of a potato" but rather a picture of hands and a knife peeling potatoes. [Plate 157, Peeling Potatoes. Advertisement for Jergens Lotion. 1923. A Life in Photography, Edward Steichen, Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1963.] Perhaps a good potato picture, but not a great one. Too bad because I think there were moments in Steichen's career that are praiseworthy.

Look out for the book on Charles Jones vegetable glass plate photographs, bought it years ago after watching a program on the BBC, a great book and story. Search on Amazon should be there.

How about Charles Jones? 7th photo down on this link:

Michael Lamotte has a nice potato here, though there are some even better shots of other foods in the set. But then I'm a sucker for anything square and black and white.

Challenge accepted! (Even abject failure will be fun)

I don't know where it falls along the spectrum from documentary photography to art, but the Japanese photographer Yoshikazu Shirakawa published several books and had numerous exhibitions (I saw them in the early '70s) consisting of very striking photos of the landscape. A couple of the books were "Himalayas" and "Eternal America." I recall that he used Pentax 6x7 cameras, and also that a great many of the photos, perhaps even the majority of them, employed extreme telephotos, such as the 800mm f/4 Takumar. Many of the images in the books were large fold-outs, and the images at his exhibitions were huge.

To Michael Perini (and of course to all other TOP readers):
Re Super Telephoto: There was a guy who worked with a Sinar...

That guy was Reinhart Wolf, the German photographer. I have the book and saw an exhibition of his stunning New York photographs in the eighties. He did a similar project on the castles of Spain. You can find images of both projects on the net, and also of Wolf with his impressive set up. A Sinar 8 X 10 inch. I think he used a 1200 mm lens, so "only" about a 200 mm equivalent. Wolf earned his living mainly with food photography. Wolf died too early but there still is a Reinhart Wolf Foundation that supports young photographers.

"is a good potato picture a thing that just doesn't exist?"

I'm not sure it's all that good, but it is, if I'm honest, mostly made of potatoes.

Not The Droids, September 14, 2015

Also, I read that the photo was 64 inches x 64 inches, so I imagine that would have quite an impact on a wall. Another good reason why we should print our photos -- they don't have much impact on the web -- and make sure they're in prominent display, especially when rich friends are coming over.

What is the definition of "art photography" ?

Telephoto lenses... Reinhart Wolf's color images of the tops of New York skyscrapers, and of Spanish castles, come to mind. Spectacular and certainly personal 'art' projects.

How about a TOP competition - best photo of a potato with a super tele lens by a reader?

What about Andreas Feininger? He has a lot of large format shots with a super telephoto camera he built himself. The shots of New York from NJ come to mind as well as a great shot down fifth ave.

In 2004 Reinier Gerritsen came to our design office to show us some examples of his project ‘Europeans.’ He shot pictures for it using a very long zoom. We often worked with him on assignments, but this was his free work. Have a look a his website. You will find other interesting projects and videos as well. Wall Street Stop and De Pont for example.


Max Yavno used long telephoto lenses a lot. In his monograph he was interviewed by Ben Maddow. Here's a quote when he was describing a picture he made in Death Valley:
“I was using a medium format camera with long lenses that couldn’t possibly be used with an 8 X 10 or even a 4 X 5. The same thing applies the picture I did at Canyon de Chelly - had I shot that with an 8 X 10 I would have had a 96 inch focal length lens, 8 feet of bellows at me.” (So that is about a 400m equivalent).
Medium format is his case was a roll film cassette on a technical camera. I bet he used a very long lens for this famous photo too:



Sweet potato and super-telephoto (450mm-e) prime

I have seen an excellent photograph of a potato - in fact 33 stunning 20" x 24" Cibachromes by the French photographer Robert Gernot (robert-gernot.fr). He spent ten years photographing potato tubers sprouting in a darkened room, which he backlit and shot on 5" x 4" Ektachrome. The exhibition (which has toured France) came to a small town near where we lived in western France in 2008, and I had a chance to talk to Gernot about his pictures and his technique. The thumbnails on his website do not do justice to the superb quality of the photographs!

I agree with the other posters who mentioned Feininger's telephotos. He even built his lenses for these pictures himself.

Oh, lest I forget: this guy is very famous, and while I do not know which lenses he uses I bet there is a lot of teles, even strong teles among them.

Mike, since you seem to be disparaging towards potato photography in this post perhaps you might enjoy reading Padgett Powell's book, The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? Which begins 'Are your emotions pure? Are they the stuff of heroes or the alloyed mess of the beaten? How do you stand in relation to the potato?' Not sure I know how to answer that question. The book, however, goes on in this manner for 142 pages!

I had an exhibition of vegetables form our garden a few years ago. Not until I read this blog item did I realised that a potato was missing from my collection. Yet potatoes are our most important crop.


Here's a basket of spuds: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yurtwoodpress/14429427089/in/album-72157645587215974/lightbox/

In the super-telephoto category (there may be a potato field or two in the photos as well...), how about Chris Hadfield's photos from the ISS?

Here he talks about making the photos:

And here's a book of photos he took from the ISS:

Can't help with the spuds but Andrew Sanderson did a very nice pear-with-selfie:
...as well as a cauliflower:
...and a great egg shot:

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