« Housekeeping (Blog Notes) | Main | A Foundation Stone of Your Photography Library »

Friday, 11 November 2016


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

to the picture maker with eyes wide open and an open mind, the entire world and everything in it is a target rich environment.

On my door I have a quote I got from Walt Disney:
"Everybody needs deadlines."

(It was on a poster on a wall blocking the view of some construction at Disney World.)

I'm an older art director/designer, and in the past have had to arrange costly set-ups with photographers, models, props, etc. Upon the day of the shoot with the clock ticking all the players would usually be plying their craft. Now, when I go out to shoot and haven't a particular plan, I sometimes imagine that everything I see happening is a gigantic rented movie set with hired extras, waiting for me to frame a pose or snap an environment. It's all there, waiting for me not to waste.

I'm a writer and I talk to writing classes from time to time, and one thing I tell them is to "get out of the house and look at stuff and write it down while you're looking at it." I suggest a bar (if the people I'm talking to are old enough.) If you have even basic writing ability, and you sit in a bar and try to describe it as accurately as you can -- don't try to be arty, just accurate -- you will generally find that you've just produced an excellent piece of writing. Doing that will often spark off other ideas, and get you rolling along to something serious.

You don't even have to get out. You just need to photograph. Here's an assignment I've given myself from time to time. Grab a camera. Once it's in your hands, find a picture, but with this caveat. Your feet don't move. Stay put. There's a photo somewhere. Find it.

I met Ralph a number of years ago when he came to do an installation of his photos at the museum where I worked. I found that unless you were a young, attractive woman, he didn't have much time for you. So I soon discovered that I liked his work, but I didn't like the person. Still like his work.

Familial circumstances have significantly crimped my photography over the past three years, but I persevere regardless. At least twice every week, my dog and I head out the front door late at night and then walk around my neighborhood for a few hours. I stop often to let her sniff and in turn, she waits patiently when I take a photo.

Most nights, she gets lucky -- there're lots of bunny tracks for her to sniff -- and I get skunked, but occasionally I come home with a few decent photos, and either way, we both get some much-needed exercise and time outdoors.

This routine works for us and I think I might well go crazy if I didn't have this time alone, temporarily free of my responsibilities and distractions.

I agree with this post 100%. Simply going out with a camera has been my guiding principle for several years now. I don't know if the practice has improved my photography, or if it's just a matter of improving odds, but I do have lots of new portfolio worthy photos that are a direct result of taking a camera everywhere.

This morning, I got woken up early in my hotel room to the sounds of cheering. I was jet lagged, two time zones away from home, but I dragged myself to the window and saw that a veterans day parade was setting up just below. I carried a cup of coffee in one hand and my camera in the other, and proceeded to do some street photography in the parade staging area. Within a few minutes I was loosened up and having fun. I might have even got a few keepers. There's one shot of kids with guns sitting in an army jeep and another of a fireman climbing a huge ladder to hang a flag that I'm hopeful for. Maybe I should quit typing and upload the pics from my SD card?

It is like fishing. You don't catch fish by sitting at home, and the more you fish, the more you catch. But...

Fishing isn't all luck. The right hour in the right place is better than all day in the wrong place.

Besides, you can make them bite.

The more you think, the more you catch.

I started out as a photographer...my first job was at a daily newspaper...but, thanks to the Peter Principle, I ended up more a writer and editor for much of my career. But I never stopped being a photographer.

For me, writing and editing is work. It's a job that I can do moderately well. On the other hand, photography is play. When I'm photographing I don't get tired. I forget to eat. I'm totally immersed in it because I'm having fun. It never feels like work. I suppose if it ever does, I'll be done.

You ate at NoHo Star? Funny. I've been there many times; it's just up the street from my mother's apartment.

When you write a post like this one I almost always think I will have to leave a comment but then after reading the entire post I find myself unable to add to what you already said.

OK I will add one thing. I love just hitting the street or here in Laguna Beach it's the Boardwalk and shoot, and shoot. But the one thing I can't do is stand or sit in one location and let the photo come to me. I just get to antsy(?) and start walking. That being said some of my favorite photos came from sitting in one location waiting until the picture showed up.

From my own experience, I fully agree with this. It's basically the ability to marvel at the beauty of the world around us. Interestingly, this beauty becomes more and more obvious the more time one spends photographing; probably because the camera enforces attention to the surroundings, but also because photography establishes something like a feedback loop. The photograph shows to you in isolation what caused you to take the picture. So it helps you to find out what works for you and what doesn't.

Carrying a camera continually, if not always, has become a burden so I no longer take one often. Getting annoyed at having missed a photograph takes more energy than I have now, and frankly am content to be able to live with myself at not having taken an opportunity. But when I feel the pull of the shutter button then I make the effort, which has recently been more often than not. I think procrastination gets a bad rep.

This summer, for reasons that are not relevant to photography, I drove along the Oregon coast, which is one of my favorite locations for scenery even if it is 1000 miles from home.
I stopped several times at places where it looked like there was the potential for satisfying images, and pressed the shutter many times. At one of those locations I finished with the scene for which I had stopped, and turned to go back to my car. When I did, there was an ocean view in front of me that I had missed completely from the highway.
I am happy with almost all of the images for which I stopped the car, but the unanticipated shot is the only one that I have printed - and it is a 12x18 print for which the decision to print was made last week after living with the image for 11 weeks.
- Tom -

Here is another quote for you: "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair" (American writer Mary Heaton Vorse)

Here in England, where pants means 'underpants', this has a newer and fresher meaning when working from home on the computer. With nobody to see you, you can dress, or not, as you please.... : ]

I think this will take several posts- here's #1

When I was just starting photography while in college, my high school art teacher who remained my friend for life gave me an assignment with my new Leica M2 and Summilux 35 - go to a small area, no more than a city block or a 1 acre field in the country and shoot a roll of film on what you see. Then I brought them back to him to see. Several of those photos are still my favorites. I've repeated that assignment many times over the last 50 years.


I have always owned a pocket. camera or one light weight enough to keep with me all the time. I used a Minox 35 for 20 years, later a credit card sized Casio digital which has been supplanted bu cell phone cameras - just got an iPhine 7- so I never am without a camera. IMHO the iPhone is the ideal 1C1L1Y camera. I never have an excuse for missing a photo.


When we moved to California 14 years ago, I started documenting CA life for my friends back in Boston. Since all the snapshot apps were still in their infancy, I created my own page on my website I called "Only in California. I discovered that CA was heaven for street photography since everybody here is living in a movie in their imagination! I havent kept it up much lately but I still go to it and chuckle at the results - http://jimhayes.com/cahome/OnlyInCA.html


Besides the Only In CA theme, I use my pocket camera to take abstracts - photos of patterns,shadows, designs, etc. - for example I have hundreds of photos of the floors of artist's studios taken during art walks - and the best goes into a file on my iMac that is used as a screensaver. Often when I am working in the office and on the phone, the screensaver distracts me from my conversation. Creating photos for that "slideshow" has become my favorite photography exercise!


I like to take walks to the lake/park that's near my house. It began as an exercise routine 9 years ago, but now I routinely take a camera and one lens (typically 35 or 50mm) with me, despite the fact that each time I start out I think that there couldn't possibly be anything new or interesting.

The thing is, there always is, and it's rarely something I anticipated. And because I've returned so often, there's a variety of subject matter: some landscape, some with people; some in sun, some in snow and ice; some documentary, some abstract; some distant, some close-up; and a mixture of color and black and white. Cropping allowed, Mike (don't need no stinkin' 135!).

While it wasn't my intent from the start, I know there's a book in there. The planning and editing process should be fun, but not so easy. I hope that I don't need to plan shots to fill in any gaps; that might ruin the fun.

In the meantime, I enjoy making prints and juxtaposing small series on the shelf in my work room.

In 2014 I made my slow and contemplative dreams come true by selling my Leica M6 (and 35mm lens... sigh) and buying a 24mm tilt-shift lens for my Canon. The necessity of shooting with a tripod certainly slowed me down. I decided the best way to really learn to use the lens was to go out and shoot every dayand then process and print a photo every night for 100 days. It was a bit of a slog at times, but it netted me a lot of photographs that I still enjoy. Eventually I put together a small book and used those photographs to land a few gallery shows.

This year I decided I should do the 100 days exercise again. I wrapped it up a few weeks ago and just tonight went through all my picks from 2014 and 2016 (I shot about 1000 pictures each of the two times I did this) for another show application. It's pretty amazing how much more focused the subject matter is in the second set. Despite just being two years apart, the second set just strikes me as a much better set. I'm excited to try it again.

The older I get, the more I'm convinced that putting in the work is the only way to really get better at something. Inspiration, epiphanies, and sheer genius are great but it's usually the person who works the hardest that ends up being spectacular.

In unrelated news, Larry Clark was on Marc Maron's WTF podcast recently and spoke a little about an enlarger of Ralph Gibson's that he used, I think when printing Tulsa or Teenage Lust. He surmised that it was probably the same one that Gibson got from Robert Frank. Larry Clark is certainly a big figure in art and photography and obviously a friend of Gibson's, but boy was his interview hard for me to listen to. It wasn't so much a conversation as it was Larry running on and over Marc Maron for an hour or so.

Mike, Great job, wonderful thoughtful writing and a joy to read, that's what makes me keep coming back to TOP!

Mike : "...Not only did I not have a camera with me, but I don't even own a lens of the right focal length (about 135mm-e, I would estimate) to have shot it. "

Good reason to get the xf55-200mm Fujifilm lens, it has IS, sharp and is reasonably priced. Michael Reichmann was impressed with it, used it during a Lightroom video tutorial. I use mine frequently while out and about. The IS is quite good too for controlling the yips.

There are two take aways in your article for me.

The first echoes what Ann Patchett said about digging in and writing everyday. My first years of photography were mostly activist environmental photography (Redwood National Park proposals were being attacked by logging, etc.). You had to be "there" when things happened and thus you had to be on your toes and time tables were not of your choosing and rarely relaxing. I self taught my way in those exciting years - photography, development & printing - the whole 9 yards!

The second echoes your paraphrased words of Ralph Gibson, "...whenever I get out and start looking around, I'll get something."
That approach represents my later - refined by experience - years of photography exactly. I do not carry a camera with me all the time, but whenever I get out...[now with my camera in hand]...I'm gonna get something! And, by golly, I mostly do bring home something that moves me.

My motto has always been: Will travel, have camera.

Today I had a great afternoon photographing dogs at an annual sheep dog trials in our township. I've been doing this for three years, always looking for a different angle.

It's always attended by the most friendly people that one could meet (as well as dogs) and it provides something unique that city dwellers probably wouldn't even know existed.

John Camp wrote about how he encourages writing students to go somewhere and write down what they see thusly: " I suggest a bar (if the people I'm talking to are old enough.) If you have even basic writing ability, and you sit in a bar and try to describe it as accurately as you can -- don't try to be arty, just accurate"

The late Steve Goodman used to do just that. One day, while taking a train trip, he wrote down the things he saw on the trip. A photo of the notebook page appears in the materials with his CD No Big Surprise. The train trip notes became the song City of New Orleans, and many of the descriptions became verbatim lines in the song.

So I guess in agreeing with John, I'm adding that it isn't necessarily an exercise with no direct application.


Out at lunch with friends a week or so ago, I took the photograph in the link below, "Table by the Window":


When I shared it with my lunch companions, one of them said that he used to give his students an assignment to take a photograph from right where they were at a given moment, without moving except to turn around in the same spot.

Beauty is always available to those with eyes to see it (and it helps to never go anywhere without a camera).

As Gary Nylander said, and called them Enterprise shots, at the newspaper I worked at, we called them Roamers. Because you had to roam around to get them. Often for a front page pictorial with weather info.

I think a camera case is in the way, as is a camera over your shoulder. Only a camera turned on and around your neck or in your hands is ready for photos. And when you are looking, you start to find.

I can't even walk with someone and try to shoot, because I miss stuff. I can't do both at the same time. There's a time for shooting and a time for photography.

I think of Garry Winogrand hitting the pavement daily. That's what it takes.

Joe McNally once said (from my memory - I've not searched for the source) "I've never seen a landscape that wouldn't be improved by someone in it."

When I leave the house I make sure I have a few things, my wallet, my watch, my spectacles, my phone, my keys and my camera.

If you don't have a camera, you're not a photographer.

A phone is not a camera.

I always remember a great quote from artist Chuck Close when I saw him interviewed by Charlie Rose, which, it turns out, he's said many times over the years - "Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work."
Ralph Gibson is now shooting with a Leica Monochrom and making inkjet prints - I saw an exhibition here in L.A. at the Leica Store/Gallery a while back, and the prints looked JUST LIKE his film and silver gelatin derived prints, which is to say wonderful!

Your comment about your view of landscapes often "needing" people - and your friend (and Ed Kirkpatrick's featured comments too) feeling just the opposite - I am reminded of one of my most favorite scenes I took a few years ago. It was a late afternoon setting of a bay with trees and wild flowers in the foreground; but what made it sort of "romantic" and visually interesting, was a wooden bench situated amongst the flowers and facing the bay. No people were sitting on the bench and I would have pulled my hair out had they been there! Because all other features of the scene - the light, the flowers, the colors - were perfect and I preferred no bodies!

What is so ironic is the fact I didn't want people in the scene, even though an object made for people - the bench - made the photo immensely more interesting and pleasing. I walk past this point almost daily but it has never been as special as it was the day I "captured" it. Which does run contrary to my own MO of walking often without a camera. Thanks to featured Commenter Struan for help there!

Do you want to know how the so-called Generation X got to know Ralph Gibson's work? His photograph of the ghostly hand reaching for a door handle featured on the inner sleeve of Joy Division's 'Unknown Pleasures' 1979 album. Legend has it that Steve Morris, the drummer, was so taken by it that he suggested Peter Saville, who penned most Joy Division and New Order sleeve designs, included it in the album's artwork.
Unfortunately, we all got in touch with this photo without knowing who its author was, as Ralph Gibson's name does not appear in the album's credits. Apparently, Gibson never bothered, though he could have (and, arguably, he should). Joy Division became so influential, and Ralph Gibson's picture matched the album's athmosphere so seamlessly, that it's plausible Ralph Gibson condoned the use of the photo in 'Unknown Pleasures' inner sleeve. I don't know, I'm just guessing. I'd ask him if I ever were to meet him - which would be the greatest honour of my photographic life. (I presume he never told you about any of his, did he?)

Here's the photo:

Good question, this one about application. For me, at one time or another, photography has been something like each of the many different personal expeiences described, and that includes approaches that seem mutually excusive or even contradictory.

The constant that ties them together in my own experience is that after all these years I''m still crazy about my subjects and working with them in the medium.

The late British art historian Kenneth Clark said " We tend to make art out of what we love, and we tend to love what is familiar." When it's going right I'm more familiar with, say, a wooded swamp than I am with the couch in front of the TV.

My subjects are a first love, so it's not hard to keep my nose in them. What I bring to the pursuit comes out over the long run.

There's a lot to be said for getting out there. I look around the room at C's paintings, and I'm reminded of one reason. Right now her figure works stands out in my eye: many of these are pictures of people seemingly caught unaware, in private moments of relaxation or reflection. Yet to see them is not so much to be caught up in an obvious sentiment as it is to be drawn into a reaction to an innocent and gentle side of the human spirit expressed by the haphazard collection of lines, planes, shapes, masses and movements that comprise the human body in unguarded moments. I look and I think to myself that yes, "That is us, and that is who we are."

That penetrating yet sympathetic view of the human form and it's expressions comes only with long faithful attention and deep love of subject.

Get out there.

This is great advice for getting better, and, well, for getting better. I need the work, no doubt, but this has not been a year of sunshine and joy for a lot of folks. Just finished printing for the first time in months, and have decided that my cub scouts are going to work on photography for a bit. Already feeling a little less heavy - amazing how a camera bag loaded for bear can lighten the load.

I was fortunate enough to live in San Francisco during the summer of love in 1967, and returned there in the early seventies to discover bookstores with large "photo-art" sections. You'd see books by Les Krimms, Duane Michals, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and Ralph Gibson. Lustrum Press was Ralph Gibson's publishing house and include his trilogy: The Somnambulist (1970), Déjà-vu (1973), and Days at Sea (1974). Back then I could see the groove and the eye of his work and the way he placed images on opposite pages or before and after each other to make the connections complete. Erotic and surreal were the look he created in rich black and white. Luckily I could afford to buy his books back then and still hold on to them. He has always been a teacher to admire and respect. The idea of having a camera in hand with our eyes open and head up...or down, constantly looking for those moments of a connection with the mind's eye is what keeps us creatively alive.

In Steven Pressfield's book "The War of Art" he talks about how you have to get up and do the work every day. Amazingly enough, the Muse shows up when you do too.

Ralph Gibson's " Deux Ex Machina" was one of my permanent bed stand books back when I was living in Mexico. I got a second copy and it's one of my bed stand books here in the UAE. Perfect example that there are photographs everywhere, you just have to keep your eyes open. They will find you.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007