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Thursday, 19 April 2018


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Well, you could maybe just stop and ignore the shifting ground. I still marvel at Lee Friedlander’s marvelous and omnivorous eye and I don’t think he switches gear very often. Either you fall for the Sony or upgrade your Fuji, it doesn’t matter. Put the gear behind you and do more shooting and more printing. I wager that your posts will be wonderful.

April is a tough month for Northerners.

As for the poetry, I know what you mean. However, as an English major I also know that the vast majority of poetry written in human history was bad poetry, in the same way that most photography is bad. Is there something missing today compared to fifty or seventy years ago? My guess is we have more taking and less editing. Editing gets to what you call heart, I think. That and working on something long-term, with drive, and not being satisfied until you see it.

William Albert Allard gave a good interview on The Candid Frame Podcast the other day and talked about some of this. He uses a Leica Q, among other digital cameras, and sort of keeps up with the basics of Lightroom. It always gives me heart to hear someone like him talking about new projects with enthusiasm.

Sounds like you need to experience that old magic again. Grab that old SLR from the back of the closet, stick a fast 50mm on it and load some Tri-X 400. Walk around town until you've shot all 36 exposures. Get them printed, sit in your easy chair and pick out your favorites. If that doesn't renew your spirit, then you need to find a new passion.

"Could be I'm just... losing the obsessiveness or passion..."

Clearly you are not, or you would not be writing just that. I think a good part of it is that in the analog days we created a large part of what we did with our hands as well as our hearts, it was a certain knowledge, craft and artistry that was accrued and refined with time. Our style, our "poetry," was further defined by the idiosyncrasies of how we developed our craft, all of that garnered a certain respect, if not reverence, for what we did and what we created. Today, a large(r) part of that is (pre)determined by the dictates of our computers.

I doubt any of that matters to people of a certain age, it probably wouldn't to me if I was taking it up today. And I actually appreciate the greater ease the digital realm now allows in my later years, but it does come at a cost, and I don't think we'll fully appreciate the totality of that loss till well in the future...

What you said about the weather, yes, it sucks big time, and it's making us all very cranky. We walk throughout the winter -- just in the neighborhood for about 35 to 40 minutes a day -- but we stopped a couple of weeks ago due to ice, cold and miserable winds and, I suppose, pure petulance because it was April and not supposed to be like this all the time.

It looks like February out there, but I walked again today and realized that not walking had made it all worse. Relief comes for us tomorrow. The damn stuff is going to melt and I hope your weather improves too.

The difference between early Commodore 64 games and late ones are staggering. Same hardware, more knowledge how to utilize it. There are other examples of this (Amiga and ...). But when the hardware keeps progressing, and the thought of better pictures is reduced to buying a new camera, who will learn the in’s and out’s of the owned camera?
I want, need, a new camera, but that is only because my current one should make better pictures with my chosen subject (I only push the buttons).

I still shoot the way I use to 40+ years ago. Sure I have learned some new tricks, especially in the digi world, but trees are still trees. The mountains just 80 miles from my house are still there, they look the same as they did when I started photographing them with a Brownie.

I strive to tell a story in each photo I take (ok MAKE for all you long beards). What I find is the photography of today seems to be more about what you can do with all the geegaws, sliders and super fast lenses and less about sharing a moment in time with us. That moment should be a shared experience and tell a story imho. Something that transmits something from me to you the viewer. Hopefully something beyond technical prowess and just copying the latest visual fad..

Maybe I'm just an old fart and as a photographer I yell GET AWAY FROM MY TRIPOD rather than get off my lawn.

Photographers used to be craftsmen. Now they're computer technicians. Film was the same for all. Now the tech is so prominent, it eclipses the craft, I think.

https://6x6portraits.wordpress.com/2018/03/13/photography-isnt-fun-anymore/ Is a story from my photo editor who said photography isn't fun anymore--there's just too much of it.

Too much of what used to require skill can now be purchased. Ansel Adams spent a lot of time developing and teaching the Zone System, the forerunner of HDR. I can remember when you wanted extreme HDR you had to use sheet film and resort to underwater development which never quite made it to becoming a "system" because of all the variables involved. Now even my cell phone has HDR built in although it is bad HDR IMO. The aim of the techniques we used with B&W was to make the use of them invisible to the viewer except for those who 'knew' that your photo was impossible unless you (fill in the blank). Now a surreal HDR is the goal.

I like digital and I am (almost entirely digital. My film cameras languish in a file drawer with the batteries out so they won't leak and ruin the camera. Nevertheless, like you, I feel like something is missing when the equipment and software provide all the skill and I just have to know what button to push, slider to slide, etc.

I feel ya.

"It doesn't matter how well I mastered the HP B9180 printer or Photoshop 5 or the various sharpening protocols for 3-megapixel camera files: none of that matters any more. Master something now, and the ground will soon shift underneath you."

Only if you let it. Only if you do what the manufacturers and software houses want you to do - buy every "improvement" that comes along. Only if you keep falling for the idea that something they are offering is essential to your kind of photography.

"Or does anyone ever truly get past it any more, and just concentrate on pictures and what they show?"

Nearly all the photographers I know - professional or not - realised a long time ago that the way to handle this phenomenon of constant change was to find the equipment that does what they want, and then stick with it, learning exactly how to get the best out of it. You can do this and still be open to genuine change/improvement when it comes along. I suggest this will be every 4-6 years.

" . . . . just as the "signatures" of weird old poorly-coated lenses were hard to miss and the highly perfected lenses of today seem pitilessly perfect, analytical, clinical, and difficult to differentiate from each other in pictures. You know what I mean?"

This is a fiction dear to the heart of photography-day-dreamers and commentators everywhere. Photographers have always prized well-corrected lenses which could produce a sharp, detailed result when required. It's easy enough - let's face it - to make images even with today's lenses that are far from being perfect, analytical or clinical. And why should the viewer care, or want to know, which lens was used to make any particular image? This knowledge is absolutely immaterial to enjoyment or otherwise of the image.

There are people whose interest is divided between the process being used, and actual image-making. But if process becomes more highly regarded than image-content, this seems to me to be a mistake, and your post, Mike, in its roundabout way, supports this position. But it really could not matter less which camera,lens or process was used in the production of any given image. Is it a good image or not? That's all we need to know.

I'm reminded of another snobbery-tinged fallacy which was current few years ago; namely, that you could only do proper "street" if you used a Leica; and only with a 35 or 50mm lens. Absurd, or what?

good one . . . .

I think the trick to becoming a "known" or even famous photographer is choose a subject matter that you have a passion for and shoot the living hell out of it. Give it your all. Don't be a gear ho either. Well done old 35mm B&W's still look great. You do not need 10K in the latest and greatest to make it work. It's about the content.

As one who is playing in the last quarter in this football game of life life I'd like to add age should not be a factor. Shoot with your heart.

Yes Mike, the technical demands of photography are a barrier to art. Always have been and probably always will be. As you point out, the pace of change of the science part is tough to deal with, but I bet where you are you feel much more compelled to keep up which is not a good thing for the art side of the art/science continuum. To much effort on the science side, not much on the art side. Just a few years ago HDRwas new science and those who chose to participate yanked sliders to learn what they would do. Often the novelty of the results were exciting to them and disgusting to many others, but every one was caught up in the science. Now we have folks who have learned the technology and are producing interesting work with the tool. My opinion is that all such things have a gestation period where they hog to much of our energy and diminish our vision. Patience, the stress will pass, we both know that a 4 year old and a 40 year old camera are both still capable of producing art (and a lot of chaff), maybe not the same as the new kid on the block but still valuable. Oh ya and it will eventually warm up but then folks will complain it’s too hot..

The sheer volume of work created on any given day is staggering. Any new work that speaks to us as an individual is now a needle in a haystack. As we get older, and as winter refuses to step-off, the work of sifting and sorting the haystack can be a bit daunting....but spring WILL come. :-)

Speaking of the necessity for prints, PBS ran a piece on Christopher Burkett the other day that was very interesting. Burkett bought a ten year supply of Cibachrome in order to continue printing his work in the way he loves.


This constant shifting of the tech landscape is certainly a distraction. Maybe we should just pick a camera/lens/stand-alone software combo, disconnect the darkroom computer from the web, and see what happens.

When I first started working with digital, I had an old under-powered PC that was not networked in any way, ran a very early version of Photoshop, and ran no memory/CPU hogging anti virus software. My technology base never changed and that stability was nice.

I'm sorry, Mike, but I don't buy the old part. I just signed up for medicare a few months ago. Creaky, I am. Crusty I ain't.

When is the last time you just went out with your camera to play? Sound like I'm scolding? Yep.

I wish it were snowing again here; great time for that primacy of black and white, and the potential joy from eventually getting a frame worthy print. Glass half full.

So you missed the long shot of becoming a great photographer? But did you envision the long shot of being a first rate writer, working in a medium that didn't exist when those dreams were forming? Not likely but just as worthy.


I think that at some point you just have to stop even trying to keep up with the technical advances, as long as the pictures you're making satisfy what you want to do artistically. I'm one of those people you referred to in an earlier entry as settled on Micro 4/3 because it's "adequate." It is indeed, and settling on that format has given me the freedom (finally) to work on those many parts of my game that REALLY need improving.


I think some of this has to do with your recent health setbacks. It will pass I'm sure!

In the meantime, there's nothing wrong with going back to "old fashioned" chemical photography. Even though that takes 2 lifetimes to really master :)

And there are the ancient processes still to learn if you wish. I understand the difficult part will be keeping up with the new digital stuff for reviews, but you can still write more about photographs rather than equipment and I, for one, would welcome that!

For me, I'm shooting film and scanning to digital, so a hybrid workflow. But, I haven't pressed the shutter button in a few weeks as I've found nothing worth pressing it for lately and that sometimes happens.

As for the software, there's really nothing in Photoshop past Photoshop 5 that you'll need or provides any great advance. Once they added the color management, the software became pretty mature...

One small positive sign in the titanic battle between technical factors and art: I don't see so much blather about The Sharpness God anymore. It's a start.

Poetry- I know, Mike... you can't say exactly what it is, but you know it when you see it. It has your mind firing off waves of recognition past the obvious. I also understand how it all seems like it's out of our hands now. Somehow my eyes don't thrill me like they used to... I don't crave the visual and I haven't made a picture in almost a year. Maybe I think I just couldn't bear looking at another gaudy oversaturated hyper sharp screen image of a volcanic crater in Iceland. Or the accompanying tedious video of the trip. But I take heart from the notion that somewhere some brilliant young person is doing a thesis on Weston, or Lange, or Frank or Arbus or Avedon. Just because I can't see so well anymore doesn't mean they can't. And geez dude, figure out a way to do some wet processing. I still have my stuff, and I'm dying to go back to it, when I retire... when I retire...

I LOVE the dog photo.

And YES to everything you said.

If you see a bunny holding a bunch of daffodils on a tree branch, take a picture Mike.


As time passes, we settle down; we explore less. And, as a consequence, we see less things that say, “Take my PICTURE.” Thank goodness for dogs. They offer a constantly changing image that doesn’t demand we travel. But, if that stops working, we have to see new things. That’s called a vacation.

I understand what you're saying, old man. And I agree - those skills that require a physical agility/strength/ability are often relegated to the young more than the old. However, while photography certainly requires a measure of physicality (I've always loved that to get a photograph, I HAVE to be THERE), it is mostly an activity of (excuse my mushiness here) feeling, soul, wit, perception, knowledge, and openness. I don't think the young have the market cornered on any of those. Even at age 62, I refuse to act as if my dreams have passed me by.

As to "heart," I also agree. I like Sally Mann's term, mendacity, though that comes with a lot of negative connotations and baggage. And Walker Evans has that quote about how the camera "almost always" lies (I haven't personally seen any that don't). Without any more merit or substance than your "heart," I like the word "mystery." Perhaps they are not too far apart. A definite quality that is there (or not), and yet cannot be tacked to a wall.

I title my own work as "Apparent Realities." The word 'apparent' is rather unique, I think - it means "clearly visible or understood; obvious" and "seeming real or true, but not necessarily so." The contradiction in one word, where it means the exact opposite of itself, seem to embody photography, in my humble opinion.

I hope the weather there in your neck of the woods clears, and soon. Here in California, we have sunshine and a glorious amount of it. 71 degrees today, and a high of 80 for tomorrow. Perfect weather for a walk with a camera.

As someone of approximately your age I understand where all this is coming from and perhaps going to ... have you yet pondered the state or your digital files? ... you have a son who might be savy but I only have a “significant other” and she can’t seem to remember how to copy & paste let alone what is on iCould ! ... just makes one wonder just where things will end up ...

Seems to me you need to trip and take a trip, Mike. Come to Asia!

This is the first winter I was out all the time, hoping it would get colder... even colder. For once I'm not looking forward to spring as much. Leaves, grass, green stuff. Ho hum. I miss the ice! Perhaps I'll find something incredibly interesting about spring, summer and fall this year, and resent the onset of winter.

Regarding the technology, yes, you're right, and worse yet, it's in all things -- not just photography. But I don't think it's quite as bad as you make it out. I use Lightroom. A lot has changed since Version 5, yet all the changes have been incremental rather than revolutionary. Menu items move around a bit, new things get added; you can easily build on what you know and figure it out. Most of the time you don't have to use the new things if you don't want to. Don't like dehaze? Fine, leave the slider alone.

As for the getting older part, you're brutally right. I take comfort from knowing that lots of photographers from long ago whose names and work people remember today made amazing images their whole lives, and some even started late in life. Let go of the need to be remembered by history and it's all better.

"Spring better get here quick!"
That's "SAD" - seasonal affective disorder.
You need a "grow-lux" lamp for the soul.
Or do,what we did, move to California...

Or (from the eternal optimist), every time I go out to shoot, I know that I have the best equipment that's ever been made and can use the best software that's ever been written. There are no boundaries to what I can create other than my own imagination.

Maybe you should take a field trip to Rochester and see what the photography students are doing. I think you'd be heartened.


A Sean Tucker video. The first three, and last four, minutes speak to your last paragraph. In the middle is an interesting analysis of dynamic range.


I attended a software promotion some ten or fifteen years ago. I still remember what a presenter of one of the sessions said: "We're all just shoeing horses." In other words, no matter what you're doing in your job today, some day it's going to go away and be replaced with something else.

To me, though, it also means that if you enjoy shoeing horses (and people still do, for whatever reason), get busy and do it. Life's too short and getting shorter all the time. If you remember something you used to really enjoy and it meant a lot to you, maybe go try it again and see if you still enjoy it and it still means something to you. Maybe you'll find the memory was better than the current reality of doing it now. Or maybe you'll find it still tugs your heart enough to fit it into your life again in place of all the hours spent in front of the proverbial social media (or whatever). And maybe you'll figure out how the value of doing it meant so much to you before.

When the sun comes back out (sunny and warmer here today, so it's headed your way), get out in the sunshine and spend a day shooting daffodils and maybe you'll feel better. :)


What Paul said.

I all gets back to personality. Time change and you change. I do NOT understand the concept of mastery. Much off what you describe I think of as scut-work to be farmed-out to the experts.

As I said people change, and I haven't pushed a button in at least five years, and don't miss it at all, YMMV. Now I'm writing podcast scripts, and I'm starting to feel artistic again.

Maybe photography and ennui have become synonymous to you (they certainly did for me). If so switch to writing whatever floats-your-boat. Change the site name to TOP.

First, this level of writing, and depth of perception, is why we read you Mike. And we do "read you".
But, secondly, by all means, do travel out of the weather zone there.... who knows, maybe cherry trees are blossoming in Tokyo right now (they are in L.A.) -- despite what we've done to the spinning ball of dirt we live on.

I agree on some points regarding things such as printing and black and white processes and particularly the obsession with perfection in the digital age. However, I think as I have gotten older what in truth has faded is the ambition of youth and that the heart or poetry has actually grown rather than diminished. This is the way it should be as we grow as a person and as a photographer. We don't need to care about what other people think so much and we can concentrate on the pictures and what they show. That doesn't make it any more relevant but was it ever relevant to anyone but ourselves anyway?

(As far as the weather is concerned though, I'm traveling at the moment, and in the UK spring has started and daffodils are everywhere.)

Dispeptic? I wouldn’t say so. Mike voices a legitimate point of view, and one which for me has a lot of resonance.

I’m not a photographer. In the early 1970s I shot a lot of B&W and learned to develop film and use a printer. Then I found myself living abroad—Algeria, Spain, Japan. In the first two instances I was too poor to continue the hobby and in the last instance too pinched for space. What I have done instead is write poetry, and here my resonance with Mike’s complaint deepens. I too thought I might make a small name for myself but I never did and now I know I never will. At the age of 71, I’m stuck with my mediocrity, and my awareness of that stuckness goes back I don’t remember how many decades.

Why didn’t I quit when I saw the road wasn’t leading anywhere? I did swear off poetry several times, but I always found myself coming back to it, will-me nill-me. With the retrospect of half a century, I’d say it like this. The road, in the sense of a personal path, doesn’t imply a destination. It’s unmapped, so there’s no question of arriving somewhere. I only learn where I’m going by going there, and from there the road leads on. Eventually we arrive at the graveyard, which is the stasis when all the pictures stop. All the poems stop. The road isn’t about arriving somewhere but just about going. Period.

Artists who have arrived at some pinnacle of success always piss and moan about it. Success is a bitch goddess and she distorts and discolors everything she touches. For example, you get a good write-up. But when you read it you find yourself and your work completely misrepresented. You’ve become a comicbook charicature of yourself, and how do you like that?

Probably no one reading this will remember The Teachings of Don Juan. I remember very little except for one line. Don Juan says the most important thing is to choose a path with heart.

One other thought and then I’ll shut up. Like Mike, I prefer the old B&W photography. Films too. The constantly perfecting techniques of color photography, especially in the digital age, strike me as the cold cogwheels of a Satanic mill because they don’t leave me enough room to imagine anything. Color’s become the deepfreeze of perfection, and to be perfect, if you know the grammatical tense, is to be finished, done with, dead.

I like the work of W. G. Sebold, who inserts B&W photos (apparently snapshots) into his haunting but unclassifiable texts. The photos have no captions, and often little drama. They’re left for us readers to make what we will of them, and I think we make a good deal. At 71, I’ve started to issue my collected poems, one small volume for each decade of my forty years in poetry. And I’ve taken a hint from Sebold, inserting black and white snapshots without identifying them.

The four volumes have separate subtitles but collectively they’re called “By the Rivers of Edo,” evoking the Rivers of Babylon in the Psalms. Old Edo too was crisscrossed by rivers, moats and canals, laid out in a rough but regular grid, a network much more organized than the narrow wandering streets. The best means of transportation was by boat. Edo was often referred to as the "Venice of the East." In these poems, "rivers" serves as a metaphor for memory and imagination. The network of waterways is memory herself. When I walk to the pond near my house in Tokyo today, the street follows a buried stream once known as Aisome-gawa (Aisome = no diphthongs, no stresses, 4 even syllables). No one has seen it in 50 years and it’s been reduced to a trickle, but the trickle still flows into the pond.

Wayne Pounds

I believe the most difficult thing is to discover *what* you find compelling to take pictures of and what you want to say. And this is to a large extent independent of technology and will always be with you.

Likewise, if you know what you're after in a print, film or digital, B9180 or P800, Photoshop 5 or CC 2018 are just means to an end.

I agree that all this technical fluff is just an obstruction to drill down to the essential stuff.

Best, Thomas

Fine thoughts.

One of the things that really distinguishes high achievers is that they tend to be a little psychotic.

As Shaw noted: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” This is SO true.

As time goes on, the nice stable adjusted people (you and me Mike?) settle into stable and satisfied lives. The Crazy People keep going, they just keep on going right until they are on their deathbeds, they just cannot stop themselves. They gamble, they take risks, they lie, they cheat, they love danger.

Over and over you will notice that many of the "Big Achievers" are nut jobs. Even Trump - just look at him! A psychotic moron of the highest order and just look - at - him.

In the end you just have to accept that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around. The job is to enjoy while it lasts.

Some of thst sounds like the symptons of S.A.D. Perhaps you should get a light box. `No not for viewing slides but to simulate daylight)

Perhaps the question might be framed as a search for a renewed sense of authenticity rather than fads, "trending", and artifice?

Speaking of poetry:
"Most of all, though, what I miss is the poetry behind reality that photography seemed to access so effortlessly, and the sense of heart that I felt I could detect in the work of various artists."

'there are a lot of things I miss about the photography I grew up with'

Yup, pretty much all of it.........

Yesterday, April 19, 2018, we had the hottest day since weather recording history in Belgium: 28°C. Not good, it's the heathing of the world, and the USA and India are working hard on this global warming.

There are several things to untangle from your post and I hope in this comment I can offer some succor. I am what you probably consider young - I'm not yet 26 - but I live with several chronic health conditions that limit my ability to get out and apply my practice. I'm too poor to own a car and still live with my parents on disability benefits. This frees up the stresses of having to work for a living (though being disabled is more than a full time job - and you don't even get overtime pay) but I do miss out on a lot of life milestones my peers are reaching - college, marriage, careers and the like. Even maintaining friendships is difficult because much of my time is spent just taking care of myself and household chores and I don't have the time or the energy to invest in people unless it's absolutely necessary and I surely don't have the money to go out to eat, go to concerts and whatever else people are doing for fun. I spend a lot of time cooped up inside, online, reading about photography - time that I'd exchange almost anything to be out practicing it.

I've also had to deal with depression since the age of about ten - long before my physical ailments rendered my psychological issues the least of my problems. In recent years I have gained some perspective about happiness and fulfillment. Instead of the fruitless attempt to conform to what is expected I've taken inspiration from queer lib and the punk ethos and I chose to embrace being a freak. In some measure this could be a privilege of my youth but even as a kid I felt like an old man. I have had to age into my youth and I can now enjoy life by not pressuring myself to fit in. I got my first camera at 15, shooting 135 chromogenic black and white film. I mostly shoot digital now and still default to black and white. It's not that I dislike color. Black and white just feels right. Some of us young guns are drawn to older forms and tools - hell I also shoot 120 film in my Bronica. This can be a mark of distinction, but a mark of distinction isn't a paycheck in the arts unless you live in New York or LA. Black and white suits me, and if it suits you you have no obligation to follow the herd (unless you're looking to make money at this).

It seems that aside from coming to terms with aging, much of what troubles you arises from what consumerism forces on our hobby. For professionals it's much worse - the market for higher resolution still files, higher resolution video, drone footage and now VR and AR is all ultimately created by technology companies to sell more gadgets. When you can't get hired unless you can deliver 12K virtual reality video because the client wants what everyone else is having the madness has metastasized. And what social media platform will enrich itself from unpaid work of photographers after Instagram becomes passé?

In light of this you should ask yourself what a "great photographer" is and why you should want to be one. Years ago I wanted to be a filmmaker because I thought I liked movies. When I realized I had nothing to say I realized I had really just wanted to be famous among people who liked movies. But outside the rarified world of cinephilia nobody would ever care. Last year I lost my dog of ten years. In March I lost my grandmother at 96 and almost lost my dad. I will eventually die but not before what's left of my body starts deteriorating in my late 30s and early 40s. We're losing a habitable planet and losing hours of our lives inside screens and humans are spending valuable time arguing whether a 42MP camera is comparable to a 24MP camera. You can practice photography with a cell phone or 8x10" sheets of film or with a shoebox with a tiny hole. If you ask me what the meaning of photography is in this world today, I would say it's the same as the meaning of life: its something to enjoy doing.

Does the 45 year old man forfeit enjoyment of the game just because he never filled a stadium of people watching him? What stops him from feeling the air in his lungs and the smell of the grass and the joy of the goal playing pick up games at the park with his neighbors?

PS, for your A7III I recommend obtaining a Minolta 1.7/55 MD Rokkor and processing in black and white if you feel like it, because you feel like it. Get away from the computer and get shooting - even if it's still lifes of junk in your house. Make the prints you're proud of.

[Great comment, Austin, thanks. --Mike]

Maybe it's time to take a walk with the Exacta you bought last year? I'd like to read more about that one, if you still have it.

IMO, often this quick pace of technological updates is just a distraction from the "heart" and 2poetry" and "mastery" of photography. I have been using my Sony A7II for 3 years, and I don't give a toss about the new generation III cameras and their advances.

All this is just siren song, meant to distract you from your path, and to make you spend money, of course.

I think you can get past the technical stuff, although it is hard. I found it hard for three reasons.

Firstly just working out that walking away from the torrent of ephemeral newness was what I wanted & needed to do was hard. The endless distraction and momentary pleasure provided by the stream of new gadgets, each better than the last is hard to escape from, until it eventually stops being fascinating and becomes just nauseating, and you realise that each gadget is better than the last in ways which no longer matter to almost anyone. And even then it is still hard to walk away until, one day, suddenly it isn't.

Secondly, working out what I did want to do was hard. But again, for me, suddenly it wasn't. By training I am a theoretical physicist and like most theoretical physicists (many of whom will disagree strongly with this) this means I like making things which I can understand all the parts of, with my own hands where possible. And of course this means that what I enjoy is making prints using essentially simple techniques I understand down to the lowest level. So, of course, what I really love is working with film, and in the darkroom, in B/W, producing images which were made by me and by physical and chemical processes that I understand (or could understand) and not by a hundred million lines of code which no human does, or could ever, understand. Perhaps I will never be very good at it (I think I am, now, a reasonably good printer, but probably I will never be a very good photographer) but so what: I love doing it.

Thirdly and finally was getting to the point where I could truthfully say that I had walked away not because I was making some ironic hipster comment, but because I was doing what I wanted to do and what I would be doing anyway. That was, perhaps, the hardest part. Because everyone assumes the opposite: just obviously I am using a film camera because it is clever and retro and it means I get to look down from my lofty self-aware cleverness on all the people who aren't. And I only use 40-50mm primes (and, really, only one prime) because it means I get to despise all the people with their bridge cameras and superzooms. Well, if that is the reason then it's a very bad one indeed, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with a bridge camera with a superzoom (almost certainly they make higher-technical-quality images than you can get with 35mm film in any camera) and despising people who do different things is bigotry. We're all bigots though, and getting away from that is hard. It still is hard, in fact.

Note: this describes how I walked away, and is not meant to imply that this is how anyone else should: I believe that walking away is important, but where you walk to depends on where you want to walk to. It's working out where you want to go and why that is hard.

Very thought-provoking post, Mike.
Poetry is exactly the right term for the quality of a print (still the definitive form of the photograph, for me) that makes me catch my breath and stop in my tracks. Poetry is widely understood in painting as the undefinable 'something' distinguishing a technically perfect but soulless or shallow painting from one less technically perfect but far more captivating.
Brooks Jensen wrote about the impact of digital's easy access to basic technical competence and the resulting tsunami of 'good enough' photographs. 40 years ago just taking a correctly exposed photo and getting a nominally competent print was an accomplishment. Now that's a given, so the relative handful of poetic images struggle to stand out from the ocean. But there are still wonderful photos being made, and I take a few every year that make my heart beat faster, and encourage me to keep trying. It's enough.

Completely and utterly agree with what you've said. I am that dreaded age you mentioned, 45, and as far as photography is concerned, the wind has gone out of my sails. I recently 'ping ponged' (migrated), from UK to Australia, the country of my birth, and back to the UK. It was a difficult four year journey that took me to some dark places (depression, alcoholism) that I had not been before. Between when I left and got back I had changed from a passionate and inspired photography enthusiast, to someone who can't see the point in it at all.

I think part of the reason for this is in this period of my life I crossed the threshold of still being able to dream about what I could do with my photography to the sudden realization that I had been dreaming too long. It came as a surprise, well really a shock, and it has been difficult to take. I've had similar feelings for music too. Despite buying the most beautiful acoustic guitar I've ever owned I'm not inspired to do something with it any more. My priorities have been replaced by more immediate concerns - health, money - and that's that.

It's difficult to look at the pictures of Sam Abell and Ernst Haas wanting to reconnect with that lift of joy that would carry me out the door with my camera looking for a beautiful composition of my own - and just not feel it. Where has the openness of life, the freedom of possibility gone? As my wife says - where is my dreaminess?

That said, spring has finally arrived here in the UK, and the sudden presence of warmth and sunshine feels like a revelation! So I wonder if it has just been a trade off - I appreciate simple things like this a lot more now than I did before.

Sounds like you are suffering from ennui d'hiver. It will end soon - Spring has exploded into life here in Denmark so you shouldn't be far behind surely.

This is the perfect time to take any camera and one lens to Paris for a week. When I am saturated with Pro work I set that time aside and reset myself, Routine in work kills you.

The process is the source of satisfaction-doesn't matter what the equipment is. Get into alt processes-make digital negs and contact print-get some AZO paper (Lodima now) do Pt/pd
all very satisfying.
Who cares how many megapixels or whatever?

Grey fog's not the only thing that can obscure your view, dust is just as bad. I was ground to a halt by my desire to make poetic pictures. The dust that gathered on my camera settled on me and into my eyes, obscuring not only from me the poetry to be found in pictures but in the world where they are made. You've got to shake it off

I think your analogy to poetry is a good one, but I think what you might be missing from the days when dinosaurs like us roamed the earth, is the exclusivity of well executed photography. As a teenager, I used to make some money working at the photo counter of a local department store, and we used to joke that the typical film had a Christmas tree at each end and sand in the middle. The typical non-photographer soon got discouraged and made few pictures, leaving the field clear for those with higher ambitions.

Some of us may have been 'writing' not very good poetry during that time, but we could at least give each other credit for trying. Now of course, everyone is enabled, making it so much more difficult to rise above the merely technically correct, and that can definitely be discouraging.

But perhaps there is a lesson to be had from the poets themselves: How many of them actually worked hoping for fame, money and recognition? Perhaps it is enough to do our own work to our best satisfaction and leave it at that?

Can't help with the missed dreams part, that one's on you, and how history views you in hindsight. You have to come to terms with that on your own, the sooner the better, so that it doesn't get in the way of what you can do now. As for the constantly changing methods of photography, you don't have to participate in every advancement. Adapt whatever 35mm lens you prefer to the A7iii, set it to monochrome jpg, and limit your post processing to what you could have achieved in the darkroom. This should eliminate most of the constant requisition of software skills. I think the podcast "On Taking Pictures" recently had an episode titled "The Tide Went Out on my Skill Set", might be worth a listen. Concerning the weather, I had to wear a hooded sweatshirt to mow the lawn yesterday evening and we had a light frost this morning, in the foothills of North Carolina. We are also waiting for Spring.

Aah, you speak from my heart when you want to see poetry in photographs, Mike. At its core, photography starts as a record, a method to document. The challenge is to move from documentation to poetry. Poetry that resonates with the viewer and can make an inner bell ring.

Thanks Mike. The photography people talk about now seems to be mostly about sensor sizes, software versions, layers and plug-ins. The Adobe discussions on TOP prompted me to think that I don't want to keep relearning software. It's a chore and I already spend long enough in front of a computer in my job.

I have great admiration for people who produce interesting work whatever the medium but I personally find no sense of satisfaction from editing images in Lightroom or Photoshop. It is tedious and mechanical, it's just pixels and mouse clicks. It makes my eyes tired.

During a recent conversation with my sister, who has discovered photography in the digital era, I struggled to explain the pleasure of viewing a contact sheet and the true sense of wonder I experienced on producing my first enlargement. I miss interacting with my OM2n and the modest prime lenses. I'm not good with my hands but I miss the experience of creating something tangible. I think I need to buy some film.


Mike, I'm 47 and I feel very much like you. I used to love photography (I'm talking about the artistic and documentary subset here). Nowadays I just can't seem to enjoy pictures that much. Last year I had one of the best contracts of my life, but I didn't buy a single photo book; I used to save all my money to buy them.

I keep felling that maybe the grand photography was an illusion, It was great because it was scarce, and now is everywhere (is a feeling, of course, how could I debate something like that).

But hey, maybe its better that way. Without the aspirations of fame and history, photography can be something like philately, drawing, birding or reading: a quiet and humble occupation for our own soul.

Hold on a few more days, I hope that spring is worth every waiting hour.

It is striking how similar what you describe above is what I'm feeling now. I work for a large company, miraculously getting paid for doing what I love; cameras, lighting, video, post production etc. The issue is; I'm the technical guy. I know lenses, cameras, software tricks, but I never get to pursue the grand artistic goal of making work that is meaningful and transcends era to become timeless. It seems unattainable with digital tools. Early digital art looks quaint to me, like cave paintings. It has merit and value, but nothing has the impact of a painting by one of the masters. On top of that, had these artists not printed their work, it would have been lost to the decay of the drives it lived on and eventually even the obsolescence of the file format they were held in. There really is no mastery with technology, things improve, the old looks dated and we move on to the next trend, filter or resolution ceiling. Photography is unfortunately tied to technology. After all, more than a century ago photography made having your portrait painted seem like a quaint, dated practice.

At this point, there's no longer much skill needed to achieve perfect sharpness or resolution. No masterful skills practiced for years in order to get perfect color or exposure. There's no chemical mixture or timing to toil over to get perfect color shifts or low grain. It seems the mastery of photography is reliant on one's ability to use it to keep a record, to use photography to tell a story. The only thing a person with a great phone, a budget for plane tickets and an instagram account can't do is make a series that tells a story of what a town is like to live in, capture details of an event that will never occur again or record living things that may soon disappear.

For me, I will continue to collect old cameras and shoot with a Sony so I can adapt every lens from Argus to Zenit in an attempt to bridge the past with the present, where manually focusing and pressing the shutter button are the only remaining parts of the old process.....and even those are gone for most, killed off by the touch screen.

I'm not sure it's even possible to "master" something before it's rendered irrelevant, these days.

By coincidence I just finished a small book by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb entitled "On Street Photography and the Poetic Image".

Hah! That's a great counterexample, there - in my defense, my 'other' camera is a Linhof Master Technika:) I wonder, tho, if shooting JPEG is the new 'black borders' movement...

"You know what I mean?"

Yes, I do.

Ok, Austin gets the comment of the year award.

Austin’s comment ought to be required reading for any of us who are not taking fullest advantage of our days to pursue the sheer enjoyment of life.

Load a roll....ROLL, go stand somewhere that means a lot to you. Don't leave until you have shot the entire roll. I recommend a TLR. You might start with the red chair.

I read this article and then I read that DXO the company that makes my Raw conversion software has just gone bust. So, when I renew my camera I will have to learn a new software too. This has happened several times on my digital journey: My first Raw converter was gobbled up by Adobe and became Lightroom and my favourite Photoshop clone, Picture Window pro just stopped being updated.

Film was far more stable, the skills learnt did not suddenly become obsolete after a couple of years.

I do not miss the long hours spent in a damp smelly darkroom, but the manual skills like dodging and burning a B&W print somehow make the analogue process more magical. Who does not remember the magic of an image appearing in the developing tray?

a thought provoking piece, and you give voice to several things many of us seem to feel as well.
I would observe though, that when we are younger, generally speaking we Push Change --can't get enough of it fast enough. As we get older, change pushes US, there tends to be more of it than we.....need. This is not however unique to our generation, it has happened over and over again.
As the pace of change accelerates, so does the angst it produces. The more secure you are in what you do and what you produce, the easier it is to deal with.

Re worrying that you are never going to be a photographer for the ages , well, for a guy who has said many times "When people ask me what kind of photographer I am , I say a Writer" ...(and a very good one I might add)
But really, you can't simultaneously say you are not a photographer, then worry that you are not on track to be one of the greatest who ever lived.....

I thought that your summary and reframing of Carl Weese's point was nothing less than brilliant. In 2 sentences you summed up a near universal feeling of people of a certain age.
Re the diminution of 'poetry and heart', -I have similar feelings, but it is I believe partially a numbers game, there is orders of magnitude more photographs being made, the vast majority of which is made by casual photographers.
Remember we NEVER saw most of those types pf photographs in the past because there was no public venue for them. So what we saw, was far more skewed toward professional or highly motivated amateurs.

Re spring, be careful what you wish for, I have a feeling this will be one of those years where temps go from the 30's to the 90's overnight.
Thanks for a great piece.

Hi Mike: Mastery now is "temporary and provisional?" Not for me. New cameras? My fairly recent Pentax K3-II works great. More classic screwmount lenses from the era of Great Glass? along with a few additional screwmounts from the era of Pretty Good Glass which came right after that - well, yes, eventually. But my pictures range from fine to excellent and the collection of keepers keeps increasing steadily. Hopefully I'll get back to you in four-five years with a book of photography - that for me is a goal worth pursuing. But it is all good. Stay relaxed Mike, that is when you are at your best.

Jeff Clevenger

Austin’s comment is too long for “featured” but deserves to be a guest post, which you have done before, I think.

I whined once on the large format forum that I thought my work mediocre my brain without inspiration. (I still think both are largely true.) I was finding it difficult to make the time to make photos. The answer I got was, "get out there and make photos." But what if they are crap? "Get out there and make photos." Does the world need more crappy photos? "Get out there and make photos." It may be crap, but it's my crap. So what if my prints are all stacked in the closet facing the wall?

C. S. Lewis said, "Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already." Eventually, the work brings the inspiration back. Or not. But the answer will elude me as long as I keep gazing at my navel instead of gazing at the three-dimensional world, preferably through a camera lens.

At least, that's what I'm telling myself as I cross into my 60's. The only way my photos will have heart is if my heart is out there. But my butt is what carries it there.

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