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Thursday, 24 January 2019


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Fortuitous mistake indeed!
Had the colours not run it would have been a boring grey & black mug.
Now for me it depicts a mountain range silhouetted against a grey sky. A mug made by a photographer into a work of art...

I rather like the "perfect mug".
Time to do some "reflexive shopping" for a potter's wheel and kiln.
Sorry about the ". We're Canadian.

In college there was a class in psycho-ceramics:
It was for crackpots.

The hardest thing to teach a driven photography student is that the other subjects matter, especially if they are in a degree granting institution.

There is a wisdom to curriculum planners that ask students to take classes outside of their field.

I wish I had been more mature and more open to what I could have learned from him. I was pretty arrogant in those days. I thought I knew everything

This. Yes, this is my younger self. I'm afraid it's natural, you know so little when you're young, you've got no idea how much knowledge there is, and the little bit of expertise is the one and only relevant thin worth knowing.

As the decades piled up, the most important thing I learned was that I know very little. And I respect the knowledge of others.

Alas, it would have been nice had I learned that when I was in my 20s..

That's a lot of pencils...?

I like that mug.

Just accept a "like" and a knowing nod for this reflection. If only...

Warren McKenzie was mentioned in Grit -- a book recommended by Mike last November.

The pictured mug is better than the ones I see offered for $15 to $20 on Etsy. I always thought the colors were supposed to run like that.

So in ceramics is a legitimate learning process to... Splay an Clay?

I apologize for the above comment... sometimes I just can't help myself.

Substitute "drawing" for "pottery", and you'd have a carbon-copy of the situation for my photo degree.

John H-

Sometimes, the hardest thing to teach a driven photography student is that the subjects on the other side of the lens matter...

"Take lots and lots of photographs of everything, anything. Edit them rigorously and regularly, keeping only the ones that mean something to you. Rinse and repeat. Eventually you will find that you only take photographs that illustrate your personal vision. And you won't take so many"

Can't remember who said that - might have been me..

That is a fine mug. Glad it is still with you. And I love the mystery of all those pencils ... !

The mug's quite lovely; perhaps you could take another look at the medium and do it as a side-adventure, a second string to your bow?

Let's face it: unless you get very lucky in the photographic art world, there's not a whole heap of bread to be made (by the great majority of players) in other interesting aspects of professional photography, especially if trying to get into, or back into it later in life. The trouble with photography, of course, is that it won't let go, even if you want to do that. Once bitten, bitten.

I went through a period after retiring where I felt quite happy to put all the grief behind me, but in a few years, I'd have loved to get right back in up to my neck. It's not your average job.

I am sure this is just me... but I notice some disconnect between yesterday's note from Old One to Youth, and today's offering. Yesterday, you advised the Youth to determine their One Path, and follow it to the exclusion of all else. Perhaps you best summed up that with the sentence: "Don't practice something else thinking it will help you with the one thing you want to do."

Yet, in today's writing you seemed to have followed exactly that dictum in your own youth: photography to the exclusion of all else, in this case ceramics. Now, you seem to have reached some level of reflecting on that choice of many years ago, and, perhaps, even have a tinge of regret over that missed opportunity.

I'm sure I am missing some cue you gave somewhere along your writings about how these two posts are not contradictory, or I am just too dense to "get it" and it's so obvious, a thing like that does not need to be explained. Apologies, Mike.

[I just added another sentence to address what you mentioned. I think it makes this a little more clear. Of course, none of it is really as clear as it's written. --Mike]

(I really liked your ceramic teacher's explanation of how learning about pottery is a "...matter of process and progress, of the evolution..." of one's skills and knowledge of materials. That is true, IMHO, of all creative process, including photography. Indeed, since the dawn of the digital age in photography, it seems that the essential "process and progress" has been undermined. Just think of all the time and effort we expended to take the latent images we captured on film and turned it into a visible, if reversed, negative. To say nothing of then printing that negative to a positive. Now, just push the button and, viola!, there the positive image is, nearly instantly. It seems to nearly defeat the value of "process and progress" Bob Epstein talked about. Of course, the old wet plate photographers said pretty much the same thing when dry plates became commercially available.)

You really should try Blackwing Palomino pencils.

They really are the Leica of pencils ...

Thanks. I’ve qouted and linked on my Fb page.

I bought both books when you mentioned them before.

An interesting anecdote, and thanks for all the book references. Now on to much more serious matters - what are the stories behind all the pencils, and the sword?
Perhaps the image could be titled “Mightier than...” ;~)

We keep a Warren McKenzie pot on the kitchen counter that my wife bought before we were married. She keeps sugar in it. Also, it is unsigned. McKenzie stopped signing his pots years ago because he wanted them to be used, not invested in.

In the decade or so of my personal dark age - between my loss of any sort of darkroom or time to practice film photography and my acceptance of digital photography - I attended weekly wheel throwing pottery classes, most weeks. Although my skills improved a lot over time, and I met my goal of producing working tea pots (non-dribbling) with matching cups and saucers, plus a consistent (there's the rub!) series of pretty decent small vases, I never became very good at it. But I did learn to appreciate ceramics.

That picture bookends your career. The other creative elephant in the room is your writing, which even you have argued is your strength. I tend to think you undervalue your photography but your writing sings.

"But perhaps I could have been more mature and more open to what I could have learned from Bob. I was pretty arrogant in those days. I thought I knew everything."

Put rather succinctly by the late Ronnie Lane, "I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger."


I’d not come across this book before, thank you for the recommendation!

“Give me a museum and I'll fill it.” - Pablo Picasso

Clay is an incredibly difficult medium to master and, at first blush, photography incredibly easy ('just push a button, we do the rest' about sums it up). But they have some things in common as well.

The smallest unit of clay is the clay particle. The smallest unit of photography is the film grain or more recently, the pixel. The units have no visible form, but the media can be manipulated into almost any form (photography of course being two-dimensional).

It is said that it takes 7-years to master the potters wheel, and that doesn't mean mucking around on weekends.

There are shortcuts and cheats -- you can buy 'readymade' ceramic objects (http://www.theceramicshop.com/store/department/53/Bisqueware/), paint them with store bought glazes, and have them fired for you, and you can probably master this method in a couple of afternoons.

I was a potter for about 15-years, on and off beginning while I was in high school, and had the incredible fortune to study under a world-class master of the medium, the Scottish potter David Cohen, who passed away last year. But for various reasons I wound up pursuing other paths.

I've been photographing 'with serious intent' more or less continuously for going on 45-years.

And what I have found is that ceramics, conceptually at least, is much, much easier to master than photography. I think due to the extreme technical constraints and slow feedback loop, it facilitates and rewards study and very careful consideration.

So I have to say the "Art & Fear" anecdote cited at the beginning is all wrong.

“Quantity has a quality all its own”

Which Stalin is said to have said, but it might be a version of

“At some point numbers do count”

Thomas A. Callaghan Jr

Funny - I clicked on the link to the book, put it on my wish list, Amazon told me that it was already there, and moved it to the top. It had an original date of September 2012! That's the year I began following both your and KT's blog. (In September my wife and I were in Italy for a month, so I likely just did not want a delivery while away).

Six-plus years is a long enough cogitation period. I bought the book.

Might I suggest what's sometimes seen as the arrogance of youth can be confused with single focus, stemming from the need to find one's footing in the world? It's only when you've lived through some battles, lost your footing and needed to regain it again that you learn who you are, and what you can contribute. Love this piece, and the following comments.

Dear Mike and fellow TOP readers please listen to this amazing podcast interview it's all about everything to do with the creative process on how one really gets it done.
The Moment with Brian Koppelman: Seth Godin 1/1/19 https://traffic.megaphone.fm/DGT4721555869.mp3

So, I think this book sounds interesting, and I click on the link to order one. Amazon tells me I have already downloaded the kindle version 4 years ago.
I check my kindle library, and sure enough, there it is. Marked as “read”.
I open the book and read a few pages. I have zero recollection of ever reading it; it seems totally unfamiliar to me. Normally, after a few lines, I say to myself “oh yeah, I remember this.” Not this time.
Man, I am getting my money’s worth on this one!

P.S. started “re-reading” it...lots of good stuff in there! Thanks, Mike!

Behind every great photographer is a full trash can.

Best of all, <>Art and Fear has been translated into Makadonijan so that I've been able to share this with my cyrillic-reading friends in the Balkans and in the states, many in the arts.

Don't ask me why Ted and David's book got translated but somehow somebody sponsored a run of 500 and Ted still has some copies left...

Sounds a little like that quote I read somewhere by some famous photographer ( I forget who) to the effect of, “the first 1,000 bad pictures you make are 1,000 bad pictures you don’t make later.”

The mug is good, don't think any mug is perfect, no matter how you look at it. I have more pencils.

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