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Tuesday, 13 April 2021


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About literary hooks. The Toronto Star Sunday edition used to have an Enigma page, consisting of puzzles, reader submission games, etc. One of them was to write opening spoofs of famous novels. I can only remember one at the moment:

Tale of Two Delis: It was the best of wursts, it was the worst of wursts.

I've always kind of felt we use language to describe our values. The languages of psychology and religion are two of the dominate forms of language to do so. But any language that we choose can describe values I think, just as you described these photos. (I'd not confuse the language itself with the values themself, if that makes sense).

Thoughtful stuff. Thank you.

“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage killing a man.” -Richard Stark. I forget which Parker novel this opens.

Hook, plus art: “I am an artist,” Wit said. “I should thank you not to demean me by insisting my art must be trying to accomplish something. In fact, you shouldn’t enjoy art. You should simply admit that it exists, then move on. Anything else is patronizing.”

Sanderson, Brandon (via his literary proxy). Rhythm of War (The Stormlight Archive) (p. 920). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.

Sorry, not sure that is particularly relevant, but it just makes me laugh every time I read it.

In context with the pictures immediately before and after 'Silver Lining', I like the shot more - the isolation that you pointed out is drawn out even more with the surrounding subjects directly engaging with the photographer. Still not a fan of a the tonal palette but there's a story there.

That said - maybe it's a photo-j background, but I love the spontaneous more than the staged. It's a great leveler - a skilled photographer is prepared for serendipity so often can capture these moments - but an amateur that loves the subject has a good chance to get something amazing with some effort. Being a Cub Scout leader, I see several really amazing shots by parents every year, as they catch that magic moment. Facebook isn't ALL bad, for letting me see those.


I like the way you write, there is an effortless about the way you come up with a theme for a post, then wrap that theme with seeming digressions that eventually come together to support the theme. All the bits end up being interesting. It's a good style.

Talking about style, I found your critique of the images fascinating and useful but...

Although the images featured people, they were not similar. Street photography (with the exception of rare contradictions), tends to be quite messy, and loosely composed as a result of most such work being a kind of "grab" shot. It's rarely work that looks "tight"; it's too off the cuff for that.

The photo of the little girl is a portrait, a different genre, a different look and a different set of challenges from street. It may be a spontaneous portrait (probably is) but often the challenges of a family candid (if that is what it is) are less than shooting street shots of strangers. It's not surprising one exhibits one set of qualities and the other a different set.

I think it would be more interesting to see you apply your insight to a pair of street shots or a pair of portraits, shots with similar challenges where the differences are down to the decisions the photographer has made.

Perhaps a Part 2?

It's not doing the photo any favors that Flickr is displaying "Silver Lining" enlarged from 319px × 213px to 744px × 496px. ("Michelle [Happiness}" is less damaged by 499px × 336px scaled to 500px × 336px, perhaps surprisingly.)

But my first reaction to my on-screen view of "Silver Lining" is simply "that's not sharp enough". It's that modestly-unsharp level that I used to try to save sometimes (and to my eye shows signs of attempts to sharpen unwisely to fix that). I suspect her outfit presents an interesting range of textures, if the photo weren't so hashed as to make looking at it closely enough to see texture unpleasant.

Whereas the photo of Michelle can quite reasonably be invoked as a poster for happiness. It has the common not-really-open eyes, but it's photographed from a low enough position that you can still tell there are eyes under the lids, which is pretty much necessary for this photo.


In re: Who is Bunny and what killed him or her?

I prefer the "Bunny" prose to Hemingway's. Hemingway's example is too full of sentences with nearly the same length. It's just harder to get into a flow when I'm always encountering a period to stop my progress.

Additionally, Hemingway has harsher words (hot, Zurito, kicked) which makes it seem more staccato sounding than the "Bunny" excerpt.

In re: Intrusions

The photo example with the harsh look surprised me. I had read the entire post before clicking on the photo links. Most digital photos on the web must have that look because I had to think about the points you made before realizing that indeed parts of the photo really were too sharp.

The second photo is simply terrific. Great work by Stefan Elf!

One thing I dislike about digital photography is sitting at the computer to make changes. I do enough of that at work. I just make the basic changes if I can't stand how it looks and then leave it alone. With film, I never had to worry about white balance. The printing machine would make corrections automatically, even if you screwed up and used tungsten film outdoors.

Great hooks in books and plays are so important and they have always intrigued me, too. Here are two of my favorite examples:
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."
The opening line from Hamlet keeps it simple, "Who's there?" Who was there? King Hamlet's ghost seeking revenge.

Not photography but you mentioned books so I feel the need to trumpet George Saunders' latest, "A Swim in a Pond in the Rain." It's seven wonderful short stories (Russians, my favorite) encased in Saunders' entertaining observations on writing and the writing process. A fascinating discussion with examples and even some homework.

I had a look at Boulton's Flickr photostream just now. The photo you selected is one of a variety of approaches to street photography by Boulton. I'd call this image just one piece of a whole body of work. The image you've selected is a scene I see quite often on the streets and thus consider it a useful description of part of the American street scene.

It's interesting, because I had precisely the opposite reaction! The sharp clarity of the first image gave it a sense of immediacy and reality in my mind. In the second image, some of the technique used there (the intentional lack of sharpness, the desaturated color) was offputting to me, like someone trying a bit to hard to be casual.

My wife and I both do photography as a hobby, and while we agree on a lot, we often find ourselves on completely opposite sides of a given image. Just the other day, I took a picture that I had planned to convert to B&W, but I wasn't thrilled with it. My wife took one look at it, thought it was fantastic, and all but insisted that I leave it in color!

I'm consistent with with my likes/dislikes. No matter if it's art, literature or music, show me something new or different. Please do not bore me with same-old same-old.

Hemingway could be a parody of himself https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Imitation_Hemingway_Competition At his best Hemingway was a powerful writer.

Most child snapshots and street photography is same-old same-old—seen one and you've seen them all.

Leanne Boulton's Silver Lining isn't just another mindless cliché. Composing the subject walking towards the short side shows intent. BTW she used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. No fly-on-the-wall shot here, the subject definitely knew she was being photographed.

What I first noticed was a blurry Scotty in the background, taking some shore leave from the Enterprise engine room.

In the Hemingway excerpt, that "himself" seems out of place. It's poor grammar, and breaks the flow the passage seems intended to have. In an odd way, it's analogous to some of the technical issues in "Silver Lining".

Also, I don't know who Bunny is/was but I'm quite sure that Bunny died on a dark and stormy night.

The Boulton picture seems to suffer from two problems: local clarity applied with a shovel to the main figure, to the extent that she looks almost 'Photoshopped' on to the background; and the background itself is overcooked, and fights the main figure. There's something odd about the background blur too. Every post-processing step applied to this shot needs to be dialled down by half. Of course all this is my interpretation and I may be wrong ...

A vote for the first image. It is certainly in the contemporary style and makes a statement with the coat lining, but I suspect the young woman was making a statement with the coat lining. An interesting photo with lots to look at. Personally the technical details don't bother me much (I am a terrible proof reader.) The second photo is a nice portrait, but nice portraits tend to be boring unless one has a relationship with the subject. I think that is sometimes a weakness of the portrait style you advocate in your previous post.

Yes, YMMV indeed. Were the styles reversed I think I'd still be drawn to the second picture due to the distinctive subject, but on further reflection beyond that initial glance would be disappointed with a style that didn't match (or clashes with) subject. I probably have spent too much time in downtown urban areas - the first picture doesn't really register with me regardless of rendering technique.

Mainly I was musing on your point and wondered to myself how much the subject can override my preferences on style. I guess it really all does come down to YMMV.

I'm with Mr Camp entirely. Would your opinion be different if you found out that the first photo was not digital but had been produced on film? Put another way, to what extent are you basing your dislike upon preconceived notions as to what you think B&W photography should look like from your film experiences as opposed to what it is actually saying?

BTW I've never understood this whole bokeh thing. I understand if an OOF area distracts from composition, etc.; an image (or part of it) is either in focus, or not; intentionally, or not; and the focus/OOF either adds or detracts from the image, or not. But the whole "quality" of bokeh thing? Meh. If it's OOF then the way the OOF area is rendered is NOT intended to be critical examined. Really, how can anyone even care?

My favourite opening is that of the Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler - which (for me) says it all and nothing more. "It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars."

Silver Linings looks unnatural and very cold to me, disturbingly so. Was that the intent?

Re: Silver Lining. This is a discussion we get into at Camera Club sometimes, where a photograph has indirect significance but we’re not allowed descriptions or titles, so those not in the know don’t get it. The woman is Black, and she lives and works in Glasgow. This is a new and hopeful migration that began in the 1960’s into what at the time was a highly bigoted whites-only inner city. This photograph needs to be considered in that context. Pretend Robert Frank took the photograph with modern equipment, and then complain about his misuse of the zone system. And yes, Frank was a better photographer, but still...

I read 'the Jester' by Michael J Sullivan soon after its 2014 release. Now I've read pretty much everything he has written - 'hook' indeed!

free book/audio download - https://riyria.blogspot.com/p/thank-you-for-your-interest-in-my.html

Warning: it's a 'fantasy'/buddy story so definite mileage variance :^)

The two pictures: I'm not that bothered by the treatment of the first shot but there just isn't much there for me in terms of the "street photograph." It's nice. She has a strong face and there is a fashion element. But in the end it's a person on the street walking, isolated a bit with shallow DOF. You can sit down with your back on a pole and shoot this all day - I've done it for 30 minutes here and there. But something extra-ordinary needs to happen to turn it into a great photo. Could be strange and unique character, a wild reaction, some juxtaposition of people and things.

The second shot - I agree with John Camp here, but maybe enjoy it a bit more. It's a nice shot of your kid. A nice genuine moment that gives some insight into a personality, an age, a moment in time. I like it for that, even though she's not my own kid. I like that genre.

I prefer critique. Too many negative connotations for criticize.

Hi Mike,

It’s invaluable to get this kind of critique you gave to these 2 photos. I’ll be seventh heaven if someone can look at my photos and tell me how and why they hate the tones and the compositions. (Any tips how to get critique?)

It just goes to (maybe) prove your point: I don't like either shot particularly.


One is a photograph of a young woman at a moment in time. The other is a photograph of a young woman in her (and possibly our) world.

I wonder if you are reacting more to the content of the pictures: the welcoming, open face of the child, vs. the wary expression of the young woman being 'ambushed' by a street photographer (this is of course speculation, but that's what it conveys to me).

I kinda sorta see what you are saying about the dark tonality of the picture of the young woman ... except I don't trust the rendering of some random flikr jpeg on my display, or anyone else's, super-fancy calibration be damned (full disclosure: mine ain't).

We don't know if the photographer was trying to underscore a mood and perhaps over-egged it in post, or it got lost in jpeg translation. Whatevs, eh?

I don't particularly like either picture though, I find them both pretty meh as examples of their respective genres.

"I tried to contact the photographer [...]." -- If I had a nickel every time. There's this tendency for photographers to comport themselves as unavailable, unaccountable and 'above-the-fray' to riff raff like you and me -- I've experienced it myself on multiple occassions, and, exceptionally, I have received lovely and intelligent responses from some few.

Suffice to say, ignoring queries and feedback (good or bad) ain't a good look.

Wow. The Bunny example reminds me of actors I don't like, who always make me think: "I'm pretending to be my character now, I'm acting out the lines".

The Hemingway example reads like real life. I don't even notice the choppy sentences, and I want to know what happens next.

The Bunny sentence just makes me think: "here's a hook I have crafted, so you will want more". It is way too obviously crafted to achieve effect.

I don't feel Hemingway is "writing down" at all. It takes skill to make the words get out of the way, and let the story happen.

Actually I like the technical quality of both photos referenced. But, jeez, one of the things I really enjoy about digital B&W photography is the great tonality of images instead of the detail-lacking high contrast often seen in film images. Now shooters want to emulate film with software that really makes their photos look awful in a lot of cases.

I recall using Tri-X because it had a good range of tone, processing it in highly diluted Rodinal with a careful measure of sodium sulfite to get a thin negative that printed with a wide range of tones on #3 paper without a huge amount of grain. I was never a great printer but I liked the look. For newspaper assignments, it was speed that mattered. We processed Tri-X in a deep tank of DK-50 (affectionally referred to as "DK-grain") full strength for a couple of minutes. The negatives were usually pretty wretched but we could get a print out quickly that reproduced well on newsprint. It's odd to me that today people bust their buns and spend their money to make the photos look like the latter.

This makes me think it's time for another round of "How I Process Digital Photos To Get The Black and White Tones I Want" posts. I always learn a lot when you do that.

Once I see haloes in one photograph, I cannot look anywhere else. I must asume it’s a compression artifact or else “Silver lining” is unprintable for my taste.

If I click through to the Silver Lining photo from the photographer's photostream I get a much less hashed version than I do following the link from the article here. Most of my negative comments do not apply to that version.

You describe the subjects as black females. If they were mexican or asian, presumably you would have identified them by those terms too.

It's strange that if they were white anglo saxon women, they would just have been female. No?

Just an observation and not a criticism Mike.

[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qArvBdHkJA

One more example of a first page "hook":

"On my 75th birthday I did two things.

I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the Army."

From "Old Man's War", by John Scalzi.

- Tom -

This kind of article is why I read you every day, and "patreon"ize you.

Thank you.

Boulton's Flikr photostream shows a range of techniques, which tells me that the exhilarating / upsetting quality of the Silver Lining photo is being used to support her intention.
That begs the question, "Why?" To reflect the subject's mood? To amplify the viewer's perceived reaction? To make us stop and look, so we will wonder why someone would dress to attract attention, then shut herself off from the outside world?
The ambiguity raises this photo above the ordinary and makes it art. The discussion raises TOP above the ordinary and makes it essential.

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