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Tuesday, 15 June 2021


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I'm with you, Mike. If I had the forethought, I would definitely have gotten a Masters Degree to have the ability to teach. That's one thing I never thought was needed as photojournalism work was so consistent. Nowadays, in this crazy digital world where everyone hangs out a "photographer" shingle, a teaching job looks pretty good.

I wished I had photographed more of my personal work on medium format. I simply prefer the look of prints taken with, say, a Rollei to those taken on 35mm. Of course, there are times when shooting on 120 makes life trickier but them's the breaks.

I'm the same age as you, Mike. Am now happy trying to shoot as often as possible with a 3.5E (the 75mm Planar is a lovely lens) with the occasional lapse into digital.

Your discussion reminded me of what I recall was Brock Yates' last column in Car and Driver magazine. It was a mea culpa of sorts, noting that his life's focus on automobiles had been silly. I am certainly not suggesting a correlation with your statement, but I read that a long time ago. I have searched for years for a link or copy to reread it. My own compulsion was airplanes. At age 76 I care much less, but I do mess with sailplanes. Photography was subordinate. I sought the perfect mountain scene. I pitched a ton of slides that all looked the same, but like you, I wish I had documented far more social interface.

[Did Brock Yates' last column begin like this?

"WARNING: Quit reading this immediately.What follows is a brief summary of a wasted life spent hanging around automobiles. In the event you are tempted to travel a similar road—while resisting a thrilling career riding a desk as an accountant, computer geek, or tax analyst—I'm telling you, messing with cars is a dead end."



I know what a landscape photographer does. The same applies to travel, portrait, street, or nature photographers. In contrast, although the term "art photographer" is in common use, unless it's accompanied by visual examples, I have no clear idea of what types of photos it applies to. The scarcity and diversity of your work shown on TOP offers few clues. Would you care to elucidate? What types of photos were you so passionately shooting and processing during your Tri-X-in-D-76 period?

Magnificent writing, Mike.

Another insightful post, sometimes things work out for the best, if you had achieved your Eleven goals and your masters, we all might have missed out on T.O.P.

In the same vein, Allen Saunders "Man's plan's are what make God laugh."

Retrospective regret is a terrible 3-fold waste time. 1. You cannot change the past, 2. You’re unlikely to prevent anyone from making whatever mistake you lament, and 3. You’ll never get that moment back again (which 4. you might regret).

Go forward! Make the work you enjoy! Show the work to others! You have no past, only a current and future!!

["The past is never dead. It isn't even past." --William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun. --Mike]

I enjoyed reading your journey in Photography. Not many people have that degree of insight and self-appraisal.
As I grow older, I'm looking less and less and try to figure out whether the grass on the other side is greener.
It's the grass on this side that I am standing on, shuffling under my feet, and they belong to me.
Dan K.

Youth = Hope.

Open Mike suggestion: recent Navy UFO footage.

The wings of an airplane tear off at 15g's- the Tic Tacs were estimated at up to... 5,700! So much for... foreign drones.

Partly to comment on this post, and partly on the previous one.

You can never know what would have happened if you'd gotten an MFA, so there's no point in worrying about it. I think it's just as likely you would then have been chasing (unsuccessfully) after an art career rather than having a successful career at TOP. I say "unsuccessfully" because, in your working-life-span, very, very few people have had successful careers as art photographers. That's simply a matter of the way the culture went. Some names that seem large to us photo geeks have to scratch for a living. I sometimes wonder if you were able to line up all good photographers, with the best at #1, and the worst at #625,431, how many would actually be making a living at photography, and how many would have a "day" job and pursue photography as an obsession? I wouldn't be surprised if you got fairly deep in the list before you came to the first pro, who made a living at it.

If parents asked me if I thought it was wise investing in their child's idea of a career, I'd ask, "Well, *are* there any jobs doing that, or something like it?" I write fiction for a living. I wouldn't encourage a kid to major in fiction writing in college, but would at least consider paying for a journalism major. After a few years of writing and being edited every day, then a transition to fiction writing might be feasible.

"If I take late retirement and early death I should just about make the spread."

One retirement funding strategy. (Not recommended!)

Rather than Lennon my personal introduction to the phrase came from a song by Kevin Gilbert called "A Long Day's Life". The fact that the album, The Shaming of the True, was released posthumously has always added weight to it for me.


Mike, once again you hit a nerve. Good article and again very timely. I am rapidly approaching the 3/4 century mark with a 75 birthday this year. While I generally feel good, there are some days I feel every bit of 75? I have been in a mood to reflect on things I did right and those I did wrong, but one of the things I did correctly was obtain two master degrees and an Army commission, by the time I was 30. One degree in Public Administration and the other in Business, both from The Ohio State University. It made all the difference in my working life and allowed me to enjoy a successful career in Investment Banking. I am retired now and am trying to travel the world and record with feeling and energy all that I see and feel. With that said, I still have regrets. One of which was not staying and earning a PhD. So despite that fact that I did achieve a modest amount of success, I could and should have done more. What does that say about us as humans? We always want more, when will be be satisfied? I hope this isn't a bragging statement just that I did accomplish at least some of what I strived to do, and really did enjoy my career. Photography was always with me the whole way. It is a great hobby and compliment to my life. I still take a great deal of pride when I win an award at a Photo competition or have a gallery display that shows off my work. Thanks for listing, Eric

This post is a reminder why I’ve followed this blog for years. You’ve written many fine,insightfull pieces; this is definitely one of them.

Mike I am glad you used that “O” word, so many of us were defined as advanced amateurs when a better description would be an obsessed amateur.
I earned a Master’s in Photography from San Francisco State in 1980, my mentor Jack Welpott told me I would never earn a living as a photographer but I would have a much more interesting life pursuing the practice.
He was right.

I know of no creative person who's output does not ebb and flow over a lifetime. I also know no one who is perfect, we all make mistakes, we all squander opportunities from time to time. Even though the "Past is never dead' since it makes us who we are, but we indeed can't go back. We can only 'be different' now and perhaps in the future.
My take is that it is best to remain hopeful, you best work COULD still be in front of you.--if you want it badly enough.
Regret saps energy from the here and now. And since tomorrow is promised to no one, use the present moment to do stuff that is important to you. Or in your words, ;Do what you are driven to do'

My sister-in-law retired from a highly successful medical career in NYC, then got her MFA in writing. Why not get your MFA now?


PS She also has an MBA. :D

Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld are driving around in the T.V. show Comedians in cars drinking coffee, wondering about what secret made some of their stand-up contemporaries successful, Eddie’s thought was that they concentrated on “just one thing.” Clearly Mike, you have been concentrating on the just one thing that the preamble of youth led you to, and I would judge TOP a magnificent success.

Dear Mike,

Nostalgia is a sirens call. I get it.

But if you're happy how your son turned out and you're happy with the human being you are today, then you can't wish you'd have made a right turn at Albuquerque.

To change your past is to erase part of yourself and others you've interacted with.

Even us, who have read your blog.

While reminiscing with my thirteen year old granddaughter, I said, “If I could do it all over again, I would …” and mentioned things I should have learned or accomplished. Not to be outdone, she said, “Well, if *I* could do it all over again …” which caused me to laugh coffee through my nose.

For some reason, this New York Times story about Aaron Rose seems relevant to any introspective discussion about a photographic career path not taken:


It makes me feel better about not being terribly interested in selling my pictures – such as they are.

When are you retired? When people stop paying you a living wage for your knowledge and what you can do! After that, my friend, you may still be working, but what you have is a hobby! If you can't stop and are totally driven, again, it's time to talk to a professional about ADHD.

If I listed the jobs I've had in the industry, and all the variations of those positions I had, you'd be surprised, but as a single person, it was never enough to buy a house and stay in one city for a long time before the job pool reduced to nothing. I was never meant to be a "job nomad", and yet, that's what the industry drove me to do.

I work the photography/other job equation in my mind all the time, and I fear that I would never have had the film skills I have now if I had just been an interested amateur with a "real" job; BUT, I have a storage space full of darkroom and camera equipment and can't afford a place to set it up, so I'm dead in the water. What good does it do?

Glad I was in management by then, but digital killed it all. I never got into photography to spend more time sitting in front of a computer trying to make digital look like film, than actually taking pictures. It's not the final result that counts, it's the whole process AND the final result.

What I would change?

1.) I would have left my mid-western town (which wasn't my home anyway) right after college for the coasts. That's what 65% of my college class did and they were right. There are no 40 year jobs anymore, but there ARE places where you could put together 40 years of decent employment in a field, and the fly-over isn't one of them! Not even Chicago. Slowly dying since the 80's.

2.) I would have gotten more degrees when I was in college in the mid-70's (and it was cheap), and gone to better colleges! My state school in the mid-70's was $267. a semester, and it was as cheap as it seems, even figuring inflation. BTW, that's $1400. in todays money, per semester, not the $20K a year the local art school is charging per year!

3.) If I had gotten those extra degrees I could have maybe taken ancillary jobs that would have had a bigger payday and more "legs". I always say, if I could have made a living any other way, I would have been happy with a late model Rollei, a decent tripod, a decent light meter, and a 2 roll 120 processing tank. Just request people pose for me the rest of my life...

And here I find myself, at age 42, facing what feels like a crossroads with photography.

My path is a bit different as I decided a good ten years ago that I’m not cut out for making a living via photography and decided to pursue a career doing other things. I was optimistic in my 20’s that I could be a full time artist, but nothing really came of my early exhibitions and the nomadic, unsettled life of a MFA-wielding teacher did not sound appealing. As much as I love traveling, I am close to my family and adverse to too much uncertainty.

I’ve kept at it, assembling projects and hypothetical books that I am going to start self-publishing just to keep moving forward and get my creations out in the world in some manner other than on a screen. I use most all of my vacation days on photo trips and continue to enjoy the act of making photographs.

At the moment, I feel like I’ve ended up in a bit of a rut and find myself wondering what to do next. It’s liberating to do what you want and ignore those that give advice like ‘print bigger’ and ‘do this because it sells,’ but it can be a bit lonely to go it alone, waiting for an audience when you’re a bit out of step with current trends in the art world.

Thank you for your words over all these years, Mike. I think I’ve been reading this blog nearly as long as I’ve been taking photographs ‘seriously.’

Wonderful writing, Mike, ... just gone through a life changing catastrophic storm here in Central Victoria, Australia. Gives a whole new meaning to being alive. 72 yrs old... out with a chainsaw clearing trees from fences, roads, and off buildings. Looking back on career in photography... never making a lot of money, repairing Olympus film cameras; doing OK in aerial photography locally for real estate agents, photographing over 400 weddings, ( never making more than $40 an hour in real terms) BUT having a ball doing it! Can't imagine another area of life... now slowing down ... would like to get out in our newly purchased caravan to see this INCREDIBLE country.... not that we're allowed to go far under COVID lockdown....Life is good compared to 95% of the rest of the world.

Good insights, as everyone has said. Perhaps most of us have similar stories, taking the road more traveled, or the one less so.

From Kurt Vonnegut, with a quote inside a quote:
'“I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.” And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them.'

I am so glad I never had to make a living as a photographer!
Mind you, I'd be really skinny now ;-)

In the movie The Counselor there is a passage that deals very well with this subject. The film is only average, but the dialogue between Bruno Ganz and Fassbender about actions taken in the past and its influence in the present corroborates Faulkner's statement.

Open Mike suggestion: A Brief History/Overview of Lens Multi-Coatings

My first LF photo was taken with a 1956 4x5 Linhof Technika III Type 5 camera with a 127mm Linhof Schneider Press-Zener f/4.7 (s/n 4251298, manufactured between Oct. 1954 - Feb 1957)
lens and Kodak Ektar color negative film. I was surprised at how washed out the colors looked from images taken with this camera system. I later attributed to this to a lack of multi-coatings on this lens. I later learned Schneider multi-coated lenses didn't start becoming available until 1978? I read somewhere that multi-coating technology was one of the spoils gotten from from WWII?

'What I wish I had done was to continue to shoot ... my whole life, and make simple ... prints myself, and document the times and the people in my life in the quirky, idiosyncratic, go-my-own-way, follow-my-own-muse fashion that I wanted to.
All those pictures I made back then, and I don't have the ones I really want.'

So true, because those sorts of shots are much more likely to bring us warm hugs from the past, than are shots made on assignment.

To some 42 would seem a bit old. Say athlete. To me @ age 66 it seems rather young. Perspective ya know?

what I wish I had done was to continue to shoot 35mm Tri-X my whole life, and make simple 8x10 RC prints myself, and document the times and the people in my life in the quirky, idiosyncratic, go-my-own-way, follow-my-own-muse fashion that I wanted to.
This is really it. The trick isn't to fall in love with photography, which is nothing but a medium, it's to use photography as a means toward some other love. That's how the good work gets made. Photography isn't what, it's how. And it's more ideas and editing than it is cameras and picture-taking. As Meyerowitz says: "Photography looks like pictures, but it's really ideas: and they're your ideas."

I think Bill David makes basically the same point: find something you care about that isn't photography. Photograph it. Better still, photograph how it feels, or makes you feel. Relate to it through photography.

It's the same with cycling (something else I've been around a bit). The people who are good have less interest in bikes than they do in riding. Less interest in "riding" than they do in being outside, training their bodies and crossing the line first. The ones that are good are in love with training and racing and the sensation of making the pedals go round. They want to be out there — and "out there" isn't the bike shop and it isn't watching the sport either.

This is an addendum to my last comment and perhaps more succinct. Being really into music, and being inspired by music isn't anything like the stuff required to be a musician.

Such an interesting post! It leads me to some fleeting thoughts along the way.

My father, 74, has been a professional photographer since the age of 16. A service provider. Never viewed it, or himself as an artist.

I was working in sports marketing and liked it in the mid-1990s, but I found myself hanging at Border's book store poring through photography books. Photography was around me my entire young life but I only started to be interested in it after college - sports management degree.

Regarding the everyday documentation being the most important. I work a lot in schools, universities and various commercial settings. I've always found it ironic that a price premium is placed on "advertising" and other "produced" photography. Those images have a shelflife of months. The images that grow in value over time are the real images of day to day life. That holds true for institutions as well as people I presume.

I just turned 50. I've now been a professional photographer for 24 years. The business and its prospects has been changing rapidly for 20 of those years!

The covid drought lead to a lot of soul searching and questions of economic viability. I came away with the reality that this is what I do. This is who I am. But to be honest, I have no idea how the market for what I will do will change over the remaining years of my career.

I WISH I had enough independent money to not NEED to work commercially. To be able to JUST photograph on my own terms. But on the other hand, as we've discussed here, one of the primary differentiators in photography is access. My commercial work gives me access to people, places and things that I just couldn't access otherwise. Maybe we think we want this total freedom, but we might need the structure of work. I think I do.

The FSA project is my model for the type of work I love. It is how I frame projects to clients. It is how I wish clients approached photographing their own institutions. I wish more leaders would see the value in artfully documenting their institution, school, town, state, etc. That's what I love to do in the end. And I do believe that I've made a solid effort in that regard in terms of my family and social life for the past 20 years.

I can't imagine that I spent four years in college, one abroad in Ireland with a month long trip around europe, and have about four rolls of film from college. Photographing was not yet a part of my life - and I do regret that!

Ah regrets. In 1978 I took a film production class at Michigan State University. One of the guys in the class showed us a slasher film that he made when he was in high school that was amazing. We sat there thinking that that this guy made something when he was a kid that was better than anything that we could conceive of. Fast forward a year and I was hustling in Detroit as a production assistant on training films for the automotive Big 3. Remembering that guy from film class at MSU I visited his office in Ferndale Michigan where his company, Renaissance Pictures, was. I showed them my resume and the director remembered me from MSU but I thought that they had no future so I did not pursue any work with them. That guy was Sam Raimi and my impression was a little bit off as he did a bit better than me. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000600/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Raimi
After a while I became a non-union grip but that was going nowhere as I knew I would never get in the stagehands union, IATSE. So I took some data processing classes and got a job with EDS in a GM car plant. Then HP bought us and eventually GM took us over. I worked in the same place for 35 years in PC/data end user support. But sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if I had pursued a job at Renaissance Pictures...

Ahh, yes. To quote the late Ronnie Lane, "Oh, I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger."

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