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Tuesday, 08 March 2022


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Let's see, they asked you, meaning that they know your style. They know this site and don't wish to dissuade you from continuing.

Why seek out a possible change to your way? Be yourself, it enabled the invitation.

Good luck.

I know journalism doesn't normally go for first person, but they approached you because of the work and the writing style of TOP, right? Do they want you to change it up? That's a good question to ask your editor; if they want more of what you have on TOP but in their publication (which would be why I would see someone approaching a known prolific writer with their own site and style already) then you don't need to change anything.

Check with them to see what they want, vs what you think they want.

Not sure, Mike, but the film might be Woman of the Year with Spencer Tracey and Kathrine Hepburn. He played a down home sports writer and she played a high class critic.

Best of luck in your new writing opportunity Please consider that the publication may want you to continue in your engaging, informed style, to give them a different voice. (I've always thought you'd be a great guy to have a coffee with... ooops, with whom to have a coffee)

I'm puzzled. If the publication reached out to you, don't they already know your "voice?" Why must you adhere to their style guide as it pertains to effacing yourself?

Asking that as a sheer ignoramus of the world of writing and publishing.

Ooh, ooh, Aperture or maybe The New York Times photography section?

Congratulations, Mike! Can't wait for the big reveal. You absolutely deserve to be more widely read, and in a prestige setting, too (sounds like New Yorker level stuff, the way you describe it).

I hope you stick with what got you the offer in the first place, down-to-earth, personal, columnistic style and all. I'm pretty sure that's what Montaigne would do. Don't sweat it--you can write rings around most writers, and you're an original.

Question: Why did “…one of the most famous, prestigious, and storied publications in the English-speaking world…” seek you out to contribute pieces?

Answer: I suspect, given how this publication doesn’t want to interfere with TOP, that their attraction to your writing was what they saw at TOP. If that’s correct, then you need to be like the Will Smith character, J, in the movie, Men in Black. “You asked me to join because you see quality,” to paraphrase.

All of the readers at TOP also see and respond to the quality of work here. It is both intelligent and accessible - not an easy mix to achieve or maintain. I know I’m not alone when I say I look forward to coming to TOP, anticipating a new article. And it is very rare indeed that I don’t finish an article of yours once I start reading it. That’s how engaging your writing is.

My recommendation, from my distant perspective, is you do you.

Well now, that's just great - and well deserved. I hope something comes of it. And, BTW, the manner of your telling us? What a compelling piece of writing.

I've been pounding out a blog for about 15 years now, averaging a post every day and a half or so. Lots of times the writing goes well and I can put out even a long post in an hour. Sometimes waiting for the photos to upload is the long part. Other times, well, the writing stalls. It is what it is. Like you say, pound it out and hope readers aren't too cruel about pointing out any oversights.

But writing for a 'famous, prestigious, and storied publication', wow! Hope it goes well.

I think that Spencer Tracy movie you're thinking of is actually Cary Grant in His Girl Friday, 1940!, but it's been a while since I've seen it.

This piece hits so many points for me:
1. When I was a teenager my father, a Renaissance English scholar, was invited by Clarendon (the Oxford University Press) to write a book translating to modern English and annotating an anti-play pamphlet. There were 4 or so extant copies in the world and he ordered microfilms of them from such places as the Bodleian Head and Huntington Libraries. I dutifully printed up pages for him in our bathroom darkroom. The book was completed and submitted. Partly on the basis of it's imminent publication my father was promoted to Associate Professor. But Clarendon is unlike other University presses - their calendar runs to centuries. Every decade or so my father would write and ask for an update. They still planned to bring it out in due course. Late in life he asked to be released from his contract to shop it around but they refused, still planning to publish it. My father retired from academia and became a novelist. He died a dozen years ago and I'm his literary co-executor. Still no word from Clarendon.
2. As a budding would be writer and English major at Columbia I tried to write at Spectator the campus paper. I was offered an art gallery opening to cover. The invitation offered such an opaque art-critical introduction I couldn't bring myself to do it (at least, that was my self-excuse)
3. Still bothered by much art criticism bombast I started photographing the worst offenders in museums and galleries and grading them as if they were English papers. The series is here: https://islerphoto.zenfolio.com/critique

The first time I was paid to write for someone-not-a-teacher, I became a cartoon version of a writer. I wrote a few sentences on a yellow pad. I read the sentences. I tore the page from the pad, balled it up and threw it at the trash can in the corner.

By lunch my output was ... zero.

Years passed. I'm pretty good now but I still let things sit for a while -- at least overnight -- before hitting "publish". Often more work is required. And because I enjoy it, it's not really work.

(Don't tell my boss.)

There are very few who can make, let alone recognize, a good print, good photographs, who knows the likes of Sally Mann, and yet can write as you do. Your 'voice' might be more important to your readers than any classic journalistic writing.

I'm sure this point will have already been made by several others*, but consider the simplest of reasons why this publication and their editor invited you to contribute: They want your voice. As you (inadvertently?) point out elsewhere, after 16½ years there's more than enough of you published in blog form that they really do know what they're getting.

In other words: Please try not to let the intimidation of writing for an austere publication change what you write. To do so would be a mistake, I feel.

* A downside to moderation of comments and the inevitable delay. I'm sad to say that I've been held back from commenting more than once by the thought that a point has already been better made by another reader in a comment simply awaiting moderation. Did anything come of the plan to enlist moderation help from a few established readers?

As I wrote about you 20 or so years ago, "A writer's first job is not to be boring. Mike is never boring."

If they didn't like your style, they wouldn't have asked you to contribute. Don't fix what isn't broken.

Did they give you specific instructions to “not” write all first persony? IF they didn't maybe they're surprised you're not and are just being polite.
If they don't say anything and you keep sending non first persony stuff won't hilarity ensue?

When you stop enjoying the writing, stop writing; that's what keeps me coming back and reading your posts to the end.

Go for it, even if the "storied" publication doesn't pan out in the end. Perhaps you'll prove Fitzgerald wrong and show that there are second acts in American life. Good luck.

Why I read this idiot's blog...

This is the first time I have commented here. I've never thought that what I had to add was eye opening, or enlightening, or merely not something mundane or inane that someone else had already said.

I used to read another popular blog almost daily, a blog which has been ongoing for a few years. This blogger, over time, has become less tolerant of his readers. He has lately taken to frequently replying, not always politely, to comments he doesn't agree with. I can only view him, sadly, as a product of an America that is less accepting and less tolerant of varying views & opinions that are, well, out of step with the status quo.
He seems to favor large cameras with zoom lenses. Not what a savvy traveler would carry.
After a post about the Sigma FP, a reader commented on the lack of a hot shoe for optical viewfinders. Most cameras offer that. One of my favorite cameras, which I still own and use, is the Zeiss Ikon SW, which is a 'rangefinder without a viewfinder' (like the Voigtlander Bessa L) for m-mount lenses and external viewfinders. I understood the commenter's deal breaker post, but this blogger didn't get it; he decided to acknowledge it with a disagreeing negative reply.
I know this Johnston idiot would have merely shrugged and thought 'different strokes for different folks.'

I don't agree with everything written here, but that's the fun. I prefer 3-ball carom to pocket billiards.
I like what Michael has to say, and how he says it.

I tremble to think of how many hours of my life have been spent reading these idiotic posts, and all I can say is, "Thank you Mr. Johnston. Keep it up!"

"I want you to know your opinions and tastes do not in any way have to align with mine"

Speaking of missed opportunities here is mine. In 1979 while at Michigan State I took a film class. In the class we learned about composition, editing, lighting etc and by the end we needed to have produced a short film. One of the guys in the class brought in a film he shot in high school. It was a slasher film that he shot in his parents home with his sister as the victim. We were all amazed at the film and the fact that it was shot while he was still in high school depressed us. The film I made was stop-motion done with cutout photos from magazines but was nothing much to remember. By the way the instructor, Dr Assari had been the personal cameraman for the Shah of Iran and escaped during the revolution there.

Fast forward a year and I was working as a production assistant and grip Detroit. Due to the Big 3 being here there used to be a lot of training films and product intro films being made and it was quite a busy scene back in the day. One day I was reading the Detroit Free Press and there was a story about the guy who I was in the film class with. He had made a film called the Evil Dead and was getting a lot of attention. The name of his company, Renaissance Pictures was mentioned in the article so I looked them. They were in a close city so I decided to give them a visit and drop on my resume. I spoke with then for a bit but thought that they were going nowhere as there were many people in the area trying to shoot feature films but was very difficult to get funding to do this. After a few years of working I realized that I was going never going to get into the IASTE and since recession had started moved onto a different carrier. Got a job in IT with EDS who was subcontracting in a GM plant in Detroit. Then HP bought us and after awhile GM them bought us out. Worked in the same place for 35 years. On the other hand the guy, Sam Rami who was in the film class had a little bit better career than me.

Here is his IMDB page which is quite amazing; https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000600/

I used to be a newswire, newspaper and magazine reporter/correspondent. I’m not sure I could write in that style again or pass muster with the editors. Then again, I also think they are often sticking with a style for the sake of tradition while they should in some instances embrace the directness that blogs and others bring.


I came here because I loved your writing style, as well as your choice of subjects (even non-photography ones). I've gotten to know you a bit in person, and I still come here daily. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you--I'd love to be reading some material from you published on a bigger stage!

My fiancee was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune for nearly 18 years. She left almost a decade ago, and she still misses the thrill of writing for an organization that had those high standards. Bloggerish Mike--you'll do fine!

I have no advice to offer, but here are a couple of observations (o.k. — opinions) to toss into the seething pot:
1) This post is a splendid piece of writing. I hung in through every word and am left with much to ponder. What more could I ask?
2) There is little doubt that you are capable of writing worthwhile and important pieces for this 'famous, prestigious, and storied publication'. The question is whether you want to. I, for one, will be very pleased if you do.

Congratulations, Mike! Your invitation is every writers' dream come true. And very well deserved too. One of the great joys of TOP is not just that it is a written blog about a visual medium, which is mostly (though not entirely) unillustrated, but that it reflects your very personal but well-informed viewpoint about it all - IMO, that is your "voice". I've always thought that although a picture may be worth 1000 words, 1000 words about the picture from someone who knows what they are talking about is probably be more interesting. For your new role, may I suggest as follows? (1) Dash out a few possible topics without thinking too much or trying to think too hard about it (IMO thinking is the key source of the dreaded writers' block). (2) Pick those topics about which you think have the most to say, which should make them easier to write. (3) Dash out drafts on your selected topics - again without thinking too much - and, certainly, without trying to change the way you write at all; after all, your work has been selected because of the way you write. (4) Pick what you think are the best and set them aside for polishing for your submission to your new publication. (5) In due course, polish (wax on; was off; repeat; but you know all about that) and send to editor, and then... (6) Use all the rejects as TOP posts. Viola(!): two birds with one stone. Also, if you get stuck for topics, you have an awful lot of readers here on TOP happy to make suggestions! Just put out a call. Oh and one more thing (whilst I am giving unsolicited advice) - don't forget to sign up your new publication to advertise itself on TOP so that you can also get paid for your readers here to read you there.

Mike, your very good soul-searching and expository piece (this post) notwithstanding, DO IT.

If you are going to write for these people on a purely photographic remit, you will soon run into problems.

All photography magazines found that out the hard way: photography, by itself, has very little about which to write: it is about doing, not discussing.

In the world of the youtuber photo "experts", this is demonstrated in the way so many end up doing those embarrassing "unpacking" things that turn anybody with any intelligence right off.

Somebody threw the Sally Mann name into the ring: she writes well, but the writing is about her. She has achieved fame and success in one world and that's the truck that carries her writing further afield. Nobody is going to offer a monograph to an unknown; your offer, presumably, comes based upon your current work here. Why change it on a supposed idea of what the client may want? If your style doesn't suit them, you'll soon be the first to know. Give it to them in your own excellent manner.

You're a talented writer of a particular kind. So was I -- I got a Pulitzer writing journalism, and that led directly to a $50 a week raise at a time when I had two kids and a wife who wanted to go to college. I'd taught myself how to write journalism, when I was a kid, and then in my mid-forties, in four brutal years with a couple of misfires, I taught myself to be a novelist. I'm holding myself up as an example to somebody I consider to be as talented as myself -- you just have to teach yourself to do it. It's purely possible, you just have to teach yourself to do it.

The Times is just another journalistic rag, you could do that typing with your toes; I'm thinking New Yorker.

put idea before I

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