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Tuesday, 06 June 2023


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I've been thinking that my life's motto could be "I do nothing well". Oddly, doing nothing is very difficult for many people to enjoy.
No, I'm not looking for the T-shirt...

One of your best post ever.

Being a generalist and knowing something about a lot of things is a specialty and a good thing

It's not like photography is a narrow subject. Nobody can know every aspect, across every category, entailing all physical paraphernalia. The best we can do is to find the thing(s) that we wish to accomplish and then concentrate on that.

There could no doubt be some great Venn diagrams made showing cross over skills and knowledge, like maybe the skills of a photojournalist could be applied to shooting a wedding, but I doubt Ansel Adams would have been hired by Sports Illustrated. Does Adams know nothing about photography?

Just like the medical field, there are general practitioners and specialists in photography, but you can't know everything.

You would dearly love to see Elton John's photography collection. I've seen it - it's dull. It's the originals of so many photos which you see in every photography book; Andre Kertesz, Bill Brandt, all the usual suspects we've seen over and over again ..except that he has the originals, and so they're worth a lot of money.

But you've already seen all of them. It's an unadventurous collection ..and - you've already seen them. Over and over again. And seeing them 'in person' is not inspiring. Someone's simply bought up a whole load of famous photos for him. Ans some are TINY.

There is no sense of individual 'taste' or delight or adventurousness. I'd rather have a collection of Sergio Larrain's photos than the accumulated 'classics' which Elton owns.

I think the one camera, one lens for one year applies here when it comes to expertise. If one is a film shooter I would include one film, one developer to the mix. 52 weeks of such a practice might just make someone an authority on the equipment used. If digital that one camera is going to take time to dial in depending on one’s desired genre of choice. Please do not think you will be a master of portrait, landscape’s and still life photography. Ansel shouldn’t tell Edward how to pose the pepper ya know😏? None of us can know it all.

You are being silly as it is not the knowledge but how you put it. You are great in putting them and present them well. Steve Jobs knew nothing and especially as bill gates teased knew nothing about programming. It is the integration … we are a pile of molecules. And it is not the molecules or the chemistry that defines us. At least we hope we are not.

Ah, the Zenit! I bought one of those crudely made pieces of….stuff as a second body for my Mamiya-Sekor 1000DTL because they used the same Pentax screw mount lenses. The worst of their many faults was the lack of a lock for the back latch. It was all too easy to catch the hook latch on something and pop the back open, ruining all the exposed film. I used rubber bands as a stop gap measure. All my gear got left behind in a hasty departure from a far away land, but I’ve never missed the Zenit. A near-mint Crown Graphic, that one I’ve missed.

Are you saying, "I don't know much, but I know what I like"?
: )

Is there a part 2?

Was the camera actually broken?
Did the father somehow unlock it?

Mike, don't leave us hangin' (aka cliffhanger).

So, what did the button do?

Ha! What this demonstrates is how much there is to know about photography and confirms Socrates comment that “The more I know, the more I realize I know nothing.” Many know a lot about a little. But how valuable is that in understanding the whole of photography (or any complex subject for that matter). Only fools or the very naive believe with certainty they know an entire area of art and life.

The number of people who DO know how to get inkjet printers to work rounds to zero.

Great piece!

I'm fluent with perhaps 25% of my digital camera's capabilities, and about the same for Lightroom. My relationship with tech - and probably a lot of other things in my life - is on a "need to know basis", that is, when I need to figure out something, I'll visit my reference books, or Google / YouTube. Frees me up to spend more time looking out the window...

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." One of the things I like about Isaiah Berlin's essay is that he doesn't suggest that one is better than the other. I am more of a fox too, when it comes to photography. In my day job (environmental law) I'm probably more of a hedgehog.

When each of our kids had a chance to take a summer photography course (with real film and a real darkroom), I handed them my beloved Leica M2 with a 35 mm (CANON)lens and opened a box of Tri-X (or HP-5) to pull out the exposure instructions. One instructor balked, but with each, we had run off that roll with the test sheet, checked our guesses with a little Ricoh GR-D, developed the roll and seen how it all worked. They did fine and one of them is now filling flickr with her work.

I hated unforgiving T-Max (good ol' Tri-X cooked in coffee grinds any day); know next to nothing of lens character (don't think any of mine ever had any); know even less of computers and photoshop; could align an enlarger to the point where after 4 1/2 hrs, I could get it to exactly where I started; much rather look at the print collection I would have if I had Elton John's $$$; stating that you can't make a printer work properly was more than ample warning for me to not even consider it (2nd best decision of my life since opting to live, rather than buy a motorcycle back in the day); I could only wish I had but one day of ignorance long remembered...

How about the retort, "I teach photography, not camera buttons."

From Quote Investigator ...

"It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So"


In 2006 I worked at a camera store. We stocked a good selection from point and shoot to high end DSLRs but by no means did we have every model available throughout the world. I had, if I may say, extensive knowledge and enjoyed knowing intricate details and operations of the cameras we stocked, less so of models we didn't. We had a customer come in one day asking to see some obscure point and shoot (I eventually looked it up to find it was only marketed in Japan - I am in the American Midwest). When I explained that we didn't stock that model and I tried to help her meet her needs with a camera we did stock she walked away in a huff saying over her shoulder, "Well if you don't want to help me I'll find someone else who does." I wonder if she ever did. I tend to doubt it.

I wanted to see Elton John's collection as well. When he changed the décor of his house to a selection of mid 20th century photographs, I wrote him. His partner is a Canadian and so there was a connection, eh!
I congratulated Elton on his interest in mid 20th Century photographs and encourage him to look at earlier images from 1839 to 1920. I particularly encouraged him to consider having his curator look at the tintype years.
I was always enraged when Keith F. Davis, in his history of American photography, dismissed tintypes as not worthy of research. I opined that perhaps he had just not been exposed to tintypes in depth. Perhaps his University did not own any. I could not imagine that an entire group of photographers could be ignored based on the technique that they preferred. I digress.
I am sure my letter to Elton was not even opened. In any case he loaned much of his collection to the V and A Museum in London for exhibition on 10 November, 2016 to 7 May, 2017.
I instructed a travel agent to watch for a great deal to fly to London over this time period. One particular airline in my area was known for ridiculous deals that might suit only just a few people. Indeed, we flew to London for a weekend, staying in an iffy hotel in Southwark. Southwark seems to be what London, north of the Thames, was in the 1960's. We spent a wonderful day With Elton's collection and a second wonderful day at the National Portrait Gallery amidst their 19th Century photography.
Elton's collection seemed to be "the greatest his of the mid century". It was as if someone had torn out pages from a half dozen history of photography books and instructed a buyer to acquire just those actual images. Despite seeing these in reality, there was a strong sense of Deja vu.
The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection seems available and was a good reproduction for the collection as well as the photographs.

For decades I was certain that hypo settled to the bottom of a washer.
You straightened me out thus saving a considerable amount of water. Thanks.
As the saying goes " it ain't what you don't know that will hurt you. It's what you know that ain't so".

Lovely piece of writing, Michael. There is so much for your readers to relate to. We are all human, but some of us (you in particular) have the comforting ability to communicate wisely and humbly. The dad with the Soviet-era camera tried to make up for his shortcomings through a button. How small some people can be. In the bigger picture, he could have seen the value you brought to his child's classroom, but we don't know what we don't know. And so it goes.

Loved this post, and I immediately thought to myself, could I teach Mike how to use his printer? Then I realized I only know how to use my printer in a very narrow way, using Lightroom, and I have never been good at printing from Photoshop or anything else, so it wouldn't work for you.

Wasn't Erasmus the one who was supposedly the last person to know about everything?

(I didn't see anything about that when I breezed through the Wikipedia article about him.) Just a random comment I remember from high school, or possibly college.

You need to be very well informed about a subject to appreciate just how little you know about it.

This reminds me of one of my favorite songs: “Losing My Edge” by LCD Soundsystem.

MJ: "I have only one item on my photographic "bucket list": I would dearly love to see Elton John's photography collection."

Pre-Pandemic, Tate Modern in London exhibited a selection from Elton John's collection of photographs. It was interesting to see into the mind of a collector but overall, in my personal view, something of a 'so-so' exhibition.

Sometimes it is good to be able to step back and admire the forest without getting too caught up with the individual trees.

I think there is a general trend in society these days to be too specialised - I certainly see it in my industry, civil engineering, and I think there is often a need to take a step back to see the big picture and I think that is what you do too in your photographic writing

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