Topic: Commentary (200 posts) Page 1 of 40

Mistakes I've Made

Mistakes I've made. In photography, too many to list. Some big, some small. From underexposing, overdeveloping, losing negatives, losing files, making unintentionally blurry images from a plane at 1000 feet up, and so on. 

I will share one big one: a trip to the Bahamas in the 80s for a spring break vacation with family, my daughter Maru about 2 years old. Being who I am I brought a 4 x 5 camera and 100 sheets of Kodak Plus-X film. I managed to get away several times and shot most of the whole box, changing out exposed sheets of film each night in a dark closet with fresh sheets so as to be ready to shoot the next day. Back home in my darkroom, I set up to process the film, got my trays ready for development, turned off the lights, and ran my film from the developer to stop to fix and to rinse and then turned on the lights to see how these first sheets looked. As I did this I looked over to my right to see the remaining stack of sheets of exposed but undeveloped film sitting there on the counter underneath the enlarger. About 85 sheets of film: not back in their light-tight box, not protected from the light at all. All now blown.

That was a mistake made once and never again.

Of course, there are other categories of mistakes made over a long career: teaching mistakes, political and strategic mistakes, creative mistakes, exhibition mistakes, and a whole other category I won't go into here: personal mistakes.

For instance, very early in my career, I had a print accepted to a group show at MIT where Minor White ran the program. My image was accepted for exhibition by this great master. I felt honored that my image had passed before his eyes. The evening of the opening I arrived and started looking for my photograph only to find it prominently displayed, upside down!

One of the things all of us who are career artists do is promote a relationship with influential people. This means developing an association with curators, gallery directors, editors, art buyers, and, if working professionally, art directors. For me, this has meant repeatedly showing work often over years to museum curators.  Twice, in a big way, this has affected my career when a curator up and left after seeing my work over an extended period. One went from being a photo curator to the head of the museum while seeing my work once a year for several years. Then having said to me she was giving me a one-man show told me she was leaving to go into banking. All right. In working with her replacement I had a new just-out-of-grad-school curator.  I had someone assigned to show my work who had no understanding of it and no history of looking at my work over a period of years. The show was less powerful and persuasive because of this. 

One more: in making aerial photographs of the Cape and Martha's Vineyard one fall day I flew out of the Hyannis Airport in October at about 3 pm. The quantity of light in aerial work is paramount as you must work with a fast shutter speed combined with at least some depth of field. As it got later, I was losing light, raising my ISO and lowering my shutter speed.  Most of the files I shot that day were blurry. I try to make aerial photographs now in the morning when the light is increasing.

I have always found photography challenging, part of its appeal. There are so very many ways you can screw up. I would often tell students it wasn't the mistakes so much, it was the failure to learn from them that was tragic. There is something so inevitable and final in an image swooping onto your film or sensor. At some fast shutter opening of, say, 1/500 of a second, the image is fully formed, fixed as in stone. What are your chances that this is great? Very low. 

Let me finish with this: what is your intention with your work? And in that process are you specific and disciplined, methodically planning and calculating each step to achieve your goal? Or are you impulsive, working sporadically, haphazardly accruing disparate images over time? I suspect that most of us are a little of both, at times being careful and calculated and at others just picking up our camera and winging it. I would presume one goal would be to make fewer mistakes, and waste our limited time less. Perhaps some planning and forethought isn't such a bad thing?   

Being fluent and practiced is key, of course. The same camera, a known lens so that you can sublimate the gear and work without logistics and circumstances getting in your way. After all, you're trying to be clear-headed and perceptive. Make it as easy on yourself as you can by knowing what you're doing. Being a professional or a career photographer is a very different thing than being an amateur who picks up a camera only occasionally. Photography's hard, as you've read from me before. Figure out ways to make it work better for the materials and situations you find yourself in. Really good photography is made by people who have discipline and understand that this is work. Rewarding work and work that can be really fun, but work nevertheless.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted April 21, 2024

Today's News

Just quickly, I couldn't help but share this from Petapixel this morning.

Olympus (OM System) with a built-in graduated filter. Newer cameras are going to start including not only this but all sorts of AI. Many of the things that we take for granted our smartphones can do, newer cameras will incorporate. This means a landscape shot of the highlands in Scotland will be enhanced right out of the chute. Will the original un-enhanced image still be there as a reference? Don’t know, maybe not. I for one do not want a camera company interjecting its own controls onto my photograph. Still, I’d be willing to bet that a newer photographer would define the enhanced vs. un-enhanced image as being much better. Slippery slope for sure. Another pin drops in the end of photography as we know it. Ka-ching.

 Clearly a "feature" driven by marketing concerns. Presumably, we'll be able to peel away the AI enhancements as layers to get to the original. I assume some camera manufacturers will promote a more "purist " approach. Leica comes to mind. But in the ever-increasingly tough camera market,  companies will need to add more in-camera options, making the imagery "better" right out of the box.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted January 30, 2024

I remember the time when part 2

This is the second in a two-post piece on my screwup one day photographing the Black Water Dam in southern NH in the late 80s.

I packed the gear in the back of the car and began to drive out to the highway. I thought I might drive into Manchester, a nearby city, as I knew that there was a camera store there. Maybe they would have the Bogen connector plate I needed. Maybe the day wouldn't be a total wash and I could go back to Black Water Dam to photograph.

I drove into town, parked on a side street, got out of the car, and, as I was crossing the street heading for the camera store, looked over my right shoulder to see an older, somewhat beaten-up pickup truck parking behind my car. I could see it was a woman behind the wheel and she was parking a whole space behind my car on the street, which was on a hill. Both my car and her truck were facing down the hill. No problem, right? Well, she got out of her truck, locked it and started to walk down the sidewalk as I stood there and watched the truck quietly start to move forward on its own, building speed as it rolled, heading for my car. Surprising how much speed a small pickup truck can gain when coasting downhill in just 15 feet or so. Bang! It hit my car, launching it forward into the car I had parked behind, which now had risen up on my hood. After all this, seeming like out of a movie, there was now complete silence. I ran over to find my rear bumper shoved into the rear trunk of the car, the rear tailgate glass shattered and the front bumper barely visible under the rear of the sedan that now resided halfway up on the hood of my car. There was a little steam rising from the area of the engine of my car and a small puddle forming on the pavement smelling like antifreeze.

I am sure I was disintegrating right there on the sidewalk in Manchester, NH that morning, unable to cope or maybe even comprehend what was going on. Those of you that know me know I am something of a car guy. Obsessively washing and waxing,  vacuuming and detailing. That's me. My car, which was a pristine and impeccable Nissan 300 ZX 2 +2 had now been hit from both ends in an accident that I had witnessed from across the street in what looked like a slow-motion sequence from a film.

If my day hadn't been shot before this little scene occurred, certainly it was done now. There ensued local cops, the pickup truck woman returning to find her vehicle had caused all the commotion, a call to my insurance company, a flatbed tow truck from AAA, a friend offering to come pick me up and get me home with the camera and gear, a decision to have the car towed to a close-by body shop to my home in Cambridge, and then months of repair and repainting before anything close to normality ensued. 

It seems the gods were not aligned in my favor that day. In all the years of photographing, on the street, close to home, on location, and traveling far and wide, I've never been so confused, disoriented, and displaced by a series of events as I was that day.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted December 30, 2023


Occasionally, the blog reprints past posts if they've kept their relevancy. I believe this one is still pertinent:

From 2016, almost eight years ago. 

Let me know if you agree.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted December 3, 2023

At the MFA

Those of you who are in the New England area might want to avail themselves of an incredible resource. The Museum of Fine Arts Boston has collected photographs for a very long time and prints from the collection are available for viewing by the public. With a little organization on your part, you can request to see some iconic works made throughout the medium's history.

Yesterday, a group of us called the Photo Lunch Bunch did just that. We met in the Morse Study Room at the Museum and looked at about 20 photographs from the collection.

Left to Right: Roger Farrington, Jim Fitts, me, Jason Landry, Lou Jones, Drew Epstein. Missing is Paula Tognarelli who had to cancel at the last moment.

What a treat! We saw original prints by Diane Arbus, Alfred Stieglitz, Gary Winogrand, Robert Mapplethorpe, Harry Callahan, Fred Sommer, Robert Doisneau, and many others.

The process takes a little planning and I suggest bringing no more than six people. 

Here's the process:

When I was teaching at Northeastern and Harvard I would often bring a class to look at work at the MFA.

By the way, many collections are available for viewing. I suggest calling the museum or archive to see if they allow the viewing of works from their collection. 

I can't stress enough seeing original works. Call yourself a student of the medium? In an era where few make prints and photography is seen most often on a screen, many don't know what an original Paul Strand or Alfred Stieglitz photograph of his wife Georgia O'Keeffe's hands looks like. It could just change your life. 

Here's your chance.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted October 21, 2023