W. o’ W. from Ken Rockwell

“I almost never meet anyone who discusses photography. Instead, people discuss camera profiles, Photoshop plugins and HDR regression algorithms, but no hobbyists seem to realize that the only thing that matters is what you see and do before you click the shutter.
The more you’re thinking about gear, the less you can think about the picture.

The less equipment I take, the better pictures I make.

The fewer lenses I bring, the better pictures I bring back.

The less crap I haul with me, the more good pictures I haul back at the end of the trip.”

Requirements trump regrets

On Christmas morning the basement flooded(!). That means the darkroom is not available until the entire space is made new. I had set aside a number of days during the holiday break for shooting, roll film processing, proofing, enlarging and testing of specific procedures; now, all those activities are pretty much pushed back until later in January. A deluge does not contribute to work flow.

Compared to other picture-making, the darkroom “work flow” does not necessarily flow. True, I’ve found a way to print economically, spread out over a few days at a time, but the film developing (a joy in itself [I kid you not]) only makes sense when batched into one or two days.

What if I were to risk mold or spoilage or further water damage by going out to shoot instead of dealing with the mess, because the shooting is more pressing? Insanity. How much am I willing to leave my father and my father-in-law during their holiday visits in order to pursue some or another project? No way. Which parts of my life have to wait so that other parts may resolve themselves, only for me, at some yet-to-be-defined plane of meaning and resonance?

In one English teacher’s recent retirement speech to the rest of the faculty, he expressed what amounted to an apology to his family for the extent to which his career had consumed him and his available time. The tone of that part of his remarks was oddly unsettling (but not unwelcome, since these speeches are usually a tad more cookie-cutter). His wife and son were present; he sounded truly contrite.

Nicholas Nixon made a reference, at his last Chicago appearance at Columbia College, to being less than immersed in his children’s childhoods. It struck the same melancholy note, albeit buoyed by their eventual apparent coming to terms with his lifestyle.

As the Sean Connery character Jim Malone says in “The Untouchables,”  “You see what I’m saying is, what are you prepared to do?”

Update: I started preparing this post on the 26th, and now, (the 29th) NYT published a not-unrelated article in the Science section, written by John Tierney, about a curable human frailty: pleasure procrastination.

Devoto Holiday Roundup

Happy holidays to all, from hours-old Isaac to SteveandGinger.

Now, to re-capitulate what’s up in class: some of you are shooting sleep-related pictures (see the earlier post “Perchance” to begin brainstorming) or shooting that project again out of dissatisfaction with your negatives; bully, I say. One or two amongst the AP roster are finishing/continuing with “Layers” and the long-term port-buddy project.

‘Twould be prudent to re-consider the content of earlier posts “JingJingJingJingChingChingChingChing,” “Better Negatives Through Chemistry,” “Build-A-Room,” and “Barbara Crane: Challenging Vision,” especially since that show closes on the 10th, and it’s an excellent opportunity to write a review for Bonus Karma.

Carpe the diem, everyone; carpe the diem.

Alec Soth fans: revel.

He’s back to blawwggin.’


W. o’ W. from Richard Benson

“The nature of something like painting is that you’re continually being informed by what you do. The nature of photography is that you’re not. You’re being informed picture to picture what you do. If you’re printing one negative you’re being informed print to print about what you do. But it’s completely different than the painter who puts a piece of the picture down and the piece indicates what the next move should be.”

A Measured Level of Engagement

“The only time I take a picture is when tourists ask me to take one, with their camera. ( These rare works are now dispersed around the world, in private collections, mostly in Japan.)” -Geoff Dyer


Caveat: this post is opinion-laden.

Perhaps you share a trait with Your Obedient Servant: that of spending more on oneself during the Nation Shopping Season than at any other time of the year. Perhaps “Everyone needs to get out more” applies to the holidays as well. Perhaps a big-ticket item figures in the expenditures; heck, I’ve acquired new cameras during December a coupla times, and some of you have already told me you’re aware of new Nikons in the wings (or at least wrapped and hidden in the back of closets). In any case, here are some ideas for thoughtful fellow citizen consumers.

Books are always welcome, even if not hung by the chimney with care, and there’s no better list of (mostly) monographs than at http://5b4.blogspot.com/2009/12/best-books-of-2009.html

Everyone oughta have a decent cable release. It’s like buying socks for someone, as far as I’m concerned, but not unlike socks, it’s a necessity. Certainly easier to tote about than a tripod, which everyone also oughta have. If you don’t have a tripod, you put yourself at a serious disadvantage. Look into acquiring a Leitz Tiltall. (To the clerk who snickered, repeatedly, the last time I picked up a Tiltall for school: we’re still here; where are you now?)

Holgas & Lomography: you decide. I know there is tremendous potential for making pictures of dream worlds with these tools, and although there is more variety available among models and their features than you have ever imagined (Remember the Holgaroid? It was all the rage, and I don’t mean for athletes), the prices are often ‘way out of whack. You’ll see what I’m referring to on websites such as http://www.holgablog.com/2009/04/09/the-massive-guide-to-all-holga-cameras/, and at Urban. Find the good price for the simplest of simple cameras, and grab several at a time. You can always modify them on your own; then you’d have something unique. What not to consider: gimmicky filters, gimmicky toys such as “Lensbabys.”

Everyone can always use more excellent film. Get a reasonable quantity of medium-speed stuff, like Acros 100 or FP4. No darkroom? Choose XP-2, and overexpose.

Opposite of no darkroom? Add a teaspoon of sodium carbonate to your developer to improve the blacks, or a pinch of benzotriazole to restrain highlight and/or cool out the print color. Set up a safe way to tone with selenium or gold chloride, even.

Everything I’ve mentioned here can be a nudge in the direction of making your giftee’s (or your own) pictures distinctive, unique. Check the “Resources” links, on the right side of the screen, or write back with questions. Haddy Grimble.

W. o’ W. from Daniel Barenboim

From “Music Quickens Time:”

“In life outside music, ambiguity is not necessarily a positive attribute — it is often a sign of indecision and, in politics, a lack of firm direction — but in the world of sound, ambiguity becomes a virtue in that it offers many different possibilities from which to proceed. Sound has the ability to make a link between all elements, so that no element is exclusively negative or positive… Feeling is an expression of the struggle for balance, and it cannot be allowed independence from thought. As Spinoza shows us, joy and its variants lead us to a greater functioning perfaction; sorrow and its related affects are unhealthy and should therefore be avoided. In music, though, joy and sorrow exist simultaneously and therefore allow us to feel a sense of harmony. Music is always contrapuntal, involving an interplay of independent voices, in te philosophical sense of the word. Even when it is linear, there are always opposing elements coexisting, occasionally even in conflict with each other. Music accepts comments from one voice to the other at all times and tolerates subversive accompaniments as a necessary antipode to leading voices. Conflict, denial and commitment coexist at all times in music.”

Parallels in the Essays of Annie Gosfield


Annie Gosfield is a Modern composer who has written a number of pieces which, for the most part, relate well to photographic practice without substituting too many nouns or verbs. Here are some of her pearls:

Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

Details count.

Don’t fear rejection.

Don’t assume you know what’s accessible to the audience and what isn’t.

If you chose to study composition, spend your time in school studying what you can’t learn in a club or a garage.

Make sure you’re always doing some work that is yours and yours alone — not composed for the approval of teachers or colleagues.

Never discount the power of the library.


Listen for yourself: http://www.anniegosfield.com/

Yet More Downtown Re-Photography

…but click on the link for a nicely interactive document: