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Friday, March 31, 2006

Steve's Posts D200 Review

Steve's Digicams has posted its Nikon D200 Review. I've been very impressed with the pictures I've seen from this new camera, which, considering its amazing features and very favorable price, has to be considered a current leader in the field. The only problem with it is that Nikon's so jammed up with back orders that it's almost impossible to get one, at least quickly.


Bob Carlos Clarke, 1950-2006

by Peter Marshall

Bob Carlos Clarke, born in County Cork, Ireland in 1950, ended his life by running in front of train at a level crossing near Barnes in London around half past eleven last Saturday morning. I'd travelled up to London on the very train only two hours earlier. The police say that "the incident was not being treated as suspicious." It was a sad end to the career of a talented photographer who lived with his second wife and teenage daughter a few miles away in Chelsea, having sold his studio in nearby Battersea last year....



Thursday, March 30, 2006

The 1-Percent Rock Photog

David Seelig, Tina and Mick

When curator Max Brown selected 500 photographs from the history of rock and roll for the two-year, ten-city Kodak Rock Photography Collection's "Rock X-Posed" traveling exhibition in 2002-3, five of the pictures he chose—a full one percent, which ain't bad when you're talking the whole history of the art—were photographs taken by David Seelig. From the looks of things, Seelig, who lives in Idaho, could have supplied more than that. He's shot everybody from a very Young Bruce Springsteen (which was—no offense, Bruce—a while ago now), to Kelly Clarkson just last year.

When I put out a request for a picture of Neil Young yesterday, I figured something good would come of it. David supplied an outstanding shot of Young which is, if anything, too good for what I need it for. Looking over his website for the first time, he seems like a true "trenches" kinda guy, the kind of pro who works for a living and can do it all, from pizza to Mike Piazza. Career-wise he tells me he's made his mark most strongly in sports and music, and his concert shots are excellent. The work stays inventive within the constricted opportunities of the live concert setting, and I think he has a great knack for finding a way to convey musically expressive moments, too, which is something not every concert photographer masters. I especially like the Seelig shot of Greg Allman (above). Nice stuff. Take a look at the site and see for yourself.

Anyway, ask, and ye shall receive. Thanks and a holler to David S.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Picture of Neil?

Does anybody have a picture of Neil Young they'd let me use as an illustration in a book? The original can be in B&W or color, but it will be reproduced in B&W.


Universal Photoshop May Be Slow In Coming

"Adobe will not provide a quick update to allow its flagship Photoshop graphics editing suite to run on Intel-powered Apple Macs because the cost of creating such an application is too high," reports Tom Sanders on, in an article entitled "Adobe balks at Intel Mac Transition Costs." According to Sanders, Mac users may not be able to expect an update before this time next year, or later.

Complex applications such as Photoshop don't run easily in Rosetta, and an Adobe engineer, writing on a company blog, says that there are no shortcuts to updating Photoshop's code.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Carl Weese

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Fiery Stimulator

He was the most inventive and engaging of all the Bauhaus artists, galvanising the movement to ever-greater heights. What a shame Britain never embraced László Moholy-Nagy when he fled the Nazis in the 1930s.

by Fiona MacCarthy © The Guardian

László Moholy-Nagy, one of the leading figures in the Bauhaus, arrived to work in England in 1935, two years after that experimental school of art and design was closed down by the Nazis. His English was not fluent. Taken to a party in London by John Betjeman, he said smilingly to his hostess: "Thank you for your hostilities."

The remark was not entirely inappropriate: Moholy-Nagy's reception in [England] was not an open-armed one. Even so-called modernists found him baffling, the boiler-suited technocrat with the magnificent grin. His sheer versatility was suspect in a country where they liked you to be one thing or another. Painter, sculptor, photographer, film-maker, industrial designer, typographer: what was Moholy-Nagy not? The Bauhaus itself, which placed great emphasis on programmes and production, seemed alien to a nation still steeped in the gentler traditions of the arts and crafts. London Transport's design impresario Frank Pick expressed a widely held artistic xenophobia in dismissing Moholy-Nagy as "a gentleman with a modernistic tendency who produces pastiches of photographs of a surrealistic type, and I am not at all clear why we should fall for this. It is international, or at least continental. Let us leave the continent to pursue their own tricks."

When he arrived in London, however, László Moholy-Nagy was at the height of his extraordinary powers....



T.O.P. Ten: Number 6

Art Kane, Harlem 1958


On the surface, this doesn't seem like such a remarkable shot: a grouping of people posing for a portrait, mostly black men but including women, whites, and children, on the steps of a city brownstone and spilling down onto the sidewalk, in Harlem, on the island of Manhattan. However, a large part of great photographs is their significance. And the significance of this amazing picture, taken in 1958 by photographer Art Kane, is nearly fathomless.

It's a characteristic of any true renaissance period that it seems to overflow with genius. Giants proliferate, and even the second-rank people are legitimate geniuses who might dominate any other age. One such coalescence of all of the conditions of renaissance occurred in America in the latter half of the 1950s. Although jazz was soon to be doomed by the twin juggernauts of American rock and roll and the "British invasion" personified by four young Liverpudlians, in 1956-1959 it was one of those rare cases of an art form becoming fully mature while it still remained popular and was still very central to mainstream culture. When this picture was taken in 1958, jazz had well over half a century's history as a dominant popular music. It was also the most technically demanding music ever to achieve such popularity. Yet it was smack in the middle of its last great period of innovation.

One could spend almost a lifetime coming to a full appreciation the congress of genius pictured here. There are two websites, and the photographer's site,, where you can put all these faces together with their names. There's also a documentary movie about the picture, available on DVD, called "A Great Day In Harlem" (right). The picture has old and young, black and white, swing-era big-band to the most modern avant-guard. Count Basie sat down on the curb to rest, and one brave neighborhood kid hesitantly joined him. The ice broken, a bunch of other kids put themselves into the picture (can any of you pros out there imagine an A.D. suffering such a thing in a similar shoot today?). On the far right, two of the greatest trumpeters in history, Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie, are joking with each other. Towering over them, pale as a ghost, is red-haired Gerry Mulligan. Front and center is Coleman Hawkins, who was coming off one of his best years ever, at least in terms of music on record; just to his left, our right, both wearing shades, are Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk. (Monk arrived late; he wanted to make sure he would be last to arrive, so he'd have to go in front—and he wore a light jacket assuming that everyone else would be dressed in dark suits.) Pianist Marianne McPartland and the now-neglected Mary Lou Williams stand side-by-side. Cigarette in mouth, up on the steps, is a young man named Charles Mingus. Both Art Blakey and Gene Krupa were there. So is Milt Hinton. So is Art Farmer. Rememberr Zutty Singleton, who I wrote about a few days ago? He's up on the steps. The great stride pianist Luckey Williams is in the picture...and believe it or not, Willie The Lion Smith was there that day, but for some reason isn't in the final shot! On the right, in back (and wearing his trademark pork-pie hat, even), is Lester Young; opposite him, seemingly glowering at the camera, is Horace Silver. The list goes on. The appreciate the biographies of all these people is to immerse oneself in the history of jazz.

Just remarkable. It's as if all the German and Austrian classical composers had gathered for a group portrait that included Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, or if somehow we could have a group portrait of all the major Italian Renaissance artists gathered together, old Leonardo next to young Raphael, or all the impressionists. Or all of the Athenian philosophers. All would be as august as this group, but none more so.

Of course, one might wish that Art Kane had used a bigger camera: the limits of the film's and the lens's resolution are pushed hard by the many faces that are so tiny on the negative. But don't be too hard on him. When he shot it for Esquire magazine, it was literally his first assignment ever.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with a tip o' the hat to Arthur Elkon

Monday, March 27, 2006

What's a 'Prime Lens'?

A "prime" lens is simply another name for a single-focal length lens.

A few other common lens terms:

A "zoom" is a lens of variable focal length that maintains its focus as the focal length is changed. Its counterpart is the "varifocal," which changes focus as the focal length is changed, and has to be re-focused before shooting. Varifocals were quite common in the early days of variable-focal-length lenses and are increasingly rare today, if indeed there are any left.

A "constant aperture" lens is a variable-focal-length lens with an automatically-adjusting aperture such that the set apertures (including the widest one) remain constant over the lens's entire focal-length range. The counterpart of this is the "variable aperture" lens, in which the lens opening stays constant and, thus, the ƒ-stop changes as the focus length is changed.

A "retrofocus" lens is a wide-angle lens designed to focus further back than a lens of the same focal length normally would, usually to make room for a reflex mirror. In extreme retrofocus designs, the optical center of the lens can actually be closer to the focal plane than the rear element of the lens itself.

A "telephoto" lens is the opposite, you might say, of a retrofocus lens: it is a lens the optical center of which is beyond the objective (outermost element). Put another way, when focused on infinity, the objective is closer to the focal plane than the focal length measurement of the lens.

"Long-focus" lenses are long-focal-length lenses that are not telephotos. Usage has confused this issue so much that "telephoto" or just "tele" is now commonly used for all long focal length lenses whether they're telephotos (most now are) or not.

A "spherical" lens is one in which all the elements in the lens have surfaces that are sections of a sphere, or are flat. An "aspherical" lens is one in which one or more element is not spherical. So-called "spherical aberration" occurs when the rays collected from the outermost edges of a simple lens cannot be brought to the same plane of focus as the rays collected closer to the center of the lens. Aspherical lenses are designed to correct this aberration.

"Depth-of-field" is the region on either side of the plane of focus in which the circle of confusion is small enough that the object can be mistaken for being in focus. Where exactly this limit falls is a judgement call. The higher the system resolution, the smaller the "acceptable circle of confusion" may be, making d.-o.-f. less. Also, curiously, most photographers are taught that d.o.f. is a function of aperture but not the equally important fact that d.o.f. is a function of focus distance: d.-o.-f. increases as focus distance increases. It's always amusing to hear people worrying that their lens may not be focusing perfectly on infinity—as if any lens could get infinity out of focus, for practical purposes, when set at or near its farthest focus distance.

Zooms vs. Primes
There are visual and conceptual implications to this comparison, but in physical terms, primes are usually faster and smaller than zooms that include their focal length, and can sometimes focus closer. They almost always require fewer elements, which in turn affects flare and veiling glare (the two main kinds of non-image-forming light transmission). Zoom lenses have made huge strides in recent years, to the point that a well-designed and well-made zoom lens can equal or surpass the optical quality of an average prime. Close-focusing with zooms has greatly improved over the past two decades as well. Generally speaking, a zoom lens is as large, as heavy, and as slow as the largest, heaviest, slowest prime lens its range covers, and is more susceptible to flare.

Quality: "Bunching"
The state of the art in camera lenses is still reached only by the best primes, and progress continues to be made in improving the SOTA. However, the increments of improvement have gotten steadily smaller, to the point that they are now mostly beyond having any appreciable practical value. Also, increasingly, the "practical quality" (i.e., image quality in actual picture-taking) of cost-constrained and size-constrained lenses, and zooms, are "bunching up" closer and closer to the high end of the scale of optical quality. The average today is very high indeed.



Proposition 1: Once you go digital, you never go back.

Proposition 2: Once you go from a small digital sensor (1/1.8", 1/2.5", etc.) to a large digital sensor (4/3rds, APS-C and larger), you never go back.

Question: Agree or disagree?


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Focal Length Numerology

The Pentax 43mm

As the age of the 35mm camera draws rapidly to a close, it is at last possible to provide the definitive answer to one of the pressing questions of our time: which manufacturer offered the largest number of different prime focal lengths for a 35 SLR lens mount in the bread-and-butter, near-normal range from 24 to 85mm?

The answer, unearthed by the T.O.P. Special Investigative Unit: Pentax. The changeover from M42 screw to K bayonet in 1975 came too late for Pentax to regain the market leadership it had enjoyed in the early days of the Japanese SLR boom. But perhaps in compensation, it marked the beginning of a wave of hair-splitting optical creativity that continues to delight loony-fringe connoisseurs of the prime optic to this day. All told, Pentax has offered a total of eleven different focal lengths in K bayonet within the near-normal range: 24, 28, 30, 31, 35, 40, 43, 50, 55, 77 and 85. Of these, 30, 31, 43 and 77 are unique to Pentax.

The runner-up? Nikon, with nine, none unique to the brand: 24, 28, 35, 45, 50, 55, 58, 60 and 85.

UPDATE: Speaking of the early days of the Japanese SLR boom, commenter 01af reminds us that two other venerable 35 SLR lens mounts share runner-up honors with the Nikon F bayonet: Minolta SR (24, 28, 35, 45, 50, 53, 55, 58, 85) and Konica AR (24, 28, 35, 40, 50, 52, 57, 58, 85, with 52 and 57 apparently unique to Konica).

Alas, we must reduce Pentax's bragging rights as well. TOPSIU is indebted to Captain Jack's Exakta Pages for documenting a couple of other 30mm lenses, both in Exakta mount: the Rodenstock 30mm f/2.8 Auto Eurygon, and the Meyer Optik 30mm f/3.5 Lydith.

UPDATE 2: More here.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Which Focal Length?

Pursuant to a few of the comments raised about H. C.-B.'s picture below, I wonder if it would be possible to figure out mathematically, or by trial and error, whether it was taken with a 50mm or a 35mm. It seems to me that there's a fairly grown kid (based on the proportion of his head to his body) standing right next to the wall (fourth figure from the right). From this, it would seem to be possible to get a ballpark reading on how high the wall is. Then, if we were to replicate a head-sized object in the frame in the same place as the nearest boy, would we then be able to calculate whether front-to-back d.o.f. is possible with a 50mm?

I dunno. It just feels like a 35mm or even a 28mm to me. (Cartier-Bresson carried a 35mm, but not a 28mm, however, so I assume if it was a wide-angle it would have to be a 35mm.)


The Shadow List: Number 7. (Is Jim Hughes Busy?)

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Madrid, Spain, 1933

The "witnessing" photographer I most admire (a sentiment that's certainly not unique to me) is Cartier-Bresson.

HCB was a phenomenon in a number of ways. An early adherent of surrealism, a professed anarchist, and a "natural" Buddhist, he was peripatetic and driven as well as venturesome and apparently fearless (he appears to have "cheated death" numerous time before finally succumbing to old age a few days shy of 96—he nearly died of blackwater fever in Africa, barely escaped Mao's communists, and even had a "posthumous" retrospective in the U.S. before he turned up alive again at the end of WWII). Yet he was almost perversely independent. He was equally at home covering momentous events as a photojournalist, and also taking pictures that are really only meaningful as pure art. He was his own best press, too, borrowing the phrase "the decisive moment" from Cardinal Jean-Francois-Paul-Gondi de Retz, Archbishop of Paris in the mid-17th century, and applying it (rather decisively, wouldn't you say?) to photography.

One of my most prized possessions is a copy of the book The Decisive Moment. I wonder why it's never been reprinted? Doubtless because HCB didn't want it to be. I hope, before I die, that I get to read a definitive biography of Cartier-Bresson. I hope, too, that the author who is engaged to write it is a first-class interviewer and researcher, an excellent writer, and knows photography and its history thoroughly. I might immodestly claim for myself the latter two attributes, but I cannot claim the first. HCB deserves a biographer of the status of Jim Hughes, who wrote W. Eugene Smith: Shadow and Substance, the definitive biography of Gene Smith. (I wonder if he's available?)

I think I read somewhere that HCB was attracted to the asymmetric windows of this building in Madrid (one wonders how it came to be) and was busy combining it with the playing children when he was astonished to see in his viewfinder that miraculous fat man walking into his frame. Nowadays it would be regrettably easy to "add" an element like the fat man, but in those days the photographer was dependent on nature. I believe this is one of the very few famous Cartier-Bresson's taken with a wide-angle lens. It is certainly one of the most improbable of the photographer's many moments.


Another Instant Classic from Ted Orland

by Paul Butzi
Doubtless, every photographer has a list of artists who have been a major influence on them. Usually, though, that influence has been through photographs, or through writing on technique (like Ansel Adams's series of books The Camera, The Negative, and The Print—which belong in every photographer's library). Sometimes, though, the influence comes along a different path.

One of the artists whose work has had a major impact on my photography and how I think about it has been Ted Orland. Orland is a former assistant to Ansel Adams (side note: am I the only photographer who feels like they're the only photographer living who wasn't an assistant to Adams?), and of course he's an excellent photographer. However, it's his straightforward, pragmatic writing on the non-technical process of making art that have had such a huge impact on so many people.

I had been thinking pretty hard about photography and art when I came across a book that Orland had co-written with David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking. This little book asks (and answers) questions like "Why should we make art?" and "Why is it so hard for artists to continue making art?" When I came across it in 1997 or so, I thought I'd come across one of those happy, synchronistic coincidences—a book that was just right for me came along at the exact moment I was ready for it. Since then, though, I've come to realize that it's a timeless classic—that every artist faces many of the same hurdles, and Bayles and Orland drew on their experience to give us pragmatic, practical ways to not only get started making art we care about but to overcome the hurdles and roadblocks that so often result in our not picking up the camera for months on end.

And now, Ted Orland has done it again. This time, he's written a wonderful gem of a book titled The View From the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World. Orland doesn't seem to be a guy who shies away from tackling big stuff, and this time he moves on to pondering not only why we make art but what difference our art makes and how it relates to the world around us. Among the questions he tries to answer are "What are we really doing when we make art? Does the artist have a role in today's culture? Where does art fit into the grand scheme of things?" I've had the book for about ten days now, and I've read it through twice and spent hours cogitating on the issues it raises. If you've already read Art and Fear, I think you'll be delighted if you buy and read The View from the Studio Door. And if you haven't read Art and Fear—why, buy them both. They're sort of a matched set. You can buy them from Amazon, of course, although you'll have to wait a bit to get The View from the Studio Door because Amazon seems to think it's not release until April 15th. Or, you can go to Ted's website and buy an autographed copy, right now.

Posted by PAUL BUTZI


Arnold Odermatt's book Karambolage is on sale at Deadalus for $25. "Photography has always been an art of the accident, and at one level the best work of Arnold Odermatt seems to underline this with its subject matter, car crashes. And yet the work requires us to question both terms—art and accident. From 1948 until his retirement in 1990, Odermatt was a traffic policeman in the remote Swiss canton of Nidwalden; a photo buff, he took it upon himself to supplement the diagrammatic drawings that were part of the normal documentation of traffic accidents with images from his Rolleiflex. Curiously, he would make two sets of photographs for each incident; one for the official files and another, more carefully composed, that went home with him. Odermatt never attempted to exhibit the latter until his son took an interest in them, leading to the publication of a book in 1993 and, several years later, an exhibition at--appropriately enough--the Frankfurt Police Headquarters, where they caught the eye of Harald Szeemann. (No one's saying what he was doing there). Bingo, the Venice Biennale and all the rest." (Barry Schwabsky, ArtForum)


Friday, March 24, 2006

T.O.P. Wins 2006 Scotty for 'Most Interesting Photography Blog'

I swear I had no idea. I was knocking around my local CompUSA and saw a magazine I'd never noticed before, called Layers. It was $9.95*, which made my Scottish gene kick in, so I quickly put it down. But then, continuing to eye it narrowly, I noticed that it had a lot in it about photography, so I picked it up again and cracked it open. Editor and Publisher, Scott Kelby.

I figured, well, if it's Kelby (well known as the author of many books on digital imaging and computers) it's worth a look. So I rationalized it by thinking, hey, I can blog about it.

On to The Taste of India for some chicken saag. I was alone, so I brought the magazine into the restaurant and was paging through it. The back page was headed "It's Time for the 2006 Scotty Awards"—the first annual, actually (the current issue of Layers is only Vol. 2 No. 2). I read down the first column to "Best New Blog: Terry White Speaks." So there I sat, sucking my lassi with a straw, feeling vaguely sorry for myself, thinking, darn, wish I'd known how to put in a nomination. And then....

Holy Cow! We WON! T.O.P. won a Scotty, by gar. For "Most Interesting Photography Blog." Quoth Mr. Kelby, "This a total departure...and I just love it." Our first-ever award! And possibly our last-ever, too!

Thanks kindly, Scott. I'm honored, on behalf of myself and my fellow contributors. Although I must have missed the part about where to go to claim the cash....


*Much less if you subscribe.

Happy Birthday Edward

Margrethe Mather, Edward Weston

Today is Edward Weston's 120th birthday.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Will Sadler

Pixel Genius: All You Need

By Carl Weese

Sharpening, like old fashioned burning and dodging, is a great example of the propensity of photographers to screw up by doing too much, rather than by doing too little. Digital imaging just makes it all that much easier to do too much.

No classes needed, though. My recommendation—just buy Pixel Genius PhotoKit Sharpener and use as directed. Unless you are doing a serious upsizing of the image, in which case you need to play with the intermediate "creative sharpeners," you can simply apply the correct standard capture and output sharpeners for the camera type and printer/file-res you are using and forget about it. Really. The system works, on the defaults, with any well-shot file. The only time you'd need to do much with the sub-controls is when fixing a bad shot.

That's for inkjet printing. When prepping files for web viewing I think their defaults are too much, so I cut the opacity to 50% and have even written a batch that just does that automatically when I want to prep a set of RAW or JPEG files for web use.

I have no connection to Pixel Genius at all, other than as a customer.

Posted by CARL WEESE

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Excess Is No Fun Any More

The quick coincidence of two things—first, a commenter named Stephen put up his blog, which featured a picture (Wednesday's) that was successfully (I think so, anyway) way oversaturated—a great rarity in digital. And second, I printed out the picture above for a friend, and, as soon as I printed it, I realized I'd gone overboard on the dang sharpening again. Sharpening is one of the toughest things to get right about digital printing, if you ask me.

But where these two things led my thoughts was to the same place, which is: excess is no fun any more.

Photographers used to argue ad nauseam about sharpness and color saturation. This lens is sharper, that film is more colorful. At least a whole generation underexposed all its slide film in the pursuit of "more saturated" colors, and remember when Fuji threw a cruise missile at Kodak with its candy-coated Velveeta film?(Sorry, Vulva. No, VELVIA. Worst film name ever? Must be close.)

Photoshop takes all the fun away. In Photoshop, of course, you can dramatically oversharpen in at least a dozen different ways. You can diddle the color to death with a tweak of a couple of sliders. Photographers used to try for excess: sharpest. Most colorful. Now what we've got to deal with is restraint. Balance. Getting it right, not just getting the mostest. Where's the fun in that?

It's especially tough to take it easy on the sharpening. I have at least half a dozen sharpening processes, and which one I pick for any particular image depends on whether I've had my coffee, random crystal vibrations, and the position of Venus at the time. I really do need to take a class.


Large Sensor + Fine Lens =

Photos: DOMAI © "Maker" 2006

One of my photographers just acquired the new Sony R1 (the first "bridge" camera with a large sensor). It is famed for the excellent Zeiss lens. I can see why. Above are two samples (click on the images to see them larger).


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Blow-up on Monkeysquirrel

Check out Monkeysquirrel's comments on Blow-up (1966) (Mandatory viewing for all photographers, for those who haven't already seen it). Don't you just know what he means? I feel the same way. Probably always will.


Sigma 30mm in New Lensmounts


Sigma has just announced that its 30mm ƒ/1.4 EX lens will soon be available in Pentax and (heh, heh, heh) Konica-Minolta mounts. The latter meaning that sooner or later I will get around to testing it. The picture above is from, by way of, which has more pictures of the lens (which appears to be huge) mounted on a Nikon D70 at the link.


Pentax Promotes Primes

Ya gotta love Pentax. It just goes its own merry way. Just announced for the lens lineup is yet another tiny, slowish, APS-C-only prime to go with the similarly sized 40mm and 21mm, the SMC Pentax-DA 70mm ƒ/2.4 Limited. It will be introduced officially at Photo Imaging Expo 2006, which starts tomorrow, and begin shipping in October. It has roughly the same angle of view on a Pentax DSLR as a 105mm lens for 35mm (107mm-e).

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Cliff Lee

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

John Ficara's "Black Farmers in America"

by J.B. Colson at The Digital Journalist

"Those of us concerned with the welfare of meaningful photography take some heart whenever a worthy project gets exhibited and published. John Francis Ficara's elegant take on black farmers in America documents a vanishing way of life and points to failures of social justice that sadly contribute to its passing. The book and exhibitions from his project are a significant contribution to the photographic ethnography of what has been one of our country's most important institutions, the independent family farm.

"Ficara's photography echoes the well-known FSA documentation of 1930s America. His book's jacket cover and some of its photographs could be from 70 years ago. More importantly, he treats his subjects with the same straightforward dignity that FSA photographers like Russell Lee used in their approach to those who, as Lee would say, "are having hard times." Mutual respect, photographer for subject and subject for photographer, not only aids their interaction, it provides us, the viewers, with more direct and telling insights."



T.O.P. Ten: Number 7

Stuart Franklin, © Magnum Photos


Fortunately, it is not very natural for one human being to kill another. Normal people don't like it. Some normal people who become killers do so for greed or self-interest or simply for status, but organized sprees of killing are usually led or instigated by a few sociopaths and sadists, who also statistically do far more than their "share" of it; more ordinary people, less equipped psychologically for the task, have to be inured to it by gradual habituation if they are going to do it and keep doing it. They may be driven to it in the first place by real or perceived self-preservation, demonization of some "other," through compulsion of some sort (soldiers are often given little choice), or through a sense of duty or necessity, real or imagined.

Unfortunately, the sadistic psychopaths who do the most killing are numerous enough that history is pockmarked with numberless massacres. Mass graves hidden in forests; buildings full of people burned; regular gunfire that continues throughout a night, with everyone within earshot too frightened to go outside. We hear about only a few of these, and we cannot reasonably dwell on their enormity. Two hundred, six hundred, thousands, more—we must have developed mental mechanisms to keep the pity of such things at bay.

The human tendency is to attach more meaning and emotion to small, vivid, personalized incidents than to far larger ones that are more abstract. I cannot wrap my mind around the losses of Nagasaki, or Dresden. Instead, I remember small details. In the Killing Fields of Pol Pot, an old Thai woman who became permanently hysterically blind after seeing her pregnant daughter machine-gunned to death; a Hutu with a machete asking his victims, "long sleeve or short sleeve?" giving them a preference as to where they would like their arms chopped off; the pitiful photograph of Chief Big Foot, frozen solid where he fell at the massacre of Wounded Knee; Nick Ut's picture of the naked, burned Vietnamese girl fleeing down the road; an old Japanese man standing on a street corner, one of many whose mission it was to educate the children of Hiroshima about the horrors of the bomb. Many people perished at Hiroshima, but they are faceless to me. I can't forget that old man's face.

What the old man was doing on the streets of Hiroshima was giving witness. Photography is particularly suited to giving witness, but seldom to the greater or broader events, only the smaller ones—the ones we tend to latch on to and remember. Occasionally, those small incidents transcend their contexts to stand for something much larger or greater.

At least four still photographers and at least one videographer recorded this incident. It happened on China's Tiananmen Square on the morning June 5th, 1989, during the Chinese government's crackdown on the remnants of more than a million unruly pro-democracy protesters who had occupied the square for many days. The still photographers I know of were NEWSWEEK's Charlie Cole, Stuart Franklin of Magnum, and Jeff Widener of the AP. As if on impulse, a lone figure suddenly appeared out of the crowd and stood before an advancing column of tanks. The lead tank tried to go around him. He sidestepped quickly, a skipping movement, to stay in front of it. The tank went the other way. Again the man blocked it. The tank came to a stop. The tank commander refused to run over or gun down the protester. The standoff lasted for half an hour; finally, the man jumped up on the tank itself and had a brief conversation with the tank commander, then rejoined the crowd.

As with any symbolic event as famous as this one has become, it has been subject to endless hagiography, revisionism, and even satire. The Chinese government later referred to the man in the white shirt with the shopping bags as "a lone scoundrel." Others rank him among the 20th century's greatest heroes.

Charlie Cole, who photographed alongside Stuart Franklin, gives a harrowing description of what it was like to get the shot. He describes being beaten and poked with a cattle prod, having his film torn out of his cameras and then his cameras taken from him. He had to hide the roll of film with his own picture of the incident in the resevoir of a hotel toilet to keep it from being confiscated.

The man, sometimes called "tank man" or "the unknown hero," has never been conclusively identified. It is likely he paid for his brief, transcendent moment with his life, although it is possible he is still alive. And although many demonstrators died in the government's crackdown, it is possible to argue that the Chinese government was being nearly as restrained as the commander of the lead tank.

Many of history's tragic massacres have been secret, or covered up, or have simply been forgotten: no witnesses survive. Even in this case, when Chinese government soldiers killed thousands of demonstrators in broad daylight in the middle of Beijing, the cover-up has been effective, if only in China: most young Chinese today know nothing of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations or its eventual suppression. Photography allowed the whole world to witness to this one man's glory, hwever, a small truth that stood for much more. It remains one of the most vivid moments I've witnessed in my lifetime, an electrifying act of almost inconceivable bravery. The photographs and video footage will keep the larger occasion alive and memorable forever.

Stuart Franklin, whose picture of the incident I marginally prefer, has not said a great deal about the experience that I can find. As for the more articulate Charlie Cole, he reported this in NEWSWEEK: "Several days after the massacres, I argued with hotel workers over a room bill. I asked for a discount because hotel access had been dicey 'due to what happened in Tiananmen Square.' Back came the Orwellian answer: 'Nothing happened in Tiananmen Square.' "


FEATURED COMMENT from Charlie Cole: "Mike, I found your thoughts on man's murderous side and the relationship to massacres thought provoking. The other photographer who shot the Tiananmen Tank shot is Arthur Chang with Reuters. In 1990 I was awarded the World Press Photo of the Year for the photo, which I thought was a mistake, as I have always contended that Stuart Franklin should’ve shared the award with me if they were intent on awarding it for that photo and I told WPP so when they contacted me to announce it. The quality of the shot is not what either Stuart or myself would have liked, but something that all photographers should understand about the situation is that after the initial crackdown, it became almost impossible to be on the streets as a westerner. Martial law had been declared, and on two separate occasions I came under fire while trying to shoot, once no less in a diplomatic compound where David and Peter Turnley and myself had taken up a position over a line of tanks. For me the shot of the young man facing down the tanks isn’t an award winner, or a stand alone, or any of that. Quite simply for me, it's the testament of a man who defined probably most important moment of his life rather than letting the moment define him, and I and the other shooters were very privileged to have witnessed it.

Sincerely, Charlie Cole

P.S. I never argued over the hotel bill, that was Newsweek Hong Kong Bureau Chief Melinda Liu.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Zutty Singleton

Charles Peterson, Zutty Singleton, c. 1939

I've decided to sell a few choice selections from my photograph collection this week (mainly because I've been going through print boxes and they turned up, but also in honor of tomorrow's T.O.P. Ten selection), and thought I'd give T.O.P. readers a jump. This is a fine print of a Charles Peterson photograph of jazz drummer Zutty Singleton in action, made from the original negative. In the 1980s I was a custom darkroom printer and was hired to make some exhibition prints for the photographer's son. Mr. Peterson allowed me to keep copies of a few of the prints I made. This picture was taken in about 1939. The print, from a 4x5 press camera negative, was made on Oriental paper, selenium toned and archivally washed, using the best equipment available. The picture shows somewhat more than can be seen here (it didn't fit under the scanner). The image area is 9x12 inches on an 11x14 sheet. The prints I made were exhibited at the 1987 Monterey Jazz Festival.

I'll be posting more prints for sale as the week progresses. Have a look!


Sunday, March 19, 2006

New Reid Review Just Posted

Daytona Beach, Florida, 2006 © Sean Reid

I've just published on Reid Reviews a new article called "Photographing Daytona Bike Week" that looks at the performance of four cameras I used while working on a recent photographic project: the Canon 5D, Epson R-D1, Ricoh GR and Leica D-Lux 2. My full review of the D-Lux 2 should be ready later this month as well as my review of the Zeiss Ikon, Leica M7 and seven RF lenses.

I deeply appreciate the efforts many of you have made to spread the word about Reid Reviews.

Posted by SEAN REID

To the Blog Photogs, Thanks!

I'd like to comment, just in passing (and since it's my blog, I get to!), how much I've been enjoying the numerous photog-blogs that have been posted in response to Paul Butzi's post. I almost hated to "post over it" as that will put a damper on the lively response it's gotten. A lot of the time I've been "giving" more than "getting" in this enterprise, but I've been getting great pleasure from following the blogs mentioned and seeing so many peoples' pictures.


Words, Words, Words

We've gotten into a usage discussion in the comments to Shrieking Shrubbery. This morning A.N. wrote, "While you are at it, how about the obviously wrong usage of 'different than,' instead of the correct 'different from' or 'different to'? And why do we need to say 'off of,' when 'off' would be just fine, like in 'the ball came off the bat'? Maybe these are 'outside of' the topic, but I couldn't resist a dig at these kind of silly usages spreading like the bird flu, with no known antidote!"

There certainly does appear to be a need for "filler words" these days. A neighbor of mine took a speech class and was mortified to learn that she said "uh" thirty times in a two-minute impromptu address to the class! Another one A.N. didn't mention was "continue on," in which, to me anyway, the "on" is implied in "continue."

One of my best "English" lessons in recent years was when PHOTO Techniques magazine hired Nancy Getz to do the copyediting. Nancy just had no tolerance for extra words (she would find eight or ten to strike just in this little post) and it was a revelation to see what she did to copy. I didn't always let her Draconian edits stand, but I always learned from what she did.

I used to give my students two bits of advice for writing defensively: if you get in trouble in a sentence, break it into two sentences. If you get in trouble with a clause, see if you can drop it altogether and have the sentence still make sense. It's amazing how many times those two little rules of thumb can get writers out of trouble.

Alas, "different than" is fully proper usage, sanctioned by Fowler and used by Shakespeare, no less. To me, it's one of those "preference points," like that vs. which*: I will prefer "different from" except where "different than" is necessary. (It almost never is.)

I try not to get bothered by poor usage. Language evolves, and frankly I'm happy we no longer feel the need to write like David Hume (whose English I've always found curiously opaque) or even Bob "The Great Agnostic" Ingersoll. (Although I guess Alan Greenspan qualifies.) The one thing that drives me crazy, though, is a current full-blown fad in England (of all places!) of conjoining two separate sentences with a comma instead of separating them with a period. It is rampant. Here's an example from a prime offender:

"This PMA was busier and felt far more positive than last year, we saw a good 'rounding' of product ranges by most of the manufacturers as well as some interesting new developments."

For heaven's sake—the subject in the first sentence is "this PMA" and the subject in the second sentence is "we." Don't most of us learn by the time we are eight years old that two entirely separate subjects require two separate sentences? The only explanation is that this is being done on purpose. It's a fad.

It's a curious, and sad, phenomenon of the Web that good English does not seem to fall under the heading of "professionalism." No matter how excellent the information, how good the graphics, how superb the web-page programming, most sites not connected to traditional journalism in some way fall flat on their faces when it comes to basic editing of basic English. A site that is entirely professional in every other way will often be sorely lacking in its language. A shame.


*The rule is, prefer "that" except where only "which" will do. Next?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Photogs' Blogs

by Paul Butzi

One of the great things about the WWW is that it makes it easy see lots of different photography. I have a list of web sites I go and visit regularly, hoping for new work. But most photographers put up a web site, and get some work up there, and then let the site go static. This is bad news, because websites which don’t put up new work regularly fail to feed my craving for new photographs.

But that's changing. More and more photographers have blogs, and more and more of those photographers have blogs which are photoblogs—a blog that’s updated often (usually daily, or nearly daily) with new, fresh photographs. Since each photoblog has an archive of images, when you discover a photoblog, it’s like getting a new book—there are often many, many images to browse through. What a treat!

The first photoblog I stumbled across was Ten Years of My Life ( Done by Matthew Haughley, it’s a great example of a photo blog, although sadly it’s been updated less frequently lately (but still worth browsing back through the archive of images).

Here are the photo blogs that are on my "visit every day" list:

Daily Dose of Imagery (
Chromasia (
Daily Photography (
Eggplant (
Groundglass (
John Washington (
Blue Hour (

And finally, my all time favorite, A Walk Through Durham Township, at

Now, those choices reflect my tastes in photography. If your tastes differ, check out at, where you’ll find listings for more than 16 thousand blogs. Yes, really, when I checked it just now, there were 16,565 listings.

Have you got a favorite photo blog? Got a photoblog of your own? Post it in the comments, and share the wealth.

Posted by PAUL BUTZI

Rob Galbraith on the Giga Vu PRO evolution

This morning Rob Galbraith is featuring an exhaustive preview of the upcoming JOBO Giga-Vu PRO evolution. Remember, we're always first at bringing you news of what other sites are bringing you.

Well, okay, not always.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Just Goes To Show

Lothar Wolleh, Man Ray, Paris, 1967 (click for larger version)

Student's interpretation:
"I really like this picture. I like the dark, cluttered room with the old man. I picture this taking place somewhere in the old Soviet Union. This man has probably spent years toiling away in this dark room, surrounded by the outdated instruments of his trade. It just goes to show that communism doesn't work."


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Shrieking Shrubbery

Every time I see that silly word "imagery," I think of Monty Python and "shrubbery."

Here's the American Heritage English Dictionary definition (AHED) of "imagery":

n., pl. -ries.

1. A set of mental pictures or images.

a) The use of vivid or figurative language to represent objects, actions, or ideas.
b) The use of expressive or evocative images in art, literature, or music.
c) A group or body of related images, as in a painting or poem.

a) Representative images, particularly statues or icons.
b) The art of making such images.

4. Psychology.
A technique in behavior therapy in which the patient uses pleasant fantasies to relax and counteract anxiety.

As you can pretty plainly see, the use of the word "imagery" to mean photographs or pictures (or even "images"!) is pretty close to a misnomer. It's at least awkward. If not unintentionally stupido.

A little history: photographers used to take photographs. But when photography entered art museums and academe in the 1960s, some of the artworks exhibited as "photography" by "photographers" weren't entirely or completely photographic; therefore, gallery owners, museum curators, and art critics began referring to these as "images." And because the snooty, high-class culture-vultures were suddenly seen and heard here, there, and everywhere calling pictures "images," pretty soon it became pseudo-proper for the pretentious and the anxious to do so as well.

And since even "image" isn't enough for some peoples' image, we get "imagery," which is properly an English word referring to mental pictures or artistic symbolism or iconography.

Nothing I say is going to change the habits of the lexicographically inept and the etymologically ill-informed. But the next time you see the word "imagery," may you hear me in your mind's ear shrieking, "SHRUBBERY!"


Off-Topic: No Kidding!

Funny Quote of the Day: "CBS didn't push me." —Mike Wallace, on his retirement at eighty-seven


The Shadow List: Number 8

Lee Friedlander, Self-Portrait, Haverstraw, New York, 1966

Cindy Sherman be danged, the best book of self-portraits is Lee Friedlander's. Although not much talked about any more—old guys can't be edgy—I have to admit that I get more from Friedlander than from any other photographer (although even people who dig him completely still hate some of his pictures). I've made the case in the past for Friedlander being the most significant photographer of the second half of the 20th century, and people think I'm being didactic and provocative (certainly an understandable suspicion!). Not so—I mean it completely sincerely. If I were to rank photographers based on the number of the world's most interesting pictures they've made, Friedlander would be so far out front that the only competition would be for far-distant second place. The only thing he can't find ironic is jazz. I mean, this is a guy who went to Canyon de Chelly and (probably wandering amongst all the VC photographers searching for the tripod-holes of O'Sullivan et al.) made a picture of his own gawky shadow with pubic hair! Jeez.

(A slight addendum: if you'd like to appreciate what makes this picture special, try (really, I'm not being combative, I mean just go try) making a self-portrait of yourself at the wheel of your own vehicle. Not as easy as it looks, is it?)

I've been looking at this picture for twenty years, and like many of my favorite Friedlanders I could look at it for the rest of my life. In fact, I'm sure I will.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Leica-Zuiko Lens Swap


DPNow's Ian Burley, assisted by PhotographyBLOG's Mark Goldstein, has performed an interesting lens swap between the Leica 14-50mm 4/3rds zoom lens (right, on the E-330) and the Olympus Zuiko 14-54mm lens (left, on the Panasonic DMC-L1). Interesting how much smaller the Olympus lens is. But let them tell you all about it....


Back Up, Dude!

Pro photographer Craig Cowling, aka "Naughty James" (gee, kewl, eh?) suffered a computer failure last month, and lost seven years of work. If he had only backed up even once a year, he would have saved 80% of it!

Back up, dude....



T.O.P. Ten: Number 8*

Diane Arbus, Identical Twins, Roselle, NJ, 1967

Self and Other

This might seem an esoteric selection for a top ten list, but one of the many interesting things about it is that it's not: Diane Arbus has always been popular. Her magazine work, done for money, did well; her Aperture monograph is among a tiny, select handful of "evergreen" photo books that just keep on selling, year after year; seven million people saw the posthumous traveling retrospective of her work; and though she might seem the last person who could ever make money doing high-society portraits for pay, she did.

It helps for an artist to know what she's about, and Arbus really knew. Her work from start to finish is an extended investigation into the meaning of self. She was relentless about it: she's described as photographing aggressively, in an almost hungry or predatory way, as if it were some sort of surreal substitute for climbing into the skin of her subjects. She's best known, of course, for her take on "freaks" as "natural aristocrats," because they were born into their life's trial and carry it with them everywhere, but photographs of acknowledged freaks account for only a small portion of her work. All of her pictures, however, in one way or another, vector in on the peculiar trials—the strangeness, even the horror, really—of being a consciousness, a self, trapped inside a particular animal body with its particular compulsions and restrictions and stuck with the strange, sad, or brave ways we have to settle on presenting it to the outer world.

Twins aren't freaks. But that conundrum of a distinct duplicate self has always had a natural fascination for anyone curious about identity. Like almost all of Arbus's pictures, her portrait of Colleen and Cathleen Wade at age seven (taken, coincidentally, the same year that Warhol first mass-produced his Marilyns) seems simple, even straightforward. It is not. That is made most clear by a comment not from any harrumphin' art critic, but from the girls' father: "We thought it was the worst likeness of the twins we'd ever seen. I mean it resembles them, but we've always been baffled that she made them look ghostly. None of the other pictures we have of them looks anything like this."

That quote comes from David Segal's great May 2005 Washington Post article about the twins, as does Helayne Seidman's picture of the two today (right) with what their father calls their "401(k)"—the print Arbus sent the family as a courtesy, now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Maybe millions, eventually, considering its unique provenance). There are a dozen memorable lines in Segal's down-to-earth article, including the laugh-out-loud funny one that the twins are the "least creepy people" you'd ever want to meet. Not bad for a pair whose picture is said to have inspired the one of the most deceptively scary (and memorable) scenes in Stanley Kubrick's famous horror film The Shining.

Arbus is probably the photographer whose biography (unofficial and provisional though the published one is) is more intriguing than any other's—and that's saying something. At the very least, the web of connections fascinates us. A student of Lisette Model, she was also mentored by Richard Avedon, who then had a long and still somewhat mysterious relationship with Diane's daughter Doon. Her husband, Allan Arbus, whom she met at 14 and married at 18 (and separated from at 36 or so, in 1959), later played Dr. Sidney Friedmann—a psychiatrist—on the TV show M*A*S*H. And one of Arbus's high-society portrait clients was Gloria Vanderbilt, the heiress who popularized boutique blue jeans. "She took a remarkable portrait of Gloria Vanderbilt's sleeping baby son, Anderson Hays Cooper, for a Harper's Bazaar Valentine issue," biographer Patricia Bosworth says. "In this truly astonishing picture, the infant resembles a flat white death's head—eyes sealed shut, mouth pursed and moist with saliva. When Gloria Vanderbilt saw the photograph, she forbade Bazaar to publish it, but eventually she changed her mind and this stunning image opened Diane's retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1972." The infant—grown, of course—is now an announcer on CNN.

In a medium that is almost perversely amorphous and upon which it is so notoriously difficult to impose a style, virtually every Arbus radiates, distills, vibrates Arbus ("we've always been baffled that she made them look ghostly"). She's the best example and possibly even the origin of the idea that great photographers take every picture of who's behind the camera as well as what's in front of it. In psychological parlance, she may have had "thin borders" between herself and others. Saying that, it's important to remember too what a profound sympathy she had—a rare power of sympathy that gave her an opening into the interior worlds of others, even strangers. What to most of us is an opaque wall was to her a wide window.

Mary Ellen Mark's 1969 portrait of Arbus (left) shows a woman with an undeniable intensity, but also a haunted look that does seem, in retrospect, to fortell her suicide. The same sense haunts her work. It's a truism that certain peoples believe there is life in everything on Earth, every rock and breath of wind. But there is also a faint sinister deadness in everything in the world, which photography seems morbidly adapted to reveal; by not just acknowledging but pursuing the surreality lurking behind reality, Diane Arbus cracked the medium's ribs. Her influence, deathless, haunts us still.

Mary Ellen Mark, Heather and Kelsey Dietrick, 2002.


* Please come back for Number 7, next Tuesday.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Help Support The Online Photographer

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Note that it never costs you extra. The price you pay at Amazon is no different than if you went there directly.

If you start from our link, we benefit from everything you buy while you're there. Amazon stocks everything from cameras to kitchen utensils, in 32 different categories.

You are always very welcome to browse T.O.P. whether you ever link to Amazon or not. If you choose to help out, though, thanks. (Also, if you want to give it a try, you have our permission to tell your Significant Other that you must buy one photography book every other week as your valuable T.O.P. subscription fee. Hey, could work!)


32-Bit Editing

The acronym HDR stands for High Dynamic Range (32 bit editing). In Adobe's implementation within Photoshop CS2, this is accomplished by using a series of photographs which one takes in the same manner as with previous blending techniques, and then, using floating point 32-bit (per channel) math, merging these files automatically into one huge high dynamic range image. Reading Michael Riechmann's tutorial "Merge to HDR in Photoshop CS2" intrigued me, so I began investigating further. Industrial Light and Magic developed the OpenEXR format in response to the demand for higher color fidelity in the visual effects industry. Roger Clark has done some thorough investigation comparing the dynamic range of digital, transparency, and print films, and Norman Koren has also done some exhaustive testing with RAW format conversion and tonality. It's all very fascinating—if only we had printers that were capable of better than 8-bit printing!


PDN Picks Stock Photog Blogs

Photo: Playing the Piano by Glasshouse stock photog Jill Enfield
PDN reports on a few news releases it has received lately about stock photography and blogs:

Stock Artists Alliance launched a new blog to track news of the Congressional hearings about orphan works and copyright law at SAA is one of several interest groups trying to stop a proposal that could weaken the copyright protections photographers enjoy. (For more of what PDN has to say about orphan works, see PDN's story on the subject from last month.)

Glasshouse Images has announced a deal to give JupiterImages the exclusive, worldwide rights to distribute Glasshouse's core collection. Glasshouse hopes to increase its exposure with the deal. Click on "photographers" to see the work of some of Glasshouse's contributors.

Index Stock Imagery has re-launched its corporate blog at


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Awesome Helicon Software

Helicon Focus software is awesome. It allows you to take several exposures at different planes of focus and then combine them to make a picture that is in focus from front to back. The camera has to be on tripod though. The top image is at ƒ/11 (MicroNikkor 60mm), and the bottom one is combined from eight separate exposures. (Click on pictures for a larger view.)

I had not imagined what we can do in software. (Helicon focus is available for a free thirty-day trial and costs $155 to purchase.)


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Make that mm-e

I've made a small emendation to my earlier suggestion about digital terminology, based on a number of conversations. Several people have come up with the same idea, and I think it's a good one. It's that "mme" is too close visually to "mm" and should instead be written "mm-e." Spelled out, it would of course be mm-equivalent.

Also, I'd like to jettison my own suggestion of an approximate version (using a tilde). I agree with those who've said that approximation is assumed.

For those who have objected to the idea for various reasons: I'm not trying to create a new standard. I'm just proposing a shorthand way of saying, "...which would be equivalent to an XXmm lens in 35mm," which photo-writers already do all the time—heck, there are even digicams that have zoom rings marked with these equivalents rather than actual focal lengths. And what, after all, is a "magnification factor" or "field of view crop"? It's just a way of translating digital camera lens field angles into equivalent 35mm focal lengths!


The Three-Dimensional Sidewalk

Reading about Kim Keever here brought to mind Julian Beever, and not just for the rhyme. Beever is another artist who creates works for the camera, in his case in chalk on sidewalks. In fact his camera serves two roles: first, to help him visualize his amazing trompe l’oeil drawings, and then to record them, often with Beever himself hamming it up in the picture. Since from most angles they look so distorted as to be abstract, half the charm of his photos lies in the baffled looks of passers-by. They're also a nice if rather extreme example of something Sam Abell among others often talks about: how even the smallest change in camera position can make the difference between a shot that works and one that doesn't.


The Shadow List: #10 and #9

Paul Caponigro, Apple, New York City, 1964

As regular readers of this blog know, I've begun a countdown of "the ten greatest photographs ever made" (only as proposed by me, of course), starting at #10 and and #9 and ending at #1, introduced one per week on Tuesday mornings.

But I don't think a single one of those photographs will be among my personal favorites. So I thought perhaps, just as sort of shadow of the "real" list, I'd also start a favorites list.

The picture representing "The Equivalent" (#10 on the big list) that is most important to me personally is probably Paul Caponigro's "Apple, New York City, 1964," in which a close-up of an apple evokes the night sky or the depths of space (it's sometimes called "The Galaxy Apple"). Caponigro's Apple led me to the rest of his work, and his book The Wise Silence has personally been my own most profound experience with pictures that evoke the spiritual, or that mean something more than just what they are of. Important as Weston is to the world, the work of Paul Caponigro (father, by the way, of digital imager John Paul Caponigro) is more important to me.

Good luck finding The Wise Silence, though. You almost can't buy it for any price.

As for "The Image of Woman," (#9 on the big list), my favorites are two extended portraits of photographers' wives: Harry Callahan's of his wife Eleanor, as seen in his little book Eleanor (same deal, hard to find) and elsewhere (I'd even include under the heading the famous picture "Weed Against Sky, Detroit, 1948," of a dried plant as...well, you know), and Emmet Gowin's of his wife Edith, principally in the little 1976 Alfred A. Knopf book Emmet Gowin: Photographs (again, don't ask, you can't buy it), one of photography's truly perfect masterpieces. As an aside, I have to say that in many years of dealing with hobbyist photographers, I never fail to be amused by "the wife look," that look of patient but uninterested tolerance (with just a pinch of exasperation) that wives and girlfriends give their camera-wielding loves, and it just amazes me that the amateur snappers so often seem not to see it. In any event, I have to say that I think of Eleanor Callahan and Edith Gowin as artistic collaborators of their respective husbands—not just models, certainly much more than mere subjects.

As far as photographs of women are concerned, I also confess to a liking for soft porn, and to a long-term love-hate affair with Julia Margaret Cameron, who continues to fascinate me despite my better intentions. If forced to choose just one single image out of Callahan's and Gowin's work, it wouldn't be of one of their wives at all. It would be Emmet Gowin's luminous, exquisite "Nancy, Danville, Virginia, 1969" (below), as wonderful a photograph as has ever been made by anybody. Photographer Sally Mann, who named her son Emmet after Gowin, has this picture hanging in her kitchen/greenhouse/aviary.

The big list will be back on Tuesday.