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Monday, June 26, 2006

Rip It Up

I've created a monster, I'm afraid. I went to bed wondering if I would get a single "submission" for my offer of a live critique, and woke up this morning to hundreds of messages—a few questions, a few challenges, but mostly, lots and lots of pictures. In some cases, links to pages with dozens or hundreds of pictures.

I hope it's obvious that I can't critique everything, or I'd be here all day, all night, and all day and all night again (even assuming I could get people to stop sending more pictures right now). So I'll just post a few.

Now, obviously the ones I post will be a sort of selection, but not, perhaps, the sort of selection you'd expect—they're not likely to be the worst, necessarily, nor even the best...they're likely to be the ones I think the most people would most want to see, or the ones about which I can think of something to say.

I am blessed or cursed with a sense of humor, along with a fearful depressiveness and an ability (almost a curse) to see all sides of most issues and several sides of all issues. And speaking of seeing all sides, Charles Mason sent the following from Alaska, which made me laugh outright:

Charles Mason

Now, Charles is an accomplished photographer, and he just turned down a job (teaching photography at Washington & Lee University in Virginia) that I am (drat!) not qualified for—on paper, at least. So I don't know what business I would have criticizing any of his pictures. But ya gotta admit, this is a hoot.

Charles writes: "It's a shot from a series I've been doing on this little Mud Show (circus) that comes up to Fairbanks every couple of years. I've shot there on three of its visits—enough so they ignore me now. Nice spot to be in. This is a completely candid grabbed frame from my last shoot, two summers ago. I am often asked if I set up the shot, but I find I don't have enough imagination for such thoughts. Just fast reflexes, a quick look around to see who was watching, and a 125th of a second snap. She knew I was taking photographs of her, but probably not this particular frame.

"By the way, another of these circus shots is being used (via Getty) on the cover of a new book, called Water for Elephants. I guess it is selling well, but they mispelled my name as 'Charles Manson' in the credit. They tell me they've already printed 70,000 copies with that error. I wonder if Manson is any more pissed than I am about this mix-up?!

"I hope to come 'Outside' (up here, that means out of Alaska) to shoot more mud shows this summer. If anyone has any recommendations for great locations and dates to shoot them in rural areas later this summer, I'd love hearing about it."

You can see a slide show by Charles on MSNBC (a documentary of his and his wife's efforts to get pregnant and his childrens' in vitro fertilization), and if you know of any upcoming rural "mud shows," let him know at (Just remember, it's Mason, not Manson. Although maybe Charles should think about changing it. Garry Winogrand's real name was Winograd—someone misspelled it once, and he just kept it that way. I guess he liked being grand.)

Ben Rosengart

For those who like perfection, here's a perfect shot, by Ben Rosengart. Classic portrait, wouldn't you say? I'm not seeing how you'd improve it. From the looks of Ben's online work that he pointed me to, he hasn't got much idea which of his pictures are pictures and which are throwaways, but it would be worth it for him to pursue the matter, IMNSHO. He's got talent. Raw talent, I think they call it (backhandedly).

Jeff P. Henderson

And speaking of perfection, here it is again in several respects in a portrait by Jeff P. Henderson. Perfect tones, not to mention perfect skin and perfect hair, although I don't think Jeff gets credit for those. But a slight problem, I think. Jane Smiley, in her novel Good Faith, has a line that goes: "People are tremendously revealing if anyone bothers to look, but then hardly anyone ever bothers to look." One of the great wonders of amateur photography to me is the neverending ubiquity of what I call The Wife Look. It's that look of tolerant, bored forebearance given to the photographer by indulgent wives, girlfriends, and daughters. You see it again and again. I always wonder what the photographer is thinking: "Hey, she's not angry or annoyed in this one! Great." Jeff's subject doesn't have a bad case of The Wife Look (I'm guessing it might be his daughter in this case, based purely on her apparent age), but that's the Look.

To read the picture, read the subject. I had one student whose pictures of his S.O. suffered so greatly from WLS (Wife Look Syndrome) that I told him he should put a thought-balloon above her head that said "He's such a dork." And if the caption worked, I said, he should assume he hadn't managed to elicit quite the right expression.

Try it. It's funny when you see it work.

Great portraitists seem to somehow project themselves and their attitudes onto their subjects; if you can get your hands on one of those massive compendia of August Sanders' work next time you're at your local library, see if you can find the Wife Look anywhere.

More RipIts later. Thanks to everybody who's participating here, and forgive me if I don't get around to yours.



Blogger fivetonsflax said...

You said only those with thick skins should submit ... so the elephant photo is very appropriate. ;-)

Thanks for the comments, though they are a tease -- which are the other keepers, IYNSHO? "Raw" is definitely the word; I haven't had any instruction, I just look at other people's work and keep trying things.

My email address is

12:56 PM  
Blogger JeffH said...


Thanks for the kind words about my photo, and also for including it in your article. Honestly, I was a little nervous, expecting some harsh criticism.

The photo is of my friend’s daughter Alison. She is now 12 and not quite as receptive to posing for photos as she used to be, which explains the borderline WLS. I the past I have taken some very good portraits of her, she likes to pose and is a natural at it.

I normally consider myself more of a landscape photographer, at least that’s what I enjoy shooting most. I have found over the past several years however, that I really enjoy shooting portraits also, mostly casual shots of friends and family. I really enjoy the connection and interaction with the subject, especially when they are willing to pose and are not shy in front of the camera. I seem to get a significantly higher percentage of keepers with portraits than I do with landscapes. Lighting is also much easier to control with portraits versus landscape work, which might explain the higher ratio of keepers.

Jeff Henderson

3:04 PM  

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