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Friday, June 30, 2006

'No Emus on the Airplane!'

by John Bates
Strict, first-order logic (think Mr. Spock) is extremely inadequate when faced with the real world. We are taught that logic is infallible, but it bears little resemblance to actual human reasoning.

A closer approximation to the way we actually think is a class of logics known as "nonmonotonic," which basically view all statements like "X is true" as really meaning, "X is true, unless there is some reason that it is not."

A quick example:

"All birds fly."
"Penguins are birds."
"Sparky is a penguin, therefore Sparky can fly."
"Penguins cannot fly."
"Sparky cannot fly."
"Airplanes can fly."
"Sparky is in an airplane."
"Sparky can fly."

One could revise this chain of reasoning to be represented as a first-order statement:

"If a bird is not a penguin or a bird is in an airplane, it can fly."

But what if Sparky was an emu?

We just don't reason that way: we don't develop immutable laws. We develop guidelines, and allow our beliefs to be revised in the face of contradictory evidence.

But there's a tension here: as Ken mentions in his comment to the post Unruly Photography, we are excellent at recognizing patterns. We are also very good at generalizing patterns into rules. And we have a distressing tendency to prefer to use existing rules rather than revise our beliefs. It is a survival trait: once we have accumulated a large amount of evidence that a generalization (read: "rule") is true, it can take a significant amount of contradictory evidence to shake that belief.

In general, you wind up with two classes of beliefs: let's call them "objective" vs. "subjective". An objective belief is one which is revised almost exclusively by means of exception: birds fly, unless they are penguins, or emus, or ostriches, or injured, or too young.

A subjective belief is more likely to be revised based on the context, such as Mike's statement that "Pictures which follow the rule of thirds too closely have an extra hurdle to cross to please me." Mike clearly has internalized a generalized anti-rule of thirds, but recognizes the nonmonotonic nature of his belief. (He doesn't like pictures that follow the rule of thirds, unless there is a reason that he likes them.)

The difficulty for photographers seems to be the difference between objective vs. subjective beliefs/rules. Once you have acquired the base rules, it is a natural tendency to assign them objective status. It takes a certain amount of sophistication and experience to push them back into the subjective class.

The fact that most people never make that leap is not necessarily a good reason not to recognize the general value of compositional "rules."

By the way, even though nonmonotonic logic as I described it sounds like a tautology, it is an extremely powerful tool.

Posted by: JOHN BATES

Mike comments: One of my favorite rules was expressed by photographer Frank DiPerna: "I absolutely never crop, except if I need to."

Cartier-Bresson's Behind the Gare St. Lazare, one of his pictures that is always cropped. The original picture was shot through metal bars, and there is a large black obsruction along the right side of the negative. It was this picture that Cartier-Bresson was sitting in front of when he told Charlie Rose that he never cropped his pictures. He was right; he almost never did.

P.S. How great is the internet? That's a stuffed emu on an airplane, above right. Picture by Catherine Warren. Stuffed emus demonstrably cannot, and can, fly.

P.P.S. Notice that the picture on the cover of the Second Edition of my book (below) beautifully observes the rule of two-fifths.

Mike Eats...It

Okay, time for me to eat some well-deserved...crow. (Read: a more vivid, scatalogical word.)

More than three years ago, I got a book, my first, ready for publication. Called The Empirical Photographer, it was a collection of the best of my published essays on photography, plus a few unpublished ones that I liked.

When it was all ready to go, I offered it for sale in advance of publication. Several hundred individuals bought it that way.

Some of those individuals, I am thoroughly ashamed to say, are still waiting for their copies.

There's really no excuse for this, and please don't think I think there is.

What happened was that the first publisher totally screwed up everything, so, over a period of some eight months, I wrestled my money back from them. And then the second publisher I lined up (which was supposed to be better than the first) took all the money and went south with it—everything I had collected from the advance orders and then some. I have not yet been able to get it back, and the possibility that I ever will has diminished almost to nothing. My loss, though, not that of the people who ordered the book.

Eventually, I did put out the book, on a "print-on-demand" site called Lulu.com.

Naturally, I still owe the book to all the people who paid for it. And I would have sent it to them long before now, except that I've been so short of ready cash that I just haven't been able to. No excuse, but there it is.

Anyway, mainly thanks to the lovely sponsors of this very blog, I have now filled about half of the original pre-orders for the book, and I have another 90-odd copies here which are in the process of getting packed and mailed. After that, there will be only about 100 more people who I owe books to. So I'm getting there. You know what they say: "Better extremely, outrageously, excruciatingly, indefensibly late than never." (Something like that.)

The Empirical Photographer, Second Edition

Meanwhile, I'm about to put out the Second Edition of the same book. Entirely revised and re-set, is about 235 pages long (the First Edition was 166), includes five additional essays and a bunch of illustrations (I think about 15; I haven't actually counted them yet. The First Edition wasn't illustrated), and it's available in hardcover as well as softcover.

I hope to have the Second Edition available for sale...soon. Watch this space; I'll announce it. I did learn my lesson, at least: all my books now have to be ordered directly from Lulu, and Lulu fulfills all the orders. I never get the money until you get the book, and nobody depends on me to get the orders filled. Makes good sense to me.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:

IF YOU preordered the First Edition, still haven't gotten it, and still want it…well, I'm still working on it. I know you don't believe this (and you shouldn't until you have the darn thing clutched in your very own paws), but you'll get one, if'n it kills me.

IF YOU preordered the First Edition, still haven't gotten it, and would rather have the expanded Second Edition, please e-mail me at mcjohnston[at]mac[dot]com and I'll tell you how to order the second edition with the money you've already paid deducted from the price.

IF YOU think I'm a scam artist and just want your money back...well, I'd love to refund your money, but I don't have any money. That's been pretty much the whole problem right along. But e-mail me anyway and I'll put your name on that list. It may be a while, but I want this monkey off my back, so it'll happen eventually.

IF YOU preordered the First Edition and already received it (all the preordered copies were signed, so that's how you can tell), but now you're thinking you've been ripped off again because you'd rather have the Second Edition, please e-mail me and I'll tell you how to get a discount on the Second Edition.

I hope that covers all the possibilities. You'll let me know if it doesn't?

Mike Johnston

Bluenoser

Check out the "Bluenose," not only a legendary schooner but also subject of perhaps the most famous of classic Canadian postage stamps.

"In 1928-1929, the Dominion of Canada issued an impressive set of postage stamps. The 50-cent value is commonly known as the "Bluenose" (Scott # 158), and has been referred to as the most beautiful stamp in the world." (Ann Mette Heindorff)

Date of issuance, January 8th, 1929. Picture engraved by Harold Osborn; designed by Herman Herbert Schwartz; based on photographs by Wallace R. MacAskill.

Posted by: MJ and OG

Unruly Photography

by Ken Tanaka
The "rules" so often cited regarding composition derive entirely from painting and drawing instruction, not from photography. They are also far from stone tablet engravings, having been amended, rescinded, and invented largely in response to changing tastes (and aping others' unruly successes) many times in the past several hundred years. That is, they are not "rules" at all, merely suggestions for the un-anchored artist, points of departure. During the course of my studies as a youngster I spend countless hours in art classes, mainly drawing and painting. I cannot remember ever having these guidelines presented as rules.

While knowledge of compositional formulae can be helpful there's nothing more powerful in photography than a talented keen eye unencumbered by obedience of rules. I submit, as an example, the work the late Harry Callahan. He had no formal photographic (or art) training yet he managed to record some of the 20th century's most significant photographic works and to become one of the worlds most celebrated photographers. Better still, he proceeded to teach photography at the venerable Institute of Design as well as at the Rhode Island School of Design for decades. He was a man of relatively few words but I've seen/heard a few interviews with him in which he repeatedly states, "I don't know what a good photograph is or what makes a good photograph." and, "I don't think you can teach people to be creative. It has to come from within." (Paraphrasing.)

Every time I hear or read that "learn the rules before you break them" mantra I want to scream. It's such an empty, reflexive remark. Learn to use your camera and its medium. Look critically at as much photography as possible to determine what clicks with you and your eye. Learn to visually reverse-engineer lighting and to dissect the elements of images you like. But don't, don't, do not start confining your creative ambitions with "RULES." They do not exist. Take the pictures that you like to take and let your own frustration be your guide to developing your own set of best practices. You may, indeed, find that, say, the "rule of thirds" works for your own eyes, or not!

Posted by: KEN TANAKA

Follow-Up by Ken: Tom Dills said:"I've had a number of images reviewed by well-known and knowledgeable photographers whose only comment was something like 'I really like the image but the horizon is too close to the center' or 'the subject needs to be on a third' or 'I prefer to run my subject diagonally from corner to corner.' "

Ya see, that's the nasty, insidious aspect of compositional rule acceptance; it leads to brain-lock. Rather like the station i.d. "bugs" that can eventually burn themselves into the corners of plasma televisions, rule-of-thirds templates eventually burn themselves into peoples' minds. Any image that doesn't align to these templates becomes unsettling to the "trained" viewer.

Nevertheless, it's unquestionable that attention to some compositional guidelines, even inadvertently, can sometimes produce more interesting images. To me, most of the compositional formulae really come down to motivation and reward. For example, the motivation for placing a bush on a vertical 1/3 line with a vast expanse of desert and sky in the background might be to convey an edge-of-nowhere feeling. Placing the same bush in the same frame location with a forest in the background might offer no such visual reward to the viewer. For me, the motivation for leaning on compositional formulas must be to (a) lead the viewer's eye in the first second or two and (b) to create a stronger lasting impression of the image.

One of the most powerful compositional guides I've ever learned came from (I believe) the late painter Josef Albers, although he may very well have been repeating what he learned from someone else. Put simply, he said, "Shape trumps color." That is, faced with any composition the viewer will first look for strong patterns of shape before they take much note to tonality or color. The (healthy) human brain cannot help itself from such a reflex. We look for shape patterns constantly. We find "man on the moon," religious iconography in rust stains, etc. Flash an image showing the silhouette of an open hand in front of a row of houses to viewers for 2 seconds and ask them what they saw. I guarantee that six out of ten will say, "a hand." We're hard-wired to identify patterns first.

So the most powerful and constructive "rule"—actually a psycho-recognizance principle—I've learned and keep in mind is that shape trumps color. To me, drawing, painting, and photography are all personal experiments rooted in this foundation. Where you put all this stuff in a frame is really a matter of motivation and rewarding the viewer for being manipulated.

I'm actually a pretty simple fellow.

As a postscript, If you think still photography's "rules" seem staid and overbearing you should take a look at some of the rules for filmmaking.

Mike Sheepishly Adds: I have to admit I have a prejudice against the "rule of thirds." Pictures which follow it too closely have an extra hurdle to cross to please me. Sigh.

Stryker Johnston?

All this talk in the news of Warren Buffet giving billions of dollars to Bill Gates (what's up with that, anyway? Do they belong to, like, the same club?) has reminded me again of one of my perennial fantasies: I want to be Roy Stryker.

Seriously. I've wanted to be Roy Stryker before I knew who Roy Stryker was, and I'm not kidding about that. I want to be the director of a project that sends photographers out into the world to document real life in ways most people seldom see or think about.

Roy Stryker, for those of you for whom the name doesn't ring a bell (and who have web browsers but for some reason have never heard of Google or Wikipedia(g) ), was the director of the Farm Security Administration Photodocumentary project during the great depression. He selected and managed a fractious but talented group of photographers who did field work in the American heartland during the 1930s.

I'd include the whole world within the project's purview, and recruit a few dozen photographers, picture editors, and caption writers to work on a rotating basis documenting interesting aspects of life in the world that are different than the ones that attract news photographers and hobbyists. We'd publish the results in two tiers, in a large database on the web and a smaller selection published in book form.

Wouldn't you think Warren or Bill could pinch off a few million to fund such a deserving project? Oh, well, a guy can dream.

Posted by: MIKE (a.k.a. "STRYKER") JOHNSTON

Why People Photograph (2)

Barbaralee Diamonstein: "Several years ago a student did ask you which qualities in a picture make it interesting instead of dead. And you replied with a telling statement describing what photography is all about. You said you didn't know what something would look like in a photograph until it had been photographed. A rather simple sentence that you used has been widely identified with you, and that sentence is: "I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed." That was about five or six years ago. And I know there are few things that displease you more than being bored. So I would hope that you have since amended or extended that idea. How would you express it now?"

Garry Winogrand: "Well, I don't think it was that simple then, either. There are things I photograph because I'm interested in those things. But in the end, you know what I'm saying there. Earlier tonight, I said the photograph isn't what was photographed, it's something else. It's about transformation. And that's what it is. That hasn't changed, largely. But it's not that simple. Let's put it this way — I photograph what interests me all the time. I live with the pictures to see what that thing looks like photographed. I'm saying the same thing; I'm not changing it. I photograph what interests me. I'm not saying anything different, you see."

An Interview with Garry Winogrand
from Visions and Images:
American Photographers on Photography

Interviews with photographers
by Barbaralee Diamonstein, 1981–1982
Rizzoli: New York

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Previous:
Why People Photograph (David Vestal)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wait for It

I had to take the day off from blogging on Thursday to do actual work back in what is quaintly known as "the real world." My puppy got spayed and my son had his physical for YMCA camp, among other things. More to come, nevair fear.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Thinking About It

Since the post "Great Photographers on the Internet" the other day I've gotten a number of comments (public and private) that assert some variant of the phrase "you've got to know the rules before you can break them." I just have a small question about that:

Why?

Seriously. I try never to insult specific individuals on this blog, and I don't have anybody in particular in mind here. I'm not trying to start an argument. But this has just stuck in my mind for a couple of days now, and my thoughts seem to keep going back to it. I honestly can't think of a single rational reason why you should know the rules before you break them.

It's not that it's a disreputable idea, just that it's nonsensical. Taking a photograph is for the most part a non-invasive act. Judgement Day never comes; you don't have to account for yourself with anyone. Taking a photograph in complete ignorance of the "rules" hurts no one, costs nothing, and might even be more fun.

The more I think of it, the more convinced I am that you don't ever need to know any rules when it comes to composition. Guidelines might help you to organize yourself (your thinking, your visual reactions) while you're out shooting, so they might aid you in making a conventionally "well composed" photograph if you need to. But what about all those times that photographers have missed great shots because they're too busy thinking about "rules" to see?

You could go your whole life without ever once knowing a single "rule" and who would it hurt? You probably wouldn't even be any worse as a photographer for it. You might even be considerably better.

Think about it.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Featured Comment by Ken Zirkel: "Ooh, man, you're messing with my head.

"I think with anything, you either have natural talent (inborn, or from the gut), but if you don't you can learn it. Rules are just to help you learn something.

"An analogy: Some folks can make a great meal without consulting a cookbook. They just put things together that they "know" works. Me, I can't boil eggs without looking up how long, and do you put the eggs in first or boil the water first.

"In other words, some folks like to (need to?) codify everything to be able to do it. Some folks just go by their gut and get great results."

Mike replies: This comment resonates for me because I can't cook worth beans. In fact, I can't cook beans! I seriously used to buy two cans of condensed mushroom soup at a time because the odds were better than even I'd burn one of them. I used to say that one of the things I liked about darkroom chemistry was that it was exact—none of this "throw in some hydroquinone until the mixture looks right."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Random Excellence

I just love this shot of Captain Nat Herreshoff's Gloriana, which won its first eight races in 1891 and then was voluntarily withdrawn by its owner, E. D. Morgan, to give some other yachts a chance! I don't know the name of the photographer. (Check out the sailor hanging from the spanner.) You can see (and even buy, I think) some other swell fin de siecle yachting pictures here (look at that sail area on the Vigilant). I'm a sucker for this stuff. I don't know what the most beautiful sailboat ever built might have been, but I'd lay odds it's a Herreshoff.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

The Living Process Life List

I have to admit I was a little punchy late last night when I wrote the "Don't Shine No Light On Me" post. Tuesday, you see, set yet another record for single-day attendance on T.O.P., busting Monday's record-busting performance by thousands of hits, and also, late last night we surpassed 1,000,000 total hits for the blog's brief existence (it's been going since late November of last year). That's not big-time by internet standards, but it's really not too shabby for a photography blog. Thank you, one and all—really. I'm very pleased.

In the same post I also breezed rather cavalierly past John Brewer's APUG Gallery offering, a cyanotype rather inscrutably entitled "Hens and Chickens." (It's the colloquial name of the plant, or actually the name is "hen and chicks." Whatever. Thanks to RS for telling me this.) But it really is quite a nice little cyanotype, cyanotype being a process that is (IMO) difficult to find an appropriate subject for. It also seems a picture that might work pretty well as a 4x5" contact print, another rather difficult fit for appropriate subject matter—I've seldom seen contacts that small that work very well. And you can buy a print for $40–$45 from the APUG Gallery. That's more than reasonable, it's, er, cheep. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

It put me in mind of a list I cobbled together many years ago: a "Life List" of photographic processes. The idea—inspired by birders, of course—was to collect examples of a number of different photographic processes from among reasonably available possibilities. It wouldn't be feasible to collect examples of every single photographic process, I don't think—you might find an autochrome or a salt print, but I doubt you'll ever find an Azochrome or a Woodburytype. And it's questionable whether some things (a coffee print, for instance, or a WWII wartime iron print, or an early Type C print) are worth owning. Still, I think it's fun and instructive to own some examples of "living processes," meaning techniques that are still being employed by working photographers today, perhaps with the addition of those historical processes that are feasible to come by, such as Daguerreotypes. You can still find Daguerreotypes in many antique stores. I have three of them, albeit all inherited.

Here's a basic birder's list for Living Processes:

Daguerreotype
Tintype
Albumen print
Kodak Brownie print (the round ones)
Kodachrome 25 slide
Gum bichromate print
Carte de visite
Polaroid image transfer
Platinum/palladium print
Kallitype/Van Dyke print
Paper negative print
Gold-toned POP print
Pinhole photograph
8x10 contact print
Stereo print
Diana print
SX-70 print
Dye transfer print

I'm not a big collector myself, but I own examples of everything on this list save for an albumen print and a Polaroid transfer (never ran across the former and never cared for the latter).

Have I fogotten anything obvious? I'm just going off the top of my head here. Oh, cyanotype, of course, like John Brewer's nice little bargain sale print.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

P.S. Our Official Millionth Visitor has won a COMPLETELY RESTORED FERRARI 308 GTB. He's a Mr. Richard Feyder of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Richard, please contact us for the keys. We're not pikers here on T.O.P. (Well, actually, we are.)

Setting the Record Straight

Chief T.O.P.per Mike's posting of last night notwithstanding, please be advised that:

(1) Not So Stately Oren Manor is a Zone System-free zone.

(2) The NSSOM kitchen and its contents do not glow in the dark. Please accept the "regular version" snap as your guide to reality.

(3) Your faithful correspondent has a very slight tolerance for chamber music, but none whatsoever for tenpin bowling.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Don't Shine No Light On Me

[Regular version]

And just to warm the hearts of those of you who haunt the LF forum and APUG and such places—I mean, assuming any of you own computers that don't use punch-cards and daisy wheels (okay, now that there's a joke, don't get yer dander up)—above is a recent scene from the Grad residence after the UPS man came and went—home of our very own photographic Dumbledore and Master of Esoterica Dr. Dr. Grad M.D. Ph.D. What else but the usual shipment of massive quantities of sheet film in the usual sizes, 2.25 x 3.25, 3.25 x 4.25, 5 x 12, 6.5 x 8.5, and 7 x 17? Ho hum.

While you're over at APUG pokin' around, take a look at this nifty cyanotype by John Brewer, which he took of the artichokes at the local greengrocer's. (KIDDING, now, people, just funnin' ya! Don't git yer Dektol in a froth.) How do you get that there blue, do you have to have a PLUGIN to get that?

Posted by: YOSEMITE MIKE

[Zone system version—we just can't get Oren to lay off this kind of thing]

Photography Rules

Ernst Haas

Use a high shutter speed to prevent motion blur.


Clarence H. White

A fine B&W print must have a full range of tones from pure black to pure white.


Richard Avedon, from In The American West

Always flatter your subject.


Hiroshi Sugimoto

Observe the rule of thirds.



Okay, maybe that's enough of this sort of thing. (But anybody got any more good ones?)

Note that I'm not saying that "rules" aren't helpful. In fact, they can be very helpful. A few of the "suggestions" that I think have helped me over the years are:

Never crop. This is standard advice for photographers learning to use the camera. The fact is, learning where to stand and where to point the camera is itself an excercise in "cropping," in effect, and you'll find it a great deal more difficult to compose in the viewfinder if you're always fiddling with the cropping of the picture after the fact. Compose in the viewfinder and then live with what you've done, and you're likely to learn how to shoot more quickly.

Hands in or out. In photographs of people.

When photographing children, get down to their level. Basic advice that will lead to stronger pictures of kids more often than not.

The name of the game is to fill the frame.

Objects out of the depth-of-field in the foreground are more distracting than objects out of the depth-of-field in the background.

And so forth. Of course, all of these "rules" might be broken just as decisively as the ones illustrated at the top of this post.

"Rules" are really just suggestions, and they are always optional. (I think.)

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Featured Comment by Bob: "I've learned many firm rules about photography from reading Internet forums. For example:

• Digital zoom is just as good as real zoom and a lot cheaper.
• The free software that came with my cheap P&S is just as good as Photoshop and a lot easier to learn.
• Post processing is for people who are too stupid to set the adjustments in their camera.
• RAW is for people too lazy to make good exposures.
• Nikon is better than Canon.
• Canon is better than Nikon.
• Sophisticated flash systems and meters don't work; therefore, you should always shoot manual with manual flash.
• If you don't have vibration reduction equipment you aren't a real photographer.
• No one will take you seriously unless you list an extensive array of expensive photo equipment in your forum signature.

"I could go on and on."

Photography's Evolution, at the Philadelphia Museum

by Ken Johnson, The New York Times

PHILADELPHIA, June 17—Hardly anyone today doubts that photographs can be works of art, but that has not always been so. It took tireless campaigning by certain passionate advocates to convince the world that photography could be more than an entertaining novelty or a useful recording tool. In the United States, Alfred Stieglitz was photography's best-known champion. Less well known but nearly as important was the art and photography dealer and collector Julien Levy (1906-81), who is the subject of an illuminating exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art called "Dreaming in Black and White: Photography at the Julien Levy Gallery."

READ ON

Posted by DAVID EMERICK


Adobe Acquires Pixmantec

"Adobe today announced that it acquired the technology assets of Pixmantec ApS, makers of digital imaging software that provides advanced workflow management and processing capabilities for digital camera raw files. According to Adobe, the acquisition strengthens Adobe's leadership position in raw processing. Adobe plans to integrate Pixmantec raw processing technologies into Lightroom and wherever customers will be working with raw files."

Macs Only News

Posted by DAVID EMERICK


Next Gen Inkjet Papers

by Eric T. Kunsman, Booksmart Studio

The introduction of new papers from Hahnemuhle, Innova, and Museo have everyone scrambling for these papers, as they are suppose to be the reason to finally come out of the darkroom. After all, silver gelatin paper manufacturers are starting to disappear, causing more artists/photographers to convert to digital printing methods. This does not mean that we should start expecting these paper companies to create exact replicas of our favorite silver gelatin papers. We as a community, need to start suggesting what we would like them to change about their current papers rather than asking them to match paper that is oriented to a completely different process. These three papers are derived from exactly that[;] all three companies listened to the cries of those tired of RC semi-gloss or luster papers. The papers they produced are a tremendous accomplishment for the first generation of a new product....

READ ON

Posted by DAVID EMERICK


Breaking the 20k-Hit Barrier

I'm pleased to report that in the 24 hours of Monday, June 26th, The Online Photographer logged 20,924 hits and 14,790 "unique visitors," a new "attendance" record. Thanks to all those around the internet who linked to us.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Monday, June 26, 2006

Cartier-Bresson Booted from Flickr

Here is a real life example of the kind of criticism Mike is mocking here. The "deleteme" group on Flickr is just that—people make comments and vote to keep or delete a picture from the group pool. This lends itself to art by committee, with hilarious results such as Mario's Bike on Flickr.

Posted by: JUAN BUHLER



Mike Comments:
The funny thing is, although the "deleters" have clearly ended up with egg on their faces in this instance, I really don't see why people shouldn't respond honestly and directly to art. I've always claimed that "I have a right to respond to art as if my encounter with it is a significant event for me," which is really all these people were doing. So, okay, I don't agree with their conclusion, but I applaud their willingness to go out on a limb with an opinion that is—ahem!—all their own. (Maybe I'm just looking for the silver lining here.)

But it is funny.

Featured Comment by pketh1: "I'm not a professional, I don't even think I'd classify as an advanced amateur (I'm not nearly wealthy enough), but I've loved taking pictures ever since I got my first point-and-shoot digicam some five years ago. And I'll look back on my own shots from years back through flickr or whatever, and it's not exactly hard to see all those weak choices of composition or unchallenging subject matter or re-experience my times of creative stagnation.

"But when I do that, I'm also glad that I started shooting point-and-shoot as someone who didn't just know any better to worry about things like all the above. You live and shoot and then you live some new experience, laugh, maybe cry and then shoot some more. That's really the only way I could ever improve myself. It's just a way that one enjoys a love that goes beyond pleasing other people or breaking others down I think."

Mike Adds: Mark Power's instructions for being a photographer: "Shoot. Think. Shoot."

No More Please!

Okay, enough! Please, I'm being inundated. Sorry, but no more photos for critique. I've already been sent far more than I can respond to. Sorry!

But also, my thanks to those who responded. I'll try to get to a few more tonight.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

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 c.mason@uaf.edu. (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.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Rip It to Shreds

Okay, by request—anybody brave enough to submit a picture for a critique? I've got to warn you, though, I'll probably rip it to shreds. So please don't ask unless you have thick skin and can take it.

P.S. Just one, please!

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

New: Color Capture Points on Outback Photo

Bettina and Uwe Steinmueller

Uwe Steinmueller has provided a first look at "Color Capture Points" in Nikon Capture NX. NX, the latest version of Nikon Capture, is also the first version of the software to follow on Nikon's announcement of a cooperative agreement with Nik Software, famous for its sharpening plugins. As Uwe says, it makes NC NX the first RAW converter besides Lightzone to allow for local color corrections.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Featured Comment: If you're interested, I have a more extensive preview of this software up on PopPhoto.com here.

Debbie Grossman
Associate Editor
Popular Photography

Big Bird Rig


A camera set up for bird photography, from Digiscoping's DSLR Bird Photography pages. The beanbag is partly for camouflage and partly to reduce vibration.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wicked

I suppose my post below, "Great Photographers on the Internet," making fun of common types of internet critiques of pictures, might be a bit wicked. (I was bored this morning.) I know most people who are writing critiques on internet picture-posting sites are doing so sincerely and with good intentions. Still, I've spent enough time on such sites (please don't assume I'm talking about just one, or any particular one—there are a number of them) that the comments are really starting to drive me, well, nuts.

Constructively, now: my fear is that what these sites are encouraging is not open dialogue, but rather a consensus protocol for acceptable and unacceptable ways of talking about pictures—mostly defining, by omission, what can't be said. Consider this comment, from a reader named Max:

"One thing I believe makes a world of difference. If I knew I was looking at a master's work, I would have no doubt that that cropping that annoys me is exactly what the author intended, and that annoyment (though 'tension' would probably be what the author was thinking of) is the desired result. But combine all our educated prejudices and a lot of amateur artwork being displayed for criticism these days, we get this, the eager need to make 'corrections.' I'm just an amateur photographer, but I noticed that when I asked for critics [critiques?] online for pictures I liked a lot, when I got them I found the whole thing pointless, because I had already thought about all that was being said and I still intended the photo to look exactly as it did. May be it sounds awfully arrogant, but if you love your art as it is, don't go asking for critics [critiques] unless you have a carbon copy of yourself to do it."

Max is on to something here. The internet is in danger of becoming one great big photography club—which often act as arbiters of oppressive group standards, almost always superficial ones. We need to take artists at their word. You can certainly decide for yourself whether you are, or are not, convinced, but suggesting different equipment isn't criticism; neither is suggestions for cropping or the notion that the photographer should have moved and changed his or her standpoint a bit. It is certainly not the enforcement of lowbrow ideas of perfectionism, like touching out a wayward branch or hair or getting rid of a fold in a backdrop or a crease in a dress. Where all that leads is to pictures that are purely and perfectly dull, is all.

Pictures are either yesses or nos. Once it's a yes, then you can talk about its meaning, its qualities, its associations, its emotion. But there's just no point in talking about a different picture that might have been. What's there is there, and what isn't, isn't.

I keep thinking that I should write single-picture critiques once in a while. But then I catch myself. It sounds an awful lot like work.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Featured Comment by Max: "The standard perception is that we are looking for critique, which in turn is usually conceived as 'style corrections.' But I'd say most of us are really looking for 'connection.' Art is about making connections with others, and style critique is a mere accessory when seen from this point of view. May be we should ask 'what do you like about my picture' rather than 'what's wrong about it.'"

Featured Comment #2 by Pat Saine: "You've described a counter-intuitive internet property that I've previously encountered. You might think that global input to the internet would 'increase' the amount of information on a subject—when in fact, it can restrict information.

"I first experienced this when teaching about using medical digital images. For example, if as a medical presenter, you can copy an image from the internet for your web presentation on, say, diabetic retinopathy. In effect, you have borrowed—as opposed to created—information. This happens often—as it is easier for most computer users to copy an image—as opposed to create a new one (for a variety of technical reasons in the case of medical imaging...) So, over time— instead of multiple images from multiple patients being available for the new student to learn from, the same images have been copied and recopied. Instead of the internet presenting a range of photographs describing the spectrum of a disease, only a small set of images become available. The end result is that our universe of knowledge is decreased.

"I believe that this same phenomena ('copy, don't create') is at the root of amateur photos that 'follow the rules.' "

Pat
www.pjsaine.com

Data Mediastore Stocks the Good Stuff

As soon as our recent posts about digital image storage started getting heated up, I went looking for a potential advertiser for the blog that stocks MAM-A gold CD-R and DVD-R disks. Thanks to a certain amount of shimmy-shimmying on the part of yrs. trly. and a pretty fair dose of open-mindedness on their part (computer media supply sites don't often think of advertising on photography sites, except for CF cards, obviously—some of them wouldn't even return my emails), they decided to take a flier and support this blog for a while.

So anyway, Data Mediastore stocks MAM-A disks of various descriptions, plus is a reliable supplier of Taiyo Yuden disks, plus it stocks the hard drives T.O.P. recommends—the Glyph Netdrives made for the A/V industry—PLUS it stocks the supercool Avastor hard drives that are maybe even a little bit better than the Glyphs (mainly because they have onboard power supplies and use standard non-captive IEC power cords with no wal-warts).

All of these—disks and drives—are more expensive than the bog-standard bargain-basement price leaders you can pick up at any big box store or mall. But they're not that much more expensive. And the extra cost goes to peace of mind.

I admit that I'm a bit of a nut on the subject of storage. That's because I've got something like 65,000 Tri-X negatives that I don't have to mess with again, and that will outlive me unless of course the house burns down, knock on wood. My digital archive is minimal by comparison, but believe me, photography is just too much work, and your really good photographs just too darn few and far between, to risk having any of them go up in a wisp of smoke for no good reason.

Click on the ad to order. And if you don't feel like ordering today, you know where to find them tomorrow, or next week, or the next.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

It Ain't 'Burger' as in 'Hamburger'

At last, a resolution to a question that we know has been keeping you up nights....

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with obvious thanks to ROGER HICKS

Great Photographers on the Internet

*SA
Irving Penn

Hi Irv, I don't know what you were thinking here dude! You got a pretty model (altho kind of old), but you have caught her with her eyes cloes in a not very good pose. Biggest problem is YOU NEED CROP to a vertical!!!!! Backdrop is too small and there is not enough of a sweep so you can see the crease. If you send me a file I can fix it in Photoshop and I can give you my suggested crop. If you don't care aboout your PROFESSIONALISM you are never going to get work as a pro believe me!!! Hope I am not being too harsh. Oh well best regards anyway, M.H.


Sam Abell

Sam, GORGEOUS scene I luv it! Too bad u couldn't get a little more color in sky area. Blues should be a little more saturated. Also the rule is u need to have either sky or land (lake?) dominate, not just split right down the middle. Try to move the camera after u focus. A great shot though please see my entries and leave your comments. Ted.


Garry Winogrand

Hi Garry. You caught some nice poses here. Biggest problem is I can tell the horizon isn't straight. It doesn't look like a hill. Man at right needs to be cropped out. Sometimes I find if I shout right before I take the picture I can get people's attentions. If you had done so we would have been able to see more of their faces. George MacWilken.


Bill Brandt

Bill, your problem here is the shadow detail. Some lenses give more shadow detail & contrast than others. The Leica lenses are best for this. There are several types, the Elmarit, Summicron, and Summilux that I know of. I don't know which type has the highest shadow detail but I will ask and I'm sure you will get some answers. Need to see both eyes to get a sense of depth. What lens did you use for this pic? Also highlight detail seems lacking, esp. the arm. Adrian from NSW


Henri Cartier-Bresson

Bonjour Henri, assuming you are French, or at least understand it. This is a great capture, I love the composition and the dog. We had a dog that looked kind of like that one once. Your problem here is that your AF has focused on the wrong place—the man is actually kind of soft! The camera has mistakenly focused on the people in the doorway, creating a distracting softness in the man. Usually it is best to focus on the closest object and most times the camera will choose the closest large object to focus on, but unfortunately not here. But it is still an amazing capture. Cordially, Edwin


Keith Carter

Keith: Nice Try Focus is on Wrong End of horse obviously!! The square is hard to compose in, dont fell too bad. Sometimes we Fotographers have to take what we get. Bob


William Eggleston

This is just a snapshot. I would not even have considered showing this. If you ware going to post pictures you need to make sure it is of something unusual or with a personal vision. Otherwise you are going to loose the interest of your audience. George Spelvin [Nikon D200, Nikon D70s backup, 17-35 f/2.8, 80-200 f/2.8, 4GB Microdrive (2), Photoshop CS, Epson 2200]


Ralph Gibson

Ralph, this is a nice idea and I think you had a nice idea. But the shadow is very distractin, you should have taken one step to the left. If that had let in more distracting background then I think you could have stepped one step closer. Great try, better luck next time. —pitcherman


Edward Steichen

Much too dark exposure and not sharp. I suppose you may say that you tried to make it unsharp but what the hell's the point in that. I like things sharp. Maybe you should study some other peoples' photographs here on this forum and get an idea of what a good photograph should look like. **


Alex Webb

Hi Alex, I don't really see a clear composition to this photograph and your shadow detail's are all lost you need to get a camera with a bigger dynamic range perhaps you could try Fuji S3 I here it has biggest dynamic range of all but uoi need to know how to use it. Fill flash would have helped also. Only two thumbs up But I like some of your other work please vote for mine too al



Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

*satire alert.
**thanks to Andy Frazer for this one.

Currently at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Eduardo Gil, Untitled, from the series Buenos Aires

What: Bringing Shadows to Light: Contemporary Argentine Photography

"Selected photographs of, by, and about Argentine citizens reveal how subjective experience in the wake of political trauma, personal regeneration, and globalization are explored in countless ways. With humor, nostalgia, bitterness, and ambiguity, the photographs address issues related to the Malvinas/Falklands war, unemployment, the Dirty War, the tango, and the intensifying presence of imported American products and foreign industries.

"Many of the artists featured in Bringing Shadows to Light question the relationship between national events and personal memory by examining the relationship between subjective experience and the vagaries of 'objective' history."


Where:
Audrey Jones Beck Building
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet Street
Houston, Texas, USA 77005
(713) 639-7300


When: Until July 30th.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Friday, June 23, 2006

Lumix Lens Roadmap

Thanks to Colin Jago for the link to this Lumix lens roadmap.

Posted by OREN GRAD

Thursday, June 22, 2006

New Large Format P&S Cameras

Check out the re-launched, much improved website of Fotoman Camera. This Hong Kong-based company is known for its well-made, (relatively) inexpensive, interchangeable lens, scale focusing, roll film panorama cameras in 6x12, 6x17 and 6x24 formats. A long-awaited second lineup of large format point-and-shoot cameras has now finally become available, including an ultralight 4x5, an 8x10 and—surprise!—a 4x10 panoramic P&S. Helical focus mounts, viewfinders, a comprehensive selection of regular and panoramic viewfinder masks and a dual-axis bubble level are now offered separately as well for users who would like to mix-and-match with their own equipment.

Posted by OREN GRAD

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Printing Issues with Adobe Photoshop CS2 9.01 upgrade

There apparently is a problem with Mac OS 10.4x and the Photoshop 9.01 update. Ian Lyons at Computer-Darkroom has run some tests, written about his results, and provided some workarounds.

"Many readers will already know that Adobe recently released an update to Photoshop CS2 (i.e. 9.01), the purpose of which was to fix a small number of performance and stability issues. Unfortunately, the update has exacerbated a previously intermittent printing problem that had apparently effected relatively few users with the result that it's more widespread than before."

Posted by DAVID EMERICK


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Selmer of Cameras

by Paul Butzi
I’m a fan of the Leica M cameras, so I read with interest Ben Lifson’s glowing review of the Epson R-D1. I disagree with much of what wrote, but I was struck by his assertion that the R-D1 is “the closest thing we have to the Stradivarious [sic] of digital cameras.”

It’s interesting in some camera buff sense to argue about which camera is actually the digital photographic equivalent to a Stradivarius violin (I’d argue for an Hasselblad H2 with a Phase One P45 back, myself). But I’ve been teaching private photography lessons recently, and so I’m more interested in a different question— which camera is the digital equivalent of the Selmer Clarinet? Sure, it’s nice to aspire to the legendary status of the Stradivarius. But no one learns to play violin on a Stradivarius. Most of us took music lessons on lesser instruments—like the ubiquitous Selmer clarinet. I’ll bet millions of folks who learned clarinet in their youth learned to play on a Selmer, or an equivalent. In terms of aggregate musical appreciation, you could probably mount a convincing argument that Selmer Instruments outranks the Stradivarius family.

So, I think it’s interesting to ask which of the current crop of digital cameras is the photographic equivalent of the Selmer Clarinet—a robust, serviceable camera that is easy to learn on, offers capabilities that allow room for substantial photographic growth, and doesn’t suffer from crippling misfeatures which make it hard to learn good photographic habits. What I have in mind, here, is something akin to the estimable Pentax K-1000, the camera that was purchased by the thousands as parents went out to buy cameras for their kids taking photography classes. Decent lenses for the K-1000 were plentiful and cheap. It allowed full manual control of aperture and shutter speed.

Right now, the Canon Digital Rebel XT/EOS 350D seems like a good choice. It’s reasonably small and light. It’s a capable camera. At under $700 with the entry level zoom it’s not appallingly expensive for a digital camera. The rest of the Canon digital SLR lineup provides room to grow if the student outgrows the limitations of the Digital Rebel/XT. I’ve had a number of students with this particular camera, and they all seem pleased with it.

And, at the risk of getting caught by the Pinker Effect, the Pentax K100D and K110D which look pretty interesting although I haven’t actually seen on in person. In particular, the image stabilization seems pretty appealing.

There are a slew of contenders out there.

Posted by PAUL BUTZI


This Week's Best Article Title

Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker: "Dada at MoMA."

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Memento Mori

Negotiating the distance between extremes of feeling and intellect

by Leslie Camhi, The Village Voice

"All photographs are memento mori," Susan Sontag wrote in On Photography (1977), her groundbreaking collection of essays. So one could hardly imagine a more fitting memorial to the writer, who died two years ago, than this show of photographs organized around her reflections. In that book, Sontag pinpointed the moment when she lost something akin to her critical virginity, at age 12, while looking at "photographs of Bergen-Belsen and Dachau which I came across by chance in a bookstore in Santa Monica in July 1945. Nothing I have seen—in photographs or in real life—ever cut me as sharply, deeply, instantaneously…I felt irrevocably grieved, wounded, but part of my feelings started to tighten; something went dead; something is still crying...."

READ ON

Posted by DAVID EMERICK


Monday, June 19, 2006

Books, Books, (Photoshop) Books

Following my silly post below making fun of some of the many books on the Photoshop and digital photography shelves at Barnes and Noble, a commenter named Dan asked, "So, what are some Photoshop books that you do recommend?"

Erk. I was afraid somebody was going to ask that.

I find Photoshop books nearly impossible to review. First of all, I'm a P'shop user myself, and so I'm at a certain place on the learning curve. Naturally, things that I haven't learned yet but am ready to learn tend to pop off the page at me, while re-reading things I already know make my eyes glaze over and my brain turn to mush. Which things are going to pop for you and make you mush-brained are likely to be different than they are for me.

Second, it depends on what you want to do with Photoshop. I'm just a photographer. I just want to take pictures.

Assuming you already have a decent working knowledge of Photoshop and have worked your way through one of the "everything" books, here's where I'd go next:

1. Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS2, by Bruce Fraser. (The title is perilously cluttered: the operative words are "Camera Raw.") As Jeff Schewe is famously alleged to have said, "Photoshop is now a plugin for ACR (Adobe Camera Raw)." The key to raw is that it makes shooting a lot easier. You basically have two choices: you can shoot first and then make all your processing decisions at your leisure later on when you have time, using much more powerful and capable software; or, you can hurriedly make your critical processing decisions in advance of each shot and then let the inferior software inside the camera do the processing right then and there. D'OH! This isn't rocket science—it's just common sense. Do it the easy way: shoot raw, process later. If you shoot JPEGs with a digicam, hey, power to you, but then you probably haven't spent the scratch to get Photoshop or a DSLR and you probably don't care whether your pictures are a) as good as they can be or b) close enough. Choose the former. It ain't that hard.

2. The Photoshop CS2 Speed Clinic, by Matt Kloskowski. I used to threaten that I was going to write a one-sentence Photoshop book. It was going to go like this: "Mess around with the picture until you get it to look right." That's pretty much how I use Photoshop. But let's be real: in life, efficiency, speed, and organization count. This is the book to teach you how to create actions, batch process, and manage and speed up your workflow to get more work done in less time. Who exactly needs to spend more time at the computer?

3. The DAM Book, by Peter Krogh. DAM stands for digital asset management, and it's a fancy way of saying "organize your pictures." It's important, too. One of my favorite photographer stories was told by Arnold Crane, who went to Walker Evans' house late in Evans' life to photograph him. The ever-immaculate Evans, a dapper dresser and fastidious in all things, had a house that was not only neat as a pin but arranged like a Japanese rock garden, with everything in exquisite arrangement. Except, Arnold reported, the corner of his office where he kept all his prints and negatives. That was a mess. I do know photographers who really are organized, but they're the exceptions. It's easier in digital...so they say. Do yourself a favor and start being as organized as you can as soon as you can.

4. Photoshop Masking and Compositing, by Katrin Eismann. Teaches you how to master the hardest things to do (IMHO, anyway) in Photoshop. I'm still laboring. Katrin Eismann is one of the best writers around on digital imaging.





5. Mastering Digital Printing, by Harald Johnson. Strong on theory and background, weak on pratical how-to in terms of setting up and prepping your own files for your own printer, but for a very good reason: everybody has a different printer/driver/profile/paper. You know what they saw: Oh well. This book will give you a good, strong, solid head start, and then you will have to forge on into the wilds of the internet and figure out your own exact settings on your own.

6. Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace, by Dan Margulis. My brother and I have a thing we called The Pinker Rule. It derives from a book by Stephen Pinker called The Language Instinct. He recommended it to me when he'd read about a quarter of the way into it, and I started reading it too; and, after much pain, we both independently determined that about the first third of the book was great and the rest of it was difficult to read, dang near useless, and even a tad...well, nutty. Thus, the Pinker Rule: you're not allowed to recommend a book until you've finished it. It's a good rule. I often get into trouble when I violate it. I'm violating it here; I haven't read this book. However, based on the subject and the author, I'm guessing that it's going to be interesting. Ever seen those salt blocks they used to set out as deer licks? Take this recommendation with one of those. You have been warned.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Sunday, June 18, 2006

'Our Fathers Were Englishmen Which Came Over This Great Ocean....'

As you know if you keep up with your reading of puff-pieces in the media, today is Paul McCartney's 64th birthday. As a teenager, McCartney wrote "When I'm 64," which is basically about how ineffectual and marginalized we are when we're old. The song has a cheery kid-ditty bounciness and is both patronizing and sentimental, not an easy hat trick. Not all of us have to face our youthful smugness quite so squarely as Sir Paul does today—fortunately for us.

Coincidentally, McCartney was the longtime husband of the late Linda Eastman, who was a photographer. Paul is by most accounts a devoted father. I especially like the fact that despite being a self-made billionaire he never wanted a big house, because he wanted to be near his family, not "knocking about" in some remote wing of the mansion somewhere.

A few other fathers, in keeping with the day:

Bill Cosby, TV father, real father, and author of the book Fatherhood. Tragically, his son was the victim of a murder

Another tragic murder victim, James Jordan, father of Michael

Ward Cleaver. (June's immortal line: "Ward, I'm worried about the Beaver.")

Don't do this at home

William Henry Fox Talbot, the English father of photography

Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, the French father of photography

Eastman Kodak used to be called "the Great Yellow Father" by photographers

King Saud, founder of modern Saudi Arabia, who had 37 sons

King Mufasa, father of Simba

My son when he was young watching the death of Mufasa in The Lion King

Father Charles Coughlin, an early "father" of the politics of resentment and a precursor of today's radio demagogues

Frank Gilbreth, immortalized as the father in the book Cheaper by the Dozen

Earl Woods

George Washington, the father of his country

Father Time

William Bradford

William Bradford was born in 1590 and came to North America on the ship Mayflower, landing in Plymouth, Massachussets in 1620. He left a son in the Netherlands where his sect had been refugees, and his son's mother, his wife Dorothy, died on the passage. But he later married again, to Alice Southworth, who arrived at Plymouth in 1623 aboard the ship Little James. Bradford became governor of Plymouth early on and remained so nearly until his death in 1657 (300 years almost to the month before I was born), and wrote the first great account of the settling of North America by Europeans, the great journal Of Plymouth Plantation. Alice and William had three children in New England and now have many descendants.

Here is part of Bradford's account of the Pilgrims' arrival, edited a bit for readability:

"Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees & blessed ye God of heaven, who had brought them over ye vast & furious ocean, and delivered them from all ye perils & miseries thereof, again to set their feet on ye firm and stable earth, their proper element. And no marvel if they were thus joyful, seeing wise Seneca was so affected with sailing a few miles on ye coast of his own Italy, as he affirmed, that he [would] rather remain twenty years on his way by land, then pass by sea to any place in a short time, so tedious & dreadful was ye same unto him.

"But here I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand half amazed at this poor peoples' present condition; and so I think will the reader too, when he well consider[s] ye same. Being thus past ye vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation..., they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor [...] What could not sustain them but ye spirit of God & his grace? May not & ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto ye Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity….’ "

And so I should say, I guess, according to his instructions—he was my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON