Visions aren’t the simplest of all things we have to deal with. Commercial visions are Big Business in a confused, surreal sort of way. Conglomerates, corporations, companies, politicians, police chiefs and postal workers seemingly can’t live without those pay-per-view mass market visions. Creating, making, faking, enforcing, stealing, distorting, maintaining and hiding behind visions can be an everyday task.

Visionary consultants enjoy visions of corporate money mountains to be liberated. Visionary self-help authors improve us while cashing our checks. Famous visionary seminar personalities smile at us from the podium, counting heads and the evening’s take. Visionary leaders can send us to war, death and hunger, chanting poll numbers. Other visionaries bore us to death. Visions are not easily shared and not always friendly companions. It’s a good thing there is help available to sort things out. Check out the small list below – if you don’t find the right choice – just keep looking. Someone will - Two Pillowsnock on your door.

How about getting expert advice by hiring Andre Agassi, Bill Clinton, Bob Costas, Jay Leno, Lance Armstrong, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michelle Akers, Magic Johnson, Big Bad Voodo Daddy, Alec Baldwin, Dave Barry, Neil Armstrong, Angela Bassett, Ken Riley, Chevy Chase, Bill Cosby, Harry Belafonte, Wolf Blitzer, Paul Reiser, Dr. Phil, Mick Fleetwood, The Zippers, Paula Zahn, Ann-Margret, the B-52’s, Asleep At The Wheel, The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Dog The Bounty Hunter, Goldie Hawn, Drew Carey, George Foreman, Jerry Seinfeld, Shaquille O’Neal, Tom Jones, Yao Ming, Barbara Walters, Ellen DeGeneres or perhaps Tina Turner. You will end up delighted, motivated, reborn and very broke.

About Visions

Enron had a vision – hit California widows as hard as inhumanly possible. Microsoft had and has a vision of invincibility as did IBM and Saddam Hussein. Harley-Davidson (“HOG”) has a vision of stopping those darn oil leaks. George W. Bush has many - Up the Laddervisions – none good, legal or comprehensible. Oil companies envision new holes in the Arctic, pumping the heck out of them till nothing is left but pollution, garbage and extinct species. British Prime Minister Chamberlain declared his vision of peace in our time in 1939 after giving away Europe to the evil visions of Adolf. Bill Clinton had and probably has visions that we won’t talk about in this family friendly medium. I’m not sure about Hillary’s vision or those of Monica, Kathleen, Gennifer, Elizabeth, Sally, Dolly or Paula. Etc.

There are religious visions, often referred to as miracles, such as the awakening of the dead – Jimmy Carter being a good example. Sometimes dreams are viewed as visions. Other times they are nightmares – such as the images of Ann Coulter or Geraldo. Some visions are expressed by speaking in tongues – consider Donald Rumsfeld, Robert McNamara or Alan Greenspan. Perhaps it is the mystical experience of seeing the supernatural, such as Elvis still being Big in Las Vegas, or being a supernatural being, such as Michael - Lights in the Darkackson or the Alien II monster. It might be a person or thing of extraordinary beauty, such as Howard Stern or Paris Hilton. Some say it is the mark of unusual competence in discernment or
perception; intelligent foresight: a leader of vision, such as Michael Brown of FEMA (or his bosses), Ken Lay or Kim Jong Il.

How about the visions of sub prime mortgage companies of recent fame? Tobacco companies? Alberto Gonzales’ vision of US sponsored torture? IRS visions of you and your returns? The dreams of Iraqi refugee women serving as prostitutes in Syria? Al Gore’s vision of immortality? The Giuliani vision of no jay-walkers, no decadent art and a Disneyland America? The aspirations of Homeland Security. The Visionary Wars on Terror, Muslims, Immigrants, Gays, Science, Pot Smokers and the Teletubbies. There is no end to bad and misguided visions. Just look around you.

The Goodness of Visions

There are other kinds of visions than the bad, the ugly and the many. Those of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, John Steinbeck, Lord Byron, Jimmy Stewart and Norman Mailer (always remembered). Bono envisions an AIDS free Africa, a vision not shared by Drug - Man at Nightompanies. Here are some more such suspects: Rubens, Miro, Aristotle, Miles Davis, Gustaf Mahler, Jack London, Fjodor Dostojevski, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. There’ll be more about the two last names as we go along, this being a photo blog. These visions are not bought in a parking lot like some already mentioned. Nor are they brought on by grandiosity, greed, confusion, mental deficiencies, crack cocaine or troubled childhoods as some others are.
Some things are different.

Here is one such difference. Visions associated with art tend to survive much longer than the others. Many value related observations of art versus the more mundane visions of toothpaste manufacturers exist. Art does carry a special banner. Art visions, for instance, outlast most cheese burgers, cheese burger consumers and their makers. Art may remain alive for thousands of years. Take that, Letterman, KFC or Rudy G.

About Creativity

Creativity is our second mini subject. As with visions, it is a slightly suspect subject. G.H.W Bush did not favor it and his mighty son does not consider anything as far out as ten letters (or so; 9? 11? duh). The subject of creativity is just not quite as distinguished as “visions”. There are creativity consultants – some - Shadowsbearded and smelling of pot – that usually can’t demand as high fees as the visionary celebrities. Not that they don’t try. But somehow creative thinking or activity ranks way below the vision thing. It doesn’t have quite the ring to it.

In some cases, creativity leads to unorthodox, independent and hence dangerous thinking. Rarely is “different” a good thing. Microsoft Office, for instance, is a given part of almost any organization. That Open Source stuff is not to be trusted except by creative and visionary accountants. Where is the business model? What’s that insane “free” price tag? What if some one expected me to work for free? Damn Commies and Deviants. And how about those crazy blog writers and their silly for-free thoughts. Free is madness. Madness is bad. Obviously, blog writers are mad. A few are creative, making them even badder.

Of course, the above are just some examples of feelings running amok. It can go the other way, too. Just consider the “Creative Writing” classes of many fine institutions that possibly are - Lightsanything but creative. What about the 281,524 book titles listed on Amazon as “creative”? Bring your reading glasses for treasures such as “Creative Abundance: Keys To Spiritual And Material Prosperity”, “Right-Brain Styles for Conquering Clutter, Mastering Time, and Reaching Your Goals “, “The Tongue: A Creative Force “, “Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 Exercises to Wake Up Your Brain”, “Creative Concrete Ornaments for the Garden: Making Pots, Planters, Birdbaths, Sculpture & More”, “Creative Whack Pack”, “Creative Recycling
in Embroidery” and “Creative Interventions for Troubled Children and Youth”. Here are some naturals: “God’s Creative Power Gift Collection; God’s Creative Power Will Work for You; God’s Creative Power for Healing and God’s Creative Power for Finances”. If that doesn’t do it for you, there are 281,510 other titles to enjoy and prosper from.

There are Creative Investments, Labs, Commons, MP3 players and sound cards. Singapore has, complementing - A Fence their vision of a spit and butt free society. How about Creative Advertising, Interactive Media, Multimedia and Creative Linux. Creative Good, Screen writing and Adobe’s Creative Suite. Most are quite creative in taking your money but perhaps not in much more than that.

There’s some evidence madness and creativity go well together. Van Gogh certainly was both. Idi Amin and Bébé Doc Duvalier were both quite nuts but not creative except perhaps in murder. Lennie Bernstein – quite sane as well as very creative. Boris Yeltsin – mad but reasonably good at conducting large orchestras without falling down too often, pulverizing his own Duma and occasionally, creative dancing. By comparison, Putin seems neither-nor everything. Sort of like a pair of empty shoes. Like those of Mitt Romney, Keanu Reeves, Michael Bloomberg, Al Gore, Goofy and Dick Cheney. Anyone home?

We’ll return to the subject of madness in art in a later post.

French chefs create meals worthy - Autumn Leaves Michelin stars but not your cholesterol count. Cops create an illusion of safety. Insurance companies claim you are in good hands while envisioning saving you 15% in 15 minutes. Reality shows, thieves and politicians demonstrate creativity in lying, cheating, stealing or writing blogs. Democrats are creatively adding taxes for those not giving them money; Republicans are creative in reducing taxes for whoever gives them money.

Creativity and vision have some things in common. One is that the combination can produce great art. Another is that no one knows exactly what either is. There are scores of definitions of both vision, creativity and, let’s throw this one in – innovation. These definitions are all less than adequate. Many are simply self serving.

But most of us recognize creativity and pure vision when we see or otherwise experience it. Such recognition is personal, biased and not always logical. For instance, Leonardo da Vinci is a - Down The Streetgreat example of creativity in just about ever one’s mind. But for what? His airplane thing never flew. He is not the one that invented the Camera Obscura. Already mentioned – Leonard Bernstein certainly was creative but how many of us still sing “Maria” in the shower? How many really admire the creativity in the unusual minds of Mel Gibson, Anderson 360, Martha Stewart, Larry King, Dean Martin, Victoria Beckham, Twiggy or Tom Cruise? Yet we somehow know what creativity is. Just don’t look too closely.

In previous posts, I’ve preached how nothing is what it seems. Light is just a perception, colors don’t exist; cameras lie, eyes and brains fool us, themselves and others. Our familiar three dimensional world isn’t actually three dimensional. Al Gore did not invent the Internet or Global Warming. Hitler was not the first practitioner of genocide. Bush did not create state sanctioned torture all by himself. Elvis is really quite dead. Romance does not lasts forever. O. J. is guilty. Churchill was not a teetotaler. This blog may not exist – you think you read it as I believe I write it. Fool’s Paradise.

Visions, Light, Distortions and Dimensions

Here is the crudest possible perception of a photo: It is a static two dimensional image of a scene as it existed in the briefest moment in time. Those characterizations are not true in the simplest amateur point and shoot cases, much less in any photographic piece of art. KGLPhoto Girl in a CrowdThe amateur may well successfully capture something of precious value to the intended audience. The fine art photo will probably be viewed by a wider audience, presenting a sophisticated, multidimensional and unique experience.

As part of a series, this essay contemplates what makes a great photo. What does it take to make one? I’m writing as a photographer, not a viewer. Viewers will get something out of it as well. This is not a technical how-to article. Look elsewhere for ideas on f stops, flash settings, rules of thirds, the zone system or Photoshop secrets. Instead, enjoy some rather unconventional ideas that reduce the mysteries of shooting great photos (for you) while preserving the magic (to your audience):

  • Understand your very own vision. Explore it. Let it happen. Persist. Ignore the gurus.
  • Photography is about distortions and abstractions, not reality. Break the boundaries.
  • Light is the basis of all photography. Understand light. Knowing about color helps too.
  • Photographs are multi-dimensional. Use that. Think beyond two or three dimensions.

Simple, isn’t it. I’m just kidding. It’s really, really hard to shoot a good photograph. It’s really, really absurd to reduce the magic of art into a few simplistic “rules” as shown above. As you will find out, these simplistic rules are not simple at all. But they are doable and real. Try it.

Understand that Magic

Success in any endeavor depends on self knowledge. In art, self knowledge defines the artist’s work and is reflected in vision statements and the work processes. Some people require formal vision statements, detailed plans, rules and so forth. Diane Arbus - People against Door at NightTo others, it’s all an intuitive process. Right or left brain, there is a process. The photographer who understands visions and methodical executions is much more likely to shoot and produce great and lasting photos.

Take wedding photographers, often following a written script: shoot bride; then bride and mother; add brother; add step father, grandmother and former boy friend…. Do Ceremony, Chicken Dinner, First Dance, Wedding Cake, Uncle Ben Ejected, Limo here, Limo there, Collect Fee and Get Out. Not much of a vision but certainly a partial plan.

Another extreme case is the amateur’s random path without a plan but with plenty of heart and soul. Masterpieces are not likely but it may not matter. A fine art photographer may spend years coming up with an original vision, acting accordingly in a consistent manner. The sports photographer follows the script. Portrait makers deep-six the wrinkles. The paparazzi covers the beat, avoiding bodily harm if possible. Guess who has KGLPhoto Branches against Light at Nightthe greatest chance of shooting something worthwhile to a knowledgeable audience. All do, of course – that’s who. Most photographers are quite similar to the monkey hammering away towards the Shakespeare play. That random path without a plan is more common than any admits. So what?

Many of us look for the middle ground as we deal with the “process thing”. Formalize some aspects to keep on track, be flexible in other aspects to encourage new ideas. The process is vital; the form it takes is personal. It pays to be a bit weary of the random path. Expecting no effort is the true loser.

Whether on paper or in one’s head, the creative process depends on a few basics. I’m sure Ansel Adams (who had to write technical books about his processes and thought patterns) and Henri Cartier-Bresson (who neither wrote technical books, nor volunteered to verbalize his processes) both, consciously or not, considered many of the points to be covered in this series.


Artistry contains two uniquely personal components beyond that vision thing. The first is creativity. Creativity hangs out with that artistic vision. The second is innovation. Innovation makes creative ideas become real, actual works of art. Most artists create art that is unique and very different from that of the next guy. Yet the basic creative thought patterns tend to be similar. Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson created art with almost nothing in common except cameras were involved. But read some of their thoughts and you will find great similarities, not in everything but in spirit:

Ansel Adams said:

  • In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular…. sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a Ansel Adams - River and Mountainsgood chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.
  • All I can do in my writing is to stimulate a certain amount of thought, clarify some technical facts and date my work. But when I preach sharpness, brilliancy, scale, etc., I am just mouthing words, because no words can really describe those terms and qualities it takes the actual print to say, “Here it is.”
  • When I’m ready to make a photograph, I think I quite obviously see in my minds eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the word. I’m interested in something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without.
  • Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: “Do these subjects move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?
  • I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term – meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching – there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.

Henri Cartier-Bresson said: Henri Cartier-Bresson Young Girl Carrying a Picture

  • They asked me: “‘How do you make your pictures?” I was puzzled and I said, “I don’t know, it’s not important.”
  • I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap’ life -to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.
  • This recognition, in real life, of a rhythm of surfaces, lines, and values is for me the essence of photography; composition should be a constant of preoccupation, being a simultaneous coalition – an organic coordination of visual elements.
  • If the photographer succeeds in reflecting the exterior as well as interior world, his subjects appear as “in real life.” In order to achieve this, the photographer must respect the mood, become integrated into the environment, avoid all the tricks that destroy human truth, and also make the subject of the photo forget the camera and the person using it. Complicated equipment and lights get in the way of naive, un-posed subjects. What is more fleeting than the expression on a face?
  • To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event, as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression. I believe that through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us which can mould us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds- the one inside us and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to Henri Cartier-Bresson - Couple by the River Seineform a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate. But this takes care only of the content of the picture. For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean the rigorous organization of the interplay of surfaces, lines and values.
    It is in this organization alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct.

To both photographers, the making of a photograph was a spiritual act, an inner conviction and a desire to abstract essence beyond the material world. Neither of them mentions tools or techniques except to say those are not important. I’d imagine they would not agree on whether a particular photograph is great or not. They had vastly different approaches to just about any lower level photographic technique. But the basic creative thought patterns are quite similar. Let’s consult some other photographers:

Other Photographers Said:

  • “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you Diane Arbus Twin Girlsknow.”; “What moves me about…what’s called technique…is that it comes from some mysterious deep place. I mean it can have something to do with the paper and the developer and all that stuff, but it comes mostly from some very deep choices somebody has made that take a long time and keep haunting them.”-Diane Arbus
  • The challenge for me has first been to see things as they are, whether a portrait, a city street, or a bouncing ball. In a word, I have tried to be objective. What I mean by objectivity is not the objectivity of a machine, but of a sensible human being with the mystery of personal selection at the heart of it. The second challenge has been to impose order onto the things seen and to supply the visual context and the intellectual framework – that to me is the art of photography. -Berenice Abbott

Here is some more wisdom:

  • Let us first say what photography is not. A photograph is not a painting, a poem, a symphony, a dance. It is not just a pretty picture, not an exercise in contortionist techniques and sheer print quality. It is or should be a significant document, a penetrating statement, which can be described in a very simple term – selectivity. -Berenice Abbott
  • “I discovered that while many photographers think alike when it comes to equipment and chemistry, there are seldom two who agree on anything when it comes to what constitutes a good image.”; “Great Diane Arbus Two Ladiesphotography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”; “Photography is not about cameras, gadgets and gismos. Photography is about photographers. A camera didn’t make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel.” -Peter Adams
  • “What is right? Simply put, it is any assignment in which the photographer have significant spiritual stakes… spiritually driven work constitutes the core of a photographer’s contribution to culture.”; “What’s really important is to simplify. The work of most photographers would be improved immensely if they could do one thing: get rid of the extraneous. If you strive for simplicity, you are more likely to reach the viewer.”-William Albert Allard

Vastly different personalities, drastically different views of the world and what makes a good photo, the creative thinking remains quite similar. It got to be a point in there, somewhere.

So what’s the fuzz?

What makes art special? Somehow art is more powerful than your average concept, be it Mission Impassable IX, Chicken McSluggets, Senator Hillbilly Clanton or the new Ford Swahili or motivational celebrities. The Ford Swahili - A Dooris concept tested for years, rolled out on national TV, O% Financed, Traded in, Traded out, then disappearing into a final life as Haitian cabs. Millions may be made and sold, congesting highways, polluting the air and killing some of its owners. Then when it is over – it really is over.

The art of Ansel Adams has a permanent home of sorts in San Francisco. Not many of you have a clue where that is located. Some of his photos hang in museums around the world; others are in private hands. The University of Arizona safeguards the treasure. There are no trade ins, financing campaigns, concept tests, TV ads, marketing budgets or salesmen in smart looking Kmart suits. Occasionally some Adams collection hits the road, visiting Spokane, WA; Saarbrucken, Germany and La Rochelle, France. The local newspapers may cover the event in, say ten sentences filed next to the dog show listings. Most TV reporters never heard of Ansil Adam. Yet the people show up in droves.

Some time ago, I spent a weekend trying to get into a particular Chicago Art Institute exhibition. I never made it – too many lined up in front of me, day after day. It would have been far easier to get into a Bulls, Bears, Whitesox or Cubs game or the Jerry Springer & Winfrey Shows. The Rush Street Clubs or lunching with Richard Daley – much easier, I imagine. Dinner reservations with Charlie Trotter, Rick Tramonto or Grant Achatz – piece of cake by comparison. I’m sure the Art Institute spent some marketing money but that’s not what created the draw. The art created the draw. - Wet Street Ansel Adams is a name with considerable recognition. Hillbilly Clanton would love his numbers. Now, Adams did most of his famous work in the 1940s and 1950s. Do you remember which was the best selling car in 1954? The top chart song of 1942? The 1938 Senator from Indiana? The dominant fall fashion colors of 1948? The favorite milk shake in 1935? Me neither. Most of us recognize an Ansel Adams picture, though. At least I do.

Adams survived the wear of time together with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig who died in 1941, Coca Cola (there are always exceptions), Clark Gable, Judy Garland and Winston Churchill. Adams’ 1941 Moonrise, Hernandez, NM photo coincided with the premieres of Citizen Kane, High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon and Dumbo. Bob Hope started his USO shows lasting the next fifty years. 1941 saw Hasselblad opening up a shop in Sweden. The Wehrmacht used plenty of Leica III’s. Joe Louis held on to his title six times. Those are some of the memorable events.

But did you know that Cecil Brown won the 1941 Peabody Award for reporting the news, that Jimmy Dorsey did Green Eyes and Bing Crosby crooned Dolores. Other forgotten songs include “It’s So Peaceful in the Country”, “The Hut-Sut Song”, “Cow-Cow Boogie” and “I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi”. Packard Clipper cars sold well as did the Hudson Coupe and Cadillac’s 2-door Convertible. The Cheerios brand was introduced. The radio show Melody Ranch with Gene Audrey, Hopalong Cassidy and the Grand Ole Opry shows all did just fine. The Emerson Phonoradio ($49.95) was enjoyed by many but is long gone. Few of us ponder the Ecuador-Peru Border War considering Pearl Harbor, the Germans just outside Moscow and U-boats sinking everything afloat. So much gone without a trace or regret.

Perhaps it is real simple. Things that deserve to last over time do indeed last. All the junk deserving nothing receive nothing and go away. Surely it’s not that simple. If that was true – would we have to suffer macaroni and cheese, Strauss waltzes, grits, yodeling or Jerry Lewis? I think not.

Digital cameras snap, shoot and process some 15 billion pictures a year. Most likely, only a few hundred of those will survive the lapse of time. The rest will quietly retire to the big photo paradise in the sky. What’s the difference between those long forgotten pictures resting in the sky and those few that live on to tell the story of our times?

Digital cameras sell at a rate of about 100 million a year. Cell phone cameras may sell at 5 times that amount. Say a combined total of 600 million per year. Say the average camera has a life cycle of three-four years, indicating there are maybe 2 billioSebastian Salgado - Slave labor in L. American Minen cameras in use world wide. Say the average owner snaps 5-10 pictures a year. That’s about 15 billion photos created a year, give or take a few billions.

Incidentally, isn’t it nice to know that the suicidal driver next to you on the road may not only have a head wrapped around a cell phone but could also capture the last earthly moments of either of you in panoramic, full color, no red eye high resolution jpegs automatically uploaded to YouTube, MeTube and ThemTube? Admired by millions before you even cool down? Ah well, that would never happen to me but it might happen to you.

Out of those billions of pixs, most won’t stand a chance to make it through history or even the day as your spouse/significant other/what-ever might gleefully point out. They’ll be lucky to survive a 1 second glance (the pictures, not the spouse etc.). Let’s be eternally grateful for that. The great big photo place in the sky is awaiting those hoped-for but not achieved master pieces.

Also disappearing are some $20 billion out of your and my pockets. I don’t know about you but after the first few billions, I hardly notice anymore.

Sebastio Salgados - Latin American MinePerhaps a success rate of a few hundred winners out of scores of billions seems pretty miserable, especially considering the enormous cost in $. But the flip side is that these few winners may provide a distant future with understanding and perhaps admiration of today’s world and its terrific photographers. Not a bad thing for a lucky photographer.

So it is good that most everyone in the developed and soon the entire world owns a camera, similar to possessing a phone, TV, dog, iPods, fresh socks or perhaps a card board box for a new roof. Any camera may produce the treasure picture. Some professionals may own several quite expensive cameras with lots of accessories. Others don’t.

Many of us discovered that some like to own the cameras we own. Thus, the rip-off business is very much alive, keeping eBay profitable. No one ever stole my socks but my cameras is a different story. Attach thou self to thy art, not the cameras. In this case, it is good to know it is the artist (owner), not the camera, that makes the great pictures.

The moral is that photography is big business, both to businesses and to individuals. It’s so common that perhaps we do not appreciate the miracle that actually creates a photo from some scattered, distorted and unruly light. Maybe it’s even harder to realize the magic that creates a good photo. This post serves to look at that issue.

Good photography has nothing to do with money spent on equipment. Your social standing, fame or skin Henri Cartier-Bresson - Kids in Ruinscolor matters little. A $40,000 Hasselblad or the all-plastic #20 Holga both can make art. Democrat, KKK member, Silent Majority, Maoist, Country Singer – who cares – art is for everyone. In many cases, the more money spent, the less the value of the photos – the focus is on the wrong thing.

You can make a great camera out of a shoe box using a little 5c needle. There are many great photos coming out of that shoe string operation. You don’t even need film or digital backs – the image can be viewed at the back of the shoe box as a plain projection. Scaling up, one can view such an image on a wall. No $3,000 F.5 lens required.

Fame and Money

Owning an expensive car does not make anyone a good driver. A big house does not make us better neighbors. Our ever bigger pay check does not produce a better society. Photoshop won’t create Joe Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima photo. Smart bombs do not create peace nor will the $2 trillion cost of the Iraq war. The corner office does not cure divorce, heartache or cancer. Microsoft Word Sebastian Salgado - Water Sources in the Desertdoesn’t make you Shakespeare. The biggest industrial base in the world doesn’t create the biggest land of happiness but the largest source of pollution.

Selling 85 million albums didn’t do Britney Spears much good. Michael Jackson apparently hides in a desert somewhere. Tom Delay, Richard Nixon, Bernard Ebbers and Ken Lay are just examples of the mighty taking hard falls.

W. A. Mozart was never rich – he fought poverty most of his life by spending every schilling he made. So did Rembrandt. Robert Capa mysteriously lost his Leica whenever he was broke which most of the time was the case. Haydn was a poor and humble court servant much of his life. So was Bach. Beethoven didn’t do much better. van Gogh and Monet never reaped to riches their works demand today. Mother Theresa didn’t lunch in Beverly Hills. My art teacher didn’t hop to London on the Concorde. Untold artists never made or make a decent living. Yet they have in common a collection of art unmatched by anything in the world of, say, Karl Rove, Ann Coulter, Bill Clinton, the Bush Clan or Alberto Gonzales. - By the Cold StorageMy main “On Photography essay” mentions the artists belonging to what’s called “Outside Artists (or Art)”. These artists never achieved recognition in their life time. Most spent their lives in mental institutions. Some were homeless. They never had exhibitions reviewed by New York Times. The Art Institute of Chicago did not pay attention. Of course, neither one of these two fine institutions is at fault for this, they claim. Today, several of the Outside Artists are exhibited world wide. “Outsider Art” now is a money machine, catching new interest from dealers and curators.

None of this is new, of course. Artists always were poor, misunderstood and treated unfairly. No doubt that was true of the cave artists of the Chauvet Cave in Southern France 20-35,000 years ago. Yet their art is about all that remains from those very distant Ice Age days. This is precisely the way it is supposed to be! Art has this stubborn, wonderful ability to survive even the harshest challenges such as Ice Ages, the Religious Right, Rudy Guiliano and his various wives, police chiefs and investment buddies.

Let’s poll!!

We have, of course, always been fascinated (envious? disgusted?) with famous persons. Any numbers of businesses know that and exploit it to their little merry, greedy hearts. But what exactly is “fame”. For - Protesterswhom, or what, will it last beyond the next blockbuster of whatever medium?

Here’s the deal: a little poll Choose no more than four of the names, things, events below. Two of the items are your selections of the two least likely to be famous in 100 years. The other two are the ones you believe will at least retain most of their current fame. It’s a simple choice – those without lasting fame, those with lasting fame. For the heck of it, I added extra categories to the names: Foods, Events and Stuff. Select your choices from any category.

In the low tech spirit of this post, here is how: use the comment box at the bottom of this post to submit your vote in any fashion that communicates your choice. Here and below are links to that spot There is another link returning you to the beginning. I’ll do my best to keep up with your busy and eager responses. After all, on normal day, well over a thousand of you deeply honored readers pass through these pages. Bless you all.

Here are the names, in seven favorite groups – Politics, Arts, Entertainment, Misc. and to change the pace a bit Events, Food and Stuff ” – America’s Fastest Growing Poll:

  • Politics: George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Tom DeLay, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, J. F. Kennedy, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, Boris Yeltsin, Barney the Scottish Terrier, Bob Packwood, Kim Jong-Il, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan & sister Bay, Sonny & Mary Bono.
  • Arts: George Gershwin, Andy Warhol, Louis Armstrong, Lenny Bruce, Leonard Bernstein, John Lennon, Susan Sontag, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Igor Stravinsky, Bill Haley, Norman Mailer, Luciano Paverotti, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Cage, The Beach Boys, Liberace, Woody Allen, Doonesbury.
  • Entertainment: Tom Cruise, J. K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Britney Spears, Adam Sandler, Judy Garland, Jimmy Steward, Madonna, Donald Duck, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Howard Stern, Snowwhite, Paris Hilton, Laurence Olivier, Conan O’Brien, Batman, Greta Garbo, Bruce Lee, ABBA.
  • Misc: Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, King-Kong, Ken Lay, Marie Curie, David Beckham, Albert Einstein, Martha Steward, Muhammad Ali, Princess Diana, Osama bin Laden, Al Gore, Billy Graham, Mike Tyson, Karl Marx, Bill Maher, Groucho Marx, Snoop Dogg, Riverdance, Superman, Marge Simpson, PacMan.
  • Events: 9/11 2001, O. J. Simpson Trials, Global Warming, Exxon Valdez, Hurricane Katrina, Bill Clinton Impeachment, The A-Bombing of Hiroshima, The Internet, AIDS, The Moon Landings, Watergate, Tom Cruise@Oprah, iPods Releases, Playboy debut, Janet Jackson@Superbowl XXXVIII, Yahoo birth.
  • Food: French Fries, Brains and Eggs, Steak Tartare, Beluga Caviar, Macaroni & Cheese, Big Macs, Surf & Turf, Onion Rings, Caesar Salad, Puffer Fish, Béarnaise Sauce, Lutefisk, Broccoli, Sushi, Snails, Liver & Onions, Veggie Burgers, Smorgasbord, Liverwurst, Fishsticks, Coleslaw, Kobe Beef, Kippers, Herring.
  • Stuff: Chevrolet Corvette, YouTube, Cell phone Ring tones, Microsoft Word, GPS-In-Your-Car, TiVo, The American Express Platinum Card, Boeing B52, Alien I, II, III, Soprano Reruns, The Strategic Defense Initiative, aka Reagan’s Star War, NASA, Hum-Ve, Cocaine, i-Anything, e-ThisAndThat, Maze.

Enter your choices by using the comment box at the end of this post. Hit the “Poll” button to get there quickly. Then return here using the “Return” button. And – hey – if you don’t like my choices, make up your own.


High Tech Anxiety

If being rich and powerful does not guarantee great photos any more then using an expensive lens – what would? Surely the fantastic new wonders in our ultra technology world is an answer. Take groundbreaking technologies such as DIGIT III, USM, FlexiZone, AiAF, iSAPS, SELPHY, VariAngle, TriCod, Elph, CyberShot, Super HAD, EXILIM, Genie, DA C, DNG, IAA, Phocus, GIL, IPTC Core and XMP Plus. These allegedly major advances come from current catalogs of Canon, Sony and Hasselblad. You have no idea what this stuff stands for? Me neither and I’d like to keep it that way. If you think TriCod is the way to go, by all means spend the dough. It’ll match your BetaMax collection and that ABS training system you purchased a while - Wasteland

High Tech creatures as we may be, utter madness is a healthy part of life. We are living in the utopia of intelligent garbage compactors, mood sensitive lighting, paperless (and people less?) offices, secure and safe computing, no-spam email, painless surgery, eHarmonized spouses, nuclear umbrellas, terrorism cured climate controlled eHouses. Well, the truth is – none of these much talked-about technologies are real. All of them have or will join the failures of Microsoft Bob, Ford’s Edsel, Dubya’s War on Terror, Apple’s Pippin, and the Tacoma Bridge, Alberto Gonzales’ war on US Attorneys, the Maginot Line, the Dean Scream, FEMA, the Domino Theory, Homeland Security, New Coke, G. H. W. Bush’s tax policy, Hillary Clinton’s Health Care Plans and just about everything ever touched on by G. W. Bush & Entourage. Or,

  • As H. M. Warner, founder of the famous studio put it in 1927: Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? Or as Ajhan Chah mentioned: Looking for peace is like looking for a turtle with a mustache: You won’t be able to find it.
  • To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality; to assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality. The more you talk and think about it, the further astray you wander from the truth. Stop talking and thinking and there is nothing you will not be able to know. Hsin Hsin Ming

Of course not everything is a failure, fake or fraud – it’s just a matter of perspective. Michael Brown did a heck-of-a job in New Orleans. George W. successfully was landed on an aircraft carrier and declared his job was done. Ken Lay never went to prison. Reagan felled the Berlin Wall but never heard of Nicaragua. Record companies successfully dragged grandmothers and underage kids into court. Oil Pollutionand Tobacco companies survived the adversity of various overeager zealots. Global Warming is kept an obscure, unproven and invisible rumor by George W. and other visionaries – just a part of the George W. Bush War on Science. Genocide here, famine there, nukes spreading like wildfire and Guantanamo’s popping up around the world: all are made subjects unworthy of attentions.

Drug companies enjoy fair and well earned profits from Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro, Esipram, Effexor, Cymbalta, Avanza, Zispin, Remeron, Esronax, Wellbutrin, Zyban, Emsam, Manerix, Tryptan, Buspar, Seroquel, Klonopin, Rivotril, Zyprexa, Risperdal, Adderall, Ritalin, Lithium, Tegretol, Epilim and Lamictal. That’s just to mention a few of the mind altering drugs on the market. It used to be that booze and opium did the job but no more of that.

Meanwhile, there are few drugs available to African AIDS victims. Countries such as the US dispose of their mentally ill by putting them on the streets as police gun practice targets. Polar bears and Arctic seals, krill, cod, lemmings, foxes, reindeer and walruses are obsolete and of no consequence. So are textile workers, aluminum workers, telecom workers, steel workers, cab drivers, sex workers, whaterveryourindustryis workers – depending on where you live and rare fortunes.

So what?

So life is tough. Artists starve. Sickos die. Bad products flop. Fortunes flip. Jobs go elsewhere. High Tech fails. Bears perish. Pills keep you happy. Pills make you sleep. Pills wake you up. Pension funds robbed. Coral reefs bleached. Bush remains President. Spouses fight, kids disappear, dogs panic. On it goes.

Remember the Chauvet Cave artists? Come on – it was just a couple of paragraphs ago. Pay attention. I mentioned them for a reason. Art survives. Almost all that is known about prehistoric human conditions comes from the art of a few cave artists in Southern France. Everything else is dead and long forgotten. We don’t know the ancient status of Gay Rights, Equal Employment Opportunities, Balanced Budgets, Wars on Terror, Evolution, Abortion and so on. We do know just how important animals were to those people. Just look at the art. Cave Art - Bisons

Art survives. Species go extinct. Jobs are gone. Gods, no gods, one, several, none. Chemistry here, pollution there. No morals, too much morals. Evolution, yes, no, maybe. Holocaust, starvation, killing fields. Clausewitz, Mao, Sun Tzu, Mickey Mouse. Abortion, yes, no. Bombs – nuclear, smart, dumb, too big, too small, stealth, B-52s, vested, worn, exploded by females, students, kids and Generals. Unfairness, violations, crime, corruption and high fever. Ice Ages come and go as do Global Warmings. Art survives it all. Eventually the rest dies. Art survives. The cave artists are still with us. Their contemporaries are not. Art is about us, by us, for us and will eventually be all that is left.Cave Art - More Bisons

Cave Drawings are Art. Photography is art. Lenses are not art, neither are brand names, pixels or ISOs, ASAs, DINs and UFOs. Canon, Nikon, Hasselblad, Leica or Kodak do not make art, they make stuff. Art is people, at least in the case of a selected few. Photographers create the art – some to be immortal, others very much mortal. The few, the proud, the artists. The survivors.

Less is More

Now, let’s consider the Leica M3 rangefinder camera. It was introduced in the early 1950s and remained in production till about 1968, succeeded by a few very similar models. No batteries, exposure meters or gadgetry. Three lenses did the job. Possibly a flash but usually not. Today, these cameras catch top dollars. So do the lenses and the few accessories.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Ralph Gibson, Alfred Eisenstadt, André Kertész, Yousuf Karsh, Fred Maroon, Jim Marshall, Joe Marvullo, - Musician Sebastiao Saldago and Robert Frank were or are more or less exclusive Leica shooters. These guys produced masterpieces that will be famous as long as there is a human race.

They did it without the help of electricity, buzzwords or mindblowing features such as White Balance: Auto, Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Underwater), Custom and Scene Modes: Portrait, Landscape, Special Scene (Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Night Scene, Aquarium, Underwater, Indoor, ISO 3200), Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, Stitch Assist (From the specs of Canon’s PowerShot A650).

As far as I know, they did it without the assistance of Prozac or Wellbutrin. I’m not sure about opium and booze but I’ve never heard about anyone needing Zoloft to operate an M3. In photography, less tends to be more.

Light in the Camera

A camera is a pretty simple mechanical object. It consists of a lens, a shutter system and a back end device such as a digital chip or a film. The back end catches the light remaining after passing through the lens and the shutter system. Then the back end stores a representation of the light by chemically altering the loaded film or by writing to file a digital representation of the energy hitting the sensor chip. That’s about it. Of course there are additional elements supporting the three basic ones – light meters, flashes, digital software and much else for the gadget happy photographer. As you might have noticed, my advice is to stick with the basics as we will in this essay.

Expensive Lenses or Not

A lens is just a few pieces of glass or, occasionally, plastic mounted in a tube. It gathers light to be recorded by the back end of the camera. Engineers discovered, over the last 150 years or so, that it is not possible to build an accurate lens. Today’s lenses are incredibly complex in pursuit of the fewest inaccuracies and/or the most pleasing distortions. Even so, a lens does not pass on what it sees but its distorted version of what is in front of it. Each brand with its focal length, f-values, focusing system and Diane Arbus Lady with Curlerseven individual lenses of a particular specification/brand have different and, to some extent, measurable characteristics.

Hence, no matter what you pay, lenses are not perfect from a scientific point of view – the light coming through the lens is reduced in intensity and the light beams hitting the back end are distorted due to the optical imperfections of any lens. There is no way around that. Most of these distortions are correctable, either in a darkroom or in Photoshop (or similar software).

Here are just a few of the possible imperfections: pincushion or barrel distortion, image corners out of focus, image corner light falloff, vignetting, ghost images, flares or the curvilinear effect from fisheye lenses. More generally: there are out of focus optical distortions (monochromatic aberration) such as tilt (perspective changes), defocus (sensitivity to focus changes – related to depth of field and focal length), spherical (imperfect refraction resulting in “circular” blurs of light points), coma (off-axis points are rendered wedge-shaped), astigmatism (certain images KGLPhoto Seattle Demonstrator appear doubled) and field curvature (this stands for barrel and pincushion distortion). Then, there are the optical lens color shifts (chromatic aberrations) that may be axial or lateral. Finally, we have lens stabilizers – a fairly new feature that Robert Capa and everyone else managed without until marketing geniuses decided otherwise..

The wise photographer learns to live with and benefit from the characteristics of a set of favorite lenses. Realizing the full benefits of a lens consists of long and intensive use in typical shooting situations. Some photographers claim the only way to understand the strength and weakness of a lens is to exclusively use it for a year.

Aesthetically, what is pleasing given the distortions to one photographer is deplorable to another. Lens snobs (connoisseurs) often concentrate their attention on the “bokeh” of the lens – how the out of focus parts of the image are rendered. Bokeh is generally not measurable but subjective. In a digital world, bokeh of a lens is easily manipulated in Photoshop.

Adding to the imperfections of the lens are the human errors – using the wrong lens and the wrong settings. Then the problem of low light and handheld shooting often results in handshake blur, in some cases reduced by built in image stabilizers. What about a mind stabilizer?

The Mechanical Wonders of Shutters

Then we have the shutter system. Better yet, we might include the aperture device and call it the light control system. While we are at it, let’s add the light meter present in most cameras. There are endless engineering variations of these systems. All of them share one characteristic. KGLPhoto Lady BartenderThey are inaccurate.

Accuracy is a relative concept. The shutter and the light system may actually be quite accurate except it is not doing what you tell it to do. Say that you set a shutter speed of 1/500 second. The shutter will actually give you 1/400 (say). Typically, every time you set 1/500, you will consistently get 1/400. Shutters will most likely not randomly jump around from 1/250 to 1/700 and everything in between. Likewise, the light system may consistently set you up for 1 stop overexposure. These issues are not fatal as long as you calibrate the camera or at least identify the issues. This is not very hard to do.

Potentially a much worse issue is that of relying on automation – auto exposure, auto focus and in digital cameras, auto white point. Both work efficiently only in trivial shooting situations and actually encourage bad or at least boring compositions. Consider auto focus which requires you to point the camera at the subject and then expose. That composition is not likely to be very exciting. Of course, you can point the camera at the subject, lock the focus KGLPhoto A Customerand recompose. But if so, why not manually focus which is faster, easier and more accurate?

A few cameras allow you to use off center focus points. My Canon has that ability and that works quite well although even the nine or so focusing points are not enough in my case. How about a continuously adjustable focus point? Is that too much to ask for?

Then, there is auto exposure which works great if you shoot even surfaces of 18% grey. If not, trouble soon pops up. Try this on: grab your camera, go out on a dark night to a nearby well trafficked road, making sure you don’t get run over. Try to take a picture using auto exposure of the oncoming traffic. First, point the camera in the vicinity of the headlight coming towards you and expose. Next, place the headlights off center and expose. The first image will be way underexposed while the second will be overexposed. The correct exposure is somewhere in the middle and only some intelligent guess work will save the night.

To help exposure issues, many cameras can bracket the shots automatically, up and down a few stops. That is quite helpful but won’t work in the roadside example – that variation in exposure far exceeds the typical bracketing settings.

Back ends – Film or Silicon

In a film camera, you load a particular film. That film possess unique features: brand, batch, age, overall sensitivity (ASA or DIN) and the more precise spectral sensitivity over wave lengths all the way down to the individual roll and how it was handled and stored Cindy Sherman Untitledfrom manufacturing and on. Many photographers overlook the importance of handling and storing film correctly and are punished by color casts and other unexpected issues. High temperatures and any kind of radiation make bad news. Film may be over or underexposed, either by mistake or by purpose, in which case the film is pushed or pulled, which, then, is compensated for in development.

In a digital camera, the back end consists of a chip, onboard memory and software. The chip possesses various unique characteristics ranging from resolution and sensitivity to size. The onboard software takes the raw input from the chip, massages it and converts it into an image file of some standard format, usually JPEG. RAW images may – or not – bypass the onboard software to produce an “accurate” image. Some digital cameras allow you to modify the onboard software for white balance, shooting what the manufacturer considers typical situations (”Hawaiian Sunsets”, “Cathedrals” etc.) and much else. Removing “red eyes” has become quite an industry because most camera manufacturers knowingly put the flash in the wrong place.

Of course, the image produced by the back end – film or digital – is not accurate at all. Consider the journey of light from the sun towards earth, bent and hammered as it flies along. Then the atmosphere with reflections, refractions, collisions and Annie Leibowitz Three Girlslots more does its trick or treat act. The treacherous lens adds to the wounds, the shutter and light system adds to the insult and the back end lets everyone down. Then add this little element to the pot:

If you are a Photoshop affectionate, you may have played – or even used – some of the fancy plug-ins that attempt to change the characteristics of various back ends. There are plug ins that “compensate” for or “emulate” all kinds of film brands. You can make your digital photo look like it was shot with HP 400 black and white film. Or Velvia color film. Or anything else you may fancy. There are other plug-ins making your film images look like they were digitally shot. Other filters make your image look like it was shot in 1853. Of course, all you do is to add more distortions to your image.

The Ultimate Camera

All we can expect of a camera is for it to give us images we like. Or images we can Leni Riefenthal Nuba Male“improve” using various tools. We must have sufficient control over the shooting session. We can’t get bogged down in technical gadgetry. We can deal with the distortions produced by the camera. Just accept the unavoidable fact that the camera gives you a highly distorted view of the light from the subject you’re shooting. Then keep shooting.

The Ultimate Camera is the one you are happy with and gives you images you like without too much fuss. It may play nasty tricks on you once in a while but that’s life. Do be aware that automations and gimmicks will generally make your life harder. Keep it simple and shoot as much as you can afford. Equipment prices have little to do with this – $20 Holga cameras have quite a following and artistic acceptance because of the extreme amount of distortions produced. They aren’t as great if you want to be a basket ball sports photographer.

This post surfaced a lot of issues about cameras and photography – sources of untold inaccuracies, distortions and fallacies in almost every step on the road. Some Arnold Newman Alfred Krupp Portraitmay think that digital technology will make all that hassle go away. The answer is no. The reason for that is that most of the issues have nothing to do with photography. The behavior of light and how our brains process color information are items completely outside our control and do not change no matter what the camera is doing or if it is digital or film based.

The few remaining professional film cameras are marvelous technical machines, built from 60-80 years of crucifying development. They survived anything from nuclear blasts to World Wars to landing on the moon. They even survived Uncle Ben and the punch bowl. They have been used to punch out muggers, stop bullets and to drive down nails. They are stolen, fenced and stolen again. They remain faithfully capable of taking great photos as long as there is film to load and a live finger to press that shutter release.

Professional digital cameras build on that tradition but have not quite been through the hazing of their film brothers. Yet they are the result of terrific technology advances that won’t stop for a long Robert Doisneau Two Prostitutestime. But no matter how big a sensor or how smart the auto focus, physical laws do not change. Digital technology faces exactly the same issues as does film technology but is nowhere closer to overcome such issues. That is because these issues go beyond cameras. A $40,000 digital Hasselblad system does not reduce pollution in Shanghai. Nor does it correct for ice cave blues. It can’t cure color blindness. Compositions with the Hasselblad are no better than those from my father’s old mechanical monster.

Cameras give us an image frozen in time. You press the shutter button. The shutter fires for a given period of time. The back end records the light received in that period of time. The raw image is done and reflects only that slice in time. This leads us to the next subject and two very different devices – our eyes that record images in an analog manner and our brain that processes those analog images in real time. This is way more complex and sophisticated than that camera. But first: some words from the wise.

Quotes from the Wise

  • I like to watch the person viewing my photographs to see if their eyes twinkle or cloud with tears. Does the smile sneak out when they were not expecting it to? Then I know I have captured emotion that can be shared. -Marsha Cairo
  • A big shot is a little shot that kept shooting. -Amanda Caldwell; The mystery isn’t in the technique, it’s in each of us. -Harry Callahan; If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. -Robert Capa; Rules aren’t any good if they don’t work! The only real rules are the laws of physics and optics. -Dean Collins
  • Images at their passionate and truthful best are as powerful as words can ever be. If they alone cannot bring change, they can at least provide an understanding mirror of man’s actions, thereby sharpening human awareness and awakening conscience. -Cornell Capa
  • (Professional) photographers are like hookers: at first we started doing it because we liked it and it David Bailey Portrait Femalefelt good, then we kept doing it but only for our friends, and NOW we’re still doing it but are charging money for doing it! -Dean Collins
  • Pictures, regardless of how they are created and recreated, are intended to be looked at. This brings to the forefront not the technology of imaging, which of course is important, but rather what we might call the eyenology (seeing). -Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing. Success depends on the extent of one’s general culture, one’s set of values, one’s clarity of mind and one’s vivacity. The thing to be feared most is the artificially contrived, the contrary to life. -Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Our eye must constantly measure, evaluate. We alter our perspective by a slight bending of the knees; we convey the chance meeting of lines by a simple shifting of our heads a thousandth of an inch…. We compose almost at the same time we press the shutter, and in placing the camera closer or farther from the subject, we shape the details – taming or being tamed by them. -Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • ..throughout the history of art it has been art itself – in all its forms – that has inspired art… today’s photographs are so geared to life that one can learn more from them than from life itself. -Van Deren Coke
  • The camera is a killing chamber, which speeds up the time it claims to be conserving. Like coffins exhumed and pried open, the photographs put on show what we were and what we will be again. -Peter Conrad
  • Photography is like fishing. You go out in the morning with no idea of what the trip will bring. Sometimes luck is on your side and all your crab pots are full of prime Lobsters. Other times you get nothing. -Bob Croxford
  • …There are too many people studying it [photography] now who are never going to make it. You can’t give them a formula for making it. You have to have it in you first, you don’t learn it. The seeing eye is the important thing. -Imogen Cunningham.

The Poll – Repeat from Above

Here’s the deal. Choose no more than four of the names/things/events below. Two of the items are your selections of the two least likely to be famous in 100 years. The other two are the ones you believe will at least retain most of their current fame. Simple choice – those without lasting fame, those with lasting fame. For the heck of it, I added extra categories to the names: Foods, Events and Stuff. Select your choices from any category.

In the low tech spirit of this post, here is how: use the comment box at the bottom of this post to submit your vote in any fashion that communicates your choice. Here and below are links to that spot There is another link returning you to the beginning. I’ll do my best to keep up with your busy and eager responses. After all, on normal day, well over a thousand of you deeply honored readers pass these pages. Bless you all.

Here are the names, in seven favorite groups – Politics, Arts, Entertainment, Misc. and to change the pace a bit Events, Food and Stuff ” – America’s Fastest Growing Poll:

  • Politics: George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Tom DeLay, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, J. F. Kennedy, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, Boris Yeltsin, Barney the Scottish Terrier, Bob Packwood, Kim Jong-Il, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan & sister Bay, Sonny & Mary Bono.
  • Arts: George Gershwin, Andy Warhol, Louis Armstrong, Lenny Bruce, Leonard Bernstein, John Lennon, Susan Sontag, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Igor Stravinsky, Bill Haley, Norman Mailer, Luciano Paverotti, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Cage, The Beach Boys, Liberace, Woody Allen, Doonesbury.
  • Entertainment: Tom Cruise, J. K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Britney Spears, Adam Sandler, Judy Garland, Jimmy Steward, Madonna, Donald Duck, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Howard Stern, Snowwhite, Paris Hilton, Laurence Olivier, Conan O’Brien, Batman, Greta Garbo, Bruce Lee, ABBA.
  • Misc: Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, King-Kong, Ken Lay, Marie Curie, David Beckham, Albert Einstein, Martha Steward, Muhammad Ali, Princess Diana, Osama bin Laden, Al Gore, Billy Graham, Mike Tyson, Karl Marx, Bill Maher, Groucho Marx, Snoop Dogg, Riverdance, Superman, Marge Simpson, PacMan.
  • Events: 9/11 2001, O. J. Simpson Trials, Global Warming, Exxon Valdez, Hurricane Katrina, Bill Clinton Impeachment, The A-Bombing of Hiroshima, The Internet, AIDS, The Moon Landings, Watergate, Tom Cruise@Oprah, iPods Releases, Playboy debut, Janet Jackson@Superbowl XXXVIII, Yahoo birth.
  • Food: French Fries, Brains and Eggs, Steak Tartare, Beluga Caviar, Macaroni & Cheese, Big Macs, Surf & Turf, Onion Rings, Caesar Salad, Puffer Fish, Bernaise Sauce, Lutefisk, Broccoli, Sushi, Snails, Liver & Onions, Veggie Burgers, Smorgasbord, Liverwurst, Fish sticks, Coleslaw, Kobe Beef, Kippers, Herring.
  • Stuff: Chevrolet Corvette, YouTube, Microsoft Word, GPS-In-Your-Car, TiVo, The American Express Platinum Card, Boeing B52, Alien I-III, Soprano Reruns, Cell phone Ring tones, Maze, The Strategic Defense Initiative, aka Reagan’s Star War, Cocaine, i-Anything, e-ThisAndThat, NASA, Hum-Ve.

Enter your choices by using the comment box below. Then return to the top of the post using the “Return” button. And – hey – if you don’t like my choices, enter your own.


Your brain is located in your head, according to Wikipedia. After this astonishing discovery, Wikipedia states that the human brain contains more than 100 billion neurons, each linked to as many as 10,000 other neurons. Let’s see, that means the poor thing has to deal with 10 quadrillion neurons. I really have only a dim idea what neurons are and know even less about what quadrillions of them might do to me. Apparently, they look like this: Neurons in your brain

So now you know what’s in your head: quadrillions of tiny worm look-alike things. Somehow, these worms deal with light, color, visions, creativity, math and all the rest of the stuff we believe we “know”. Moreover, these things can be several feet long, stretching from the base of the spine to the feet. They communicate with each other through various electrical and chemical means, all of which sounds like a Hollywood horror C movie.

They allow us to drive cars, walk, make love, hate the boss, watch “Police Academy III” and have opinions on photography. They tell us we are lonely, hungry, horny or just bored. Busy little things, those worms in your head. More complex than an O. J. Simpson murder case or a George W. Bush statement on Global Warming, the War on Terror and Progress in Iraq, there is no hope of understanding how the brain really works. Only politicians can deal with quadrillions of things, especially in regard to your tax bill and Air Force toilet seats. Humans can’t.

Yet for all the mystery, even a few quadrillions eager little worms don’t do the job that well. The brain is easily fooled as many simple little pop science graphics can prove. Lines that look bent but aren’t. Dot’s that rotate bur really don’t. That is in spite of consuming most of the human energy requirements and thus being responsible for Global Warming.

The brain might get sick and cause all kinds of problems. Even when healthy it can cause completely irrational things to happen. Example. I live in Seattle but every weekend I eagerly await the UK Times Sunday magazine and its reviews of London restaurants. There is close to zero chance I’ll ever visit any of these restaurants but apparently some little worm in my head suffers from Britophilia. Perhaps this is due to how the Brits endured the Blitz, David Beckham, Prince Charles and “The Office”. Who knows.

Even more amazingly, I know others suffer from the same irrational phobia. People write these Times critics from all over the World, having opinions on meals they will never have. Just last weekend, a fellow Seattlie commented on the alcoholism of one of the critics who also received a “thatta Scot” from someone with a Spanish name in Texas. Another critic receives criticism because he tends to mention his girl friend too often. The third critic (yes, the Times have three restaurant critics) is frequently called an old goat and perhaps he is. Every week this old goat publishes a photo of himself with some recent girl friend.

The Times also features a chef more famous for his record setting use of the f_ _k word on TV than his cooking. There is also a “motor” columnist who probably should be locked up as well. Said critic recently declared that “he likes cars to telegraph their intentions through the fabric of his underpants. He likes them (the cars? the intentions? the underpants?) to be crisp and responsive and loud and powerful. He confesses: “But I am unusual”. Indeed.

Of course, brains are associated with all kinds of things. Brainpower stands for a Dutch Rapper. Eggs and brains are a popular breakfast item many parts of the World, including Britain and Portugal. The Honorable US Congressman from North Carolina, Howard Coble’s web site headlines his favorite recipe for Brains and Eggs. The French like their Tete de Veau, the Mexicans their Tacos de Sesos. The US South eat squirrel brains, Indonesians like brains with coconut milk. The Mad Cow Disease might sober the demand for some of these Pork Brains By Armourdelicacies. 3rd Rock From the Sun aired their Brains and Eggs episode in 1996 (Voted 9.0 or Superb).

There are the Brains of Bahrain – a chess match – and the former TV show of Brains & Brawns, nowadays referring to downloadable cell phone ring tones. Braintree is a city in Mass., USA. The Dennis Brain Wind Ensemble makes Mozart recordings. Brains is a popular brewery in Wales. Mad scientists dream of Brains in a Vat. Let’s not forget the No Bra movement of the 1960s.

So this occasionally irrational brain and its electric worms handle our visionary system. Not only does it allow judgments on wide reaching subjects such as Michael Jackson’s nose, Britney Spears’ hairdo and the girl friends of English restaurant critics., it also permits judgments on our photography. It makes us claim one photo is better than another. It declares that some photos are obscene. Or romantic, revolutionary, boring, charming or the like. It ignores the fact that it is the brain that not only creates the opinions but also the images themselves. The brain worms receive electrical impulses derived from the amplitudes and frequencies of light and then fools us into believing we see reality. There is no reality.

Some of this post is an update and extract from my big essay on photography “On Reality 6: Mysteries of Photography” as well as On Reality – Part 1 – Elements of Light and On Reality – Part 5 – How Perceptions and Illusions destroy Reality. Other posts include On Photography – Trick and Treat of Light and On Reality 6 Rev. – Jeff Wall Magic Revisited.

Light’s in Your Eyes

Superficially, our eyes share some characteristics with a camera. Eyes have lenses, irises and corneas that work like aperture and focusing controls. Eyes understand and adjust Arnold Newman Pablo Picasso Portraitfor different light levels. There is a retina back end consisting of seven layers of light sensitive receptors that pass information to our brains. The eyes’ focusing, aperture and light controls are infinitely more sensitive and fast than those of any camera, however costly or “digitally advanced”.

Do our eyes accurately record the Truth and pass it on to the brain? No. Eyes have limitations. Some of us are near sighted; a few are far sighted or perhaps color blind. Others are blind, or nearly so. Not to forget crossed or wandering eyes. To older people, focus muscles are worn out. The eyes may contract illnesses. The lenses and corneas are easily damaged. Many lenses are shaped in an inaccurate way, resulting in distortions. The receptors may get temporarily blinded by sudden surges in light levels.

There are big businesses involved in fixing your eyes. Eye glasses, sunglasses and contact lenses eat up billions of our dollars while introducing even more distortions. Many of these devices change the focus and color of the light reaching your eyes. Some even change to color of the eyes themselves. Surgery chains happily operate on your eyes at a remarkably low price, changing your point of view again.

The eyes and the rest of the visual system do not operate on light or colors the way a camera does. The human system transforms the light entering the eyes to initially straight lines that eventually combine into curved lines and contours. Colors and light levels are Robert Doisneau Pablo Picasso with Big Fingersjudged by comparing the curves. Colors are no longer represented by K values or any other ordinary system. Light is no longer measured by absolute levels, as is done in the photo cell of a light meter. The process of interpreting all these lines, contours and relative levels introduces yet another level of inaccuracy. It is the basis of the many illusions with which some (such as psychiatrists) like to work or play.

It really is just plain weird. The brain tells us something is blue. Yet the information it based this opinion on has nothing to do with “blue” – not even the abstract “real” representation of amplitudes and wave length. The eyes and the brain have its own way of “colorizing” our world. In the external world, blue is represented by that vibration deal. Internally – in your brain – blue is associated not with vibrations but some other poorly understood collection of lines, form, chemicals, tiny electric impulses and no doubt stuff like enzymes and ultimately DNA. Beats me.

Add the analog feature of our eyes and visual system. There is no such thing as one view of our surroundings. The eyes constantly receive new information. They react to the information in an eternal cycle of adjustments. Most of us have two eyes. Each eye receives a two dimensional view. The visual system combines the two dimensional views into a three dimensional view. Take that, you one-eyed, two dimensional cameras.

Think about it. Your tiny eyes have incomparable power and flexibility relative to any camera at any price and size. But accurate – don’t look for accuracy or “Truth” here. Sorry.

Fooled by your Brain

The brain does fix it all, in a manner of speech. It is in complete charge of our perceptions. It even adds a whole emotional dimension to the information from the eyes. Of course, the brain controls the eyes themselves, not to mention all of you. A regular control freak, your brain is. But whatever the brain decides to present to you is the truth Ralph Gibson Female Foreheadbecause you have no source for a second opinion.

The trouble is we don’t quite understand what our brain does with that relatively straight forward stream of distorted light entering the eyes. We can’t control the process. We do know that what we see is an interpretation created by the brain. What are the rules for this interpretation? Here you enter a real complex issue studied by many very clever people with lots of theories, some of which are contradictory.

One theory states that the brain creates an interpolated view that is based on incomplete information from the eyes. This, again, explains the visual illusions mentioned earlier. Manipulate the incomplete information reaching the brain and it makes predictably bad decisions. There are various theories how this interpretation works, such as the one claiming the brain uses the complex math of Bayesian science.Ralph Gibson Oily Hair

Most theories agree that the brain is not an impartial recorder or interpreter of truth. It receives input from the eyes and all our other sensors. It examines the input, compares it to prior input (“experience”, “knowledge”) in its database and modifies the original input to make it more understandable and safer. Take, for instance, the novice 911 medic. The first job experiences are extremely traumatic but become routine fairly quickly. The work isn’t getting easier but that the brain distorts the reality to protect the worker. The same goes for novice soldiers entering their first battle. Later they become seasoned veterans as their brains and experience database kicks in its protective circuits.

In a more peaceful world, how many times have you used the expression “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” as applied to practically anything. The brain learns from experience and applies it to any similar situation in the future. The phenomenon of “deja vu” is similar. A new input is suddenly associated with a previous experience that may or may not be real. Theories abound on how this works, but suffice to say that the brain is quite prepared to play games with you.

The brain also makes basic assumptions such as that light is usually coming from above. It relies on prior experience to produce a predicable, safe interpretation. It is almost like the old (very outdated) saying in IT circles: You will never go wrong by buying IBM. The brain produces an image that it thinks you will like. It even goes as far as making sure that image won’t hurt you too much.David Bailey Mick Jagger Rolling tondes

Then there is the “Gestalt” theory. It states that the brain receives a bunch of sub components of the visual image. The brain then combines these sub components into the whole according to a set of rules. This theory claims the brain uses six distinct rules to achieve its goal: perhaps, perhaps not.

Other theories claim the rules depend on personality, race, gender, occupation, education, age, attitudes and values and so on. I suppose that makes intuitive sense. A different theory discards most of this theory: the brain receives sufficient information and does not make interpretations.

The brain is not really concerned with accuracy the way most of us erroneously take for granted. I already mentioned that the brain distorts the visual input as it tries to protect us from the ugliness around us. This is similar to how the nervous system shuts down to shield us from the effects of a serious injury. The brain goes beyond that mechanism. It adds an emotional context to the picture we might be looking at. Stuff look differently depending on our mood. It adds impulses from our social context or internal data base as mentioned. It also considers the current context – time of day, weather, stress level, alertness, cosmic cycles, UFOs – on and on it goes.

Here you are: a full circle and total confusion. Does this sound like the visual system capable of presenting Reality? Is it even designed to show Reality? The simple answers are No and No. On top of all the other distortions, the brain adds/filters out its own version of Reality. It’s not a damn thing we can do about it. Don’t look for accuracy or “Truth” here. Sorry. Jack Nicholson cried out to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth”. How true.

What about Photography?

Art such as photography is occasionally (often? always?) just a game of manipulating a viewer, client or buyer. We, as artists, wish to interfere with that brain mechanism that the world perceives as “reality”. We want to provoke an emotional response. We wish to show something being not quite what others expect. We use our own emotional and social contexts and experiences to provoke interest. We try to picture and present the World based on our own perceptions, biases and pet opinions. Given that, us artists should be very happy our brains help support these illusions. Or whatever.

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