Lew Lorton Photography: Blog https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog en-us lewlortonphoto 2013 llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:06:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:06:00 GMT https://lewlortonphoto.com/img/s/v-12/u747608056-o657328320-50.jpg Lew Lorton Photography: Blog https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog 90 120 Composition and Critique - understanding a photograph https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2016/8/composition-and-critique---understanding-a-photograph Route 42Route 42

Understanding how to look at a photo and seeing what bothers or impresses you about it is the key to everything. I looked up a few sites that purported to tell you about the 'Rules' of composition and came up with this list.


  • background
  • balance
  • balancing elements
  • color
  • cropping
  • depth
  • experimentation
  • fill the frame
  • framing
  • golden triangles and spirals
  • leading lines
  • leaving space
  • lines
  • patterns
  • rule of odds
  • rule of thirds
  • simplification
  • symmetry
  • symmetry and patterns
  • texture
  • viewpoint

And of course any list of 'Rules' comes with the admonition that these are really just'Guidelines' that you should follow until you know better. This is like wanting to learn to be an architect and getting instead a book of building codes.

So what is it that you are expected to learn?

What you will eventually learn is how people see and interpret pictures that are shown to them. These 'rules' are actually just efforts to express this in an understandable and technical way.

We aren't actually aware of everything we see during the normal day. Our subconscious filters out some high percentage of the signal and only passes what we know from experience to be useful.

There is a simple example that makes this obvious. If you have ever been to a new city or culture, the first day or so, you are overwhelmed at trying to understand what is going on around you. Your subconscious doesn't have any filters and it passes everything your eye sees to your brain. After two or three days, you've developed the filters for that environment and most of what your eyes see goes unnoticed by your consciousness. (This also explains why it is difficult to be objective and really see one's own pictures; in the very creating we have formed filters about what we don't care about seeing.)

Seeing a picture is a different experience. A viewer knows the picture has been captured and presented and really has no preconceived filters. When anyone first looks at a picture, their subconscious parses every element and struggles to decide what is important and what isn't. the mind uses hints about what is important from the brightness, color, focus, position.

Everything in the frame either contributes or take away from the overall impression. So, from this understanding of how people actually see and comprehend comes the only real 'Rule' and its three corollaries.

Rule: Know exactly what you want to take the picture of and let that guide the composition, exposure, framing and editing.

  • Corollary 1: Put important things in important places
  • Corollary 2: Minimize the effect of any aspect of the photo that will detract from the impact of the photo.
  • Corollary 3: Emphasize the effect of any aspect of the photo that will improve the impact of the photo.


Essentially, understanding a photo presented for critique and giving advice on what could or should be done to it is the same process as looking at your own work and deciding how to edit it to get to the best possible result with the exception that you didn't take the picture and, most of the time, you are looking at the mid-point of the edit. Things might have been done that don't jibe with what you would have done and, at the same time, some things haven't been done that you would consider important.

How is this ‘critique’ actually done? There is a skill that can only be developed by exercise of a certain unnamed mental skill. We have to train ourselves to look at the image objectively and compare that image to what we think we see in our mind and both understand the difference and see the path from one to the other.

A good/great photo is that way because everything in the frame contributes to the picture and your mind's eye sees it as a gestalt - an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.

To understand that visceral response, start off by asking yourself questions and the responses build the critique. The questions separate out the various components of a picture into manageable quantities so you can understand why you feel as you do about the picture.

Each of these questions is meant to put every characteristic into one of three categories: adds to impact, detracts from impact, neutral.

General questions that deal with the content and the composition as presented.

·What feelings or impressions come from the picture?Are these feeling congruent with the content or subject? Is the photo interesting, does the content draw the viewer in?

  • ·Are there one or more centers of visual interest?
  • ·Is(are) the center(s) of interest - the main subject(s) - well placed within the frame and does the placement relate well to the rest of the content so that the viewer’s eye is drawn to, rather than away?
  • ·Is there excess space that pulls the eye away and drains any tension or drama from the picture?
  • ·Is there enough space so that nothing feels cramped or cut off?
  • ·Are there geometric issues? e.g. are the horizontals and vertical correct, and is that important?
  • ·Is the composition appropriate for the content?

Specific issues with the handling of the material

  • ·Is the color or tonality appropriate for the content? Saturation or lack of it? Correct hues, white balance?
  • ·Does the color make the point that the photographer wants?
  • ·Is the sharpness or lack of sharpness appropriate?
  • ·Is everything that should be in focus and sharp, actually so?
  • ·In the reverse, is there so much depth of field, that attention is drawn away from the real object of interest?
  • ·Are there individual small defects - points of motion, dirt on the lens/sensor, out-of focus spots that hurt the image, unduly bright areas that draw the eye?

Remember that wonderful, successful pictures may have many small defects and still be great. Conversely, a technically perfect picture may be completely uninteresting. Photography, as all arts are, is clearly a realm where the whole may not be equal to the sum of the parts.

Now, once you are aware of the differences between what you see and what you believe is the final, best result, it's becomes easier to formulate a plan to 'fix' everything. In a critique, you might stick to the major issues; for your own work you will have to formulate a workflow to correct what you see as defects and eradicate the difference between that you see now and what you want.

The more times you do this, the faster and more intuitive the process. Like an outfielder that starts running at the instant the ball leaves the bat, you will look the original shot and 'see' what the final result must be and the path to it.

A critique has two benefits; the intended one is to allow the photographer to see how his/her image is seen by others’ eyes - eyes that are unclouded by any emotional attachment to the image. The second benefit is that every critique can be a learning experience for the critic who sharpens his/her own eye by disentangling the many components of a photograph and weighing each of these to understand the photograph’s strengths, weaknesses and ultimate success.


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Photography art composition criticism critique photograph street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2016/8/composition-and-critique---understanding-a-photograph Sun, 14 Aug 2016 18:29:01 GMT
Customizing the Lightroom Metadata Panel https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2016/4/customizing-the-lightroom-metadata-panel The metadata panel in the LR Library module has several different optional views of the quite large metadata field set.  The default set is organized to be OK for most people and exactly right for no one - at least it wasn't exactly right for me.  I wanted fields that are viewable in different screen options and, invariably, I would be toggling back and forth to look at the fields.
I use JFriedl's plugins for export to my Facebook account,  Twitter  and here at Zenfolio. Each of these plugins add metadata fields that are viewable on the  All Plugin Metadata option.
This All Plugin Metadata option has info that I want, like whether the photo has been uploaded to Zenfolio, has fields I usually don't need/want like the time and date of the upload  but is also missing some that I want to know, like if the Title and Caption fields are filled and spelled correctly - which are crucial to having my photos named correctly on all the upload.
So I would always have to pull down different sets to see the title and caption fields.
After being needlessly frustrated by this, I went back and downloaded jfriedl's  Metadata Viewer (Jeffrey's "Metadata-Viewer Preset Editor" Lightroom Plugin). This plugin (donationware) doesn't allow me to edit the metadata themselves but only to edit or create a new set that will be added to the dropdown list.
It is accessed through the Plugin Manager and has a simple click interface that allows you to edit old templates or create new ones.
Once I save the new template, I restart LR and voila
So now I see the set of information that is useful for me.
I no longer have to pick through all the fields on the upload plugins to be certain I have titled the current photos currectly, I can load multiple images without worrying about correct individual titles. 
I can tell from one look if the file has been uploaded and I can also edit the title and caption fields that the upload plugins use. 
His plugin is donationware and well worth the tiny amount for the time it saves on correcting or adding titles online.
llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Adobe Adobe Lightroom Customizing Lightroom Metadata Panel Lightroom Lightroom Metadata Panel Metadata Metadata Panel photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2016/4/customizing-the-lightroom-metadata-panel Sat, 23 Apr 2016 20:23:49 GMT
An Approach to Post Processing. https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/9/an-approach-to-post-processing I realize this is a long - and dense - article, especially for a blog post but please try to persevere through it. I am trying to unite the ideas of seeing what needs to be done with the importance of timing and the ability to retreat from dead ends.  It is only when you can fuse all these issues into 'understanding' that you can get beyond the mechanical 'making things look better' into real expression.

Thanks for reading.



Much of the discussions of work-flow in post-processing (PPing) is aimed at the simpler images where most work is done globally and even bit-level corrections aren't ambiguous. However many images require extensive post-processing to get to the final point that the maker has in mind.

It is easy to talk about post-processing at a high level of generality and vagueness – what to do first and what to leave for last. It is also easy to talk about the mechanics of specific techniques in post-processing. But in the middle, how to look at the image, how to make decisions about what really to do and how to protect yourself from time-wasting dead-end avenues where the best path is often ambiguous.

Since I often do extensive post-processing and I hate having to redo intricate work like selections because I have taken a wrong avenue or if I just want to try different PPing techniques to see how to best finalize the image, I have adopted a work-flow that relies a great deal on making and using multiple layers to insure flexibility.

What I intend to do in this article is to talk very quickly about the generalities of my work flow and why I do things the way I do and then show two examples of how I approach any image.

Understanding and deciding what should be done to make the image looks best is the most important and the most difficult skill to acquire. For those new to this, I think it is best to take a very structured approach to diagnosing the PPing needs of any image; I have written about this before.

I always start with the few simple, basic changes - global adjustments of exposure, tint, contrast or even the slightly less obvious white balance. These adjustments require not too much knowledge or skill and even a novice photographer can tackle these because there are some external standards that can be used.

(Exposure shifts the values for the entire image up or down whereas brightness is essentially a mid-tone adjustment. The Levels adjustment is used to correct the tonal range and color balance of an image by adjusting intensity levels of image shadows, mid-tones, and highlights. )

These adjustments are often used to adjust the image back to a 'perfect' rendition of what our eye sees on a 'perfect' day.

But what if the scene isn't perfect, what if Mother Nature doesn't give the light and shadows that we want? What if there is no way to get a decent exposure of all the important parts in the camera?

What if we are not just editing to return the scene to the starting point we saw – or a bit better; what if our vision is more than that – to create an image that we have seen only in our mind's eye and for which the image as caught by the camera is only the starting point?

Then how do we proceed?

SteveLeviutas perspective PhotoSteveLeviutas perspective Photo


First, most important, you must know what you are making a picture of, what is important, what you want to show and what you want the viewer to see. I don't mean in a general sense like 'this is a pretty meadow' or 'here is a nice street scene' or 'there are flowers'.

You should/must know exactly what part of the scene is important because the whole intent of processing is to maximize the impact of the important parts of the scene and, of course, to minimize anything that is either not-important or even actually disruptive to the idea or impression you want to get across.

So you must be able to look very objectively at each picture, look with an intention of discarding pictures if they can't be edited to a good final image.

If you need to crop the image so that the important parts of the image are in better or more important places, is there sufficient room? (you need to have some understanding or feeling about composition. If you don't, go read this  or some other source and then come back.)

Are the important areas in good enough focus and well enough exposed (no burnt out or blocked up – over/under exposed)so that they can stand up to being the centers of interest?

(let me step aside here to say two things:

First, if you never need to crop or post-process your images, you're much better than I am and don't need to be reading this.

Is he gone?



People who never crop or edit their images, or who say that, are more concerned with their own silly rules than they are with getting the best final image.

Second, if you don't shoot raw, you ought to have a really good reason because you are throwing away, not only information, but the chance to make the image much, much better with all the dynamic range and subtle tone detail that raw files have and jpegs do not.

Shoot jpegs if your need for post-processing is small, if you have a very well controlled lighting situation or if you need to get final images out immediately without time for editing. Otherwise, shoot raw.)

Now let's assume we have a good image with some real center of interest that is well-enough exposed, well-enough focused, which either is or can be cropped to a good final – can we happily go on?

I say, 'No.'

Often when people ask in what order to edit in, others will refer them to the Light Room Develop panel. “Start at the top and go down,” they say. Generally, this is good advice – except in this circumstance.

When people look at an image, their eyes are draw to bright areas, colorful areas, in-focus areas but also they are distracted by objects that are expected to be 'standard' in some way that aren't.

By 'standard' I refer to things like horizons – which are level – as are roofs and standing water. Verticals, like walls and telephone poles, should be, as much as possible, vertical. Corners, that we know intuitively to be right angles if they are flat to the viewer, should be right angles. That is because, unless there is an artistic reason, things that the viewer expects to be standard, should be so that the insignificant issues don't attract undesired attention.

This is the last criterion that I think is important and that must be correctable before I know an image is 'editable.' (In LR, correcting this LR-perspective-corrLR-perspective-corr perspective distortion is done in the Lens Correction panel down at the bottom and is, unfortunately, not as flexible as the transformation options in Photoshop.)

What is the sense of going through lots of effort to edit an image only to find out that it can't be transformed to remove the unfortunately distracting perspective distortion.

So to reiterate: center of interest, adequate focus, adequate exposure, correctable brightness issues, correctable perspective distortion?

All good. Now we can look at the picture and actually consider the task of editing.

I do a tiny bit of noise reduction and very little sharpening of the photo in the raw state. Because much of my photography is of people and I am often fairly aggressive in post-processing to isolate the centers of interest I often want to subdue the impact of the backgrounds, I see little reason to sharpen aggressively first only to reduce the sharpness later.

I work with three 'prime directives' in mind:

  • Put important things in important places – (composition and framing) I've already made certain that this is possible in the image capture and the inspection for catastrophic (at least for this picture) faults in framing, focus, exposure or incongruous perspective distortion..
  • Emphasize the impact of the important things
  • Minimize the impact of the un-important things

The latter two I'll work on in reverse order.

I generally do correction of the white balance and overall global changes in exposure in Lightroom. It's easy, sensible and generally not an exquisitely difficult issue. Although it is possible to do much of the correction of simple perspective distortions in Lightroom, if more complicated transformation (unilateral torquing) seems necessary, I will export the image to PhotoShop and do both the correction and the initial crop there.

I often try different post processing avenues with more complex editing and I don't like the working-on-a-canvas process in Lightroom. Like painting in watercolors, editing in LR isn't very flexible and relatively difficult to be both exacting and able to retreat step by step.

So, this is typically the point in my workflow when I export a copy of the original from LR to Photoshop where I can make selections in a variety of ways, save these selections, do intricate masks, use blending techniques and, above all, stack changes in layers.

If needed, my first step in PS is to correct the distortion and crop, if necessary.

Since, it is rare that the centers of interest and the non-important areas are to be treated the same so my next step is invariably to separate the centers of interest from the background onto one or more new layers. I do this by selecting them and then moving the selection to a new layer.

When selecting, it is sometimes advisable to 'feather' the edge so that the transition from the selected portion that has been edited to the unedited portion is not too abrupt. That will minimize the cut and pasted look. How much to feather any selection is one of the many ambiguous areas that are left to the artist's eye. It is important to avoid the 'cut-out' look so a refine every selection with a small feather edge.

De-focusing the background has gotten a bad reputation because, if not done carefully and well, the topmost un-blurred layer looks like a cutout laid on the lower layers. Feathering the selection helps with that.

When making complex selections I almost always save the selections as an alpha channel* for two reasons:1) I may want to try this again later and there is no reason to redo a perhaps difficult selection and 2) selections can be difficult and, since selections can be added to a previous alpha channel selection, a complex selection can be made up of incrementally added pieces. Alpha channels are 'cheap' in terms of bytes so the moment taken to save a selection, particularly a difficult one, is well worth it.

*Selections and masks are the largest and most powerful part of Photoshop. If you don't understand layer masks, channel masks, 'alpha channels' – this is the time to read about them. The best book I have found on these topics is 'Photoshop Masking and Compositing' by Katrin Eismann. My preference is the 2004 edition.

Now I have at least two layers, the top one(s) with my centers of interest and the bottom one(s) with the background.

I start my work on the background of the image, removing obnoxious highlights, or at least toning them down, perhaps lowering the overall contrast, correcting color casts – all this to affect anything that would distract the viewers' eyes. As much as possible, I make the changes on adjustment layers to insure flexibility.

By flexibility I mean the ability to manage the effect of the adjustment by changing the opacity of the adjustment layer, change the layer effect with blending modes properties (read about layer blending modes) or remove the adjustment by turning off the layer.

Adjustment layers and masks allow a precision and flexibility that just isn't available in Lightroom.

If I want to clone anything, to remove wires for example, I do cloning on a transparent layer above the layer I'm working on but below adjustment layers, with the clone stamp tool.

Dodging and burning is also done on new layer filled with 50% grey and the layer property set to overlay. (read on burn/dodge new layer)

If I want go as far as actually defocusing the background with lens blur, I will make a copy of the background layer and try the changes there tentatively so if it doesn't work I can delete the defocused layer or tone down its opacity.

Do I end up with lots of layers? Yes, well not exactly because when I get the final image and I think it's just perfect, I'll merge or delete as many of the layers as I can to make the file smaller and more easy to handle.

Now I start corrections on the center(s) of interest on their layer(s), making the changes also on adjustment layers but always with the option of 'clipping mask' on. Thus the effects of adjustment layers are confined to the specific layer.

What kind of 'corrections' do I make to the layer with center(s) of interest (COI)?

Well, I make the same kind of technical changes to the centers of interest except that my intent to to make this layer the one that attracts the eye but, at the same time, looks coherent with the changes on the underlying layers.

Well, as a general rule, the COI should be the area that is the lightest, the best in terms of contrast contrast, most in-focus part(s) of the image – thus embodying the characteristics that attract the viewers' attention. If the COI is a person, I often bringing down the color or tone articles of clothing that attract attention from the face.

Sharpening the center of interest in general or the face in particular is often my last step. Sharpening is an art and taste is unteachable but there are numerous references to be found on the web.

If I am planning to convert to B/W, I will often insert a temporary b/w adjustment layer to be certain that my tonal adjustments will look good in the final. Then I turn off the layer or delete it until I am finally done.

If I am ready to finalize the image, I will merge all the usable layers to a final layer on top. Then I might use a plug-in such as Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro or DxO Filmpack to give a final unifying punch to the entire frame. There is nothing in these plug-ins that can't be done using PS (I think) but the advantage of having presets for the huge range of effects is too much of a time savings to ignore.

If things don't look 'perfect' or if I want to try some more alternatives, I can go back and pick out the steps/layers that don't look good and try new alternatives. Much of the time, I may be on the fence about where I want to go, so I'll toss the layers I don't need, merge any that work into smaller grouped layers and save the file with layers. If things look great – and I am satisfied, I will just collapse everything and save it as a full resolution PSD.

If I have worked very hard and get to the end of a session with lots of work accomplished, I don't leave things to chance. I run a backup of my photo directories to two external drives right then. Thus I can sleep soundly not worrying about data loss.


First example: I will start with the image shown taken of a corridor inside the Forbidden City in China by a colleague, Steve Levitas of Maryland. (This is the image above seen above.)

chinese orig with lineschinese orig with lines

While the almost total blackness of the wall is a problem, my eye is much more drawn by the strange distortion of the walls. They are at angles with the floor – and the angles don't seem to be so much of settling by time as of strange lens distortion.

The unusual and asymmetric tilt of the walls is obvious and unsettling but most important of all, it is distracting.  It is clear that this distortion is not within my ability to correct in LR with sliders. I need to push and tug using free transform in Photoshop.  So my first chore is to expand the margins and do some free transformation to torque the various angles close to what is normal to the eye.

chinese tranformedchinese tranformed

Once the picture looks fairly square I crop it and go on to some cosmetic changes, making the red redder and the dark wall less of a complete black.

chinese cropping in placechinese cropping in place





Chinese wall histoChinese wall histo




Although this is a jpeg original, which means a narrower dynamic range, the histogram shows that the area of the wall I want to brighten isn't clipped thus does have some detail, so all is well there. I don't want much out of those shadows, just a hint of detail.


The order of doing this is, in this case, irrelevant but the straight side of the dark wall make for an easy selection, so I start with that.






I make a copy of the background layer. I made a selection of the dark wall and then create a layer mask that reveals the dark wall . (On a very simple obvious edit like this I don't bother to save the selection or label the layers because the layers palette reveals what is going on.) Then I brighten the wall to reveal a tiny bit of detail. OK, done there.

I actually brightened the wall a bit a bit too much so I lowered the opacity until it looked good.

Now I used Select>Reselect to and then inverted that selection (Ctrl, Shft 'I') to grab the remainder of the image so I could edit that. Then Ctrl 'J” to make a new layer with only the selection. Now I can work on just that part of the scene.

I made it brighter, sharpened it a bit, then realized I went too far and turned down the opacity and there it was. As good as I expected it to be.

Chinese final 2Chinese final 2

Took about as much time to do as to read and much less than to type.

Second example is a totally excellent grab shot taken in Myanmar in February of 2013 by Saul Pleeter of NIHCameraClub.

pleeter original low contrastpleeter original low contrast At first glance, this pictures looks pretty good, good focus, decent framing (although more of the little boy would have been perfect) but it does look rather bland. Rather than the figures jumping out of the background and presenting themselves, everything is this sort of overall flat color. So I decided to try some edits to give it some impact.

While still in LR I lowered the darks a bit; there weren't any real shadows and there really weren't any areas that needed to be black but this did help the contrast some. I noticed that both the little boy's and the woman's face looked pretty contrasty already and I didn't want to increase that any more with any global changes because lightening them would have looked wrong and they are contrasty enough as it is.

The higher tones were fine and it was clear that I needed to get a little less global and more specific; as I said before, I don't like the one-way, no-going back of Lightroom, so I moved this picture into Photoshop.

So my entire PPing needed to be centered around leaving the faces as they were pleeter woman and boy in quickmaskpleeter woman and boy in quickmask and changing everything else so that the faces were more the real centers of interest.  My intent was to darken the background, darken the woman's clothing, adding more saturation and keep away from any real changes of tone or contrast on their faces. To do that I needed to separate the figures from the background and separate the woman's clothing from the figures.

I chose to darken her clothing first. That way I would know how much change I needed to make in the luminosity of the wall.

First I made a quick selection of both of the figures, as seen in Quick Mask, saved that selection and used it to lift the figures to another layer.

Then I edited that selection to include only the clothing of the woman, that which needed darkening and removed the clothing alone to yet another layer.

SaulfinalpanelSaulfinalpanel As you can see from the layer panel, one doesn't need to work from the bottom up. I darkened the clothes with a brightness layer with a layer masked that was linked as a clipping mask, thus affecting only the layer directly below.

Then I went back and darkened the background wall so that the clothing and faces stood out well against it.

When I was happy with the overall look, I merged everything to a new top layer and warmed that a tiny bit and then sharpened everything a bit.


So one can see by this approach that there are two Rules in any Post-Processing effort: First, have some idea of where you want to go with the final edit and second, create your processing files so that, if your desired end result changes, you can make changes without redoing too much of the delicate work.

I use layer masks, clipping masks, channel masks, layer opacity - anything I need to create a final image that makes me happy.

This result was a picture that, at first glance was the same as the original, but had more depth, more punch and was, to me, infinitely more satisfying.

Thanks again to Steve Levitas and Saul Pleeter for the use of their images.

pleeter darkened blackspleeter darkened blacks









llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) composition lightroom photography photoshop post processing https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/9/an-approach-to-post-processing Thu, 24 Sep 2015 12:31:13 GMT
The Salt of the Earth – a film about Sebastiao Salgado - review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/4/the-salt-of-the-earth-a-film-about-sebastiao-salgado---review This is an interesting film in many ways.

First, clearly, Salgado is a great photographer - and that is the best and only genuine part of this all too hagiographic film. I would have been content to sit for the almost two hours and look at his pictures because the rest of the film and Salgado's talking head narration made me, as a photographer and a busy body, uncomfortable with the number of questions that it raised. This was clearly not meant to be either a biography or a factual narrative about him and his work.

From the very beginning, seemingly without any training, his pictures made an impact and an impression. He progressed from freelance work to Sygma to Gamma to Magnum and was quickly hailed as a significant voice. He has a definite style, strong foreground elements against a meaningful background, often shot from below against an imposing sky full of clouds.

His superlative compositions are supported by stunning lab work and printing and I was quite disappointed not to get any details about how he actually worked and his support structure. (The film also doesn't mention that his wife has a big part in selecting projects and creating books. I guess there was room for only one ego in this film.)

In regards the details of his life, there doesn't seem to be much, if any, information available. Every piece I could find on Salgado gave the same very cursory treatment to his life, the same scant facts that were mentioned in the movie. He studied economics, left Brazil because of the military coup, worked as an economist, gave up economics to shoot pictures and became famous. No learning from mistakes, no developing in closets, no struggling for his art - no anything.

There are general allusions to his having left Brazil because of the military coup; that coup took place in 1964 but he was actually in school and then working as an economist for the government until 1969 – five years later.  What caused him to leave the country and not return for 12 years? How did a Brazilian economist end up with a job in the French government?

This seems to be fertile ground for some speculation about what drove Salgado and his social conscience to document the problems of the globe but the details of his life are not to be found anywhere on line.

When there is a mystery, then that mystery usually stirs more curiosity - but the story of a popular icon seems not to attract any attention in this case.

After being exposed to the horrors of yet another catastrophe in Africa, Salgado gave up photography for a while and then was energized to resume with nature as his subject, rather than people. He employed the same very dramatic style that had marked his previous work (although he had switched to digital cameras). (For me, some of the nature images seemed a bit over-worked, even tone-mapped in their attempt to get dramatic foregrounds and heroic skies.)

In an interview printed in the NY Times,  Wim Wenders, the film-maker, said, “I just wanted to know the man, because he had impressed me for so long.” It was disappointing to me that I really didn't get to know anything about Sebastiao Salgado from the film.

At the end of the film was a long section in which Salgado and his wife described how, with the assistance of lots of workers and donations to his foundation, were restoring a wooded valley as it was originally, before the depredations of lumbering and raising cattle. Salgado gestured to a worn cattle track and talked about how cattle compact the earth and thus any rain just runs off.

In an interview earlier in the film, Salgado's father had talked about how his cattle herds had decreased, in this same valley, because of the lack of water and grazing and, in a touch of supreme irony that had to be unnoticed, said how the wood from all the forests he had harvested had generated enough money to pay for all the Salgado children's education. Salgado talked about how his foundation, with donated funds, was revitalizing this valley without mentioning that it was his own land and that the actions of his own family had been responsible for the destruction.

Every line was scripted and there were several moments that were played to be spontaneous but were clearly not. At every moment I felt that what I was hearing was not the real person of Sebastiao Salgado but the persona of Sebastiao Salgado as created and perpetuated by his work, his fans and the film makers.

If you see this movie, see it for the pictures that are wonderful on a large screen; there is a real story here, but the film doesn't show it.

And surprisingly no review I read mentioned what seems to be the obvious allusion in the title, 'The Salt of the Earth.'

In Portugese, the language of Brazil, salgado means 'salty'.


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Sebastiao Salgado The Salt of the Earth criticism photography review salgado https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/4/the-salt-of-the-earth-a-film-about-sebastiao-salgado---review Sat, 18 Apr 2015 16:26:17 GMT
The Rules of Composition, The Rules of Art. https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/4/the-rules-of-composition-the-rules-of-art StepStep The 'Rules of Composition' are a bad theory (a theory is a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based); 'bad' because they are contradictory and unrelated and, most of all, because they don't deal with the real issues. 'Bad' also because there is a commonly accepted and verbalized aphorism that one 'should follow the Rules until one is knowledgeable enough to break them.' A complete theory accounts for all of the facts that are known and relates them; clearly the 'Rules' don't do that.

The Rules are an attempt to explain, in very simple terms, a very ambiguous and variable behavior – how an individual sees and understands a photograph. I am not talking about the deeper content within subjects but only the surface, the primary decisions of what it important and what one should look at. For example, bright colored things are important, important things are not in the center exactly and not way over on the edge usually, things in the center sort of imply a symmetry. What we know is the horizon should be level, what we know is a vertical in real life should be vertical. We like balance, it feels good, we are attracted to things that are 'in focus'.

Trying to learn photography by learning any 'Rule' or set of them is inefficient and bound to fail, much like becoming fluent in a language doesn't come easily if one starts with rules of grammar. Since the 'Rules' of composition describe only incompletely how people perceive something as it is shown to them; Rules are to composition as a pile of wood is to a structure.

Noam Chomsky, the controversial linguist, etc, proposed that if human beings are brought up under relatively normal conditions, then they will always develop language with certain properties. I think that people have a similar, if less developed, 'vision engine' that allows them, even without any formal training, to understand the hints and clues in pictures they look at. When someone looks at a picture, somewhere in their mind that little vision engine tries to parse out what all the things are in each picture, what their relative importance is and what is the meaning of the picture being shown to them.

In the Western world, at least, we seem to inherent some little set of ways in which we parse meanings by size, by color, by brightness, by position- even an untutored person can appreciate some pictures. (Hence 'I don't know anything about art but I know what I like').

This 'vision engine' becomes more complex as people look at more pictures and are educated more even just by experience; they then form their own set of likes and dislikes, but usually based on a fairly common underlying set of built-in ideas about how to see art.

The role of the photographer is not to follow any set of 'Rules' but to present an image that is structured in such a way that the viewer, through their vision engine, can absorb or appreciate it. The more the photographer is aware of how people see, parse and understand pictures, the better the photographer can construct pictures.

Photographers can use these preconceptions either by using them to reinforce the photographer's intention or by violating them purposefully, surprising the viewer and giving that extra fillip of interest. When the photographer is not aware of how the viewer 'sees' a picture and the picture is constructed with contradicting 'hints' then the resultant picture becomes less comfortable.

These ideas and presets that seem to be built into most people are sort of described, awkwardly and, worst of all, incompletely by the 'Rules'. So, in giving someone feedback on their work, if the critic uses shortcuts by quoting only a 'Rule' is depriving the recipient of any real insight into their work. An image is successful because it appeals to people and lets them understand what is important and what

So critiques are most helpful, not if you tell the maker they have violated any specific 'Rule(s)', but why this 'defect' does diminish the effect. That helps people to understand what to do and why to do it. Giving them only a 'Rule' to follow doesn't allow them to go far.

When the appeal of an image overcomes any defects or distractions, no one cares about whether 'Rules' are broken or not.

The gap between the certainty of 'Rules' and the ambiguous understanding of how pictures are perceived is wide and not easily crossed. Like learning any language, each of us is different in our ability to absorb the complex language of composition. Too often, people who are new or insecure about their own artistic sense fall back on Rules because following and quoting 'Rules' is comfortable and sounds authoritative.

Many people will never get fluent in that language; perhaps that is what drives the emphasis on technical perfection in so many photographers, why they persist in ever sharper lenses, ever more pixels, always searching for a magic something that will fill the place of understanding.





llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Rules of Composition The Rules of Art. composition criticism photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/4/the-rules-of-composition-the-rules-of-art Sun, 05 Apr 2015 12:55:59 GMT
Is post processing cheating? https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/10/is-post-processing-cheating _0792378__0792378_

I was giving a presentation the other night to a local camera group and was challenged by a member of the audience about the amount of editing I do.

I am not a journalist, constrained to present the literal truth as it sits in front of me. My opinion about post-processing of images is that, for my own pictures, I care only about getting to the image as I saw it in my mind's eye and what other people do with their own work is irrelevant to me. 

So when an audience member, on seeing some heavily edited images, brought up that he thought editing was 'lying' and 'cheating', I was, honestly, a bit surprised.

The issue of whether and how much to edit images or not, usually occurs to photographers early on in their development and they make a decision yeah or nay. Like people who do HDR or alternative techniques or large format film work, a no-editing path is taken to satisfy specific interests within themselves and, while they do pursue it avidly, they should recognize that, like collecting snakes or weaving macrame birthing chairs, it is a personal interest rather than 'the only way'.

However, like many technically intensive pursuits, one's choice in how to do photography sometimes ends up becoming a validation of the operator's ego and choice, and almost inevitably the judgment is made that 'my way' is not only the best way but the only way for right thinking people and other ways are 'wrong.' Then the conflict becomes personal.

“Regarding manipulation, it is important to understand that it is impossible not to manipulate a photograph. The lens manipulates, the sensor or medium manipulates, the camera manipulates. the developer (chemical or computer-based) manipulates, the printer (machine or human) manipulates, the paper (or screen) manipulates, and even the light used for viewing manipulates. Beyond that, even the human eye and brain extensively manipulate the image we "see".”

from “The Game of Photography — What Are the Rules?" By Harold Merklinger on the Luminous Landscape site

Within the ranks of those who inveigh against post-processing, (let's call them 'those guys') there seems to be the accepted belief that the camera is some magical instrument, that it performs this semi-magical task virtually without any help from any outside agents and this image resulting needs to be untouched, treated as almost a holy object.

Clearly that is a misconception. A camera is a remarkably sophisticated tool for gathering and recording light but it does this only on command and input from two sources – either the photographer or, failing new detailed directions, from the default decisions of the original creating engineers back at the factory.

There are typically two positions held simultaneously in the anti-post processing group.

'I want to reproduce it as I see it is.'

Well the human eye has a field of view of about 180 degrees horizontally but the operator chooses the field of view through his/her choice of focal length. The human eye has a f stop equivalence somewhere between f2 and f8 but can adapt the areas in focus and integrate that in his/her brain. (Thus the visual impact of a well exposed 4x5 image shoot at a medium to small aperture giving a great depth of focus and clarity so as to appear hyper real.)

This same brain has the unique capacity to not see what is not important. So what the operator is saying in reality must be understood to really mean "I want to reproduce something that my brain told me looks right or 'natural'."

Since, if several people stood in approximately the same spot and took individual images, each image would vary from the others in some small or large way according, not to the difference in reality, but to the difference in what each operator thought would be attractive.

I don't process the image. I use it straight out of the camera.

This implies that Mother Nature is somehow on the photographers side, always providing those guys with the correct illumination for both the shadows and the highlights, always providing those guys with light that is neither too golden warm or too blue-cold. This also implies that camera sensors, and the engineering behind them, always records exactly correctly the hue and tones of the light that falls on them.

(Just as in film, different makes of camera sensors reproduce color differently.  I chose Nikon early on because I liked the color more than the Canon reproduction. By making the choice I am editing my reproduction of reality.)

I get the direct impression that second sentence above in bold could be understood as 'I get it right in the camera.'  And that can be inferred as meaning 'I am skilled, smart, dedicated so that I can do right in the camera what you guys are just too unskilled or lazy to do.'  I may be wrong but that's the impression I get.

Those guys  must shoot only in jpegs, because raw data (not an image because raw data must be translated into something) unedited, after a pass through ones choice of raw editor produces notoriously flat images with compressed tones. However, shooting jpegs, the camera must be instructed how to convert the sensor data into the jpeg, how to handle the colors, how much saturation, how much contrast.

If the operator, one of those guys, doesn't specify these adjustments, the camera falls back on the ideas of the creating engineers who have never seen the scene.

And those guys must never use exposure compensation to change that chosen by the camera or increase the contrast when the scene is flat or even use a polarizing filter to reduce the glare.

Someone is editing, perhaps just not the operator. There is no such thing as 'unedited straight out of the camera'.

Sometimes there is an appeal to tradition, homage to the past. But of course, those 'ancients' processed and edited whatever they could. They developed more or less, they printed darker,or lighter, they masked or burnt in. Ansel Adams was known much more for his skill in the dark room (the Zone System and meticulous printing techniques) then for his photography, which I find, after the first few, rather tedious and boring.

In that long process that goes from choice of recording medium, through choice of lens, through choice of viewpoint through choice of exposure through choice of editing, the choice of where to stop, when to exercise agency at any point is only a personal decision.

Believing that any 'stopping point' is superior to any other point for anyone but oneself is ego asserting itself over reality.

Saying that to stop at some specific point makes one a 'real photographer' is silly and self involved and has no relationship to the quality of one's work.



llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) cheating criticism editing is post-processing cheating is post-processing wrong photography photoshop post-processing https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/10/is-post-processing-cheating Sat, 11 Oct 2014 20:43:48 GMT
Combat Photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/9/combat-photography

Save the date -September 24th, 2014.

At the next meeting of the Central Maryland Photographers Guild, two experienced and skilled combat photographers will be talking about their experiences and the techniques of combat photography taught at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) and learned on the battlefield.

Both Chief Petty Officer Phil McDaniel and Staff Sergeant Jeremy McGuffin are currently instructors in Combat Camera at DINFOS and have years of actual experience both as instructors and as photographers in combat.

This should be an exciting and interesting presentation. Meetings are at 7 PM on the 4th Wednesday of each month at Chapelgate Presbyterian Church and High School on Marriotsville Road in Columbia, MD. Details about location of the meeting can be found on the CMPG website (http://www.cmpg.org/NavigationMenu/CMPG-Events/Meetings)
This presentation is free and open to the public, photographers or not. If you are not a CMPG member and wish to attend, please reply to this email with your contact information so we can be certain to plan on having enough room.

If you are part of another organization whose members would be interested, please include this email in your next broadcast mail or otherwise inform your members and friends.

Direct questions to Lewis Lorton at 410-997-2806 or by email to Lew@LewLortonphoto.com

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) DINFOS combat photography composition photography street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/9/combat-photography Tue, 02 Sep 2014 18:38:46 GMT
Using Fluorouracil for Actinic Keratosis - case study https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/7/using-fluorouracil-for-actinic-keratosis---case-study Since the web has a surprising amount of non useful detail on the topical uses of Fluorouracil gel for pre-cancerous lesions but not really much support for patients on what they really can expect, I thought I give you a play-by-play on my experience. 

Day 1 After many years of going hatless I had a good amount of sun damage and precancerous lesions on my face and had been treated first with topical nitrogen to remove specific lesions and then with Blue Light Therapy (Levulan).  Neither of these were really effective and so my dermatologist suggested, rather than years of single shots with liquid nitrogen, I try treatment with Fluoruracil (often called 5FU) gel.

The side effects of topical are listed as Common (>1% frequency):    Local pain, Itchiness, Burning, Stinging, Crusting, Weeping, Dermatitis and Photosensitivity. More about this later. There are a profusion of uncommon and rare side effects but nothing so dramatic as to scare me off.

Dosage and application

This medication comes in 1% and 5% concentrations and I was prescribed the 5%, probably because my lesions were widespread and evidently resistant to the other treatments. Instructions say to spread a thin layer; there is no way to emphasize how correct that it is.  The medication is suspended in a vanishing cream and even a blob the size of a half a pea will easily cover one's cheek. After correct application, the gel isn't visible except as a sheen on one's skin. This gel is typically applied for two weeks. The end result is all the cancerous and pre-cancerous cells slough off in large disgusting scabs.

I applied this after my morning shower and then again in the evening, leaving enough time before bed so that the gel would be absorbed before I spent any time on the pillow.


I was careful to wear a large brimmed hat and actually stayed as much as possible indoors. Perhaps it was a psychological result but anytime I was in the sun I could feel some stinging on the treated areas. There was little or no change for the first week of application and it was only after Day 8 or 9 that I became aware of changes in my skin.

There was some puffiness and fluid accumulation and my skin was reddening. Startlingly, my eyes felt puffy as if the lids were swollen. I felt a slight bit of tingling and a warm shower elicited some burning. For about an hour after application I felt stinging over my face and scalp where the gel had been applied.



By the twelfth day, I had a fairly severe (although not as bad as the 'horrible examples that can be found on the Internet') blistering and swelling.

This was particularly evident in the creases next to my nose. According to my dermatologist this is a common area for the occurrence of the Actinic Keratosis (a rough, scaly patch on your skin that develops from years of exposure to the sun) and is particularly difficult to treat surgically without a bad cosmetic result.

The hour or so burning after application was still present but if I did anything to exacerbate the problem, like taking a hot shower or rubbing my face with a wet face cloth (which I did to try and clear some of the disgusting debris) that would set off a bout of nearly intolerable pain and burning that could be settled down only with very, very strong analgesics.

Until I got access to these wonder pills, I lay with cool wet clothes on my face. I have no idea how low my pain threshold is or how typical my response was but for anyone having this treatment, get pills in advance.

My face looks like a badly inflamed pizza with everything. A neighbor came to our door and actually recoiled in shock.  Needless to say I don't go out much; between being leery of the sun and not wanting to jump start another bout of pain.

I am in my second day post gel, but applying some soothing ointments and taking some anti-inflammatory meds. The swelling and blistering are subsiding, I think.  My face still looks like hell and , to be honest, I am very happy not to be applying the gel any more.

I still cannot opening my mouth wide to take a bit of an apple, for example, without the stretching being painful. If, by accident or intent my wife slapped my face, I would immediately file for divorce,. (did I mention the itching? small potatoes compared to the pain but still damn annoying because one can't scratch.)

I had a bout of severe pain during the night and some lingering now but had forethought to leave a glass of water and pain pill readily available. My dermatologist saw me yesterday and said I look like I am healing well and I will look ten years younger when all the healing is complete.

Of course he gets paid to say that.

OK, to sum up:

Wear a hat and sun screen but, if you haven't and need to go through this therapy, be prepared.

When using the gel: stay out of the sun and, if fact, stay indoors because it's the uv that will hurt;

if you have to go out wear a hat and use sun block on the non gelled areas.

be prepared for pain.  No, it's not stinging, it is pain. It can be the kind of walking -up-and-down- wringing-hands kind of pain.

Get a prescription for something strong and legal and keep the meds available.

Irust your dermatologists, if he or she thinks you need it, use it.




llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) 5FTU actinic keratosis basal cell fluorouracil fluorouracil gel 5% white scaly patches https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/7/using-fluorouracil-for-actinic-keratosis---case-study Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:10:59 GMT
Review: Focal Point: Fine Art and Creative Photography - MD Fed Art https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/6/review-fine-art-creative-photography--md-fed-art Review:Focal Point: Fine Art and Creative Photography

Maryland Federation of Art
shown concurrently with the Potters Guild of Annapolis
Dates: May 23 - June 15, 2014 at the MFA Circle Gallery, 18 State Circle Gallery, Annapolis.


"Art is not a mirror, but a hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes."

Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1924):


I go to photography shows for my own sake. I go, and then write about them, because every time I see some pictures that I like, it is an exercise of my critical sense to decide why I like them - and that sharpens up my own eye for any work I do in the future. Rarely do I write or even think about work that doesn't impress me; why bother?

As I see more and more, I have refined my criteria for what makes something impressive or good to me. In general I would much rather see a one person show or at least a show where each artist has multiple works. In a show where each artist is represented by only one piece, it is very difficult to see, think or say much about the artist.

That single work might be the absolute acme of that person's work, a lucky shot, an even-the-dumbest-blindest-squirrel-finds-an-occasional-acorn sort of thing. Or the picture might be the one 'thing' the photographer has discovered that works – and which is worked to death whenever he or she shoots.  I really want to know the photographer and I can't do that seeing only one image.

So a many-person show, like the MFA show, is really a measure of the entire membership of the organization and, if I am lucky, I see something that I like that would cause me to want to return to other shows by the same organization. I learn, not about the artist, but the organization and, in some respects, the curator's values.  Not really as satisfactory but, in the chance of seeing something really worthwhile that leads me to someone's total work, I go.

What am I looking for?

Art is creation, art is intent. I am not interested in the happy accident.

I look for pictures that show a creative mind and spirit, pictures that give me an idea what the photographer is thinking and why they framed and collected what they did. I am not concerned with technical execution as a goal, except that the execution should be so good as to get out of the way and leave me alone to look through the frame into the artist's creation.

What pictures do I ignore? Well, clearly the opposite, pictures whose entire worth is based on their execution, pictures that are a self-conscious trick, pictures that are essentially repetition of scenes or ideas you and I have seen a hundred times before. Pictures that have nothing to say except 'look at me because I've done something different.'

The Circle Gallery (http://www.mdfedart.com/), one of the galleries of the Maryland Federation of Art, is a neat, interesting, well-lit space right in the heart of Annapolis. Although the rooms aren't huge, they are thoughtfully divided and thus there is room for both the 70+ photographic images and the 20 or so small pottery pieces displayed. This is an open, juried show and the quality of the pictures hung are certainly several steps above the average camera club shows. The close to uniformity of the framing and matting gives the show a professional homogeneity that I associate with a commercial gallery; all in all, quite nice.

Since the theme was 'Fine Art and Creative Photography' I was spared the usual run of lovely, over-saturated landscapes and stark weathered barns – all printed too large to ignore; most of the pictures exhibited here are at least interesting and always well executed.  Unfortunately a few of the pictures were obvious mannered attempts to be creative and for me they fell short.

Art is hard and I was looking for something special.

Not just good work, not just excellence, but some ephemeral concatenation of idea, content and execution, where the whole is much more than the sum,  that makes me fall in love.

And 'love' is the important part.  I am not a 'critic', someone who can opine about the worth of a work of art in its absolute sense and decide where to place the work in the stream of art. I go to find something I love.

In the Godfather movies, when Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino before he became enraptured by Al Pacino) is in Italy hiding from the police and he sees his wife-to-be for the first time and instantly falls in love, the villagers say he is struck by a thunderbolt. Instantly, without planning or thought or reason, he is in love with this woman he sees. That's what I look for, that thunderbolt.

And that's how I felt about two pictures I saw in this show. I didn't care how they were conceived or planned or executed, once I saw them, I just fell in love with them as they were, as windows into the artist's world.

In no special order, since I couldn't choose between them, are the two I loved.

#68 in the catalog, 'Reflection', an archival pigment print by by Mel Talley of Virginia http://www.meltalley.com/. This is, rather than a composite made in post-processing, a multiple exposure done in camera and one of a series Mr Talley is doing on an abandoned hospital. (Really he shouldn't get more credit for doing it that way but I can't help but applaud the required skill and experience and patience that makes him create the 'hard' way.)   Even though the young woman, the reflection, is nude as much as we can see, the artist places her behind the shelter of the defects in the reflecting surface so that she is not 'naked' and thus so much less distracting.

Why is she there? Why is she a ghost? What is the building? The answers aren't important, the contemplation of the mystery is.

The picture is so perfectly composed, exposed and printed that, in the large print shown, it is almost overwhelming in its impact.

'Good' pictures, in my opinion, have the right balance of meaning, mood and mystery and thus engage the mind and the emotions of the viewer. This picture has all of those, in abundance. It might be less appealing to fans of the post-modern style because the content is not linked to some grand external idea; the image itself contains all the information needed and its appeal is to the personal rather than the cerebral; it is frankly traditional and emotional – and just about perfect.

The second picture is a beautifully done composite entitled “Self Portrait with Willow and Levi” created by Patricia Stockman of Frederick, MD. Any description of the work doesn't do justice to the unreal reality of it.  Beautifully composed, beautifully executed, the editing that we know must have been done is indiscernible, the picture is one entire whole mystery.

Because the viewer can see every element clearly, the mystery is more engrossing as one's mind attempts to parse all the components. Like a Vladimir Nabokov novel, it seems like every element, no matter how small must have some meaning, just because it has been included and placed so carefully by the artist.

Even the title, as it names the horses, gives a hint that the artist, in the picture but as a viewer herself, has a prior relationship so familiar that the horses are named friends rather than animals. That is as far as I would go in even attempting an analysis; it is satisfying to have this as a beautiful mystery without knowing any more.

These pictures and most of the rest from the show can be seen and purchased at http://mdfedart.com/mfaentry/sales/. If you can get to Annapolis, see the show, it is really worth the time and the trip.

Fine pictures, great show.

Focal Point: Fine Art and Creative Photography
National Juried Photography Exhibition
shown concurrently with the Potters Guild of Annapolis
Dates: May 23 - June 15, 2014 at the MFA Circle Gallery, 18 State Circle Gallery, Annapolis.







llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) MD Federation of Art MFA art composition criticism photography review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/6/review-fine-art-creative-photography--md-fed-art Mon, 02 Jun 2014 17:13:20 GMT
Review- Naturevisions Traveling Exhibit at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/5/review--naturevisions-traveling-exhibit Review of a traveling exhibit by NatureVisions.org at The Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Interfaith Center www.themeetinghousegallery.org daily 8 AM to 9 PM through May 24th, 2014

Being a nature photographer is a double-edged sword. Even though beautiful things swarm around us, virtually everything we can focus our lens on has already been photographed – and probably a million times and probably well. Pick the most arcane subject you can, do an image search and your senses will be flooded by the images that are returned. So what is a photographer to do?

Last month I had the pleasant and enlightening experience of seeing a movie about Joel Sartore, a National Geographic photographer. His pictures were not only just good, they were always great with that extra undefinable something that makes them remain in memory. Not just documents, somehow the pictures encapsulated the essence of the subject and the moment.

So what does the average amateur photographer do to compete with these spectacular – and ubiquitous – images. Well, they work at it, hoping, with creative ideas, skill or even just chance, to catch that lightning in a bottle, that wonderful memorable shot.

I went to see the traveling exhibit of NatureVisions, which seems to be the working web-name of the the Mid-Atlantic Photography Association (MAPA), a coalition of volunteers from seven Maryland and Northern Virginia Camera Clubs.

Their mission is:

To promote and advance the appreciation of photography in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere, encourage the participation in photography by individuals with all levels of experience and all areas of photographic experience and all areas of photographic interest, and increase the appreciation of photographic art within our community.

The organization has a big yearly event, the Nature Visions Photo Expo and that will be November 14-16, 2014 at Hylton Performing Arts Center, Manassas, Virginia.

This traveling exhibit is made up of the very best of the nearly 800 images entered in the expo by the members of the seven camera clubs that contribute to the event.

And they were pretty damn nice.

Of course, as one would expect, most were technically well done, well focused, usually well-printed and even often well composed. Some of them were, in my opinion, equal quality to those seen in National Geographic. There are the inevitable things-I've-seen-before-by-different-people and I-was-there-with-a-good-lens-and-took-this-unexceptional-picture but this is the problem with nature pictures, everybody is out there shooting. In toto, the show is good and well worth the trip over to Oakland Mills.

I usually try to fix on a single picture as emblematic of the style of the show but the variety here is so wide here that I just chose, instead, the

one picture I liked the most. This picture is by Stan Collyer whose home club is the NIH Camera Club and the picture is entitled “Cardinal in Winter”

What struck me about this picture, beyond the to-be-expected technical excellence in the Naturevisions shows, is the interesting composition.

Rather than being plumb centered, as so many, too many of these kinds of shots are, or particularly large in the frame, the bird is on a third, both framed and balanced by the bare branches of the bush and by little clumps of snow.

The bird itself is almost consciously posed with its head at angles to its body and that small, brilliant red beak the only spot of vivid color in the scene.

The bird's head is turned, introducing a real tension to the picture; the viewer senses that this is a fleeting instant, perfectly captured, and so the picture has a life and immediacy that most nature shots do not.

Even though I am typically immune to the glories of nature photography this particular shot really appeals to me.

If I had the talent and the patience to shoot birds in nature, this is what I would hope to achieve.

- - - - - - -  - 

Where the show does fall short is actually not the fault of the judges or the individual artists but of a series of small things that cascaded into a poor – or at least less than optimal to me – result.

It is my opinion that the image is everything, it is the window through which the viewer should see into the photographer's reality. Anything that diverts the viewer from that reality should be minimized.

To that end, I always crop my own pictures close to the standard aspect ratios so that viewers aren't distracted by the shape of the picture, I use a standard frame in the same standard size (16 x 20) and a standard subdued color mat. (If you don't think that people are influenced by shape of the image, thank for a moment about the impact of a panorama. Or a circular crop)

Naturevisions must seem to think the same way, at least partly; all their pictures seem to be matted and framed to a standard color and frame contour. However, different sizes and aspect ratios seem to be OK- and this has contributed to a weaknesses in this show, as I see it.

The Meeting House Gallery http://www.themeetinghouse.org/#!__gallery has two purposes.

“The goal of the gallery is to provide a venue for local artists to exhibit and sell their works and to beautify our building.”

Unfortunately this last goal is where this show comes a cropper.

The gallery space is large, mostly rectangular with different color walls and is broken up by doors and entryways to other rooms. There is a large skylight over one section of the room but the rest of the room is irregularly lit with ceiling lights.

There is one wall that is reasonably well lit for evening viewing and painted off-white. Unfortunately, when the sky is bright that wall gets lots of scattered light from the skylight that reflects off any glass in the frames and I had to bob and weave to actually see all parts of the images hung there. (This picture is purposefully left dull to show how it looked on a deeply overcast day)

untitled-5120241untitled-5120241OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To 'beautify' the room, images are mounted on each available space; there are several that are isolated by themselves and rather dimly lit. Two are placed, one on on either side of a large fireplace and, with the light from the skylights, are almost un-viewable. (I went back three times at different times of the day to see if they were ever viewable, but not so.)

Because the frames are different sizes and the supporting wires keep them at different angles, a row of pictures on a brick wall looks disheveled and certainly not at their best.

untitled-5120238untitled-5120238OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

People who are photographers know that the impact of an image depends a lot of the relationship of actual subject size to empty or supporting space. Too little space and the subject feels constricted and the setting is lost; too much space and the tension of the image drains away. And that is what happens here in this show, lovely pictures spaced too far apart, rather disheveled in their order and too much of their impact gone.

These pictures, placed closer together in two rows on the best white wall, would have presented an incredible, enjoyable mass of color and detail. As they are, their impact is badly diluted.

These fine pictures deserve better. But see them and look closely and enjoy how good they are.



llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Oakland Mills Interfaith Center art composition criticism naturevisions photography review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/5/review--naturevisions-traveling-exhibit Wed, 14 May 2014 14:08:58 GMT
Review-Six Artists, Two Great Shows https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/5/review-six-artists-two-great-shows Review – The New Pictorialists and Silver Visions

The New Pictorialists – Through May 31

Full Circle, 33 East 21st Street Baltimore Maryland 21218

33 East 21st Street

Baltimore, MD 21218


Silver Visions – Images Photographed with Large Format Cameras.

River Road Unitarian Church

Bethesda, MD


What an unexpected treat to see, in one weekend, two shows with artists who each have both the vision and the skills to carry it off. Of course I liked some more than others, thought some individual pieces rose above the rest but, all in all, every work was the obvious product of careful thought and skill.

Every time I do a review, because I know nothing, I must take a steep climb up knowledge mountain. Because one of the shows was entitled 'the New Pictorialists' and the other was “Silver Visions – Images photographed with Large Format Cameras", I anticipated a re-visioning of the famous friction between the Pictorialist movement of the beginning of the last century and the Modernists most famous for the f64 group (You know big camera, everything in focus from your toes to the horizon, larger than life.)

The Pictorialists had moved away from the dull documentary style that marked the initial years of photography and emphasized a romantic kind of work that engaged the senses. Then along came WWI and social documentary photography, straight photography and the even more precise Precisionists – and the battle was on, and for some time the Modernists won.

But it wasn't all that clear cut. If you read “A World History of Photography” by Naomi Rosenblum, a tome thicker and more complex than Finnegan's Wake, you'll find that there are innumerable off-shoots and movements and groups forming and dissolving as the normal evolution of photography as an art is distorted and accelerated by the concomitant advances in the technology of photography.

I went to the show, formally titled 'The New Pictorialists' with some expectations. I had done some basic Internet research on the two artists showing on the web and was anxious to see their work in person. As it turned out, it was not for me to riddle out where these two fit in the stream of things, it was very clear – and not really very important. These two were both as far from any emotionless documentary work as one could get and still have some representational elements. Although they are both 'landscape artists', they had agreed before the show that Cathy Leacraft would show works of smaller scale and Karen Klinedinst larger more 'traditionally scoped landscapes.'

An excerpt from Cathy Leacrafts (http://www.cathyleaycraft.com/) artist statement describes her work better than I could. 

My current artistic focus is the use of reflections in glass to create layered images of landscape, thus pushing photography into the realm of abstraction.

I create these images on location, bringing reflective and refractive objects with me. I work intuitively, moving around my glass construction, looking for the view that depicts the emotion and beauty I seek to convey. The process is about letting go of labels like tree, sky, house, and allowing things to become shapes and color. By using reflections I am able to capture vivid colors and unusual abstract views of my subjects.

My goal is to give objective expression to inner experience.

Originally the photograph was intended as an aid to the artist wishing to depict the world accurately. Even as painting, and other art forms were becoming increasingly abstract, photography remained tied to pictorial realism. I am pushing photography further into the realm of abstraction.”

I am a very traditional street photographer, relatively unimaginative and thus abstractions are far from my favorite but one would have to be a stone not to enjoy these.

Leacraft uses a conventional dSLR but eschews any post-processing; she works with the specific items in the field, taking her reflective surfaces with her..The shapes and colors are well balanced, the slightly unfocussed look of most of the primary objects projects this hazy dream-like quality and I went from one to the next, not thinking anything specific but just liking what I saw.

My favorite, for no expressible reason, was this lovely image shown above, “Monhegan Gold. This and the rest of her work is visible at the Full Circle Gallery and at  http://www.cathyleaycraft.com/.

I am familiar with the work of the other 'Pictorialist', Karen Klinedinst. After seeing some pieces at a previous show and enjoying the romantic emotionalism, I subscribed to her blog so I can see work as she creates it.

My recent work explores the emotional qualities of the landscape, and is inspired by nineteenth-century

Romantic landscape painting, and the late nineteenth-century photography of the Pictorialists. Although my images are inspired by the romantic landscapes of the past, all of my images are created using the evolving and cutting-edge technology of the iPhone. I consider myself a present-day Pictorialist.


I use the iPhone to capture what I see, and then use many photo editing apps to process and manipulate images in the moment. I often stitch several images together, and add layers of texture and color, entirely on my iPhone.

Much like a plein air painter, my iPhone allows me to “plein air process” my emotional response to the landscape and create a neo-Romantic world of my imagination.

Her work is even more enjoyable in person where the aptness and delicacy of the textures can be seen clearly; she overlays the scenes with textures and edits that make the images look like the work of Romantic painters and the early Pictorialist photographers like Porterfield, Armer or Beck except, of course, in glorious color.

Her sense of color and image management is wonderful and, even more startling, is that she works solely with an iPhone and apps. It is easy even for an unimaginative dolt such as me to like her work; I'm a sucker for Tchaikovsky also. My favorite is 'The Red Tree'; it is excessive to describe this, just look.

OK, I had experienced and enjoyed the work at one end of the spectrum, those artists who, at least to some degree, had left behind the conventional ways of photographic art. Impressed and pleased I went home, only to find an email from a friend telling me about the last days of a show - 'Silver Visions – Images Photographed with Large Format Cameras.'

'Wow', I thought,'What a coincidence. Now I can see the other end of the spectrum, the ultimate pixel peepers, only with film.'

So the next morning we drove down to Bethesda. I have to admit there was an unresolved question in my mind. Both of the exhibitors, let's call them that, at the Full Circle exhibit were at some pains to distance themselves from typical 'photography' as we think of it and yet both of them used relatively intricate, as least compared to pen and paper, ways to create their art – and their work was very far from the reproduction that we associate with photography.

Anyway, back to the large camera show.

I expected to walk into a room, look around and see vistas of landscapes and seascapes, all in beautiful black and white, with every single millimeter in perfect focus. Over in one corner would be a bunch of serious looking people, probably guys, discussing developers and papers and the Scheimpflug principle.

Well, I didn't see that, except the photographers were all guys. The room was set up so that each exhibitor had a separate section; on the left were mostly b&ws, on the right were color. There were no landscapes, or mountains or seascapes.

Since the show was coming down later that day, you won't be able to see it in toto, but each of the exhibitors has a website. Before I mention them individually let me say that in at least one way, this show was typical of most large format work. Because just producing the exposed film requires meticulous, usually slow, attention to every single step, this care carries over into the final product; every single one of the many displayed pieces was essentially perfectly done. Composition was excellent, focus and sharpness were appropriate, even the matting and framing was top-notch.

Not an ugly color mat or a badly chosen frame in sight. Even better, there were no oversaturated, under-sharpened images being passed off as art.

I knew one of the exhibitors very slightly, but for a different kind of work. I had thought of George Smyth as doing mainly alternative processes, like bromoil prints or pinhole camera work, and that's what one can see the most of on his web site. But here he was showing a set of large format B&Ws of bridge structures in Baltimore.

He photographs not 'the bridges themselves, but the characteristics of the bridges -strength, beauty, determination, vigor, grace, constancy.' His pictures reminded me a great deal of the 'machine' images done by Schell and Bourke-White., stark and simple and almost pictographic in impact. Perhaps it is because of the relatively clean, almost stark look that I prefer his bromoil work which is inherently nostalgic and romantic.



Scott Davis specializes in night photography, also in large format, but in superb vivid color. Much of his work shown uses the vivid hues of neon signs as major design elements and he has enormous control of exposure and, with the sharpness achieved with large format, his pictures have an extraordinary real-ness to them, as if one could climb through the frame and into the scene. People and their tools, cars, appear only as semi-transparent marks during the long exposures.

His pictures, perhaps because of the vibrant colors and sharpness appear more vivid than life and almost cheery, as if the world goes along just fine without people. I could do with a little more mood, a bit more emotion but in terms of pictures to look at for the pure enjoyment of visual impact, I could stand at Scott's pictures all day, looking at every square centimeter caught and displayed for my eye to enjoy.



The next photographer's work is the reason that I've had a hard time writing this review because I had trouble coming to grips with why I liked it.. Barry Schmetter uses large format and old lenses to produce images that represent memories 'in the process of being pared away' to their essentials. The content, usually some type of landscape scene is hazy and the periphery dissolves into clouds or shadows. The actual content is not so important as much as awareness of the process of dissolution.  

His pictures cannot be described well, at least by me, and must be seen; to me they represent the acme of pictorialism, where emotion and persona completely overlay the supposed subject of the image. Rather than adding textures or colors that reflect art of a specific time, Barry Schmetter uses projector lenses that soften the images and cause a dissolution or vignetting at the periphery which, at one time, refers back to early photos and also mimes the ways that dreams are recalled with vague allusions to what we think of and dissolving detail as we try to remember. While probably equally or more intense in technique than the manipulations of the pictorial artists mentioned above, his final product gives the impression of simplicity and quietude. 

I liked them a lot; I fully admit I may not know why, but I like them.

D.B. Stovall is a well-known large format photographer and it is easy to see why. Much of his work is of older buildings because, 'older structures, like whiskey or cognac aging in a barrel, acquire a certain color and flavor after many years.'

His work adheres to the same very high standards as the others so it is a joy to look at from a technical perspective. What is particularly interesting is that his style changes slightly with each structure to incorporate an emotional feel that is congruent with the content. He uses both color and shape to enhance the emotional impact of the image. "He is very meticulous as well regarding time of day, always right after sunrise or just before sunset, and the sky conditions - always clear. He makes precise use of side light and long shadow." (J. Petro)  

My favorite image of the show can't be shown well here because the very details that make it good are too subtle to be seen 'small.'

This image shown does represent how he adapts the view and look to reinforce the impact. The building is rectangular and blocky and sturdy and strong – and his image is square and the color is saturated and strong. Everything about the picture reinforces the same impression.

Not for him framing to include an entire door or sign; by letting the building and sign run off the screen; he gives the size of the building some emphasis, it can't be encompassed by a mere photo. Big saturated blocks of color in the sky and ground, verticals and horizontals perfect - everything adds to the impression of solidity and 'correct' construction.  

Great stuff.

All the above comments being said, clearly as I got further and further from my own area of interest, I grew less and less comfortable about making those nebulous but meaningful comments that seem the province of art critics. I can only describe my own reactions to everything I see and try to understand what there is about the work that engenders those reactions. As far as placing any artist's work in the context of modern photography, that will have to wait for someone more educated than I.

Did I enjoy these two shows, these six artists. Oh, yes. Two shows where every artist deserved to be there and where I learned and enjoyed from everything I saw. I have come to expect that kind of curating from Brian Miller of Full Circle Gallery in Baltimore who seems to have unerring taste. Whoever got the four people together for the Silver Visions large format show deserves equal praise.

This is what shows should be.

(thanks to John Petro, a sharp-eyed friend, who read this review and called many errors to my attention and saved me from looking too bad. I left a few errors in place to annoy him

Full Circle, Ltd. 33 East 21st Street, Baltimore Maryland 21218


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) art composition criticism film large format photography pictorialism review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/5/review-six-artists-two-great-shows Sat, 10 May 2014 15:31:06 GMT
Review: Karsh and Winogrand – both shows in Washington and both revealing. https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/4/review-karch-and-winogrand Review: Karsh and Winogrand – both in Washington and both revealing.

There are two exhibits here in Washington that every photographer must see – at least to understand the huge distance that spans 'people' photographers. One exhibit is the first of two separate shows of works by Yousuf Karsh, the famous Canadian portraitist that is at the National Portrait Gallery. The second is a major retrospective of the work of Gary Winogrand at the National Gallery of Art until June 8th when it goes to the Met in NYC.

I love seeing lots of work by one artist in one place at one time. It gives me a chance to see how his/her style holds up across time and work and, more importantly, it allows me to see styles that persevere. Anyone can get lucky once and have a great piece to show, but to persist across time and content with greatness means that there is talent and creativity not just chance.

The Karsh exhibit is in the North Hall at the National Portrait Gallery. Of course it is a beautifully lit space and, since I was there in March, most of the tourists were still huddled at home and the crowd was thin enough that you could stand and look ad lib.

Karsh's work is so technically perfect that the fact one is looking at a posed portrait just fades and you see the subject as Karsh has posed them, in a stance and situation that usually informs the viewer of the specific energy of the person. Each portrait has a richness and detail that somehow ennobles the subject.

My favorite of those shown is a portrait of painter , Georgia O'Keefe, who was the wife of Alfred Stieglitz the photographer. This work shows a rather austere but somehow gentle O'Keefe, sitting close to the door of a Southwestern style house. Above her head, sharing a large portion of the frame is a large deer skull and antlers, a motif found in many of O'Keefe's paintings of the Southwest.

This painting exhibits one of Karsh's favorite posing tricks, the emphasis on hands. In a large proportion of Karsh's portraits, the subject is posed and lit so that the clothes are subdued and unimportant while the hands are well-lit and share an emphasis with the head. That gives an impression of vigor and strength to the portraits.


Interestingly Krash's famous portrait of Hemingway  is a head and shoulders and, in my opinion, is much weaker for that, certainly less imposing and less meaningful than most of Karsh's other work.

The other show, and the one that really impressed me, was a retrospective of Garry Winogrand's work, 20 years after his death.

Before you actually look at Winogrand pictures, get  a better perspective on Winogrand, by first reading an excellent article on this show by Phillip Kennicott, the arts critic at the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/in-garry-winogrands-photos-an-america-of-perpetual-motion-and-bottomless-hunger/2014/03/06/c96db872-a568-11e3-a5fa-55f0c77bf39c_story.html .

The Wingrand show is really large, more than 150 images, taking up four rooms of a large u-shaped exhibition space on the first floor of the West Wing of the National Gallery. The fifth room, in the cross-piece of the 'U', is permanently set up as a theater and shows, on continuous loop, a ten minute film of Winogrand at a lecture/discussion in 1987.

If you get to see this show, for the best understanding of Winogrand it is really useful  to pass right through the first two rooms of photos and watch the ten minute film first, before you look at any of his pictures. Winogrand talks, not about individual pictures, but about how he sees his photography. The film is enlightening and there are some really important points made that are vital to understanding Winogrand and his work.

If Karsh is the consummate perfectionist with his technique, Winogrand is all but dismissive of technical issues. 'The technique of photography is easy. A bit over-exposed, a bit under-exposed, as long as you can get a print.' He says that he wants to remain invisible. He wants not to impose his ideas and judgments, let alone his presence, on any scene. He never dealt with pictures; he was happy to take the pictures and then leave them behind. In fact, he died with some hundreds of unprinted rolls and two hundred exposed but undeveloped rolls of film. Some sixty of the prints shown in this massive retrospective have never been printed or seen before.

Now go back to the beginning of the exhibit and look at his pictures.

There is an interesting paragraph in the Washington Post that describes his work, “His work often seems on the verge of spiraling out of control, sometimes aesthetically from the emptiness of the space, the tilt of the camera or the superabundance of visual data, and sometimes because of the content, which hints at anarchic dramas, the possibility of violence, even confrontations between the subject and photographer that are never made clear. The essential Winogrand photograph says: There is more going on here than I’m going to tell you.”

And from the description of the show on the NGA website http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2014/winogrand.html

“Endlessly curious, Winogrand scrutinized both cities and suburbs, always on the lookout for those instants when happenstance and optics might join to make a good picture that exposes some deep current in American culture. “

Both of these quotes ascribe some deeper, broader intent on Winogrand's part to show something specific, to create a statement.  That he intends to explore cultural issues may be pieced together by looking at his work in retrospect but any general intent is denied in both his writing and his answers in that filmed interview.

Winogrand said that it was a real challenge to find a subject that was interesting in itself and make a picture that was even more interesting - and that is the key to looking at his photos.

Everything I read or see about Winogrand tells me that his skill, and his joy, is to see that interesting something going on, trapped in the chaos of reality, and then to capture it. What he sees is what is going on wherever he is. He puts himself in places and situations to see things. He goes from specific interest to specific interest for the pictures, not for the trends. Pictures and most of all 'interesting things' are what he looks for not an illustration of cultural tides, the exposing of anything,

In virtually every picture in that show, I could find something off-beat, something out of phase with the rest of the scene, something that caught Winogrand's eye and mind and that he caught on film. His joy was not the investigation of anything, the display of a meaningful cultural event.

He was a genius, like Cartier Bresson, in instantly seeing and dissecting what he saw in time to catch it on film. Once he caught it on film, he was no longer interested in it any further – and that explains the thousands of unseen frames he left behind.

Not all of his pictures are 'big' pictures, powerful pictures, meaningful pictures. Some are just of little things but still with that piquancy of being out of phase – and with no answer, immediate or ever.

My favorite picture from that show isn't reproduced anywhere but it is in the book that essentially details this retrospective. Winogrand's idea, that even in a picture of something interesting the photographer must find something more interesting to show, is really demonstrated here. The viewer's eye is drawn to the little boy, seen between the larger people in the crowd. We notice the dark liquiod stain on the ground and then the hat and then, over at the side, subordinate to the main subject, we see the body.

It is difficult for any of us mortal photographers to comprehend the insight and speed that Winogrand displays here, seeing that scene, then picking out the boy as an even more interesting shot and then catching that shot before the moment disappears. I admit that, before this show and looking through the book, I was relatively disinterested in Winogrand's work, I didn't 'get' it and I just assumed his work and he work just a product of the in-groupp of New York critics. After seeing this show, I was converted and I regard him now as an amazing brilliant shooter.

Incidentally that book, 'Garry Winogrand' edited by Leo Rubinfein, is a must for both the pictures and the very interesting and insightful text.

Do not miss this show; if you are able and interested buy the book.

There is a fairly extensive collection of his, and many others', work at Artsy.net



Yousuf Karsh: American Portraits
November 1, 2013 through April 27, 2014

National Portrait GalleryEighth and F Streets NW, Washington, D.C. 20001



Garry Winogrand – Retrospective – through June 8, 2014

National Gallery of Art,between Third and Ninth streets along Constitution Avenue NW



llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Garry Winogrand Yousuf Karsh karsh photography portraits street photography winogrand https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/4/review-karch-and-winogrand Wed, 02 Apr 2014 16:09:47 GMT
Review: N. Jay Jaffee - a disciple of the Photo League gang https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-n-jay-jaffee---a-discipline-of-the-photo-league-gang Review: N. Jay Jaffee Photographs from Public to Personal, 1947–1997 

Monday, January 27 – Sunday, March 23

Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery


N. Jay Jaffee  (1921–1999), a one-time student of Sid Grossman of Photo League fame in New York shot black and white photos of New York City. Although he shot in the same documentary, he is certainly not so well known as his mentors at the Photo League.

'The Photo League’s membership roster reads like a Who’s Who of leading American and emigree photographers including Sid Grossman, Aaron Siskind, Jerome Liebling, Dan Weiner, Morris Engel Walter Rosenblum, Weegee, Lisette Model and W. Eugene Smith. Directly inspired by Lewis Hine and the photographers of the Farm Security Administration and with expert guidance from photographers Paul Strand, Berenice Abbott and Beaumont Newhall, the Photo League’s collective portrait of urban life during these turbulent years is comparable to the indelible record of rural America created by the photographers of the Farm Security Administration. Many FSA photographers, including Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Marion Post Wolcott and John Vachon were also active members of the Photo League.'

What isn't mentioned in this exhibition is that the Photo League was seen as a nest of Leftist vipers and radicals by J. Edgar Hoover and the League suffered from that. While there were probably Socialists, Communists (large C) and radicals among them, probably the real bulk of the group were just socially conscious artists who used their work to document what they saw around them that stirred their interest.

Jaffee's work is of that same mind and his work – and his philosophy was so strongly influenced by the Photo League that the League or its leading lights show up in virtually everything he wrote http://njayjaffee.com/writing/.

The exhibit at the Kuhn Library Gallery at UMBC has 70 images out of about double that number in their collection. I think the exhibit would have been improved if the selection was cut by about 20 pictures, leaving a core of quite nice b&w photos. The image of Kuhn that are available on a web search are mainly those that include his quite discerning look at people of the time. He had a knack for catching them in interesting and revealing situations, while his scenes of streets are interesting only for the 70 year look into history and not nearly as much for their photographic value.

Every once in a while, one can see the kind of social realism that Jaffee might have liked to show, much as his mentors did. In a time and place when this situation abounded and this kind of photography was in its infancy, It was a shame that Jaffee didn't do more of this kind of work; he certainly had the eye. One gets the feeling from his writings that he was a great, great admirer of Sid Grossman and stood in awe of Grossman's personality as much as his photographic talent.

"His appearance wasn’t particularly striking. But his personality was. If I could find some of those students who suffered through those classes with me, I’m sure they would agree that Sid Grossman did not seem to take kindly to our presence. He was almost contemptuous; each of us got a taste of his anger and hostility during the course. We were told to bring in our work for a class critique each week. If Sid didn’t care for a student’s photograph, he would tear the print and throw it at the culprit, demanding that he never bring in “such garbage” again. When one of the students confronted Grossman about his manner, he retorted, “I’ve been in photography a long time before you came here and I’ll be in it a long time after you’ve left it!

When Sid vented his anger, I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. Yet from the first moment he entered that bare classroom, I felt a kinship with Sid Grossman. He never intimidated me. I didn’t know what his politics were or anything about his personal life. He never even mentioned The Photo League, of which he was a founding member, to us. His genius was in expounding a philosophy of photography that was unique. I had never heard anyone speak on a subject with such depth and enthusiasm. I still recall a phrase he repeated several times: “The world is a picture.” This simple statement was a profound insight into the method and meaning of photography."

from 'Remembering Sid Grossman'

Jaffee was a craftsman of his time with the equipment and materials available. See this show, as much for the unvarnished insight into the street of New York as for the display of talent. There are some very lovely small, not popular works to be seen; particularly one of two trees seen through a rain dotted window is very enjoyable.


A word about the venue. 

The Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery is a startlingly large, rather low ceiling room off to one side of the main library entrance. The walls are well-lit but the room is so cavernous that, even if the walls are hung with pictures, it seems lonely and empty.  I like cozy places more. 


N. Jay Jaffee Photographs from Public to Personal, 1947–1997

Monday, January 27 – Sunday, March 23

Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery




llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) n jay jaffee photography review sid grossman street photography the photo league https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-n-jay-jaffee---a-discipline-of-the-photo-league-gang Wed, 12 Mar 2014 00:18:48 GMT
11 Tips for Beginning Photographers - How to Start Taking Pictures https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/11-tips-for-beginning-photographers ______________________________________________________________________________

I wrote an article last year for intermediate photographers on the subject of 'improving one's photography' that proved to be quite popular – this article you are reading now is sort of a prequel to that one with the tips and ideas modified  for total beginners.

This prequel was suggested by a question from a new person on ThePhotoForum.com asking about taking a correspondence course as a way to learn now that he had a new camera.

As of Aug 1 2016, this is one of my most read article, just under 2000 reads.


OK, you have a new camera and it's a huge difference from your old p&s. After all, all you did with that one was point it and press the shutter button - not much thinking or effort required - but now you have a new camera, something more elaborate, with all the controls, buttons, levels and menu.   You want to use it to its maximum. And it cost a fair amount of money and, to justify it, you really need to learn how to use it. 

And it seems a bit intimidating.

It's like deciding to take up mountain climbing and then walking to the foot of the mountain and looking up. What seemed to be delightful and fun from a distance suddenly up close looks like a incredible, difficult climb.

Same with photography, except in photography there are lots of different goals to choose from and that will eventually modify what you will want to learn.

(1)    Be prepared for this learning process to take a long time, in fact it never ends. At the beginning, you start with the very basic vocabulary and skills generation, learning how to fit your knowledge to a basic set of knobs, buttons and menu options on a camera. Eventually your learning will get away from being camera oriented into how to better excel in a chosen niche - taking the kinds of pictures you prefer. There is never an end to learning - at least I've never gotten to an end- but you will get to plateaus where you are competent and successful - and that feels good.

(2)   If you have a workable camera now, stop buying equipment. There are several reasons for that. The first one is that, until you recognize that what you are doing or want to do is limited by the equipment you have, you don't know what direction your purchases will go in. Second, there are no universal cameras and lenses that make amazingly great pictures of any subject, at any speed, at any magnification and at any time. Photography has niches and, beyond the very basic equipment, what you buy is tailored to both the niche and the depth of your interest and pocketbook. If you buy indiscriminately, much of what you buy will be very expensive paper weights because you won't use it.

(3)    Do not spend lots of money on classes or workshops expecting that the class is the key to learning. In the beginning you are learning lots of new vocabulary and some very basic concepts, every one of which is very well covered in free web tutorials and sites. Web communities, like ThePhotoforum have dedicated sub-forums purposefully for beginners to ask questions.

Get a single basic textbook on digital photography for reference and ideas and, most important of all, read the manual that came with your camera. If you can't find it, download a new one. Then read it again.

(4)    Don't worry about being a total equipment guru. That hunk of metal is actually made for the purpose of making pictures. Once you learn how to take pictures and get them off into your computer, let up on the reading and get out there and shoot; shoot simple, exercise your finger and your mind. The first part was to learn the simple vocabulary and the mechanics; the second part, taking pictures, opens the door to the artistry of photography. Learn to use the camera's bells and whistles when you need them.

(5)    Take lots of pictures, pictures of things that catch your eye, and then analyze them to see what you were attracted to in the original scene/situation and think  what kinds of changes to those pictures would have made the image better. Start showing pictures to more experienced photographers so you can get feedback. Read about composition and match those guidelines to what your internal responses are. 

Ignore what your friends and family tell you, they love you and want you to succeed; that affects their judgement - and their judgement may be terrible to start with.

If you have ever taken a wine tasting class, or have been a beer or whiskey connoisseur, then you have experienced that more sophisticated appreciation comes with knowledge; you get to separate what was once a enjoyable flood of sensations into various categories. It takes some time to develop a vocabulary to describe what you see and what you feel.

Until you understand what elements make pictures successful and learn how to reproduce those conditions in your own images, you can't progress.

When you can learn to appreciate what it is that got your attention, why you 'like' a picture, then you are learning on a conscious level how you can use the elements of visual communication for your own pictures.

(6)    Use the Internet – a lot. When you need to learn how to do something, find an on-line tutorial. Join a online photographic community. Be choosy, find one where you are comfortable and you can both get useful information from people with more experience and where you don't feel out of place at your level.

(7)    Look at lots of pictures, lots of them. And not just your own. Use them as exercises. Decide whether you like the picture or not and try to figure out why. (that's the important part) Read lots of comments, this will help you to build your understanding of images and will give you the vocabulary to put labels on your artistic responses.

(8)    Look for critique of your own pictures. Post one or two at a time in the photo communities or in your local camera club. Listen to the comments and use what sounds good to you. Don't get sensitive; a bad picture does not mean you are a bad person.

(9)    Understand that most of the great pictures you see and admire owe 60% of their effect to post-processing either in the darkroom or the computer.  (OK, it may not be exactly 60% but compare the average decent final digital image to a slide shot, which is unprocessed and you'll see the enormous impact of post-processing.) Yes, get it as good as you can in the camera but Mother Nature doesn't care about the light you want. Post-processing is to make what your camera records into what you saw in your mind's eye. Don't immediately jump into using 'effects' and special exposures. First learn to take good basic pictures at the times when light is good.

(for some of my ideas about post-processing and workflow, you might look at Getting to a Final Image - some words on editing photos for a new photographer )

(10)    Don't look for tricks or techniques at first, just learn to take the pictures you want to take. Learning and acquiring mastery is all about cycles – start out with an idea, then do it, then evaluate the result, then determine what needs to be better the next time. The next idea is a little better because of the learning from the last iteration. Hopefully, each cycle includes a bit of new knowledge, a bit of insight,a bit of vocabulary, and a bit of skill.

(11)    Repeat #4, #5 and #7 forever- they're good for you



llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) How to Start Taking Pictures I just got a camera Tips for beginning photographers learning photography new photographers photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/11-tips-for-beginning-photographers Sat, 08 Mar 2014 19:47:20 GMT
Review: PSA-MAC at WSP: A Show I Didn't Think I'd Liked But Ended Up Loving. https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-psa-at-wsp  #HoCoArts

"Blending in Nature" - A Show by the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Photographers Society of America at the Washington School of Photography in March


I drove over to Rockville to The Washington School of Photography (which for some reason is in Maryland) in order to  review a show that turned out to have closed the day before - my mistake.  I was disconsolate and when the very nice person told me that the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of PSA was installing a show at that moment and would I like to see it, I almost said no and left.  But I didn't and I'm glad.

I am generally pretty disinterested in nature photography - actually, tending towards the uninterested. Nature generally just sits there and let's people sit around and wait until the conditions are right and then, when they take the picture, it's another duck or heron or flower or beach.  And that's what I expected to see, perfectly done images of the same old stuff.

The Photographic Society of America has the reputation for traditional and beautifully executed work in their exhibitions so I thought, as long as I'd driven over, I'll take a look.

Well, what a shock.

The show was about 95% in place and I didn't want to get in their way but I wandered around looking at the 25 or so prints that were up and, to be honest, was just in awe.

Yes, there were the very occasional minor cavils about artistic choice in processing or a minor error in printing but, for the most part, each picture was perfectly done - a mirror into the artist's reality, unhampered by any errors in execution.

If you've ever had a meal where the tastes were so perfect that the memory of that meal remains as a signal moment, well, that was my response to this show.  

Even as I drove away I was thinking about going back.

The downside of this show is that, for me as a reviewer, it sets a high standard that other shows will find very hard to come close to; it breaks the curve.

Because of the space and time crunch to get this review out, only three of the images were available for me to show. Believe me when I say that the rest of the show is as good as these.

Right inside the door of the gallery is this image above by Tam Le, "Loving Blue Heron."   Tam Le's "love of photography lead him to an early retirement in late 2010, and devote his time in photography as freelance photographer. By the end of 2013 Tam had earned over 1100 recognitions in international competition"

I've seen, if not hundreds, then certainly many tens of pictures of Blue Herons before.  What struck me about this particular picture, in addition to the perfection of the composition and color and the delicacy of line was that the maker has captured that single instant that in one more fraction of time would be gone. Thus it has a uncommon tension within the calmness of the scene. This is romantic beyond real and the story is complete in the frame.

(Originally I inserted a smaller picture here but I went back and substituted a larger one just to try to do this shot justice.)

The other picture I'm able to show is "Snowy Owl" by Ha Tran. There is no hand-waving artist's conception of what her work is supposed to mean. 

This is just plain beauty and wonder and color and line all caught perfectly. The absolute crowning touch of this image is is is not just a bird-in-flight photo; it is a bird caught at that one instant as it launches, still touching the branch and yet also in the air. That same feeling of a split second caught and preserved.

The last picture, seen below, is by  My Phuong Nguyen.   My Phuong Nguyen "began studying to be a fine art photographer when she bought her first camera in 2002. She devotes her time to her passion for photography and is constantly striving to capture many more of her award-winning images." She has several images in this show and, while this was my favorite, the others show the same gorgeous composition, sense of color and fineness of detail.  

While this image might seem a tiny bit over-saturated or contrasty in this web image, when this image is printed on a soft textured paper, the result is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. 

I am headed back today to see this show again, not to check my impressions, but just to see the all the pictures in place on the wall and take the time to look more intently at each one (and of course the free wine and cheese at the reception).

This show has turned my mind around in regards nature shots.  If they can be this good, I'll go to every show I can find.


Ha Tran - http://www.photobugs.net/hatran/

Tam Le - http://www.photobugs.net/tamle/index.php

 My Phuong Nguyen - http://myphuong.smugmug.com/


A word about the venue - Lovely light building, well lit and capacious gallery, parking in the rear, all in all a delight to visit. The walls are lined with interesting work of all genres by WSP staff and graduates.

The Washington School of Photography was founded in 1976, to bring professional photographic education to the Washington, DC/Baltimore metro area.  Starting in just two rooms, the workshops and classes quickly grew. WSP's state-of-the-art facility features a black-and-white darkroom; a dedicated digital teaching area; and a professional shooting studio.

12276 Wilkins Avenue, Rockville MD 20852 , 301-654-1998


A Show by the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Photographers Society of America at the Washington School of Photography through March, 2014




llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) . Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Photographers Society of America blue heron ha tran heron nature photography photography review tam le washington school of photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-psa-at-wsp Thu, 06 Mar 2014 20:10:25 GMT
I Want to be a Photographer - or an artist - a rant about people with cameras https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/i-want-to-be-a-photographer A rant about people with cameras. Some days, I have all I need to hear and I overflow.

So here it is. No bad words, just stuff.

Every group of photographers I know seems divided, by their intent, into two groups, whether they own up to it or not. One group is those who aspire to be craftsmen (or craftswomen). They want to control their equipment and refine their technique so they can capture anything in front of their lens in the way they want to capture it. The rest desire to be artists but may not mention it and it is only evident by their photography.

It is rare that someone who starts learning in a craft-based community, like photography, will declare themselves to be an 'artist', perhaps because that seems to be putting themselves above their fellows, somehow pretentious or presumptuous or thinking what their friends are doing isn't good enough.

Interestingly, many people will actually try to denigrate the role of 'artist', perhaps in some sort of compensatory maneuver to explain their own choice of 'career'. It's sort of 'I'm a plain guy doing workmanlike things and, if its good enough for me, no one else should have any other ideas.' 

There is also the implication is that artists don't conform to the high standards of execution of the craft that photographers as craftsman do. Yet it is a common trope that, when a craftsman exceeds the usual standards, producing work that is new and creative, he or she is designated by his/her admirers as an 'artist' eg “my hairdresser is not just a hairdresser but an artist.”

Generalizing, as I see it, a craftsman has, or intends to have, the skill to faithfully reproduce some other person's artistic vision and there is no connotation of any particular individual creativity. Yes, they can make it a bit better, yes they can polish techniques or refine the final product in some way, but there is no insinuation that they will be using the medium to discover or say new things. And many people within the craftsman community edge their work closer and closer to art, attempting new views and new ways of seeing the same subjects.

An artist is really defined by the intent to produce something that reflects his or her artistic sensibilities, pushing out from standard ways to find something new – and, unfortunately, there is no implicit connotation of skill.

One with no skills and no talent to attain or polish them is a poor craftsman.
One having great skills, but having poor or no creative instincts, will be a poor artist.

The creative urge is ubiquitous. And it doesn't take much effort in sculpture, painting, drawing, etc. to see, except in very rare circumstances, very clearly the limits in native talent and the urgent necessity for actual skills and knowledge to be creative. No sensible person, except a small child, believes he or she could sit down at a piano or pick up a violin and actually produce something that anyone else would want to hear, let alone create a new piece of music.

Unfortunately, having few skills and untried creative instincts, seems not to keep anyone from declaring themselves an 'artist.'  Photography is rather singular among the creative arts in that effort is supported by a huge and intricate technology.  Anyone who can buy a camera can direct that technology.

And because of that technology, photography is all to susceptible to faux 'artists' who rush in, armed only with the desire to create and few or no skills, knowledge or experience.

These faux artists, who don't know any better, can take a camera, make simple settings, press the shutter button and get a reasonably sharp, reasonably well-exposed result - ignoring the obvious fact that the camera did everything but aim itself and press the shutter release.

Again, not knowing any better, they can assume they have the vehicle to transport their creative ideas to fruition and declare themselves an “artist.” Smart cameras will, as long as the operator doesn't interfere too much, produce decent results under common conditions; after all the design engineers have spent years and millions of dollars/yen planning for common conditions.

Modern cameras have raised the level of the ordinary run of standard photographs, produced essentially automatically, so high that the line between ordinary, routine crap produced by a smart camera and actual good stuff produced by a skilled photographer is not easily discernible by an unknowing viewer.

But, when the requirements or conditions or scene get out of that narrow bounds that the engineers have planned for or when creativity is called for, these standard pictures fall apart. With little experience or knowledge these faux artists can't recognize the source of defects in the image and sometimes are even blind to their presence. Typically, in the reverse of the 'craftsman' snobbery, they also seem to believe that the standards of the craft, the skills, the experience are of minor importance in comparison to the strength of their artistic vision. 

'Creativity' is a easy goal in the abstract; children are 'creative.' But, in the reality, harnessing creativity to produce art on a day to day basis is difficult. Having something to say with art and being able to say it successfully is a constant challenge and any success is hard won. So once having an idea and then wanting to express it, the artist must be able to depend on skill and experience.

I've worked, learned, practiced, dealt with failure and persevered at the creative act, and let me tell you that art is hard – even if the artist has all the skills of the craft. 

So often I go to shows where photography is displayed and I see images that are out of focus or poorly processed or mis-framed - and these are not creative decisions but unrecognized or ignored defects - and the photographer waves off these issues as being unimportant.  It is as if everything that any artist does in preparation for being able to create and sustain that window into another reality just doesn't count. That, because they don't know or care, they believe they have invented a new way to create by skipping over all of this knowledge, craft, experience stuff that all the rest of us struggle with. It's a great time saver not to actually have to 'know' anything or be able to 'do' anything with any degree of skill.  (While it may seem like I am placing undue emphasis on technical 'correctness' as opposed to the art of any image, my attitude is that technical issues are totally irrelevant until they detract from the image - and then technical faults become enormously important.)

And perhaps that gets to the crux of it; their behavior, the obvious lack of craft and skill or the denial of it on the part of these 'faux' artists, is as damn insulting to me as someone who, having just bought a camera, goes out looking for work as a wedding photographer while believing, in their ignorance, that they are competent.. It is denying the importance of the preparation that artists do and the difficulty at succeeding at creating art.  

Why should I care?

I care because, besides my family, there is nothing in this world that means more to me than photography as art.

I am offended by really bad photography, badly executed, badly finished being passed off as art. I don't mean art with some potentially higher concept that I'm not getting - I'm perfectly willing to accept  as 'art' work that I don't understand - but pictures of flowers and shrubs and peoples faces that are badly done in every conceivable way, where the technical mistakes are so ubiquitous and obvious and so disruptive that they virtually clamor for attention.  I am happy and confident in my own critical sense to dislike them.

When bad photography is represented as good by the nominal authorities - galleries- then the public conception of photography as an art form suffers.


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) I want to be a photographer', art camera photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/i-want-to-be-a-photographer Wed, 05 Mar 2014 22:23:37 GMT
Anatomy of a street shot. https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/anatomy-of-a-street-shot This short essay is a followup to a presentation I made at the Central Maryland Photographers Guild about street shooting and posted specifically because it seems like a good slow motion example of what usually happens very quickly.


First let me say that not all successful street shots are big, great shots; some are little shots that only evoke a smile or an grimace of appreciation. Generally shots happen quickly and the moves that get the photographer in place and the decisions made are usually too difficult to explain sensibly enough to provide any useful meaning for a less experienced shooter.

This one, however, was a slow, stealthy process and the steps may be of some real interest.

I was coming back from Full Circle Photo, a gallery and printer in north Baltimore where I had looked at a new show that had just opened for a review. I was hungry and so I stopped at Red Emma's a radical bookstore and a vegetarian restaurant. Their slogan is “We are a worker cooperative and family of projects dedicated to autonomy, sustainability, participatory democracy, and solidarity.”

I go for the sandwiches and the coffee.

The interesting part of this place is the very eclectic clientele and the general air of intent concentration on books, phones, laptops, tablets or writing pads.

I go to look.

I had a messenger bag with a book, my Olympus OMD 5 and some other stuff but I had an Oly EP-3 around my neck, as always. I was wearing a dark short coat, dark pants and boots. The only thing I was missing to really fit in was a pony tail and a t shirt that proclaimed 'Down with the current hegemony.'

After my sandwich appeared, and in preparation for looking around and maybe getting some shots, I chose one of the bar-like elevated tables immediately at the edge of the area that held all the standard height tables. Thus I would be up above those tables and in a good shooting position. But I needed to be unobtrusive; people respond to out of the ordinary behavior and I don't want to change what is going on.

I sat down and pulled the other two chairs around the small table, one on either side next to me, ostensibly to hold my messenger bag and my coat. The real reason was to get them out of the sight line for any photos I wanted to take. I ate slowly, reading my book. Every once in a while, I would pick up my camera and look at a couple of shots on the lcd.

Once I settled in, more people came, some people left – and I was just part of the crowd. There were two possible subjects – a bearded man working on his laptop next to another guy reading his phone and a group of deaf people talking rapidly and excitedly with their hands. I took some shots but nothing there panned out well, I would have had to move and crouch to get anything interesting, if at all, and that would have certainly aroused attention.

Most of the room was in the shade and as I looked around I saw there was this one person sitting over rather deliberately in the sun. The lines were good, there was supporting composition and I could shoot without raising the camera from the table top. I was a little concerned about exposure but I could see the histogram from the initial shot and the overexposed spike was probably from the bright tray on the table.

When I got home and looked at the snaps, clearly most of them were throwaways but  one had some promise.

This one shot of the woman in the light in contrast to everyone else in the shadow stood out as being interesting. . There were some defects. Too much detail showed in the shadow areas that was not important. I wanted the woman in the sun to be the center of interest and be in clear contrast to everything else.  It was, in my mind, clearly destined to be a B&W shot where the shadows and tones supported the parts in the light and the colors were unimportant. So I cropped a bit (specifically to minimize the influence of the bent-over figure on the left), fixed the too bright areas, darkened the shadowed areas so they didn't intrude and dealt with the tilted look of the columns. Then I then used a b&w layer in PhotoShop to convert it.

In the first 'final' shot, I totally didn't see some text on the back of the cap on the man to the right  – but when someone pointed that out to me as being really distracting, it was an obvious defect and distraction - a good example of how difficult it is to fully 'see' one's own shots.

I edited the text out, or rather painted over it, and this below is the final final. Not an important shot but a good exercise to keep my eye in no matter where I am.


untitled-P3010924-Edituntitled-P3010924-EditOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) composition how to shoot street photos photography red emmas street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/anatomy-of-a-street-shot Mon, 03 Mar 2014 18:35:38 GMT
Review: Excellent show at a terrific gallery - Full Circle, Ltd in Baltimore https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-excellent-show-at-a-terrific-gallery Review: Excellent show at a terrific gallery - Full Circle, Ltd in Baltimore 

by SPE (Society for Photographic Education) member artists  #HoCoArts

It is hard to relate the pleasure and excitement that comes from seeing a photo show where all the exhibitors are artists who are not just skilled in a craft but are bursting out exploring that medium.

The current exhibition at the Full Circle, Ltd is curated by Brian P Miller, a Full Circle staff member, and Jay Gould, a teacher at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The show will feature a group of SPE (Society for Photographic Education) member artists during the conference time in Baltimore. This show will be up from February 22nd- March 29th with a reception held March 8th 7-10:30 pm.

The show at the Full Circle, Ltd is small, with only one, two or three examples from each of the seven artists but quite worth seeing. This is clearly not a display of 'photography' but a display of art with photography as the primary medium. Some of the work is more easily understood and appreciated in a small on-line image and so I will confine my specific remarks to two pieces that show specifically well online. That being said, every piece is worth being seen in person.

Emma Powell (http://www.emmapowellphotography.com) shows three images from her cyanotype series 'In search of sleep.'

This series 'recreates this shadowy realm and allows me to explore my real-life questions, from personal dramas to romantic doubts. The cyanotype process, with its distinctive blue tones, visually traverses the distance between waking and sleeping. These images are also toned with tea and wine to both dull the blues and add warmth.'

I loved all three of the images shown but my personal favorite was “Unmoored.”

These are composite images and, although I know that, the technical execution is so fine that I can easily make myself unaware of that and see through the frame into the world of the image. Each of the few nicely chosen and rendered objects in the frame has strong allusions and, together, make an indelible impression of that vague unreality of the dream state. Well made and well conceived and well executed, by themselves these works, just inside the door of Full Circle, would have made the entire trip worth while.

The second image is “Lilac Breasted Roller with kumquats” a particularly gorgeous pigment print by Sarah Cusimano Miles. (http://sarahcusimanomiles.com/index.php) This image comes from a series of explorations of the collections of the Anniston Museum of Natural) History in Anniston, Alabama. “By portraying these objects through the tradition of the still life, the artist explores ideas of cultural decadence and beauty in stasis. In addition, these photographs are comprised of numerous single frames combined to construct high-resolution composite images. This allows for the capture and portrayal of the subject in a manner that goes beyond that which is possible through a single exposure. In this way the image exists as a double construction; once as the objects are assembled to be photographed, and again as the frames are combined to form the final image.”

Although it is not stated directly, this image, and the others from this series displayed on her web site, are strongly reminiscent of Dutch and Flemish still lives from the 16th and 17th century. The richness of color, the wealth of fine detail and the knowing placement of the objects within the frame, in striking allusion to the painted still lives, seem almost to be a tromp l'oeil painting and I had to constantly remind myself that this was a photograph, almost in homage to the painters. A wonderful achievement both in conception and execution.

It is only for lack of space that I cannot show the excellent and interesting work of the other artists in the show.

Elliot Dudik – 4 Untitled Pigment Prints http://www.eliotdudik.com/

Brenton Hamilton – Man of Stars http://www.brentonhamiltonstudio.net/main.html

Rebecca Hopp - “We kept her in a cage” and 'Harvest End” http://cargocollective.com/rebeccajhopp

Gina Phillips – Syzygy Photogeam #1 and #20 http://ginamphillips.com/syzygy.html

John Vigg - Pine Barrens Mapping http://www.wheresvigg.com/


A word about the venue.

I learned about Full Circle, which is also a full service imaging and frame shop, back in January when I needed two prints done especially well. I was exchanging prints with someone and I wanted my prints to look good both as a mark of respect to the other photographer and as a good example of my work. Every one of the staff I met at Full Circle was friendly and clearly knowledgeable and the result was so good I could barely steel myself to give the prints away.


“Echos of Veracity” Full Circle, Ltd. 33 East 21st Street, Baltimore Maryland 21218. This show will be up from February 22nd- March 29th with a reception will be held March 8th 7-10:30 pm.





llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) SPE Sarah Cusimano Miles Society for Photographic Education brenton hamilton elliot dudik emma powell full circle gina phillips john vigg photography rebecca hopp review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-excellent-show-at-a-terrific-gallery Sat, 01 Mar 2014 21:12:56 GMT
Review- Group Show, Kish Gallery, Slayton House, Wilde Lake https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review--group-show-kish-gallery-slayton-house-wilde-lake A group show with two themes -

"Honoring Women of the World: Commemorating International Women's Day"- work of Ann von Lossberg

"The Natural World" work of Marie McGing and John Hossli

In an article, A. D. Coleman, the first photo critic for the New York Times, mentioned that sometimes he finds, in some critical discussions, that he never even talked about the pictures themselves. That's not me.  I try to be tabula rasa when I see a show. I'm not a critic, talking about people's concepts and inspirations. I respond to what I see, to how well the photographer has pursued their concept and shown it in the frame.

The Kish Gallery, a part of Slayton House in Wilde Lake, Columbia  is quite a lovely space; there are two rooms, an outer room with abundant natural and artificial light that gets good traffic as people pass into an auditorium space and an inner room which gets less traffic and natural light but is very nicely lit. #HoCoArts

Marie McGing is an active local artist, exhibiting locally and doing both portrait and nature photography.( www.mdesigns4u.com) (Ms McGing did not supply an artist's statement)

Monks Her work as displayed here as part of 'The Natural World' shows a good eye for composition and the resulting images are quiet, peaceful images, often focused on single plants or blooms and directed at those who do love the unsullied views of nature. In my opinion her most successful piece is this landscape entitled 'Early Fall Morning.'

In this very nice image, the unhurried horizontal lines of the harvested field in the foreground merge easily into the almost bare trees that are themselves, silhouetted against a quiet, peaceful sky – all in soft autumn tones.

Where Ms McGing's work falls short for me quite often in other pieces displayed is the lack of crispiness and clarity where it would be welcome. Few of her pictures have the sharpness of detail and clear tones that allow me as a viewer to suspend disbelief and look through the window of the frame into another world.

John Hossli is the second artist displaying work as part of 'The Natural World' theme.

In his artist statement he says: "A well made image can convey the fragile beauty of nature that we all should strive to preserve for future generations." Mr. Hossli shows an awareness of beauty and a fine sense of composition that is supported by excellent management of the technical elements.

He has a background in these technical aspects of finishing and printing and this experience shows. The issues of detail, color, clarity, sharpness which, like service in a fine restaurant , are important only if they interfere with appreciation of the real issue, do not fail him and his images are not only beautifully composed and caught but beautifully executed on the paper.

My favorite was the picture entitled 'Two Feathers'; the eponymous feathers and their reflection are perfectly framed against the still, varicolored water – each part perfectly captured and in balance. The picture is particularly striking because the viewer knows that this still balance is a temporary thing yet before the next moment brings destruction, the instant is caught.

Anna von Lossberg is a very active local writer and photographer. (www.annvl.zenfolio.com). Her statement about this exhibit, which celebrates International Women’s Day, includes the following about her artistic intent: " My photography became a natural byproduct of my journeys. This exhibit represents the marriage of my past professional life and present creative pursuits and interests."

My reaction to the work displayed by Ann von Lossberg, needs to be preceded by a little explication - and my opinion.

Any image we see is managed first by our eyes. They refocus to bridge the distance to the centers of interest, the iris expands to allow us see into shadows and then contracts to manage the highlights. Our brain unconsciously ignores things that don't matter to us and emphasizes the color and visibility of items that do. But, when we take a picture with the camera, the sensor of the camera just records what is there, without comment, without any of the 'editorializing' that our senses do to make a scene look better to us – the so-called 'mind's eye.'

As photographers we can anticipate and counteract only some of the captured negative characteristics by changing the initial camera settings but, much of the time, we must correct the shortcomings of the digital negative, doing with a computer what earlier photographers did in the lab or the darkroom to film.

The role of computer post-processing is to correct the shortcomings of an inanimate camera sensor, to make the image that the sensor captured look like what the artist originally saw in his or her mind's eye. Virtually every digital image can be improved with some amount of post-processing treatment and the better the artist at seeing and correcting the shortcomings in the image coming from the camera, the better the final image.

Anna von Lossberg has a very ambitious exhibit, collating images taken in various situations and conditions to meld a coherent impression.  She has a good to excellent eye for composition and the content of her images is attractive and interesting, documenting without being specifically polemical about the topic. Looked at from a distance or in a small reproduction on a screen the images can be impressive.

Looking at framed prints at arm's length, where pictures of this size are made to be viewed, all of the defects that interfere with enjoyment  and that could have been corrected are evident. The images have not been 'finished' well. There have been few of the adjustments that remove the inadequacies of the original photographs to make them the terrific images, they might have been.

And there's the pain of it. I look at an image like 'the 'Tibetan Woman and Child', and others, up close and see how wonderful some could have been and how disappointingly they fall flat because of a lack of care.

There is, perhaps, the raw material for good photographs but, as they are now, to casual viewers, they are pretty pictures but as art they are half-accomplished.



The Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, Maryland, is pleased to announce a three-person photography exhibit in the galleries for February and March 2014. Ann von Lossberg will exhibit her photographs in the Lobby Gallery, entitled “Honoring Women of the World: In Commemoration of International Women’s Day”. (Note: International Women’s Day is March 8th). Marie McGing and John Hossli will exhibit their photographs in the Bill White Room Gallery, entitled “The Natural World”. The exhibit will run from February 20 – March 29, 2014.



llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) art composition criticism hossli mcging' photography review von lossberg https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review--group-show-kish-gallery-slayton-house-wilde-lake Thu, 27 Feb 2014 02:56:04 GMT
Review - Photos at the Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Comm Ctre, Col., MD https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review---photos-at-the-meeting-house-gallery-oakland-mills-comm-ctre-col-md Review of a photography exhibit 'Artists' Choice' at The Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Interfaith Center www.themeetinghousegallery.org daily 8 AM to 9 PM through March 24th, 2014


"Art is not a mirror, but a hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes."

Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1924):

Art is the concretization of someone's vision, of her/his way of seeing things and capturing them in some way to show to the world. When I take pictures I try to make a final image with enough content that the viewer can embrace it and enough room that the viewer can bring their own set of experience, knowledge and emotions to it. So, when I look at other person's art, I try to respond to it and my only accepted responsibility in these reviews is to decide how well that artist has made their vision available to me.

The Meeting House Gallery has a challenging environment; the wall space is spread over an irregular area and the lighting is inconsistent from place to place, ranging from good gallery lighting to actual shadow. The administrators of each show do their best to divide the good areas for viewing amongst the different artists but that division, while 'fair', means that it is difficult to get a coherent impression of a single artist's work without skittering around the room, looking at the name cards. I don't have any suggestions for a fix or a more fair arrangement but perhaps the Gallery admins could have a printed map with the placement of each artist's work to guide the viewer who wanted to see one artist's complete work at a time.

There were five artists showing in this group show and their work and intentions are different enough to warrant talking about them separately, so excuse the length of this review.

Chick Rhodehamel's work (http://www.cdrimages.com/) is probably the most traditional and recognizable in style. He works predominantly in monochrome and his images are strong, still and display an awareness of the shapes and contours of the world as he sees it and brings it to the viewer. This work to the left, entitled 'Circles and Lines', is an example of how he frames an image out of the chaos of the ordinary environment and shows it to the viewer with the abstracting effect of monochrome. This kind of work only succeeds if the entire long string of steps are well executed: a noteworthy image is seen and isolated, the details recorded, the tones caught and, importantly, the production of the print is well achieved. Chick's work is consistently as technically perfect as one could get. If there is a weakness in this kind of work, it is that is so still, so perfect, stirring admiration for the wonderful composition and execution, always proving an interesting look for the intent viewer but with less emotional content or mystery for many viewers.

Jim Lubitz's work (link)  is in a similar style, also mostly in monochrome but Jim is not as far down the road to commitment to a single genre as is Chick; Jim seems to be still looking for his final interest and it in one of those glances that produces his most interesting, to me, images. Two images in this show were taken in Bakersfield, California at the Dr. George Albin House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Rather than a closeup of some well formed detail, Jim pulls back to include interesting parts of the house in concert with the surroundings for which it was designed. My favorite is the intricate image shown here – a shot of a woman sitting in a unusually shaped chair through two adjoining planes of glass, each one reflecting the environment yet each one with a totally different tint. Familiar elements captured to be seen in an unfamiliar way; it takes a moment to understand all of what is going on – and that is the charm of this image. I hope Mr. Lubitz keeps on looking and capturing things in this off beat way.

Ira Dwoskin (link) defines his work as  Abstract/Realism. "I accent my subject by making the background abstract.” This is an interesting issue because most photographers categorize themselves by genre of what kinds of images they take rather than how the images are processed. Thus, although one can limit themselves to taking pictures which are amenable to this kind of processing, it seems to me that some color schemes or color distributions may not be amenable to being processed this way and end up not being in a good, enjoyable image.

And that's how it seemed to me. Some of Mr. Dwoskin's work was really, really terrific (by that I mean, I liked it a lot) and some of it wasn't so enjoyable. For example, the picture shown here 'Umbrellas at DC Cherry Blossom'. The color schemes and distribution were just right-on-the-nose delightful, the treatment really amplified the impression of the underlying image.

The same goes for an image, entitled “Harper”, of a baseball batter, catcher and umpire against an intricate background (which seems to me not so much abstract as perhaps post-impressionist or Fauvist). Where this kind of effort falls short for me is when the lost detail is actually an contributing, intrinsic part of the image and is replaced by a flat palette of color; several of the individual images of flowers set against an post-impressionistic background fell in this group for me.

The last photographer in this group of artists is Jim Auerbach. (link)  His displayed work, with an exception or two, was generally of large, well known iconic vistas - Mono Lake, Zabriski Point, Horseshoe Bend. This is the kind of picture that almost demands to be shown large so the colors and the details can be enjoyed. One large image, entitled 'Capturing the Light' profited from the enlargement, the colors are subtle but saturated, the light glancing across the area from the mountains was very enjoyable and the blurry softness of the light was appropriate. Unfortunately the other large images didn't fare as well. I don't know if it was the artist's choice of papers or intentional blurring but at close inspection of the other large images, the details were merged into blurs and, although saturated, the colors did not have the lovely clarity that one expects from this kind of image. I hope this was a correctable choice in the post-processing phase.

The last artist is not a photographer, but a painter of abstracts, and perhaps I should recuse myself from commenting because I am, by nature and by avocation, a realist. Artists, like most photographers, who work realistically at any level hope to engage the viewer by some manipulation of symbols presented in the guise of real objects. The artist intends to engage not only the intellect but the emotions of the viewer by bridging to emotions within the viewer, evoking by the the artist's work. (think new mothers and pictures of babies.)

An artist who works in abstractions uses only line and form and color in creating and specifically rejects references to the 'real' world, thus making the gap between artistic work and viewer's understanding even more formidable.

In the brief self-introduction to her work given at the reception, Rhona Schonwald (http://www.rhonalkschonwald.com) said, “...(her work) is meant to inspire imagination, joy and sensuality in the viewer, and that I found myself more interested in backgrounds of images than in the images themselves, again to inspire the viewer to go beyond the obvious.”

In looking at each of these artists, I specifically refrain from saying whether the work is good or bad, I clearly don't have either the credential or the right to say that. I say only whether I like it or enjoy it and why.

In this situation, while I cannot claim to 'get' any meaning that Rhona Schonwald has embodied in her work; abstracts don't resound with me on any emotional level but, without disclaiming any deeper value it might have to others, I think her work is beautifully composed, beautifully colored and visually stimulating.

The one piece displayed here, 'Blue Color Poem 1 – Deep' is typical of the well composed pieces she shows. As all of the pieces on her web site, for the most impact, it deserves to be see in person for the greatest impact.


Review of an exhibit 'Artists' Choice' at The Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Interfaith Center www.themeetinghousegallery.org daily 8 AM to 9 PM through March 24th, 2014


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) composition criticism oakland mills community center photography review the meeting house gallery https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review---photos-at-the-meeting-house-gallery-oakland-mills-comm-ctre-col-md Thu, 13 Feb 2014 20:13:40 GMT
Review of a photography exhibit- Nat Wildlife Visitors Center https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review-of-a-photography-exhibit--nat-wildlife-visitors-center Review of a photography exhibit by members of the Central Maryland Photographers Guild (CMPG) - link to the show announcement


Disclaimer: I am not an 'art critic' but I am a fairly experienced photographer and have gotten over the years a good sense of what about an image keeps me from really enjoying it. And that is how I approach these reviews, I look at all the characteristics of the shows and the images that affect how I see them.
And if I say something technically specific about the gallery, framing or images, it is because those are the characteristics that kept me from appreciating the images as completely as I wished ot the maker wanted.

In preparation for a look at this show I was able to look first at an on-line gallery of images that would be displayed.  Looking at a display on the computer screen means that each image is viewed separately against a dark background with transmitted light where I could look and enjoy without anything else or any other image crowding in on my concentration.

Looking at those same images actually displayed, printed in a variety of ways, framed differently and (some) mounted above eye level and the variety of sizes, matting and framing made viewing these difficult to do. With the radical differences in styles of frame and matting, often right up close to each other, it was difficult for me to concentrate on each individual picture and isolate it from its close neighbor. Those pictures in the upper row really couldn't be seen as up close as I'd like and thus their impact on me was diminished. I actually returned and viewed these again on the online gallery to firm up my opinions.   This is obviously not the fault of the artists or their organization but it did point out how the environment affects the non-casual viewer. 

I had two overall impressions. First, while all the pictures and the prints were well executed and presented, the objective for a few of the makers seemed only to capture a clear, well focused shot of some piece of nature and not so much to present a beautifully composed image.  That being said, most of these shown were successful in their technical execution and some were really credible examples of creating art.

I picked out three pictures that to me were extremely successful in their specific genre, capturing not only the content but the mood and the spirit.

The first is a picture of a hawk posed, intently looking over its shoulder back towards the photographer. The bird is at the left third of the frame and the right side is laced with the branches of neighboring tree. The depth of field isolates the bird in the branches and the maker has decided very effectively to use a white vignette to imply the cold and frost. The position of the hawk, and its stance, emphasized the alertness of the animal as it seeks a prey and its placement with the empty two thirds of the canvas open to its gaze, enforces the impression. 

The other two pictures are basically quite wonderful images but small technical points impacted my enjoyment as I looked at each them.

This picture of a tree in its autumn foliage thrusting up through a morning mist, all set against a mostly green background of shrubs and undergrowth is quietly impressive. Although the leaves on the underlying shrubs may contribute some of the magenta tinge in the mist, there seems to be too much of that magenta tint that suffuses the mist and draws my eye and makes me aware of questioning that. Still, all that being said, very nicely seen, composed and rendered.

And the last image is an incredibly nice capture of an upthrusting branch of a shrub with the seed pod draped with dew-encrusted spider webs – all perfectly sharp and gleaming. My eye was drawn away from the upthrust twig  to the right half, a set of out of focus seed pods that were large and, to me, distracting. A crop to a portrait mode, removing some of that distracting right side and allowing a little more space at the top would make this an exquisite shot – truly one for anyone's portfolio.

See the show, two dozen quite lovely and well presented pictures,  well worth the trip down the lovely half mile drive through the beautiful woods to see this quite nice collection of images from a local group.

At the Hollingsworth Art Gallery of National Wildlife Visitor Center, 10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop Laurel, MD 20708-4027, 301/497-5580, open 9-4:30 until March 15

The Central Maryland Photographers’ Guild is an organization for photographers of all skill levels. They meet once a month and the schedule and directions may be found at www.cmpg.org


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) cmpg exhibit photography review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review-of-a-photography-exhibit--nat-wildlife-visitors-center Sun, 09 Feb 2014 22:27:51 GMT
Review - John Petro Photos at Horowitz Center Art Dept. Gallery https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review---john-petro-at-horowitz-center-art-dept-gallery Review of 'Signals in the Noise' a photography exhibit by John Petros open from Jan 24 - Mar 17, 2014, at the Howard County Community College Art Department Gallery in Columbia, MD. Link to the show announcement http://www.howardcc.edu/visitors/artgallery/index.html

John Petro's work can be seen on line at johnpetro.zenfolio.com


Photography is, like other arts, a structure of imagination and talent wrapped in a supporting cocoon of skill. Unfortunately, many people can learn the skills and may even believe they are some kind of an artist while creating technically proficient but empty work. Just as in any other art, talent is rare on the ground.

I am not an 'art critic' but I am a fairly experienced photographer and have gotten over the years a good sense of what about an image keeps me from really enjoying it. And that is how I approach these reviews, I look at all the characteristics of the shows and the images that affect how I see them.  (For a little more on this topic, read this.)

I have the worst combination of of all personal traits; I am critical, opinionated and outspoken. That may explain why I hesitate to go to shows of people I know or like for fear it will be bad and I will have to restrain myself from saying what I actually think. I know the artist, John Petro slightly, I see him every couple of months or so at an organization of which we both are members. When he sent a broadcast announcement, I was lured into going by the promise of cookies.

All that being said, what a joy and a good experience it was to see this show. The show is hung in a lovely gallery, a few steps off the main floor of the Horowitz Center at Howard Community College. The photos are well-lit and nicely displayed.

The advantage of a show where you see many works, in this case about 25, of a single artist is that the viewer gets a real insight into the artist's style, his/her mode of seeing the world and how this is translated into the photographic vision.

There is a relatively wide diversity of subject matter but each of the pictures exhibit a high level of technical skills and execution but more important the technical points are there only to support a very clear vision of the subject matter. John has a magnificent eye for composition and a calm, clean style of capturing the shot. Each of his images is framed perfectly with the viewers' eyes being drawn ineluctably to what the artist wants you to see. Is the show perfect, no, but a bit about that later.

'Happy Couple' by John Petro, Annecy , France'Happy Couple' by John Petro, Annecy , FranceA review of the show in which this image was presented is here Amongst the many excellent images, there are three  that are my favorites. This shot, on the right, made in France marries the beautiful clear colors with a little surprise that elevates the picture above the usual. We would be happy just seeing the exquisitely rendered colors and their clear reflections but then we see, in the center, two chairs in an alcove set in front of two faces drawn on the wall, and instantly the viewer understands what the photographer has seen and what drew him to this exact point.

"Discussion" by John Petro, Geneva, Switzerland"Discussion" by John Petro, Geneva, SwitzerlandA review of the show in which this image is displayed is here. The second picture, also taken in Europe, has the same little fillip that makes what would be an attractive, but ordinary, technical shot into something much more. John has captured the front of a fairly old building in a slightly sepia-tinted picture with two windows placed at the thirds, the 'strong' points of a composition but in the lower left corner he has captured a woman talking intently to two little boys. Thus the viewers' eyes go back and forth from the interesting building front to the trio caught in conversation – a little trick played upon and appreciated by the viewer.

And the last of my favorites is 'Carhenge', taken at the end of the day, this improbable sculpture of cars erected and then painted to resemble stone. The contrast between the man-made objects made to look like natural materials but with the characteristic ungainly un-naturalness of human construction contrasts well with the lovely saturated delicacy of the fields and grasses around them. "Carhenge" by John Petro, Alliance, Nebraska"Carhenge" by John Petro, Alliance, NebraskaA review of the show in which this image was presented is here

And herein lies my small dissatisfaction with the show. There are several pictures, including those three, that deserve to be seen large, to be singled out as being more important than the rest by the nature of their size, and yet they are the same size as all the others. There are a few other pictures that are 'smaller' in impact and, in my opinion, quality relative to the rest of the show, yet everything is presented at the same size with no indication of any decision on the artist's part on which ones should be looked at the most and which ones relegated to a quick glance and an appreciative murmur.

Perhaps that was a decision on the artist's part to present these all at the same size to let the viewer make up their mind about importance but, for my part, I would happily have seen half of the show much, much larger, to get the visual impact of the really, really very good pictures and let the others be seen at the existing smaller size.

Did that uniformity spoil the show? Absolutely not. It is a startlingly good show, as well conceived and executed and as satisfying an exhibit as I've seen in this area and is well worth stopping by.

The gallery is open from 10-9 every day and there is ample covered parking immediately adjacent.


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Howard community college art composition criticism gallery john petro review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review---john-petro-at-horowitz-center-art-dept-gallery Wed, 05 Feb 2014 17:08:19 GMT
How I look at shows https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/how-i-look-at-shows I have, and will, try to see each show at least twice.

The first time, I 'try' to get over the effect of seeing the pictures in that specific gallery, since most galleries have some distinct negative points and many shows are just plain hung poorly. I make notes on which pictures and which artists seem to be the most successful at showing what they are attempting to show.

Then I go home and write down some initial reactions and, before the impressions from the first visit recede, visit the show again and home in on the one or two photos that seem to be the best examples of how each artist works.

All that being said, I am not an 'art critic' who understands the history of the entire genre and attempts to relate any specific artist's work to that flow.   But I am a fairly experienced photographer and over the years have developed a good sense of what about a show or an individual image keeps me from really enjoying it fully.

And that is what I know.

And that is how I approach these reviews, looking at all the characteristics of the shows and the images that affect how I see them.

And if I say something technically specific about the gallery, framing or images, it is because those are the characteristics that kept me from appreciating the images as completely as I wished or the maker wanted.


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) art criticism review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/how-i-look-at-shows Sun, 02 Feb 2014 21:00:00 GMT
If Michael Sam Doesn't get drafted by NFL, I will boycott their advertisers https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/if-michael-sam-doesnt-get-drafted-by-nfl-i-will-boycott-their-advertisers teabag700__0795265teabag700__0795265

If Michael Sam Doesn't get drafted by NFL, I will boycott any product and company that advertises at their games. 

It's as simple as that.

As one person, I can't do much but I will list those who advertise, let their PR people know and Tweet about every damn decision.

The time for bigotry is over.

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Michael Sam boycott nfl nfl draft https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/if-michael-sam-doesnt-get-drafted-by-nfl-i-will-boycott-their-advertisers Sat, 01 Feb 2014 21:26:00 GMT
The process of Street Photography - Part 1: Fishing as Metaphor https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/11/the-process-of-street-photography---part-1-fishing-as-metaphor If one has a reasonably good overview of fishing as a hobby, it is interesting how well this activity maps over onto photography – and a closer view may well be both interesting and enlightening.

Both fishing and photography as 'hobbies' are activities done in one's leisure time for pleasure but derived or inspired by the same activity, done at a different, often larger scale as productive work. There is the odd similarity in gender imbalance, the details of which are too complicated to discuss here but which are well covered in a variety of articles on line like [Editorial] Photography: Is It Still A Man's World? | Fstoppers and particularly in the data from the National endowment for the Arts Publications | NEA .

Even without getting into nitty details about the who, the similarities jump out: the requirement for special and sometimes specialized equipment, even within the field, the various niche environments that draw their own adherents and, most compelling, the constant talk about the hobby, the equipment and the niches that engages many adherents to a level that might even surpass the actual 'doing' of the hobby.

There is one specific kind of fishing that maps so interestingly onto a niche in photography that the examination of the fishing can actually inform the awareness of the issues of photography – and that area is fly fishing and its photographic equivalent of street shooting.

A novice fly fisherman generally approaches that sport niche without too much knowledge yet most believe that the primary issue is the equipment. Indeed there is a huge complexity in equipment, different lengths and weights of rod, different flexibilities that demand the use of different weight line, because it is the line not the lure that provides the weight and momentum to be cast. Then there is the leader, a thinner transparent nylon attached to the end of the line, tippets of even lighter, more invisible nylon and then of course the flies matched to the season, the manner of fishing and even the virtually unknowable appetite of the fish.

The necessity to make decisions about what to get is almost overwhelming and yet required. Inevitably what one gets to start is, in some way, just as inevitably wrong and replaced. (I have 5 or 6 fly rods and some matching reels and lines, bought at different levels of involvement; each one slightly different but sharing an increasing cost.)

Once the new fisherman is suitably outfitted with waders and vest, with the rod and attachments only partially listed above and has even learned one or more variations on how to cast, he or she steps to the edge of the water and suddenly realizes one thing. All of this preparation, everything, does not make him or her a fisherman, it only prepares him or her to start to learn how to fish.

What he/she sees is water, usually moving, in all its various possible bumps, dips, hollows and planes. There are no signs, no flashing beacons that say, 'fish here, use this specific fly and in this specific size, then cast your line here, there is a trout waiting.' It is up the to the fisherman now to learn to read the water, to understand the environment and to place him/herself in the best position to put his fly so that, if a fish is there, the fish can strike at the lure.

And there is no certainty, no matter the amount of effort or the interest or the time expended, that any specific person will even get a strike because that is really up to the fish. And further there is no certainty, no matter the amount of effort or the time expended or the interest or the desire that any specific person will ever get to be a 'great' fisherman. Surely he or she might, by dint of repetition, improve but there is some ephemeral, unteachable talent that will, just like in photography, allow a person to be somehow better at this activity than his or her peers.

For four years, the time I lived in Colorado Springs, every Saturday morning that the weather allowed, I would drive with two friends up to the South Platte River at Deckers and, every Saturday morning, fishing the same stretches of water, using the same flies, the same one of my friends always, always hooked and landed more fish than I did.

Everything above, every implication about fishing, every caution about the limitation of ability placed by talent, well, they work in similar, equivalent ways in street photography.

The process of Street Photography - Part 2: The Goal Decides the Equipment


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) photography street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/11/the-process-of-street-photography---part-1-fishing-as-metaphor Sat, 30 Nov 2013 18:20:00 GMT
The process of Street Photography - Part II - The Goal Decides the Equipment https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/11/the-process-of-street-photography---part-ii---the-goal-decides-the-equipment Subway SerenadeSubway Serenade Does Equipment Count?

Well certainly it does – to some degree. The right equipment will make the path to the final goal, getting good street images, easier. If the equipment is best suited to your style and very familiar to you, it will smooth out some of the obstacles.

If street shooting is really important to you and not just one of the parts of photography that you enjoy, then it makes sense to get equipment that is best suited for street photography and make some sacrifices. And what are those qualities and how do they match with the necessary qualities for general photography?

For most photography, image quality, or IQ, is the prime and most important must-have characteristic. Way down the list is being light, maneuverable and inconspicuous. For street photography, at least how I see it done, those several characteristics that all relate to the ability of the photographer to remain unnoticed are quite important and there must be a balance struck between the required IQ and the physical characteristics that allow a street photographer to work best.

For years I shot with a succession of Nikon dSLRs and their associated lenses – all large and obvious, and as much as I tried to remain inconspicuous, it was difficult to do. My best shots were in situations, like demonstration and parades, when photography and photographers were expected and, to some degree, accepted.

About seven months ago, I switched to a M 4/3 camera system and I immediately began to notice several things. First, people with big cameras stood out and the crowd always reacted to them, and second, small cameras are so ubiquitous, that a photographer using a small camera is ignored and virtually invisible to a crowd that is watching out for 'photographers'.

This was most clear to me when I was at a demonstration in front of Union Station in Washington, DC. The demonstrators were happy to watching--_A260009-Editwatching--_A260009-EditOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA be photographed and, whenever a 'big camera' photographer started pointing, they would start 'posing.' I was using the two cameras mentioned below and seemed to be invisible.

While in trains or subways where everyone is packed tight and any move to lift a camera to one's face would be instantly noticeable, I use an Olympus EP-3, without the viewfinder and with a Panasonic 20 mm 'pancake' 1.7 lens. This setup is perfect for shooting from the hip, completely unnoticed.

When I'm outside in a looser environment I use the EP3 with a viewfinder and a 35-100 2.8 lens and an Olympus OMD with a 12-35 2.8 lens. These are focal length equivalents of 70-200 and 24-70 respectively, my favorite shooting focal length lenses.

The Prime Rule of Street Photography.

Why does the street photographer need to be able to handle the equipment quickly and to be inconspicuous, using the equipment without being noticed?

The requirement for quickness of handling is obvious. Scenes one would want to shoot usually occur quickly and dissolve quickly; to get the shot, the photographer must be ready to get the camera in place and shutters clicking very quickly. The significant difference in weight and inertia between a full-frame body with 2.8 lens and the equivalent in a M4/3 body makes movements quicker and much less tiring.




24-70 (equiv)


Canon FF

950 gr

805 gr

1490 gr

Nikon FF

995 gr

902 gr

1540 gr

Olympus OMD 5

425 gr

305 gr

360 gr

Note in the table above that an Olympus OMD 5 with a 70-200 equivalent lens weighs only about 30% of the weight of a FF Canon or Nikon with the same lens – about 1.8 lbs compared to 5.4 lbs. A big difference both to carry and, more important, to swing into position.

(My camera bag used to weigh upwards of 17 lbs, now,with both bodies and equivalent lenses, it weighs about 3.5 lb and all in an inconspicuous messenger bag)

A very good friend (named Stan) has pointed out that I didn't cover the drawbacks, if any, of the smaller, lighter cameras and he is right on target. There are a couple of functional problems and I'll mention how I compensate for them. The camera I currently use most, the Olympus OMD 5, does not have good auto-focus tracking, has a wake-up lag when recovering from stand-by of perhaps half a second and has that same perceptible lag when going from image display to ready to shoot.

I 'blip' the shutter button as I raise the camera so that the camera is on as it reaches my face.The speed of auto focus in single shot is essentially instantaneous so I use single shot focus even on targets approaching me. I have set the display off so I never lose sight of the target.

The newer version of this camera has incorporated more and better autofocus ( read here).

This image is 4 consecutive well-focused frames, at single shot mode, of the female winner of the 2013 NYC Marathon shot with OMD 5 and Panasonic  35-100  


The second – and much more crucial issue is the desirability of inconspicuousness; this requirement feeds from the prime rule of street photography – as I see it.

Oly-First try-9100111-EditOly-First try-9100111-EditOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I believe that a street photographer is there to capture the scene, as much as possible, without affecting it or being part of it. The practice of confronting people, ambushing them, startling them to get an image is wrong, I think, and certainly not useful. Photographers who do that aren't photographing a scene, capturing an instant, they are inventing it and their work is as false as if it were staged.



Handling the Equipment and Oneself

There is nothing quite so attention gathering and disconcerting as turning around and seeing some stranger pointing a large camera directly at you. The photographer's face is hidden and all the subject sees is a large glass surface. The natural response, except if one is a celebrity or politician, is possibly to turn away and certainly to moderate behavior. If a subject sees you pointing at them, there goes any chance for naturalness.

So, I have moderated every behavior to minimize the chances of my scaring the normality out of any scene. I move slowly, holding my camera at my waist, making any changes in aperture, speed or ISO without raising the camera, framing the scene with my eyes only and only raising the camera in the last moment to press the shutter and then return it to my waist.

If the subject is alerted by the movement, usually, by the time they have focused their attention on me, the camera is down from my eye and they are looking at my un-reacting face. I don't react or move away and, usually, in an instant their attention is elsewhere.

If someone sees me shooting, I just keep on, shooting past them and slightly redirecting the camera. In years of shooting this way, I have had overt reactions only twice. I put this down to being inconspicuous and not reinforcing the subject's reactions by any reactions of my own.

Success with this behavior requires two obvious skills on the part of the shooter:

  • absolute familiarity with the equipment

  • being able to frame the scene and plan the shot by eye without looking though the viewfinder.

So here we are, our equipment is as customized to shooting street as we can get at this moment, we are familiar with the camera, what are we going after, what are good street shots?

The Process of Street Photography - Part III: The Arc of Street Photography


Back to the first part





llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) camera composition photography street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/11/the-process-of-street-photography---part-ii---the-goal-decides-the-equipment Fri, 29 Nov 2013 18:20:00 GMT
The Process of Street Photography - Part III: The Arc of Street Photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/11/the-process-of-street-photography---part-iii-the-arc-of-street-photography 2013-08-23 SF-_8240043-Edit2013-08-23 SF-_8240043-EditOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here are four snippets from http://street-photography-manifesto.tumblr.com/ that put some conceptual fences around street photography as an art.

“It is a branch of realistic fine-art photography that records unposed scenes in public places (streets, parks, restaurants, stores, museums, libraries, airports; train, bus, and subway stations, etc.)

The primary subject is people, at rest or in motion, alone or with others, going about the every-day activities of life …..............

The emphasis is not on the subject’s personal identity, as in portraiture. And unlike photojournalism, there is no news here, rather, the commonplace; although, the line between photojournalism and street photography is often blurry. Many of the best street photographers were photojournalists.

The primary emphasis is on capturing a fleeting composition, a temporary arrangement of lines, forms, textures, and tones—balanced within a rigid frame. …...........details are (often, ed) subordinate to the artistic elements; whereas, in strict documentary photography, content is more important than artistry. In street photography, the image can be sharp or blurred and impressionistic. “

Larry E. Fink

“Cartier-Bresson’s approach to photographing people in daily life situations consisted of very careful and precise framing and compositions that were used to setup the capture of a ‘decisive moment’. That moment alone could bring full meaning to the image, a split second earlier or a split second later could not achieve the same meaning. HCB professed that for him photography meant recognizing when those moments were about to happen before they did so that he could line up his vision, his mind and his heart all on the same axis. Then and only then could his photograph be more than just a snapshot or a mere document.

Street Photography is not portraiture, it is not still life and neither does it concern itself with urban landscape. Street Photography is instinctual, un-premeditated, reactive and spontaneous, it is un-posed and untagged and most importantly it is candid. Candid in this context literally means it is done in such a way that the subjects are not aware they are being photographed at the exact moment the image is being captured. The subjects are always people (who are strangers) and the the theme focuses around human moments - not ‘humanistic’ moments.

Street Photography is expressed through unexpected and unpredictable actions that lead to a ‘Decisive Moment’, a poetic moment, a poignant instant. Documentary photography on the other hand, is expressed through the objective presentation of facts for an ongoing activity or situation over a finite period of time which can run from as short as a single day or as long as over a number of years.

Street Photography is completely subjective whereas documentary photography must by definition be objective. One creates a reality the other attempts to present reality. Street Photography is all about realising “a truth” compared to Documentary photography which is all about making us aware of “The Truth”.

Street photographers wander the streets watching, observing, hoping that something will occur before them. They have no preference of whom to photograph and since Street Photography is reactive and spontaneous, there is little to no time afforded to think or intellectualize.”

Evangelo Costadimas

"Street Photography' is not Urban Landscape, it is not Environmental Portraiture (nor 'street portraits') and it is most definitely not Still Life.

On the contrary, Street Photography is about people, it is candid and it is about life.

When we say candid, we mean the subjects are not aware of being photographed right at the instant the shutter is tripped. They may well become aware of it a split second later, for example if camera flash was used, but at the moment of capture, they were still in their natural state, unaware that they were being photographed. Street Photographs must therefore always contain people.

But Street Photography is a lot more than just candid. Street Photography is an instinctual reactive response to the unpredictability of every day life as observed in public places. It captures human or poignant moments. It creates juxtapositions from unrelated elements or creates relationships between people who do not know each other, simply by using the camera’s framing."

No author mentioned

"More than anything Street Photography is an attitude, it is an openness to being amazed by what comes your way, it is unlearning the habit of categorizing and dismissing the everyday as being ‘just the everyday’ and beginning to recognize that extraordinary, beautiful and subtle stories are occurring in front of you everyday of your life if you can see them"

Nick Turpin

The Three Ms of Street Photography

Lots of styles, many niches, actually a un-ordered spectrum from slice of life to capturing an amazing globally meaningful moment but they all share different amounts of the 3 Ms – mood, meaning, mystery. Most street photography is not 'digested', it is not served to the viewer blatantly like a sign that says something. Street photography requires, or should require, something of the viewer, some empathy, some intellectual energy to disentangle and understand the mystery, the questions posed.

Some purists insist on only B&W, discarding 'distracting' color; some go further and refuse to crop, saying that cropping means that your framing is lazy. I believe, and practice, that I will go to almost any lengths to show people what I want them to see, what I have seen. I use color, if it works, I crop if I have to because the situation didn't allow me the time and room to frame perfectly.

I think that what street photography should attempt to be, should be, is a real expression of what the photographers sees and 'feels.' Photographers sometimes attempt to fake the ability to capture that expression by the way that image is treated, making their images B&W, processing them heavily, adding grain, leaning heavily on an artificial surplus of 'mood' to make up for an absence of 'meaning' or 'mystery.' I am repelled by that kind fakery that substitute processing for reality. 

Street photography is difficult and draining because success is so, so rare.

How to we do that all thinking and composing in an instant?

You don't. - and in the next section I'll try to demonstrate the process in several ways.

The Process of Street Photography - Part IV - Examples and Analysis


Back to the first part





llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) composition criticism photography street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/11/the-process-of-street-photography---part-iii-the-arc-of-street-photography Thu, 28 Nov 2013 18:20:00 GMT
The Process of Street Photography - Part IV - Examples and Analysis https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/11/the-process-of-street-photography---part-iv---examples-and-analysis How to we do that all thinking and composing in an instant?

You don't, exactly.

Like a fly fisherman, you learn to recognize situations that might provide good shots and you put yourself in those situations in position to get the shot if it happens.  In my case, I lean pretty heavily on the 'meaning' part of the 'meaning, mood, mystery' triad and, by taking hundreds of pictures and analyzing why they didn't meet my own criterion, I've gradually picked up the skills to predict a little more accurately where I will need to be to get the shot if the situation allows.

Most of all, a street photographer must be always open to seeing what is going on, concentrating like a chess player, looking for familiar situations that experience has shown will be fruitful.

What I can guarantee is that, even with practice, not everyone will get successful at street photography. Without practice, no one will be good. The reality is that even with practice and skills and talent, the number of great shots is small just because the opportunity to meld talents with the proper situation doesn't always occur.

No one, not Cartier Bresson, not anyone gets a great shot with every shutter click or even with every outing. I go out into whatever situation as often as I can, shooting whenever I can, and count myself lucky to come back with one or two keepers from every outing – and that's shots I'll keep and perhaps show to colleagues. But great shots, not so often. As much as possible I try to work the situation, shooting until the moment dissolves, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.

All of this verbiage is really preparatory, really dancing around the impenetrable subject of what is a good shot, how does one see it and capture it in the instant that it is available. And clearly all the technical and skills preparation leads up to that moment, seeing the moment, capturing it and the finishing the photo so it says what one wants.

Some pictures present themselves whole, the photographer just has to be there and shoot them.

Some you have to foresee coming and grab them and some you have to dig out of the environment,like grabbing a diamond from the gravel, you get a big handful and get rid of what you don't want.

Like sculptors who chip away what they don't want, a photographer is always in the process of removing what he doesn't want to show the view in different ways.

Here are three pictures to demonstrate the thinking, the shooting and the processing and how the process works for me. (I'm not claiming that these are great shots, only that they are typical of how I work.)


Gazing at the Goodies

1)  Some pictures are obvious and need no special turn of mind or skills.  I was wandering around in a local super market, while my wife was shopping and I saw this man approach the bakery counter.  I had the idea even before he got there that his stomach would be an interesting comment on the desires most of us have and suppress, more or less.

I took one shot from waist level with an EP3 and 30 mm (40 mm equivalent lens). 

Clearly the original needed a good amount of cropping to get rid of all the extras that contributed nothing. The lady at the left was extraneous, she had to go, as did the material at the right, it added nothing.  The picture is a natural for color because the bright attracting color is part of the idea.

I specifically cropped his head for two reasons: first, I didn't want him identifiable and, second, I wanted him, or actually his belly. to stand for Everyman who fights that craving.

Cropping down to the top of the counter was a natural for three reasons; the material above the counter added nothing, I generally crop to standard dimensions and, most of all, I wanted to fill the screen with two items, the goodies and his belly.




2) Opposing Side  I was at the US Supreme Court to see what looked interesting in the opposing demonstrations between the Pro-Life  and the Woman's Choice issues.  My intent was not to take any one side, those issues are much too complex to represent in a photo. I hoped, as much as possible, to illustrate in one image how the sides were relating to each other.  It was interesting that the two sides didn't engage each other but just went on with their own little demonstrations as if the other wasn't there, even sharing the same space as much as possible - and that occurred to me as an issue that could be shown.

The crowd was thick and the sun was almost directly overhead, making the lighting very difficult.

After a long while of hanging around shoot pretty standard shots, I was getting frustrated.

In my shots I was rarely  getting members of the opposing ideologies in the same frame and certainly never in any position that made any symbolic sense.

All of a sudden, there seemed to be a change in the situation, One group was moving to one side and the other group was taking its place. Just for a moment I was able to catch a representative of the the different camps passing each other, facing away, not making contact in any way - just exactly reproducing how the groups in toto were relating.








The initial exposure was, again, too wide, with too much meaningless activity on the right and so I cropped it to simplify the photo and to direct the viewers' eyes, trying to make the point.

Since bright things and bright colors draw the eye, it would seem that leaving this is color might work to pull the viewers' eyes. Unfortunately, the colors off the signs were too bright and cheery and totally off point. Additionally the overhead sun winter sun on the marble and concrete drained most of the vital coloring out of the rest of the scene so it seemed sensible to take the rest.  Normally also, I would want the visible faces brighter but clearly here, the signs were the point and I let them stay the centers of the image and let the face stay dark.


3) Stop Spying

I walked out of Union Station in Washington, DC and into a demonstration organized by a set of the prominent privacy groups.  Photographers, the ones with the large cameras at least, were getting a great deal of attention, people posing for pictures, hoping to make the news. Any big camera got a pose and a sign pointed at it.  I was walking around with a small Olympus OMD and no one gave me a look. 

What I lost in attention, I gained back double in opportunity.

The idea of privacy activists attempting to get in pictures seemed a bit ironic and so I was looking for one shot that would synopsyze this situation and noticed this man holding both a poster and a camera so I began following his movements trying to catch a good shot. (The absolute pinnacle of irony is that he was wearing a hat with EFF on it, which stands for the Electronic Frontier Foundation - perhaps the major privacy organization in the Internet world.)

Eventually he crouched down and I got this shot.

watching--_A260009-Editwatching--_A260009-EditOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA































Clearly the original didn't have the same impact. The burnt out sky and my inability to get more to the left meant that cropping was a necessity.

I needed to keep all the signs, needed to remove all the distracting shadows and the bright pavement. I did a little editing to make the camera and the surroundings more distinct and then I came to a real decision point.

This was not an image where the color had any real importance; it was a relatively colorless scene, except for the red letters on the sign. Readable text draws one's eye and that text combined with the brilliant red on white sign meant that viewers' eyes would go to that part first.

That's not what I wanted. I wanted the eyes to be drawn to the connection between the camera and the face of the man standing and only then to see all the signs as supplemental information - and ironic.

So I lightened the shadows on his face, lightened the camera and hands pointing to him, actually darkened the white signs so those weren't the brightest spots on a sort of chaotic scene.

Then I converted it to b&w, darkening 3 corners a bit and the final was something with which I was happy.


Committing Sacrilegious Acts

Some photographers have specific rules that they follow about what they will or won't do. Some only shoot B&W film, some never crop, some never edit.  I don't think their anyone's position on Earth or the press of a shutter button makes any image sacrosanct.

When I finish a photo, I want you to see what I saw and I will do whatever necessary to make that vision clear and obvious.



I am certain that some people will take the occasion to be aghast that I cropped a lot, that I should have framed better or been in a better position. 

To them I say that they have the right to make their statements however they want, I will mine - and its hard enough my way.


Back to the first part






llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) photography street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/11/the-process-of-street-photography---part-iv---examples-and-analysis Wed, 27 Nov 2013 18:20:00 GMT
The Myths of Street Shooting - explained and busted https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/9/the-myths-of-street-shooting---explained-and-busted _0792685-Edit_0792685-Edit I was incited to write this post because of a question posted on an Internet forum and the several answers that followed. The question had to do with the suitability of certain equipment for portraits of people – and the poster named three photographers specifically, Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Klein, Richard Avedon.

Besides the fact that these three, while they all shot people, are as different in chalk and cheese and so their favored equipment was different, the kinds of statements that came out about street photography seem to cling to the same few myths that seem to prevail.

Before I get into the myth-busting stuff, a bit about myself. I think of myself as a street shooter; the spirit of street shooting is to capture something unique and interesting and present that to be seen. I think that good street shooting has something emotional and intense about it and I try to shoot and process that way no matter what subject I am shooting. I don't claim to be great or even good but only a practitioner with some opinions developed over the few years on effort.

OK, back to the myths I'd like to address.

Myth 1to shoot street photography you must have a small camera body and a relatively short focal length lens, generally in the 30-40 mm range. This kind of statement is like saying that all novels must be written on a yellow, lined pad with a number 2 pencil.

Shoot what you have, shoot what gets you the pictures you want and, most importantly, shoot a camera setup that you are intimately familiar with. For years I shot with a big, clunky Nikon dslr usually with a 24-70 lens, often with a 50 or a 70-200. This is a large bulky setup but, in my opinion, it worked for me. Yes, it was large and bulky and obvious but the tradeoffs were superb image quality and very, very fast autofocus.

Three or four months ago I switched to the much smaller, lighter Olympus OMD 5 with equivalent lenses. My reason for switching was that the bigger cameras and lenses were just getting to be too much of a physical burden. I came back from 3 weeks hiking around SEA with two bodies, four lenses, backup hard drive and I made a vow to either get a smaller system or to stay in bed.

Now I do have all the advantages of a lighter outfit with adequate image quality and speed but on balance I lost a system I could use without thinking and I'm still learning the new one – and not being particularly productive yet.

My point is that it isn't the equipment that is the overriding factor in success but your ability to handle it in the time or so that you have to get your camera into play.

11-01-24life-_079629511-01-24life-_0796295 Myth 2 – to shoot street photography you must get up close. I don't believe this either. I try to get as close as I can to get the shot I want but without injecting myself into the moment and affecting the subjects. Clearly I am not of the Bruce Gilden school where the photographer gets up very close and affects the scene and then the image is inevitably the subject reacting to the intrusion. So the eventual images look very much alike. I want to capture bit of life and excitement not create my own fake one.

Myth 3 – It takes lots of guts to do street photography. Well, if you're going to jump up in peoples' space with the intent of generating a response, yes, it takes nerve. But, if you are just going around documenting what you see, your attitude and interest becomes obvious and people's response is essentially to ignore you.

It does help if your physical behavior is workmanlike and here's where familiarity with your camera comes in. I work with my camera lowered, see a shot developing, make the camera adjustments before raising it, then raise it, take the shot(s) and lower the camera. Much of the time, people will see the motion but by the time they focus on me, the camera is back at my waist and they have no idea what has happened and the moment for them to react has passed.

If you stand around with the camera attached to your face like a huge nose for several seconds, then you will become the center of interest and the spontaneity of the shot will be ruined.

teabag700__0795204teabag700__0795204 Myth 4 – street shots must be B&W. This is a cultural meme and I imagine that it derives from early shooters who shot a lot of B&W film because it was cheaper to develop and the number of keepers was low. But this is ignoring the purpose of photography which is to show people something. If the impact is best in color, let it be in color. If the impact is best in B&W, well then, convert it. Color is a tool as much as shape and content, use it. It shouldn't be thrown away because it doesn't fit into some silly, arbitrary 'rule'.

Myth 5 – shots of people in the street that are b&w are always 'street shots'. A few weeks ago I can across a website where someone was touting his presets for Lightroom that turned every shot into a 'street shot.' To this guy the content of the shot didn't matter, it was the look. How different is this from Instagram™- ing everything? A street shot, by my personal definition, has this meaning.

"an image can be snatched which is more than the sum of its parts - where some fleeting coincidence of expression, gesture, positioning, and movement come together to create an instant which holds some undefinable meaning."

It is more than the arbitrary scene, made B&W and grungy and filled with heavy shadows and fake grain.

Myth 6 – street shooting is hard. Well this one is sort of true. The the actual act of street shooting isn't so difficult but getting good street shots is very, very hard.

Street shooting, besides the various styles, gets done in essentially two ways. The obvious way - the shooter walks around and, when he/she comes across the great shot, just take it, one exposure, done, fame, glory. The not-so-obvious way – the street shooter sees a situation, can projct that the situation will provide a shot worth saving and then 'works' the situation shooting it from different angles, perhaps waiting for it to develop. IMO, the second is the more common and the more difficult.

Anyone can be lucky and grab a prize-winning shot once in a while but it is the photographer who can project a situation in advance, see in his/her mind's eye what it could be and get that shot consistently is the one who shows the judgment, skill and talent that makes great shots.

Baseball players have it lucky, good batters only fail 65% of the time. Good street shooters fail a lot more than that.

Eric Kim, a well known street shooter, who favors the 'jump up in their face and scare them' school of street shooting, says he gets a good shot maybe one out of a thousand.

I don't know my average, actually I don't know how many of many shots are good in any absolute way to anyone but myself, but it is very common for me to go out, walk 3 or 4 hours, take 200 or 300 shots and having nothing much I want to keep, let alone show.

One of my consistent disappointments is to cruise around on the web, looking at websites, hoping to admire and find inspiration in others' work.

This last week, however, I came across the work of two shooters I liked a lot who deserve some mention separately.

First I heard Kay Chernush speak and it was a minor revelation. Her work, although it was usually done on assignment, was beautifully composed and executed with an artist's touch. She worked at the shots but each one seemed just spontaneous light and lovely. In all that, she was relatively unconcerned with the technical aspects, assuming that technical competence goes without saying. Lovely work, nice person. Kay Chernush Photography

Second, I saw the Peter Turnley's site and was bowled over with his use of color and composition. This link is directly to one of the most beautiful pictures I have seen in my memory. Peter Turnley's site and the photo mentioned.  Actually, Peter Turnley gave me permission to show the image but I want to force as many of you as possible to see his site. 

These photographers both shoot, in what I consider, a 'street shooter' sensibility, using the image to capture and project the emotion and, to use Kay Chernush's phrase, a 'sense of place.'





llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) composition criticism photography photojournalism post-processing street shooting https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/9/the-myths-of-street-shooting---explained-and-busted Mon, 23 Sep 2013 19:51:45 GMT
The key to successful street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/9/the-key-to-successful-street-photography A casual remark today by a friend started me thinking about the circumstances under which I get inspired to take good, by my own standard, street shots. We are going out tomorrow morning to shoot a large street market and I reminded him to bring his phone because we'll inevitably get separated. He replied that when we shoot together generally I wander off right away.

I realize now that, when I am with other people, the conversation and the interaction diffuses my concentration and I am not as aware of the situation around me and, more importantly, I am not sensitive to the possibilities.

Taking good street shots means, not only responding quickly to an ephemeral situation, but, even more important, being away of scenes that are funny, ironic or in some way interesting to capture. It takes concentration to be constantly filtering out the things that don't matter and 'seeing' the parts of the visual field that do matter – at least in terms of a possible good picture.

I carry a camera virtually all the time I'm out of the house; at most times it's a semi-sophisticated P&S the Oly EP-3 with a 20mm Panasonic lens. This is not an ideal lens because it doesn't change focal length through mind control but it is fast and very sharp. I often shoot from waist level and can steady it against my body so 1/40th sec exposures are usually fine.

More important I try to be aware of what I'm seeing and thinking. This shot is a good example. I was trailing after my wife in a large supermarket with an embedded bakery and I saw this really big guy walking down the aisle towards the bakery case. I knew if I could catch him in front of the case with luxurious, colorful baked goods, it would be a picture with a point.

So I slowed down, got in position and when he slowed, lured by the siren call of cupcakes I shot a couple of frames.

I don't mean this to say this picture is a great picture of earth-shattering moment, but the photo happened because I was looking and concentrating and framed the subject and background in my mind even before the picture happened.

'The photo happened' - a telling phrase. Most successful street photography is a scene captured from a specific angle with specific content that shows the photographer's point of view. 

It is not that the photographer is necessarily  completing the idea, making a value judgement, but merely presenting this as if to say 'here are the things that I saw and I see them related to each other. What do you think?' 

To gather up these things to show, the photographer must be thinking and seeing - and, even more important, must always be on the lookout for the potential of arrangements of people, things, places that make some sort of interesting point when gathered together photographically.

OK, not always people.

I was in San Francisco and, being on East Coast time I woke really early and went into the living room to look out. I was staying in a house at the very top of the hill where Castro Street is crossed by 22nd and there is a typical small city intersection busy in the day but quite quiet very early in the morning. Since I was in a house slightly above that level, I was looking down at the intersection and across the street at a storefront. There was a very light fog and the light was peculiarly luminous.  It reminded me of Edward Hoppers painting -(http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/asset-viewer/nighthawks/6AEKkO_F-9wicw?projectId=art-project&source=kp&hl=en).  So I took a few exposures, hoping to catch a car going through but had to settle for a symmetrical view of the street.  I processed this for that deep rich color and named it 'Intersection of Castro and 22nd and Hopper'- sometimes a hint to the viewer is necessary.

2013-08-23 SF-_8240043-Edit A street photographer must always be open to seeing things and making connections and the capturing to show that to the viewers.

If there is one physical skill you must develop to be successful, that is knowing your camera well so that you can raise it to your eye and instantly shoot, then drop it down. If you peer through the finder forever, people will become aware that you are pointing the camera and, much of the time, the spontaneous situation you desire situation will dissolve before your eyes.

This comment by Amolitor deserved to be appended so that viewers actually do see it:

Your final point about physical skill is spot on, but not quite broad enough, I think. You need to be able to manage the camera, as well as your own body. You need to have an instinctive grasp of how the arrangement will change when you step slightly left or right, stand tall or squat down.

You need to predict the future, as you've essentially said, while simultaneously positioning yourself in relation to that future, and then as the moment closes in on you your adjustments need to be quicker, smaller, and more instinctive. The earlier parts are more conscious, as with your picture of the man and the cupcakes. You think it through, albeit quickly, and set up. The latter part is more instinct and muscle memory, your body and the camera driven by some sort of spinal mastery of composition. Ideally.

I totally agree and, ingraining that instinct to get to the right place, requires first analysis and conscious attempts and then lots and lots of practice.


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) The key to successful street photography edward hopper hopper photography street photography successful street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/9/the-key-to-successful-street-photography Sat, 07 Sep 2013 20:01:55 GMT
Walking Among the Dead https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/1/walking-among-the-dead Have you ever seen a dead person? Most people haven't, except perhaps at a traditional wake where the body, all primped and prepared, looks like it is alive but sleeping. No, not that kind of dead. Not even the kind of just-dead person that one might see in the few minutes before emergency vehicles come and whisk them to somewhere more private. That kind of dead look smaller, often like a heap of rags, as if something important had escaped from the body envelope. The religious think that the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Life or some other mysterious force has fled the body but we really know that the body is relaxed totally. That every tiny muscle fibril has given up any effort in anticipation of decay and so the body slumps down.

Even that kind of dead is not what I'm referring to. I am asking if you've ever seen a dead person who has been torn apart by explosion or brute force, involuted, the head crushed, perhaps even the entire body burnt into the fighter's pose – distorted so far from what we think of as a person that your mind cannot easily accept what your eyes are seeing. That is the kind of dead person I mean. Have you ever seen this kind of dead person?

A bunch of years ago I was working on a rather arcane bit of applied research looking at the most banal of subjects - ways to predict the need for dental care among a large population by reading only a small sample of x-rays. While the study was very successful, another discovery was quite startling. Because of the unique system of coding we developed and its embodiment in a computer program, , even a small small bit of dental information, sometimes a single tooth, would be allow a large database to be reordered in a second or so so that the most likely identity would be at the top.

This had enormous repercussions in disaster management where it was a seriously tedious chore to identify individual bodies from a large population of missing. (The FBI system had a system that didn't work well and was inaccurate.) Without much effort we added some physical descriptors, height, weight, gender, distinguishing marks, etc to the system – always allowing for estimation error. We began doing demonstrations at large meetings where we would ask the attendees to fill out mark-sense forms about themselves and, while they watched, scanned the data into an existing database. Then we would pick a person at random from the audience and ask for some information. By the time anyone got to the 3d or 4th piece of information, I could tell them who they were. The system worked well; it was excruciatingly fast – thousands of records per second - and never ever failed to bring the most likely matches to the top, usually the first one on the list.

I was very pleased, obviously; something I had created was actually not just grist for the publication mill or another addition to policies and procedures but an actual working useful tool that filled a need. Honestly I never expected what would come next.

My family and I were living in family quarters on The Presidio of San Francisco. One December night, in fact in the middle of the night, the phone rang. The caller identified himself as calling from the 'Situation Room at the Pentagon' and told me to 'stand by for a call from General' XXXX. At 3 in the morning I was startled, thought this was perhaps a joke, but sat awake by the phone waiting anyway. Perhaps 30 minutes later the phone rang again, this time a much more authoritative voice, the General identified himself, and then asked me to explain how my system worked.

I did so, then he said that there was a 'situation' and that I should pack field clothes and equipment for an indefinite stay, go to the closest airport and get to the Pentagon in Washington, DC. No travel orders, no written authorization, just go. This 'situation' was, as I learned later, that a DC-8 charter carrying 256 passengers and crew had crashed just after takeoff from Gander International Airport in Newfoundland, Canada. Most of the passengers were members of the 101st Airborne Division, who were assigned as a peace-keeping force in the Sinai Peninsula, enforcing the Camp David accords of 1978. The plane had gone down, skidded for a while and then broken up in flames. There were no survivors. And it had started to snow.

I was nervous about my part in this. I was going to field-test my work in a difficult and strange environment and, although I would never have said this to a colleague, I was a little concerned about dealing with this much death – up close.

I had seen dead bodies before; I had done an early trial on a relatively small, if one can say 14 deaths was small, disaster – a plane that had crashed into the ocean off the coast of Panama. I don't recall, and might never have known, the actual cause of death of these bodies I saw, whether blunt force trauma or drowning, but the bodies were intact. The bodies were discolored and grotesquely swollen, almost unrecognizable as humans. Even worse than the sight was the smell, a penetrating wet disgusting smell that filled the air like invisible smoke, permeating my clothing, my hair and my memory so completely that I seemed to smell it for weeks after.

Smell is our most primitive sense and is the most direct contact our brain has with the close environment. Smell drives the limbic system, the area of the brain that manages our most basic drives = hunger, thirst and sex drive and also connects to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands which control our primitive emotions such as fear, pleasure, rage, lust, and bliss. The smell, 2000 pounds of putrefying meat, just bludgeoned through my defenses and for three hours I tried two go up into the autopsy suite and failed.

I would take the elevator up and the sight of the bodies and the almost visible, enveloping blockade of smell would just drive me back down the stairs. Towards the end of the first morning I was able to get into the room and work, but no amount of washing and showering could get the smell from my memory and the images have stayed with me since that day and destroyed my sleep for months after. This was my first experience with this kind of death on any large scale and the smell and memories just escaped all my intellectual attempts to discard them.

I was somehow certain and relieved that this second, much larger test would be different. This plane had crashed in Newfoundland when the ground ambient temperature was below zero weather and so the bodies had been cold from the time they were plucked out of the churned up ground until they were wheeled into the morgue. The bodies had no chance to decompose so, although I was nervous about seeing so many dead, nervous about this big, crucial test of my work, I was certain that, without that terrible, wrenching smell, certain I could handle the experience.


Part 2



llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) 1985 Army CAPMI Gander dead death forensic identify https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/1/walking-among-the-dead Thu, 04 Jul 2013 21:30:00 GMT
Walking Among the Dead - Part 2 https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/7/walking-among-the-dead---part-2       Back to the beginning

While I journeyed first to Washington, DC and the Pentagon and then on to the huge military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base 130 miles away in Delaware, up at Gander,Newfoundland, crews were erecting large canopies over a huge, long swath left by the skidding, burning crash. When the wreckage fires were extinguished, they would melt the snow with industrial fuel-fed heaters, then search and recovery teams would mark off the site with a huge grid of string and stakes and commence the search for each fragment and body.

Each body would be carefully moved into a body bag, then into a transfer case – actually a metal coffin – and then flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. At Dover, each transfer case would be moved into a separate hearse for the short ride to the mortuary where it was, again, moved into a cold chamber to await processing.

The Department of Defense mortuary at Dover AFB, which has since been replaced, was the largest mortuary in the Dept of Defense; a huge building divided into separate connecting spaces, each with small rooms clustered off them. There was the huge in-processing area where first, the bags were opened and the contents phographed by someone on an overhead stage as the forensic pathologist in charge would dictate some preliminary directions.

Then the body bags were x-rayed from top to bottom so that every little fragment inside would be located, all the contents of the bag were inventoried and a set of records begun. If possible the jaws are pieced back together and dental films are made. All this time, the body is accompanied by a single person, a volunteer, who makes certain that no fragments are left behind, no papers go missing or no step gets skipped.

At this point the body went to the dental identification team where dental info, jaw fragments and x-rays were used to establish an identity. This was a long, time intensive effort, requiring hours of referring to written records and x-ray films, trying to match jaw fragments against ante-mortem records. Once identified, the bodies went for a forensic autopsy and then in a last heartbreaking step went to the uniform room where a complete uniform with all the badges of rank and medals displayed was laid in place over the body bag.

My role was to try my newly developed system to sort the database of records, to speed up finding the correct films to review. The system worked perfectly; seconds after after each body bag came into the section, the examiner had the correct ante-mortem records in hand. From a professional standpoint, that 10 days was a uncompromising success. Although the success at this trial made a great and obvious difference in my career, the impact on my life was partially hidden and much more substantive.

But I wasn't prepared for what I actually saw when we began unzipping the bags. These were not bodies any more; they were random assortments of torn up limbs, transected torsos, crushed skulls, even sheets of skin left as the skeletons were dissembled and the bones avulsed from the body by the force of the impact. Some bodies were burnt, crisped up into the 'fighter's pose' caused by the contraction of muscles from the heat; some were wrapped in wire or merged with a sheet of aluminum skin that had been melted around their bodies.

There was no chance to react. From the moment the bodies started arriving we were overwhelmed with work. There were probably about two hundred people working at the mortuary site; the permanent staff augmented by others drawn from area bases and special teams, like us, assembled from around the US. about twelve of us in the identification section and every step had to be repeated twice and verified and eventually signed off so that there was no possible error in the identification. We started at 7 AM and worked until whatever remains that had arrived that day were completely processed – twelve to fourteen hours.

When we took breaks, they were usually in specific areas that had been set up and staffed with volunteers from the air base community. Their role was to stuff us with coffee and cake and talk to us if we wanted; anything for a little break from what we were seeing. It was bitterly cold outside and not much shelter from the winds. There was a lot of emotional pressure to finish, the families could not start their grieving process until the bodies had been processed, identified and released and there was so much to do under the constant worry to not make a mistake.

The groups of workers from each section kept together during the day working in concert at similar tasks and then taking breaks when some halt in the processing chain meant there were no bodies to process. This constant presence and support of the others in the team kept me, and probably others, from reacting overtly to the situation.

Mental health professionals roamed the area, watching, looking for signs that anyone was having just too much trouble dealing with the number of bodies and the amount of destruction. If you stood by yourself for too long, eventually some one of these people would approach and ask you directly if you were all right.

The crash was huge front page news and the fence at edge of the base only 100 yards from the mortuary was lined with tv microwave trucks and cameramen and reporters watched intently whenever anyone walked outside to get to the dining tent. News helicopters had been hovering high in the air just outside the fence hoping to catch a shot of the transfer cases being carried in or out and so the Army erected camouflage netting over the entire unloading area.

Every hotel was filled with news people and the entire team had been ordered not to speak about the operation, not even a casual remark, outside the work area. When we left the base for supper and to go to hotels, anywhere we stopped we were dogged by people wanting to ask questions and so our group just was forced casual non-work conversation anytime we were in public to keep reporters from spinning casual remarks into stories. .

The work went on for perhaps eight or ten days, the number of remains returned steady at first and then dwindling until at last the chief said the last bit had been recovered and the operation in Gander up in Newfoundland closed and the site was bulldozed repeatedly, burying anything left deep into the ground, safe from scavenger animals and souvenir hunters.

The end of the operation was startlingly sudden. One day we were working hard; the next day, we were done. The paperwork done, the last identifications certified, we packed up everything, loaded trucks with the personal gear and headed on back, first to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a final debriefing and 'lessons learned' session and then on home, me to California.

But, nothing was over.



Part 3

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) 1985 Army CAPMI Gander dead death forensic identify https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/7/walking-among-the-dead---part-2 Wed, 03 Jul 2013 21:30:00 GMT
Walking Among the Dead - Part 3 https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/1/walking-among-the-dead---part-3 Back to the beginning


I had held up pretty well thoughout the week, keeping busy amongst the other team members, but eventually one incident unnerved me completely, piercing right through the protective structure of activity and denial I had built up. During what turned out to be the last morning at Dover, all of our actual work with the remains had been done and the staff actually assigned to the Medical Examiner's Office were doing final paper work and so I wandered away to look at the parts of the mortuary I hadn't seen. Past the autopsy suite, there was a large set of swinging doors and a corridor and I could see an open door. I walked down and looked in. Along the sides of the room there were racks of Army dress green uniforms, there were trays with all the badges of rank and decorations and a set of sewing machines where four women were working.

They were preparing uniforms for each dead soldier, complete with all the proper badges, decorations and name plates. As I watched they laid one uniform jacket out on a table, one person read from the record and the other person checked that every piece was correct and in place. They cracked open a transfer case that sat on a low gurney; inside the body bag had been covered with a muslin cloth, tucked in very carefully completely hiding the bag. Very reverentially, they laid the uniform, jacket pants and hat on the cloth, pinning them so they would stay in place and then closed the case.

Somehow the thought of that uniform, never worn, perfect, perhaps never to be seen, lying on top of that almost-flat body bag just undid me, overwhelming whatever reserve I had maintained through that week. I sat in the hall, my face down, crying, snuffling for quite a while. When I got myself back together, there was someone sitting there across from me. He offered me a wet cloth and a towel and sat wordlessly, except to ask if I needed anything. Eventually I got up and went back to our area to help with packing up our gear.

On the trip home, and for a long time afterward, I tried to dissect how I was feeling; what is it seeing all those remains had changed in me? Somehow seeing the remains had changed me. It was not just that they were dead but that they were destroyed, pulled apart. I could hold a record in my hand that described a person, that had his picture and all of his vital information but all that was left of him was scraps of meat and bone and skin in a dark plastic body bag. They weren't bodies anymore, there was not enough left to be that. They were remains.

I remember that trip home to California, very clearly. I felt strange, light enough to float way, all the pressure that had squeezed me tight me for almost two weeks now gone. I was different and it was strange that no one in the airport noticed it. There was no one to talk to about what I saw and how I felt. After two weeks of unremitting pressure, working next to people, talking with people for 18 hours per day, they were gone and I was alone.

That experience had an enormous effect on my life and visibly on my career. Because of the success of my work, I was famous within the field, I traveled routinely to speak at meetings, to train state disaster teams and, two or three times a year, to the site of a disaster to work. It was exhilarating and I enjoyed it; getting a phone call to say I was going to Ethiopia or Peru or California and to be part of a very skilled team, perhaps the best in the world at what we did.

The code set, methodology and software were even more famous and was adopted virtually world-wide. It was used in every major disaster from the Lockerbie Scotland air crash, the 9/11 disaster and every disaster in between and since with the culmination years later when the FBI adopted it for the NCIC system. It had long since lost its formal identification as my work and had becoming the de facto standard, the received knowledge, in a minor way like the base 10 system of calculating and Arabic numerals replaced the Phoenician base 12 and Roman numerals because it worked better.

On a personal basis, I worked and traveled, noticing only that, after each disaster, my personal recovery time was longer. I would return and tell my wife all the factual matters and then, in the following days, spend long hours sitting in the dark with the television on; I was very short-tempered and emotional, barely keeping myself intact at difficult times. I could not see war movies or anything involving the death of a soldier; I avoided sad movies or books, there were foods I could not eat – and still cannot – because the look and texture brings back unmanageable memories. Polynesian cannibals called human flesh, 'long pig.' because of its similarity in looks when roasted.

I knew that I could not persist like this indefinitely. Charles Bukowski the poet said that it was not the big things that drive men mad but the concatenation of little things:

with each broken shoelace
out of one hundred broken shoelaces,
one man, one woman, one
enters a


Part 4

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) 1985 Army CAPMI Gander dead death forensic identify https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/1/walking-among-the-dead---part-3 Tue, 02 Jul 2013 21:30:00 GMT
Walking Among the Dead - Part 4 https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/1/walking-among-the-dead---part-4 Back to the beginning


My 'little thing' came at an unusual and unexpected time, not on any mission, but on a ride to a formal dinner. Driving down the George Washington Parkway, a narrow, dark and curvy road that slants from the Washington Beltway down towards the center of the city, my wife and I were in, perhaps, the third or fourth car to stop behind a serious accident. I walked up to see if I could help, the police or fire trucks hadn't yet arrived and saw that an oncoming car had hit the narrow low median and gone airborne, turning over. It had caromed off a car in my lanes and come to a stop, upside down. All this had all happened perhaps thirty seconds before; the wreckage was still ticking and I could smell gasoline, perhaps from ruptured tanks.

I asked if anyone had checked to see if the people underneath were alive. No one had and no one seemed interested. It seems pretty incongruous now; I was dressed in Army Mess Dress uniform, but I got on my hands and toes, sort of in a push-up position and edged under the car perhaps three or four feet. I yelled out for some light; someone shown a flashlight and illuminated two upside down faces right in front on me. The passengers were both dead. Somehow, in the crash, part of the car hood caught them both under the chin and pushed their heads back, snapped their necks completely. They weren't disfigured but absolutely completely dead, their necks elongated, flattened and seemingly almost boneless, their heads held up in place by the top backs of the seats.

I worked my way back out, told the crowd that they were dead and got back into my car. My wife said I was calm and unruffled as I pulled around the just-arriving emergency vehicles and drove to the dinner. About an hour later, I got pale, started to shake and my wife pulled me out of the dinner and drove home. I knew I could never see or touch a dead body again – and I haven't.

My past has retreated and I don't mind not being remembered. I still don't, can't eat certain foods, I don't see war movies, am repulsed by the thought of my killing anything and, on my yearly visit to the Vietnam Memorial, have to be careful not to be taken unaware by emotion. Most important of all, in these ensuing years, I know what those experiences have taught me.

Somehow, each of us retains from our childhood a small bit of the belief in our immortality. That we may be hurt but can never die; that tiny scrap of hard-held belief, unrealistic thought, is what allows us to take risks; that somehow we are above the rest, that death cannot touch us.

I no longer think that. I know that I am organs and muscles and blood, held together only by a bag of skin and chance. It has been a sobering revelation but I have come to terms with it.

What can someone who can never be in those situations take away from my experience, and that of every soldier who has actually been there, been 'in the shit', as they say?

I can answer with an old joke which is not so much funny as it is sort of a Zen koan – a parable.

An old soldier says to a civilian:”How many combat veterans does it take to put in a light bulb?”

The civilian: “OK, how many combat veterans does it take to put in a light bulb?”

Answers the soldier:”You can't know, you weren't there.”

So remember this:”You can't know, you weren't there.”

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) 1985 Army CAPMI Gander dead death forensic identify https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/1/walking-among-the-dead---part-4 Mon, 01 Jul 2013 21:45:00 GMT
My opinions about Photographing the Homeless and Using Hipstagram-like Filters; negative https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/6/my-opinions-about-photographing-the-homeless-and-using-instamatic-filters-negative DCpeace702007-09-15_46 I love photography and see it, not only as a way that I can be creative, but as a way to isolate and capture 'truths' about the world that I see and hold onto them. Perhaps that sounds a little woo-woo but when I look at a really great picture, it sticks with me, penetrates my consciousness to mean something that ongoing reality doesn't do.

Perhaps that is why I have such strongly held beliefs about photography and the spirit in which it should be done. Combine that with a personal defensiveness and irritability when people take me for a fool and what results is the cranky judgmental person that I am.

The guiding principles for how I try to work and how I judge work I see are only two: a successful photo must bring to the viewer some hint of what the photographer finds, if not unique then at least interesting about the scene, a hint of original perspective and secondly, the treatment of the image must flow from the content. 

I think that, to be effective, images must be more than just repetition of what is in front of the camera with the minor comments implied by lens and framing choice. A picture must have a point of view and show the hand, the mind and the emotion of the photographer. Further, anything done to the image in post-processing to give it greater impact or to concentrate the viewers' attention should be coherent with the content.

Even documentary photographers, who are presenting a reality, must try to present that reality in such as way as to show what they saw that makes that in the frame interesting.

Much of my attitude towards photographs, whether they are successful or not in my estimation, stems from my overarching belief that good photographs must have some resonance with my emotions; a photograph must persist through intellectual appreciation and somehow connect with emotional memories that allow me to appreciate and remember it. I think that the 'better' the photograph, the more universal its appeal.

That being said, the title and the theme of this piece reflects the distaste and resentment I experience when a photographer attempts to mislead me with tricks – cheap or expensive – by appealing to these emotional links.

Photographers should actually try to present the truth. By that, I don't mean truth in the literal sense that they are not falsifying the content (that should go without saying but unfortunately sometimes does not**), but truth in that the subject or content is really the issue and not just a placeholder or shortcut. As an example, if I was reporting at the scene of a fire and, instead of showing pictures of the actual firefighters at the scene, used pictures of dirty, smoky firefighters made at the fire training academy because they were better pictures, whatever the similarities of the situations, I think that would be a lie and unethical.

 (For an interesting on point discussion about this read http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/22/a-prize-winning-ethics-lesson/   and http://www.maydaypress.com/blog/page9_files/09f6d2fbd43e90615782e4e115d95b41-0.html

Now how does this relate to the idea of shooting the homeless, just capturing the person in a situation, with no back-story, no supporting issues, just a gritty gritty image of a person whose situation is much more difficult than ours, much less comfortable, with much less privacy?  

My initial and very personal non-photographer response is that taking these pictures is exploiting another human's situation for our own good; the photographer is taking pictures only because they will elicit a known response and the photographer is taking advantage of the subject to do it.

(The immediate counter argument one sees is either that the photographer is showing the world something terrible they need to be aware of or that, in some way, the photographer is paying them to 'model' either by giving them some money or buying them some food. Clearly the response of 'enlightening the world' is silly. At least in the US, pictures of the homeless and destitute abound. Unless one has been asleep for the last 125 years and has no exposure to electronic or print media, we know what their life is like, no more of this is needed and that excuse is just that, a rationalization.  The second response is that they are being reimbursed and so it is a normal photographer-model transaction.  Is the photographer paying them the same rates as he would pay a model to use what they have?  Does the photographer get a model release? No one has yet claimed that. )

Taking pictures of the homeless is exploitative in the same way that talking a intellectually challenged person into doing something is exploitative because, in both cases, their circumstance doesn't give them the perspective or the options to say no that most of us have.

And it is done because the photographer knows the emotional appeal of this kind of picture and, instead of working on his/her own to show us something new, has taken the cheap and easy way.

Recently I read a blog post by Alex Garcia, a photojournalist from the Chicago Tribune, and he made this statement that rings true for me as a photographer about most pictures of the homeless : "a subject shouldn't become a symbol and a shortcut for an unrelated truth that a photographer has failed to capture elsewhere." ( in The Age of Fauxjournalism by Alex Garcia)

That is a more incisive view on the issue. Shooting images of subjects, the characteristics of whose life and situation we know well, just to get the gritty images is a shortcut, a substitute for really looking at the situation. Instead of any deeper look into the situation that would be useful, informative or meaningful, the picture is saying 'here is a grubby, dirty person without much. Feel bad for them and good that you aren't like that.'  This kind of shortcut could be considered almost unethical on one level and almost cheating on another because the photographer is just attempting to stir up emotional responses in the cheapest way, without doing any work but using another human as fodder.

And I respond negatively for two reasons. First, because the photographer is taking the cheap way out, substituting an emotional trick for real insight and second, because I am insulted that the photographer takes me -or the public - for such a dunce that I would buy their trick. The photographer is saying, with their picture, 'here is some emotion and stuff for you, it is fake, it is made up and you are too stupid, such a slave to your responses, that you can't help but like it.'

Pictures of the homeless are the sugar-coated, nutrition-free breakfast cereal of the photography world.

Now how does this issue of taking a shortcut, conflate with the use of Instagram, Hipstamatic or, at an even more professional level, Photoshop actions?

Again from Alex Garcia, 

"You couldn't just use a method for method's sake. Like art, the medium of visual communication should be appropriate for the subject matter. If you were photographing a brilliant artist, you might use intense colors to express bursting creativity. Or, you might match the color scheme ........ to the schemes present in the subject, ......" (from Does the Use of Hipstamatic and Instagram Betray Photojournalism by Alex Garcia )

Post-processing is planned to add some sort of visual impact to an image, and much of the time that post-processing is intended to convey specific impressions, to add some meaning to the image. Street photos are often processed to appear in grainy b&w, vintage photos are often yellow and faded and so on.

The meaning is generally understandable because of our common experiences our society and there is nothing wrong with using effects in post-processing that allude to or reinforce the content of the photo. That the effects have common associations is recognized even by the companies that produce suites of effects in their names - effect names such as 'vintage', 'modern',  'classical', etc.

I don't think there is anything wrong with using processing that helps the image have more of an impact; after all, making an impact is what I am trying to do with my photos.

What I do think is wrong - and even repellent - is using effects to actually originate the emotion that should stem from the content of the photo.

Instead of looking at a picture to experience the content, the viewer experiences the processing, the substitute.  Witness extreme HDR; what percentage of those we see have an interesting image without the hdr effect? Is there something in this image that we would look at if there wasn't an HDR effect applied? What about the millions of images that are 'Hipstamatic'-ed or 'Instagram'-ed, not because there is any reason for the particular filter but because 'they look cool'?

And when, through the wonders of modern technology, everything gets beaten up with processing, everything has effects, everything is covered by layers of 'stuff',  then what will art lose?  Just as Pavarotti would be unheard in a huge crowd singing, I am afraid that well done, coherent images will get swamped in the flood of Instagram-ed and Hipstamatic-ed crap, the silly substitutions for meaning.  

 Yes I know the world has changed but is change always for the good?

Is there anything to do, is the work of photographers who want to create and be seen going to be drowned out?

Well, I can't see the future but I know what I will do. 

I will resist. 


**as another on point experience, I saw a very nicely composed photo in a forum for candid, urban and photojournalistic pieces. In fact, the composition was so perfect - and the physical point of view of the photo so improbable that, after reading the discussion, I made the observation that it looked staged. Eventually the photographer admitted that it was staged - and used as a justification that the photographer had a college degree in photography and the very concepts of making 'snapshots' had been removed from her consciousness, so she had staged this shot.

Perhaps the photographer was not in class for the 'ethics in photojournalism' lecture. 


If you haven't yet caught up with the photo blogs at the Chicago Tribune, I would recommend at least Shooting from the Hip by Scott Strazante and Assignment Chicago by Alex Garcia; both of these are excellently written and some of their content inspired this blog post.

I am grateful to Amolitor at the Photography Forum for his comments on the draft of this piece that helped immensely in the rewriting.





llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Hipstamatic Instagram criticism photographing the homeless, photojournalism, photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/6/my-opinions-about-photographing-the-homeless-and-using-instamatic-filters-negative Fri, 28 Jun 2013 17:39:46 GMT
What is Street Photography? - and what it isn't https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/5/what-is-street-photography---and-what-it-isnt
Marriage - One Man = One Woman I was incited to write this post after looking through a great many 'street photo' forum posts and reading online discussions. What is street photography and why does so much of it seem to be empty images that have the superficial outside characteristics but are otherwise forgettable? 

(Let me warn the reader. This is what I think and how I shoot. You may not agree. OK. Do it any way you like.)



The first link in a web search was, of course, to the entry in Wikipedia which is correct in a general way but also so non-specific as to give not much help to any photographer itching to get into the field.

Street photography is a genre of photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places and does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. 'Street' simply refers to a place where human activity can be seen, a place to observe and capture social interaction. The subject can even be absent of any people and can be that of object or environment where an object projects a human character or an environment is decidedly human.

Framing and timing are key aspects of the craft, with the aim of creating images at a decisive or poignant moment. Alternatively, the street photographer may seek a more prosaic depiction of the scene, as a form of social documentary.


There is a story about a man in a hot-air balloon who is blown off-course and lands in a field by the side of the road. He waves down a car and asks the driver where he is. The driver says, 'Well, of course, you're in the basket of a collapsed hot-air balloon by the side of the road.” The balloonist says you must be a photography teacher.” and the driver says, “yes, how did you know?” Well, the balloonist responses, “what you told me was absolutely correct but totally useless.”

So I looked further with a bit more success. In a website run by the London Festival of Photography, an organization that previously sponsored a yearly street photography:

Street photography captures people and places within the public domain. More specifically street photography is defined by LFPH as “un-posed, un-staged photography which captures, explores or questions contemporary society and the relationships between individuals and their surroundings.”


11-01-24life-_0796330 Pretty good but still a little undefined and without much useful direction – and the use of the term 'public domain' spurred comments from people who nonsensically wanted to define 'public domain' as if where the image was created is somehow important. It was interesting to see how some people wanted to impose silly standards like subjects can't be previously known to the photographer or subjects can't be looking at the camera or images can't be cropped in any way.








But finally, two quotes that actually strike closer to the heart of the issue.

Effective street photography is about telling a story in a single frame, not simply recording what was there at a particular time and in a specific place.



I didn't agree totally with this because of the use of 'story', implying there must be a narrative with a beginning and an end, so on I went.

Finally, I came across this quote from Ming Thein.

Street photography doesn’t always have to have a purpose, but each image must aim to say something.


Ming Thein right to the point. No rules, except that the image must say something. Bingo that's it. No rules, no standard, no 'best lens', no allowed procedures, just what the end result must be. The aim for any photographer is to create images that impact people with the shared human emotions and sensibilities.

teabag700__0795188 Unfortunately street photography has generally recognizable visual characteristics that are generally associated with that mode that it is relatively easy for viewers to see the superficial characteristics and fail to penetrate to the core.













So rather than saying what, in my opinion, is real street photography, it is much easier to say what I think is not.

  • Street photography is not pictures of poor people or people in distress that focuses on their condition and therefore borrows some emotion without bringing any new meaning. (what I call homeless porn. This is the most obvious, cheap and repellent cliché in street photography and viewers should not be fooled by the photographer's tales of giving money or food in return. Unless there is more to it than a picture of poverty, it is exploitative.
  • Street photography is not taking an otherwise meaningless shot, converting it to B&W and tarting it up with heavy textures and vignetting and grain. Because of the long history of pushing films to get higher iso and using not-so-terrific lenses on early small cameras, the genre is historically associated with B&W and texture. Modern photographers convert to B&W to keep bright colors from diverting the viewer from the center of interest that they want to show. Unfortunately that means that photographers can take relatively meaning-free images and pass them off as something important just by hanging the street photos characteristics on them.
  • Street photography is not any random B&W photography done outside. It may be 'slice of life' or just a well done but purposeless picture. If the picture has no point, it doesn't fit. Modern cameras do 98% of the work as it is, doing the exposure, doing the focus and not even costing anything to make exposures.
  • Street photography is not taking pictures of graffiti or signs or things meant to be seen with no additional meaning or emphasis added by the photographer. The photographer must add something more than a passing Google van.
  • Street photography is not jumping up in front of people and shooting their startled response. This 'method' seems to be the most admired by those people who haven't the nerve to go out and even shoot pictures of people at all. I find it, if not repellent and annoying, certainly irritating. The only positive aspect to this technique is that eventually people who shoot this way will annoy someone equally as aggressive and very annoyed and be will punched very hard in their nose.

This is my mantra, originally written by a retired street photographer friend from Scotland and slightly edited.

Street shooting is maybe the hardest niche of all in photography both to explain and to do. The photographer haunts his chosen environment where, perhaps, nothing is happening - people may be just quietly going about their business - and yet he/she to select tiny moments when an image can be snatched which is more than the sum of its parts - where some fleeting coincidence of expression, gesture, positioning, and movement come together to create an instant which holds some undefinable meaning.

Arizona Immigration rally--14 The difficulty in doing street photography comes in seeing the potential scene, framing it in your mind, getting to the right spot and capturing the moment. That means that the photographer must be perfectly at easy with their equipment, able to tame the wild camera and get the picture. This is just as hard as it seems. The keeper rate, not of focus or exposure, but of good shots is small.

The meaning or the idea can be big or little, it can be a statement about major issues or just a wordless comment on what the photographer sees but, in my mind, there has to be something beyond just a capture or the photo just empty. The meaning can be obscure and require some effort but it must mean something and the photographer must know it. The meaning must be enclosed in the photo and not an add on because the title is informative.

A great picture reaches past the topmost layer of intellectual meaning and touches feelings and emotions.

Henri Cartier Bresson said "To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart.”

What he meant and how I think, was that a photo must incorporate a meaning (the head), to do that it must present the vital elements for the viewer to understand in a coherent way (the eye) and the viewer must be struck by the photo and respond to it (the heart.)

And that's my goal, to strike to the heart.


If you'd like to learn composition and editing in a one-on-one environment online read about 

One to One Workshops on composition and editing


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Street Photography What is Street Photography composition criticism photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/5/what-is-street-photography---and-what-it-isnt Fri, 24 May 2013 14:21:03 GMT
A methodology to teach image evaluation and post-processing https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/5/a-methodology-to-teach-image-evaluation-and-post-processing PA062831-Edit-Edit-Edit-Edit Over the last several years, I have taught post-processing, given talks on both post-processing and evaluating images and neither of those activities were very satisfying because it always seemed that 90% of what I said didn't take root in any substantive way. It was like demonstrating how woodworking tools worked and then leaving the students off by themselves to understand how to create something.

A few months ago, one of my good friends asked me about an post-processing issue having to do with a specific image and, in the resulting discussion, I suggested that we get together and look over a couple of his images and talk about how I saw them and how I would 'manage' them.

So that happened; he sent me about 8 or 10 raw images using wetransfer.com and I prioritized them, putting first the ones that I thought I could show the most positive resulting post-processing. He came over to my home and we sat together at my computer; taking about 90 minutes, I went through each of the images,doing very quick edits on some, always trying to get to what I saw as a positive result, just commenting on others.

My goal for each session was not to produce a final image but to show what I thought about the image, why I thought it, how I might have shot it differently and how I would go about maximizing the impact of the image as it was. My ultimate goal was to get him to the point where he saw the individual elements that make up the totality of an image and could just how they worked separately and together. 

After each session, he was to take the original raw files, the sidecar files and the Photoshop files with him. 

For the second meeting, I imported his images into Lightroom and showed how I would do some of the basic keywording and editing in LR, then export to PS for more specific edits. I was honestly quite startled when he wanted to schedule yet a third meeting.

After the second meeting, to save drive time, I had suggested that we try doing these sessions over Skype, sharing my screen and that's what we did for the third meeting. He sent me images, I prioritized them, trying to find good examples of how to improve the image and also to include situations where I could use some of the less obvious techniques like channel masks, etc. 

Since Skype shares only one screen and I use monitors two in my normal set up, I was a little concerned how well this would work, but I was able to keep the non-active palettes on my second screen and only drag them onto the shared screen when I was doing something with them specifically. 

At each of the meetings, when there was a procedure that he wasn't familiar with, I went back and actually demonstrated how that tool worked in theory and in actuality. He is a very intelligent and quick-to-learn guy (Ph.D. in Economics, ex college prof) and, to be honest, I started to get a little uncomfortable at what seemed to me to be a teacher-student situation that was uncalled for. 

This discomfort all disappeared when he called me after the second Skype session suggesting that he was ok with most of the actual PS stuff but could we just continue with the evaluation part of it. He told me how incredibly useful that the sessions were,not so much for the editing part because he could find tutorials on the web, but for hearing how someone else with a good amount of experience at looking at pictures took an intense look at his images and, knowing the maker's ability, could speak to him directly about what the other viewer saw and thought.

During this seven week period, another friend heard about these meetings. He was preparing images for submission as a class project in photojournalism and so he came over and we did the same exercise with his images, re-cropping some,re-ordering the presentation and even some minor edits allowable by his instructor.

Interestingly enough, over the past year, I had been approached by four members of an Internet forum on photography to be a'mentor' and I had said that I really didn't couldn't do any more than respond to their images, sharing with them the way I saw their images and how I could see improvements. That must have been perceived as a non-helpful response because no one followed up with that. As it turned out, that seems to be a very effective way to teach. 

Pressing the shutter button is only a single step in the creative process but it does crystallize how the photographer was working and thinking at the time of the button press and thus provides a really good anchor around which to fasten a lesson.

Since being a mentor takes up a good amount of time and energy, much more than the actual face time as any teacher knows, and I guard both of these jealously, to make the time usage worthwhile, I have decided to be a mentor-for-hire, doing exactly what I described in this post. 

The economist and I went through an exercise to fix a methodology and a cost. I will work in 9-120 minute sessions only at a cost of $85 per session, payable to my PayPal account in advance. That seems to be a fair balance between the value of my time and the value to the client. The client must have a high speed connection and a Skype account (no cost). 

The client will sends 8-10 images in advance (or, more conveniently use a Dropbox) and I will return the images with edits in a form the client can use after any session. 

There will be no contracted number of sessions; the client can choose to take only one session or more. If the client has specific issues,specific troublesome images or specific questions, we'll work on those; otherwise we'll take the images as they come.


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) critique learning lightroom learning photoshop learning to edit lightroom photoshop post-processing https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/5/a-methodology-to-teach-image-evaluation-and-post-processing Wed, 08 May 2013 14:30:00 GMT
The Meaning of 'meaning' https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/4/the-meaning-of-meaning 'Meaning' in art simply describes some sort of connection or communication with the viewer. The viewer see something, and responds with some sort of understanding. That understanding may go beyond the intellectual response of knowing what the communication represents in literal terms into deeper emotional reactions as the communication triggers memories and reactions within us. The communication depends on some kind of shared symbols between the maker and the observer.

The shared symbols can be text like the number 13. They can be symbols, ideas, memories, literal history like the vietnam war. They could be low-level mammalian responses, like the way we react to babies.

So a photograph communicates, or resonates, or has meaning to an audience to the degree that it can connect with symbols and shared ideas.

The success or impact of any piece of art depends on how wide an audience, how universally accessible are the content symbols and of course, the nature of the connection - shared History, shared Stories, shared Symbols (religion, superstition), shared Animal Responses
To parse this a little more closely, there are, as I see it, at least four kinds of 'meaning'

The "descriptive" or documentary sense- conveying of basic information, and without any emotional content documentary sense -  where the photo tells you something or shows you something – but the information really is all that escapes the frame. e.g. parts diagram for a dishwasher or, as we see here, a defect in a hose. The information may be useful, even vital, but the content generally touches only the intellect.

The "associative" meaning - the description and emotion is tied in to what the person knows of the subject, whether this is a person, place, or event). The content of the photo has such specific hold on the emotions of specific viewers or kinds of viewers that any technical or quality issues are essentially unseen. e.g. pictures of babies or grandchildren or pictures of places where singular things occurred to the viewer. Again, the meaning is tied so much to the viewer that the photo is more of a catalyst that works on only certain substrate.

The evocation of emotion using various 'hot buttons" is something that the marketers try hard to achieve, but usually in their case, the emotions are of a rather shallow nature, "Oh that puppy is SOOO cute!" or "Wow - that's a really beautiful, sexy woman!", or "That dish looks so appetizing!" The next level of emotional evocation would be using cultural icons such as guns, flags, religious symbols and other objects that people associate with causes or emotional situations. These depend on the viewer knowing the meaning behind the icon. Still others rely on the common human experiences of a parent/child bond, or that between spouses, or between lovers, and our identification with the displayed relationship.

Of course, even when the intent is to produce only a simple documentary image produces intense reaction when the image shows something that is normally hidden and inaccessible as in the image of a mutilated body, or intensely personal, as in the case of witnessing someone's grief. In either case, the viewer's identification with the subject creates a very powerful reaction that is unpredictable and generally unintended.

Much street photography can be understood as trying to create 'documentary pictures with meaning' where the content of the photo has general ramifications that the viewer can understand and respond to. The viewer sees the photo and reacts perhaps both mentally and emotionally to what he/she sees. e.g. The execution of a Viet Cong Guerilla.  

The immediacy of the event as shown obviously has meaning, although the meaning is tied so much to the intellectual history of the viewer that the photo is more of a catalyst than a container.

Obviously these documentary photos with meaning rely a lot on the "context". But the context in which the viewer sees an image may be very different from the context in which the image was made and therefore, these images are subject to misinterpretation.

"this picture by Eddie Adams is the one that defined the conflict and changed history. In the sharp contrast with Capa’s Falling Solider, personalities and identities did matter a lot in this picture."



What I am usually trying to create is a fourth kind, an image that by its content and its treatment becomes not just a picture but a frame through which many people can see a reality that affects them. My intent is not to appeal simply to the surface emotions through association within specific persons but to strike deeper than that, to create something that resonates deeply with most viewers because it seems authentic and real and possible.  

This kind of image depends not so much on the personalities of either the subjects or the viewers but the universality of the 'themes.' The technical qualities of the image are not irrelevant in that they create the 'reality' but they must be so in tune with the emotions stirred by the image that they are ignored by the viewer.

And I have no idea what, if any, are the specific characteristics needed.  I can point to one image relatively easily – the picture at the left  taken by Robert Capa  -Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936

I don't need to know the soldier or what side he is fighting on or even what war to be struck by the power of this image.

 Read an interesting article with many links about the veracity of this photo at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Falling_Soldier.

Everything about this picture adds to the impression of reality of an emotionally significant moment. This depicts a situation that strikes right through me, that tells me something but I don't even know what it is. No description of it comes close to describing the way the image is effective.

An image of my own that typifies this kind of impact on me is the picture I took of this little boy in a doorway in Myanmar.

Even though the picture was originally shot in color using a digital slr, washed out in the sun and dust, in my mind it was in black and 

white. Nothing would do but that I would bring the image that I saw in my mind's eye out of the image that I captured. And when I actually did edit the picture, it seemed to have a life of its own. It was not that I made the image but only that I discovered something that was there.

A larger copy of this image is at http://lewlortonphoto.com/p678813058/h56ecf4fe#h56ecf4fe 


Is it arguable that post-processing to build this meaning, or to increase the impact or appeal to the audience is somehow cheating?

Of course not, it isn't any more cheating than what a sculptor does when he chisels away stone to reveal the form within that previously existed only in his/her minds eye.

So how does a photographer go about creating these pictures, looking for this kind of image? Well, I think it is more the case that a photographer must just let him or herself be aware, to take pictures like a good street photographer.

The photographer haunts his chosen environment where, perhaps, nothing is happening - people may be just quietly going about their business - and yet he/she to select tiny moments when an image can be snatched which is more than the sum of its parts - where some fleeting coincidence of expression, gesture, positioning, and movement come together to create an instant which holds some undefinable meaning."

There are two basic intentions that must guide the photographer – either while taking the picture or in the post-processing. First the content within the frame, everything,must be coherent with the intended meaning because the viewer sees it all, assumes it must be there because the photographer left it there and the viewer attempts to make a story. Everything the photographer includes should be aimed at allowing the viewer to create a story. By story I don't mean it has to be a literal plotted story but merely some coherent vision of what he/she sees that is comforting in that the elements in the image go together.

and second, the management of the image, post-processing, must both support the intended meaning and not introduce any elements that grab attention from the main point.

There is another discussion that can occur and that is whether "meaning" can exist without emotion. In my comments above, I have assumed that meaning is intimately related to the emotional content, but that may be a false (or at least not always correct) assumption. 

But that's for later.


(while I take responsibility for all the inanities of the final version, most of the graceful prose and clearer thought came from online friends at ThePhotoForum.com - pgriz, Derrell and Amolitor that I know only as Internet personalities but whom I think are actual live people.)

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) ansel adams' art composition criticism eddie meaning in art photography robert capa, https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/4/the-meaning-of-meaning Mon, 15 Apr 2013 19:40:44 GMT
How to improve your photography: your own twelve step program https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/4/how-to-improve-your-photography-your-own-twelve-step-program Market day

I originally thought of titling this post 'why short courses and workshops are terrible, tutorials and books slightly better but practice and introspection the best' but that would give away my innermost thoughts too easily, so here it is and you'll have to dig for meaning..

The digital age has erased many of the barriers that kept people from getting serious about photography –no more focusing, no more exposure meters, zoom lenses, no more darkroom, …..... only to erect higher barriers further down the road.
Photography, at least modern photography with digital cameras, is a pretty unique challenge. The incredible brains and magnificent sensors built into modern cameras means that anyone who can press a button can turn out photos that approach in quality the work of competent film photographers. 

With film cameras, many crucial decisions had to be made either early on or fairly late in the photography process – the film choice, developer, etc.- and these decisions were relatively simple and uncomplicated, especially compared to the myriad complexities of digital cameras and post-processing software. With film photography,anyone with aspirations to do serious photography could learn the physical procedures of using a film single lens reflex in a day with another day for black and white film processing and printing. The vast proportion of film photographers sent color film to a lab to be developed thus absolving themselves of any part in the complexities of developing and printing. The relatively crude tools, the long lag before feedback and the hours in a darkroom weeded out most people who weren't serious.

Digital cameras have changed all that. Yes, modern digital cameras are complex machines, even the simplest point and shoot models are much more complex than film cameras but the least of them is quite 'smart' and can be used simply as a 'point and shoot' to produce spectacular results – sometimes, if conditions are right.

As a recorder of time and place, the modern cameras are without equal, and produce excellent snapshots with minimal effort from the photographer. But excellent snapshots are usually not compelling viewing for those outside the immediate circle of the photographer, and certainly fail to evoke the emotion that good art usually aroused in the viewer. So the act of taking a snapshot is missing something – and that something is the decision-making that allows a photographer to create arresting imagery. Taking back that control, and learning to make the appropriate decisions, is the challenge facing the modern photographer.

So, how do people learn to be a good photographer? How do people master not only the complexities of the technology but also the art of seeing and creating an image. Is there an easy way? Is there a best way?

Well there is an easy answer. No, there is no easy way to learn photography.

Often beginners, used to thinking of schools as the best traditional method to study complex structures will look towards classes or expensive 'workshops' taught by practicing photographers. Unless you are a total newbie, without any skills or knowledge I think that expensive workshops are not cost-effective ways to learn and here is why.

Before you run out and register, you need to understand the learning environment and must understand a bit about the business of photography, This perfect storm of new technology, digital cameras, Internet education and tens of millions of new photographers has changed the business of photography. Out of the millions of new camera users there are tens of thousand of new 'professionals' out there trying to make a living or even just to make money with their expensive hobby.

Ball Up At the same time, the growth of cheap stock photography websites has cut the need for custom commercial photography work. What's a medium level professional photographer to do with his/her talent and investment now that his markets are shrinking and the competition is growing?

The answer is, he/she will teach.

Good, well-known professionals are finding it easier to make money by giving courses or workshops than actually producing photographs and finding someone to buy them. The huge numbers of cameras sold, the incredible lure of being an 'artist' and the steep learning curve of digital photography means an essentially never-ending supply of people who think that getting skilled in photography can be done by working with or listening to someone with the knowledge – a transfer of a desired characteristic like the laying on of hands.

But, except for real beginners who know nothing and who would profit from any kind of knowledge, that doesn't work. Typical courses have a relatively wide latitude of students attending them, from those who haven't any experience in the subject matter to those who want to top off their mental tank with the expert's words. The teacher tries to satisfy everyone and so, in general covers a typically wide subject going from the very beginning to the very end, necessarily skipping too many details because of time constraints.

Most courses teach the easy stuff – which features are present and how they are activated. What few courses teach is which features are relevant in specific situations, and WHY they are important in that context. They also do not usually address the end result – why some images evoke strong emotions, and how they achieve this miracle.

The result is that very naïve, beginning students are often overwhelmed, get a few tidbits but forget or can't yet use most of the content and go away glazed in wonder at the knowledge of the teacher. Medium and advanced students are generally bored by the basic stuff covered and frustrated by the necessary lack of detail.

Another more systemic problem is that many or even most 'teachers' are not scholars but working photographers and so they are most familiar with what they do that works for them and may not have any conceptual idea of how what they do fits in the realm of what can be done.

This was reinforced for me during a class I took just a few weeks ago. I knew the instructor was a great studio photographer and a master printer. His prints were as beautiful as I'd ever seen and so I drove 80 minutes and paid money to sit in a classroom for six hours to hear how he worked. A good part of the morning was spent with each other student telling where they were in photography and then he went on to describe some different basic methods – all text-book stuff. I was waiting for what was scheduled after lunch. He went through a selection of his prints and described how he converted from the color images to black and white images.

He gave us the 'recipe' for the settings he used in one specific step of the process with Photoshop. Now, I thought, we were at the spot where I would learn so I asked why he used those settings, what was technical rationale? His answer was that he had always used those numbers, that he didn't know how other conditions would affect them. This was akin to asking a great hitter in baseball for some batting hints and having him respond that the best result is when the pitcher throws the ball right where you can hit it hard.

Frustrated by my disappointment with this and other workshops I've taken, I queried my friends and they reported similar experiences. So I've come up with a set of advice on how to become a better photographer – assuming that you are serious about this effort - my own 12 step program. 2006 05 17 SWVacation_00102-Edit

1) Be prepared for this learning process to take a long time. Like playing the piano, learning and skills and talent have to be cobbled together

2) Do not spend lots of money on classes or workshops expecting that the class is the key to learning unless they are very small groups and very narrowly focused on a certain specific topic. Even then be prepared to waste your time and money. In general, classes are inefficient because you can't re-listen, they are rarely on point for the individual, there is too little detail and they go too fast. (If you have read the manual you will be ahead of three quarters of the class.)

3) Use the materials you have that pertain to your own equipment; that means “read your manual.” Read it again. Know the basic workings of your equipment. I have a good friend who went on a three week trip to Asia with a new camera and came back to find that an initial, crucial setting was off and half of his images were defective. Luckily the other half were quite good.

On the other hand, don't worry about being a total equipment master, work on actually making pictures. Learn to focus your mind, your eye and the camera on what you want to take a picture of and take that picture. Learn to use the camera's bells and whistles as you need them. Decide up front if you need to know which buttons are present and what they do OR you need to understand why there are there in the first place. The first part is the mechanics, the second part starts opening the door to the artistry.

4) Take lots of pictures, of things that catch your eye, and then analyze them to see what you were attracted to in the original scene/situation, and think about what would have made the image better.

Were important things in unimportant places, were things in focus, were the colors good?
It takes some time to develop a vocabulary to describe what you see and what you feel. 
That vocabulary, and awareness of the visual, allows you to bring what was essentially unconscious, up to the level of awareness, and on that awareness, you can start building your learning efforts. Combined with looking at other people's images, you will see some characteristics emerge from mass - the images that grab your attention have certain common elements.
Until you understand what elements make pictures successful and learn how to reproduce those conditions in your own images, you can't progress.

Photography is a visual art, and one of its most important powers is to communicate to a viewer. Viewers already have absorbed, usually unconsciously, many of the rules that influence visual expression, and they react well (or poorly) to the manner in which the image is presented. Photographers need to learn this visual language, and to understand how viewers see images. But as participants in the culture, we already have absorbed many of these lessons in an unaware manner, and the effort is needed at raising the underlying mechanisms to the conscious level. When something catches our eye – our cultural programming is stirring. When we start analyzing what it is that got our attention, then we start relearning on a conscious level the elements of visual communication.

5) Use the Internet. When you need to learn how to do something, find an on-line tutorial. Join a online photographic community. Be choosy, find one where you are comfortable and you can both get useful information from people with more experience and where you don't feel out of place at your level.

6) Look at lots of pictures, lots of them. And not just your own. Use them as exercises. Decide whether you like the picture or not and try to figure out why. (that's the important part) Read lots of comments, this will help you to build your understanding of images and will give you the vocabulary to put labels on your artistic responses.

Another ability that you will start picking up with practice is the ability to see light not just as a bunch of photons, but also as a visual modifier which endows your subject with depth and volume and texture and color. The quality of light has a huge effect on the effectiveness of an image, and it is under-rated as a factor that makes the image sing.

Part of learning anything, is to pick up the technical vocabulary that describes the nature and nuances of the field. That vocabulary also has an inherent order and structure that allows analysis and categorization. These tools allow the practitioner to determine is they need more of this and less of that, whether overall balance is attractive or not, and whether there is a coherence that communicates clearly to the viewer.

7) Look for critique of your own pictures. Post one or two at a time in the photo communities or in your local camera club. Listen to the comments and use what sounds good to you. Don't get sensitive; a bad picture does not mean you are a bad person.

There is a difference between content and form. We may be attached emotionally to the content, but viewers can only extrapolate from the form of the image what the content really is. The medium is the message. The tone of a spoken sentence is often much more informative than the content (the actual words) used. So it is with imagery – the presentation of the image often overwhelms the image subject in the eyes of the viewer. When we listen to commentary, we’re hearing comments on the form. And as in any human communication, what is being said is often not exactly what is being meant, complicated by what we read is often not exactly what was written. So commentary needs to be explored to get to the common understanding.

8) Don't buy any more equipment than you have now until you recognize that what you are doing or want to do is limited by the equipment you have. The process of getting to be a good photographer is a drawn out and arduous one and often times people think – or rather hope that the path is made less steep by more or more expensive equipment.

Stop thinking that. You are suffering from G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome); this isn't curable but can be managed.

Equipment without skill is an nice paperweight. Skill without knowledge is driving around without a purpose or destination. Knowledge without understanding is the same as knowing the price but not the value. One of the four is easy – it only takes money. The rest depend on the amount of effort and dedication a person is prepared to invest in this activity.

9) Inevitably you will acquire books. I have lots. Most haven't helped me one teeny bit and sit virtually unopened. If you are a beginner it would be useful to get a book on exposure and maybe to read something on composition. Picture books, coffee table books, are nice but expensive. Save your money and get them at the library.

If you are compelled to buy instructional, 'how-to' books, remember this. Books are a wonderful repository of knowledge and even wisdom, as learned by someone elseTo make the content of books meaningful to you, yourself, you have to figure out how to apply this knowledge, because while the books talk about the “how”, they often gloss over the “why”. It is only with deliberate practice do the lessons of the book’s author become meaningful. And in doing the exercises, it is often apparent that the author forgot to mention some important detail, or they really did not fully understand what they were describing. A how-to manual for love-making will never convey the richness and the complexity that the actual act involves. So it is with photography being read about in a book. 

However there are three books that have been invaluable to me - and details for them are given in the next section.

10) Most of the great pictures you see and admire owe 60% of their effect to post-processing either in the darkroom or the computer. Yes, get it as good as you can in the camera but Mother Nature doesn't care about the light you want. Post-processing is to make what your camera records into what you saw in your mind's eye.

Inevitably as you get into or get deeper into post-processing, you will want to acquire both software and books about techniques. Books on specific software are out of date too easily and most/all you want to know can be found online in abundance. However,there are three books that I always recommend that concentrate on process: “Masking and Compositingby Katrin Eismann (2004 edition), “The Digital Negative” by Jeff Schewe, and “Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and LightroombyBruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe.

Each of these books are remarkably good for the descriptions of the process by which they reach an end in such a way as to make the underlying concepts clear. All three worth every pfennig.

(for some of my ideas about post-processing and workflow, you might look at Getting to a Final Image - some words on editing photos for a new photographer  )

11) Don't look for tricks or techniques, just learn to take the pictures you want to take. Learning and acquiring mastery is all about cycles – start out with an idea, then do it, then evaluate the result, then determine what needs to be better the next time. The next idea is a little better because of the learning from the last iteration. Hopefully, each cycle includes a bit of new knowledge, a bit of insight,a bit of vocabulary, and a bit of skill.

12) Repeat #4 and #6 forever- they're good for you

(with extensive editorial input and most of the better phrasing from Paul Grizenko, someone I know from the Internet community, ThePhotoForum.com but who is, I believe, an actual, real person.)

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) art how to be a better photographer how to take better pictures photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/4/how-to-improve-your-photography-your-own-twelve-step-program Thu, 11 Apr 2013 11:22:48 GMT
The secret to taking pictures of people in a foreign country - for me at least https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/4/the-secret-to-taking-pictures-of-people-in-a-foreign-country---for-me-at-least Somewhere someone said that the photographer's attitude is the key to getting good street photos, as opposed to the size or obviousness of the camera, and I agree with that completely.

After spending three weeks with three other photographers and much of that time walking the streets of Myanmar, I have become very convinced of certain issues.

What I am after are pictures where the real personality of the subject comes through and not the frozen face of someone taken by surprise or reacting to the camera.

1) Using the camera as a barrier between you and the subject is deadly. The subjects sense this and they freeze. When hoping to get pictures up close, I always approach subjects with the camera down at my waist. I know what the settings are, or will need to be, and I adjust the camera before I raise it.

2) speed is crucial. Letting the camera linger at your eye also turns off the subjects because then the camera is seen as important and they start to wonder why. I raise the camera and take the picture as quickly as I can. I try to minimize the importance of the camera and the shot in my actions. I am willing to sacrifice perfect framing or exposure for the shot.

3) contact with a subject who sees you is crucial. I am not a camera with a person holding it, I am a person who has this lump of metal at his side. If I plan on taking a picture of a person who sees me, I engage them in a real manner.

Often I make faces at children and they are unused to adults interacting with them in that manner and so they are often taken aback and even delighted. It is easier for me because I am older and generally un-threatening. I will often allow the subject to first take a picture of someone else or of me and then I will take a picture of them 

4) Walking with another photographer is deadly to most interactions with people. By myself, it is rare that I can't get into an interaction with someone or some group, just by showing interest in what they are doing regardless of any language barriers. Being with another photographer makes me less approachable and just doesn't work.

I got this first picture above by sitting on a low concrete wall and watching the younger girl sweep with the broom whose handle you can see. I took a picture of the street and showed it to her, then I took a picture of the storefront and then I motioned that I wanted to take a picture of her older sister. By then, she was anxious to get in the shot. 

The close up of that rather fierce looking man came after I saw 4 or 5 people sitting around a low table on tiny chairs eating from a large plate filled with hot samosas in the 'Indian' market in Yangon, Myanmar. I walked over and looked intently at the food and, of course, they invited me to sit - which I did. They indicated I should take some food, I ate a samosa, indicated it was great and took a picture of the dish. Then I obviously took a picture of the group, everybody was comfortable because I had accepted their hospitality. Finally I took a picture of a man sitting across and showed it to this man sitting next to me. Then I took his picture and showed it to everyone. After I few minutes, I looked at my watch, thanked everyone, shook hands with the men, gave my card to the oldest man with proper courtesy (right hand holding card, left hand holding right elbow), stood and left. No common language spoken but a fine interaction.

Real interaction is important. Don't lead with your camera, lead with yourself.

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) asia how to take pictures of people humor people photography travel travel photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/4/the-secret-to-taking-pictures-of-people-in-a-foreign-country---for-me-at-least Mon, 08 Apr 2013 00:18:00 GMT
A Day on Inle Lake https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/3/a-day-on-inle-lake  

We were at the end of second week in Myanmar and had arrived in Nyaung Shwe, the large town at the northern end of Inle Lake. There is a canal that connects the town to the lake and all the commerce, both tourist and civilian is done on shallow draft boats, 'long-tail' boats, of various sizes.

These boats run large diesel motors without much muffling that connect to a long shaft and propeller. These are necessary because both the lake and its many inlets are very, very shallow, not more than 4 or 5 feet in most places. Fisherman in shallow draft dugouts, wielding both nylon gill nets and the traditional conical wicker traps ply the lake for fish. If a tourist boat stops to take pictures, it is expected that you give the fisherman a tip and this practice has resulted in many fisherman abandoning the actual fishing to cluster around the opening of the canal to the lake and 'performing' for tips.

Our original plan had been to do the long excursion to the lower lake but the low water had blocked that passageway so we were content to do tours of the various sights around the lake and along the inlets that ran through the very extensive marshes the made up much of the western shore.

There are several large islands that have been built by the local Intha people who drive bamboo stakes into the shallow lake bed, then weave bamboo mats to 'fence' an area which is filled in with dirt from the marshes to create new clear islands where they can farm. The Intha live in villages of stilt houses both in the water and on these artificial islands. Most of the Intha men are either fishermen or work as silver craftsmen and tours of the lake always stop by these workshops for the tourists to see the people at work – and of course buy some silver.

We had planned to be at Inle for 2.5 days and, on the second day, our boat driver stopped at one of the typical Intha silver workshops that was right near the 'floating' market (which wasn't floating because the water was so low.


The workshop was really interesting. There were no electric tools and the only modern assist they had was from a small gas cylinder they used to solder silver. I watched for a while, took a bunch of pictures and then wandered into the showroom.

I typically have a very high sales resistance to souvenirs but I saw a bracelet I really liked and thought it would make a nice gift. I asked the young woman who managed the place if they had five of them. She was taken aback for just a moment and then said that they only had the one I saw but they had enough silver wire and a silver ingot to make the other four. If I could come back in 4 hours, she would mobilize the entire shop to produce the other four.



I hung around awhile to take pictures of them squeezing down a raw silver ingot (mined north of the lake in the Shan state), drawing some wire into a smaller gauge and start to weave the bracelets.











We left for a while and did some sight-seeing and watched a blacksmith hand make some tools, including a pair of scissors (which I bought.)














We returned in time to watch them soldering and polishing the last bracelet and then, in the final step, boiling it to remove all the residue from the soldering and polishing.


I took an almost abnormal amount of pleasure in being able to bring back souvenirs with a real provenance and ones that I had actually watched being made.

It was a great day on the lake.








llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Inle Lake art asia inle photography silver silversmith travel https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/3/a-day-on-inle-lake Sat, 16 Feb 2013 18:00:00 GMT
Myanmar is disappearing https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/2/myanmar-is-disappearing Shwedagon Pagoda in the mist

Myanmar, as we knew it, is disappearing

I have been to Myanmar three times, first in 2005, next in 2010 and just lately, in February of 2013. It is startling, and depressing at the same time, to see how the country, as it changes, is being distorted by the influx of tourists.

Of course I understand that most of the changes are good for the people and the country, more openness, more goods, more exposure to the outside but, at the same time, the initial crush of tourists, essentially unregulated, has changed the ambiance of many of the beautiful areas so greatly that it is almost painful to see.

In 2005, my first visit, the only entry to the country was through Yangon. The streets were crowded with bicycles, trucks and very old cars in execrable condition. The sidewalks were broken and, after dark, the streets were dark. And the noise, it was always noisy because there was little or no central power except very late at night and every business or house that could afford it had a small Japanese generator sitting in front on a tire to dampen its vibrations. The only things lit brightly at night were the Traders Hotel, where all the rich people stayed, and, just down the street, the Sule Pagoda. Any passerby with a Western face was pestered by touts wanting to change money or to rent you a car and driver. Yangon was a place to leave quickly and, except for the Schwedagon Pagoda complex, had little to see.

No one changed money at the laughable official rate; the requirement to change some hard currency into FECs (Foreign Exchange Certificates) had just been dropped. Every goldsmith and jeweler would change hard currency, perfect bills only, into kyat (pronounced as 'chat') and things were incredibly cheap. Air conditioned rooms for $8-12 were common, payable only in dollars and only in the few places licensed to allow foreigners.



_0791059-Edit The other real centers of tourist interest were Bagan and Nyaung Shwe, the town that abuts Inle Lake. Both of those places were relatively quiet. There were a good number of guesthouses and hotels at both places but the number of tourists was relatively small and an independent traveler could come into town on a bus and actually poke around and have a choice of rooms. Tourists got asked to buy things and go on rides, either ox cart or boat, but mostly the towns went about their business and the tourists swam in and out.

Independent travelers went between cities on long distance buses. All seats were reserved and, when you boarded, you had to sign a roster with your passport number and that roster was given to a police kiosk as you left town. The roads were horrible beyond belief, usually one lane, built by hand, the only mechanical aid being a roller that would compact the stone that was laid and smoothed by gangs of women.

In 2010, I made a 14 hour bus ride between Bago and Nyaung Shwe – about 250 miles; the bus stopped every few hours and everyone had to show their papers while a sleepy policeman wrote down your vital info.

I went back this year with three friends, all of us photographers, but two of whom had never traveled independently or in a developing country. Now, instead of being constrained to fly to Yangon, we could fly from Bangkok to Mandalay and the changes in the country were obvious. The old wrecks of cars had been replaced with much newer cars and small minivans and the flood of tourists just overwhelmed the relatively new, but spartan, Mandalay terminal. The baggage was taken from the plane and dumped in the reception hall where you were left to find it yourself and then, if you were compulsive, go through the security screening to exit.

Our driver was quite proud of a new road from the airport to the city, some of it divided but all of it about 1.5 lanes wide and crudely surfaced, as if put down by hand. Later we realized that that is how roads are still constructed there, by hand.

For this trip, not wanting to look for hotel rooms for four people at each stop, I had deviated from my usual behavior and actually made reservations everywhere. Even in Mandalay, not a huge tourist destination, we met Westerners who were looking for rooms and finding full-up situations. Room rates were about double or triple what they had been only three years before.

It was in Bagan where the enormous changes in Myanmar were obvious. The approach to every single temple was lined with stands selling all manner of tourist souvenirs. Touts selling fake or low quality gem stones or relics dogged you at every opportunity. We quickly learned to say 'Dough Bee' the phonetic equivalent of a Myanmar phrase that means, 'No, I don't want anything, really, Go away.'

At Inle lake, in the town of Nyaung Shwe, there were many, many new hotels and many being built. The town was thronged with tourists and the long tail boats that gave tours around the lake had multiplied  three or four times in number.

What had been a quiet town catering to backpackers, adventure tourists and the occasional high end tour bus has turned into Disneyland. Even the fishermen, with their unique conical fish traps, had turned into tourist leeches. Some fishing boats would cluster around the end of the canal where boats would enter the lake and the fisherman would perform for the tourists in return for tips.

The 'market places' still catered to local people but fully half the stalls sold tourist souvenirs and any tourists had to pass by a line of these stalls to enter or leave any marketplace. The distortion in the way people live induced by the surge of tourists was appalling.

And, in spite of the tourist surge, the infrastructure of the country hasn't changed that much. Except in Yangon, the largest city, roads are still horrible and made by hand, telephone and internet communications are spotty and weak. Throughout the country, sidewalks, if they exist at all, are only concrete slabs laid over culverts and, often being broken or missing, are traps for the unwary. After dark, everyone walks in the street.

Currently, there are still barriers to the flood of tourism. Credit cards can't be used in most places and then only with a very high premium. ATMs are scarce and supposedly only in Yangon and Mandalay. That means that tourists must deal with travel agents and must wire funds to Thailand to pay for any reservations. Tourists must accumulate and travel with new, pristine hard currency or risk having banks refuse to change money. This is an enormous impediment to most travelers and holds back the flood of people who would wish to see places like Bagan or the Schwedagon Pagoda.

If the country is ever opened to normal banking commerce, whatever existed of the old Myanmar will just disappear under the flood of tourists and money.

Two Girls in Myanmar Yes, the great proportion of the people are still the same wonderful, honest, generous people I knew from previous trips.

Yes, there are still parts of the country open to foreigners that haven't suffered this tourist plague.

But the heart of the beauty of Myanmar has changed and it is spoiled for me.


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Burma Inle Mandalay Myanmar Nyaung Shwe Southeast Asia Yangon asia tourism travel https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/2/myanmar-is-disappearing Tue, 05 Feb 2013 13:36:00 GMT
Getting to a Final Image - some words on editing photos for a new photographer https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/1/getting-to-a-final-image---some-words-for-a-new-photographer  

Thai Tractor

The typical way to get into editing is mechanical. People learn some photo-editing techniques or tricks and then they want to use them - soon and often. When all you have is a new hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Witness the typical output of photographers new to editing doing selective color or heavy vignettes. That attitude unfortunately goes along with considering the taking of pictures as a mechanical procedure with some tiny bit of artistry spread or just sprinkled on top.

Sometimes, people new to the editing process think the solution is to find and use a 'workflow' as if having a recipe will guide them in post-processing. That's like thinking that developing a project plan to build a building is the same thing as designing it.

The first thing that must be learned about post-processing is not the 'how' but the 'what.' And deciding what to do is the difficult part, learning to look at images and understand what issues stand between as the image is currently and what it could be.

Once those issues of what to do to the image are identified then those changes can be fit into a workflow to bring the image to its potential.

The most difficult thing about editing one's own image is to be objective about it. After all, the maker identified the image as having something interesting, worth capturing and rendering and thus is tied to the image as it is in his/her mind's eye.

How can the maker, especially someone relatively new to this, somehow step back and un-see the image, detach themselves emotionally and look at it with a cold, critical eye in order to identify weaknesses?

I suggest this.


First, allow a day or so between your first viewing and the final editing to allow that first rush of enthusiasm to fade. Forget about it a little, allow time to break a little bit of the bond that formed between you and the mental image so you can look at the actual image afresh.

Now, when your blood has cooled, look at again.

Does the picture have close to the impact you want, is the content all there, is there enough detail, is there enough exposure so that you can work with it? If so, or even if just possibly so, then break down your assessment of the image into small measurable chunks, where you look at specific items and decide whether items that seem 'wrong' should be or can be changed. You need specifics here to keep you on task and away from falling in love with the image in your mind again. Deal with the image on your screen.

Sometimes, you actually may have to start some of the post-processing to decide whether it is worthwhile to go on. For example, if there is considerable perspective distortion, correcting this may remove too much of the structures being photographed to allow a satisfactory result. Or when a shadow must be lightened a bit, the resultant color noise may be too much to be tolerated. There is no harm in taking a step or two just to evaluate the situation.

These are some of the questions I ask myself when I look at a picture to decide what items need to be considered in a post-processing workflow.

  • Are there obviously horizontal or vertical lines that are off their true direction without any artistic reason? (horizon, trees, etc.)
  • Are there bright areas of light or color that draw a viewer's eye from the real object of interest? 
  • Are there one or more obvious centers of visual interest where a viewer's can settle? 
  • Is(are) the center(s) of interest - the main subject(s) - well placed within the frame and does the placement relate well to the rest of the content so that any viewer's eye is drawn to, rather than away? 
  • Is there excess space that pulls the eye away and drains any tension or drama from the picture?
  • Is there space that gives some weight to an important part of an image? 
  • Is there enough space so that nothing feels cramped or cut off? 
  • If the subject is a person or a face and his/her placement in the frame is asymmetric, does the asymmetry make sense to the eye?
  • Are there geometric issues? e.g. are the horizontals and verticals correct, and is that important or as you want them?
  • Is the skin color 'natural' to the subject?
  • Are there little off-tints in the skin? (look at the sides of the nose and under the chin where these lurk.)
  • Is there a bluish tint to the skin or the whites of the eyes? (Even with a custom white balance, this is all too common in portraits taken outdoors. Try adding a warming photo filter and see how this looks.)
  • Is the color or tonality appropriate for the content? Saturation or lack of it? Correct hues, white balance? 
  • Does the color make the point that you want?
  • Is the sharpness or lack of sharpness appropriate? 
  • Is everything that should be in focus and sharp, actually so? 
  • In the reverse, is there so much depth of field, so much in focus that attention is drawn away from the real object of interest?
  • Are there individual small defects -points of motion, dirt on the lens/sensor, out-of-focus spots that hurt the image, unduly bright areas that draw the eye?

After doing this kind of image evaluation for a while, one doesn't need to dwell specifically on questions and the evaluation will become unscripted and automatic.

Nothing is wrong per se if it creates the impression that you want to make.
Something is wrong if it gets between the viewer and her/his appreciation of the image.


My workflow for corrections follows fairly closely the structure of a Lightroom Development module with some minor deviations.

First I look at global issues that might cause me to reject the image out of hand.

As much as possible I correct any perspective distortion and deviation from horizontals/verticals to be certain I can get the horizontals and verticals to look the way I want them and then I crop it to the desired framing. There is no sense going any further if the viewer will always be disturbed by basic framing issues that detract from the impact. If it can't be made to look good here, I just abandon the effort.

Then I make global changes in exposure, white balance, tint and contrast so that I can be certain the detail and tone will be there in the final image. Another point at which I could abandon the image.

I usually do these early global corrections in Lightroom but rarely do non-global edits here because I like the flexibility and power of Photoshop.

After exporting to PS and doing a global noise reduction, I work on area specific changes in exposure and sharpness, enhancing areas that I want to be seen and diminishing the impact of areas that don't contribute and I don't want to impact the viewer but are included in the frame. Virtually every one of these steps is done on separate named layers.

When I get to a 'final', I save the file, layers intact, and leave it for day or so to marinate and for me to get some distance. Eventually I come back to it and fiddle around with it again. When I am happy with the final, I collapse as many layers as I can and save the Photoshop file.


Note that all of these decisions require the maker have an idea of the endpoint that she/he wants to reach.  

There are no rules, there are only ideas and opinions - and to be a photographer, to do your post-processing, you must have opinions about what is good and ideas about what you want to achieve. 

Once you have a goal, then the path is easily found.



llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) art composition criticism editing lightroom photography photoshop post-processing https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2013/1/getting-to-a-final-image---some-words-for-a-new-photographer Thu, 03 Jan 2013 21:33:24 GMT
Shooting in P mode & Why photographers defend their methods https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/12/shooting-in-p-mode-why-photographers-defend-their-methods PB011405-Edit


This  a short post I wrote for a popular photo site where there is a high percentage of relatively new photographers.  It incited 124 replies and >1900 views in the 5 days since it was first posted here.on Dec 21, 2012.

 The entire thread is worth reading and the vociferousness with which photographers defended, not their pictures, but their way of doing things, encouraged me to write the second little post appended to this on 


(this picture at left was taken in Florence Italy on P mode using an Olympus EP-3 and a 20 mm lens)



Shooting in P mode

[quote]As I think more about the ways to get comfortable first with one's ability to see images and second with the technical ability to achieve them, I begin to think that this overwhelming disdain for shooting in 'P' actually hurts the development of good photographers more than it helps. By 'good' I mean people who are creative and even, perish the thought, artistic.

When we encourage children to dance and jump around to be expressive, we, as parents and teachers, don't tell them it would be much better if they used the traditional balletic movements and positions because we know intuitively that huge obstacle would stifle not only their creativity but take away much of the spontaneous joy that is achieved from that expression.

The prime 'purpose' of (my kind of) photography is the visualization and the rendition of something meaningful, sometimes even beautiful. The ability to do that depends primarily on the ability to see that meaningfulness and then secondarily to learn to capture it. I don't need to be a great technician, I need only to be good enough to do what I want. 

The emphasis that we read so often here is on the mechanical. This is what to do, this is the best way to do it and if it isn't what you like, run get a flash. 

That's mechanics, that's not photography. And so we get an enormous volume of stuff, pictures that look essentially the same, and boring. Everyone cares about the f stop, the lens, the lighting - and they see that as the key. And so they turn from making images to running a camera and accessories.

Read any photo forum and the questions and concerns, even those involving actual images, are primarily about equipment and technique and f stops and lighting. This all to photographers who haven't even begun to be able to see even the technical inadequacies in their own images and correct them let alone the artistic ones.

So, if anyone asks me what to do, and they are serious about learning to create then maybe I will tell them just to shoot on P for a while and then we'll talk about their images. When they want to learn to control what their camera does in order to make the image better then its time to talk about the other issues. 

Let's not make everyone learn to build and fix a car before they can go for a ride in the country.[/quote]


Why Photographers Defend their Methods

[quote]I’ve been thinking about the way that people responded to this post at this location initially and some other ideas occurred to me. 

If someone can produce a beautiful/great/important image, why is it so important that it be done a certain way? That is, why must the person be controlling the camera by knowing all the technical issues that most responders have named as crucial. No one makes these kinds of procedural requirements on any other kind of art.
True, it may be better, more useful to know these things, just to be in control of the medium but why do people respond so vehemently, not as if I were just suggesting one method of getting to an endpoint but as if I was insulting the way they do things?
One of the endpoints of a skill based art, like photography, is a acceptable/good/great satisfying image. The other endpoint is the satisfaction one gets from performing a difficult task correctly, achieving a skill and exercising it. 
Acceptable/good/great satisfying images are difficult to achieve because any skill must have some degree of talent mixed in - and that is not under an individual’s control. So when I say that photography is OK, even beneficial, to start in a P or auto mode, then it seems that I am somehow discounting the skills that people work so hard to achieve and value. Skill is the one thing that anyone can be certain of getting out of photography with some effort; you can achieve some level of skill but you can’t teach artistic talent.
So after a day of shooting and the shots are all just well focused and exposed and framed, but ordinary, the only satisfaction available may only be from the exercise of skill. So when it was suggested that that development of skill isn’t the most important thing, people got defensive. [/quote]
llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) beginner dslr learning novice photographer photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/12/shooting-in-p-mode-why-photographers-defend-their-methods Wed, 26 Dec 2012 16:38:46 GMT
Confessions of a Normal Man-child https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/12/confessions-of-a-normal-manchild  

This is not so much a confession, because I don't think I did anything wrong, but more an open letter to that part of the world that may be unaware of the situation. My situation is not unique, no outlier, not a detestable minority, far from it. I am the norm.

While that trope that men think about sex constantly, every 7 seconds according to one canard, is clearly wrong and a calumny, men do think about sex a good amount.

54% of men think about sex everyday or several times a day, 43% a few times per month or a few times per week, and 4% less than once a month

Laumann, E., Gagnon, J.H., Michael, R.T., and Michaels, S. The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. 1994. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (Also reported in the companion volume, Michael et al, Sex in America: A Definitive Survey, 1994).

and they think about sex in a different way than woman do.

Men's sexual fantasies tend to be more sexually explicit than women's; women's fantasies tend to be more emotional and romantic

(Zurbriggen, EL & Yost, MR (2004). Power, desire, and pleasure in sexual fantasies. Journal of Sex Research, 41(3), pp. 288-300.)

Certainly a personal example would be more enlightening than a dry research paper; anecdotes are more powerful than actual studies (that's what homeopaths say, in any case) so let me tell you about my own experience.

Last evening, about 8, I was in a local supermarket. Well, not exactly my 'local' supermarket, it was, in fact, almost the furthest one in the county from my house, and I was there because my wife liked the brand of deli meats they sold and, nothing would have it but that I would drive 11 miles each way to spend a few dollars extra to buy particularly good low-salt, turkey breast sliced for sandwiches, just so.

And I was there on a Saturday evening because my wife had just realized that, if Sunday dawned on a sneak storm of the century that had blanketed my region with 12 “ of snow and the roads were impassible, somewhere on the second or third day, our sandwich choices would be sparse.

Clearly, an emergency.

Anyway, there I was standing in front of the counter waiting my turn and I happened to look around and there standing behind me was a very, very beautiful woman. She was beautiful in a way that made all the other women around look like homely old men. From my casual 2 minute scrutiny she was perfect.

I smiled, but my lips were frozen and I couldn't speak. What was I thinking, you asked? Here comes the revelation.

I was not thinking, “my, how beautiful she is and what a form. She looks so happy she must have a great family life with a husband and children who love and respect her – just like me.'

No,  I was thinking approximately this, “What is the magical phrase that when I utter it will cause her to turn to me and say, 'come with me into the parking lot you big piece of man meat and we will recline on the flip down seats in my Mercedes Maybach and make mad love until we both are exhausted. Then I will let you go and cry because, no matter who makes love to me from now on, I will dream of you.' “

Well, at that moment my number was called and I didn't get to say that phrase and my chance with the Maybach was gone forever. But you get the idea.

My wife knows this and, although she is in awe at the overwhelming sexuality of my being, really insists on my keeping myself for her alone. This may be seen as selfish, denying to the greater society what could be important on a global scale, but that's the way she is.

She does, however, allow me to have a “List.” For those of you, unfamiliar with the intricacies of sexual politics, a 'List' is a small set of names, often 5, of women with whom, if they agreed to have sex with me, I could have the aforementioned  sex with no recriminations from my spouse.

I am allowed freely to refine, to add, to subtract names from that list but my wife does have veto power over the names. Last night, after my return from the store with the valued and valuable low salt turkey breast sliced just so for sandwiches, I was sitting at my desk wondering how to match a recent revelation with the current state of my List, when my wife peeked over my shoulder.

Now my List is in a state of flux. Unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, NY, no one can expect to stay on the List forever. A Selectee's behavior can result in their being removed for a time or even banished permanently. Typically the List is heavy with show business people because, well, just because.

My wife hmmed a bit. Four people out of the five are in show business and the other is well known in political circles. 'What, what?', I said.

“I recognize the first four', she said. “Cyd Charisse, Helen Mirren, Laura Linney, Halle Berry. Isn't Cyd Charisse dead?”

“The heart wants what the heart wants.” 

“Do you know how creepy it is for you to quote Woody Allen while you have a dead woman on your free sex list?”

I smiled and turned back to my desk; how unpolished my wife is in the sophisticated ways of the heart.  C'est dommage.

Her finger stabbed at the last name on the list. “Who's that?”

I explained this woman's place on the List, her beauty and charm and the aphrodisiac effect of her political power.

“Veto” said my wife.

“Veto” I exclaimed,”what kind of veto?”

“Geographical”, she said. "She is sometimes within 50 miles of this house and, according to the rules, I exercise a Geographic Veto For Cause."  She was right, it was printed right there in Section 11. I slumped back in my chair, exhausted at the situation and the work that now must be done to fill that vacant slot.

I could only stare at the List.

But then It was gone. In an instant, taking advantage of the split second that my cat-like reflexes were dulled by disappointment, she had snatched away the only extant copy of the List.

“Wait,” I croaked, as she vanished round the corner,'You know how bad my short term memory is. Without that printed copy, I'll never be able to reconstruct the List.”

“The List. What List?” she said as she fluttered down the hall.

“What List”

Those words haunt me today.


The top, color image is mine

The excellent shot of the bare back, lace panties and clarinet is used by expression, written permission of its maker -Robert 'Mully' Mulligan whose stupendously good images can be found at http://www.robertmulliganphotography.com/

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) humor marriage men sex women https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/12/confessions-of-a-normal-manchild Sun, 16 Dec 2012 18:58:20 GMT
A Letter to AD Coleman, Critic https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/12/a-letter-to-ad-coleman-critic NIHCC end of year-_0791874_-Edit

Of course, most or all photographers know, or should know, who A D Coleman is.  For those who are still kept under the stairs, Mr Coleman is, according to Wikipedia, an unimpeachable source, Coleman was the first photo critic for the New York Times, authoring 120 articles during his tenure.[1] He started writing in 1967 and has contributed to the Village Voice, New York Observer and numerous magazines, artist monographs and other publications worldwide.[1] He has received the first Art Critic's Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1976 and was a Fullbright scholar in 1994.[2] He was named one of "The Top 100 People in Photography" by American Photo Magazine.

All that being true, he seems like a pleasant and approachable person, reasonably uncorrupted by his fame or the art world. I subscribe to his blog newsletter, although I am far out of the art criticism world, just because I get to look in without getting wet.  And so I happened to read an essay of his, given as a talk and discussion piece many times entitled Dinosaur Bones, the ends and end of photocriticismAs it happened I have been reading AD Coleman's web essays since putting this up and my opinion has changed dramatically. If you want to know why artists come to hate critics, read his work. He is petty, nasty and supremely self-referential. It is truly a wonder why no one has tracked him down and punched him in the nose. If anyone has, next time you're in this area, the drinks are on me.

Excited and energized, I wrote to Mr Coleman and he responded suggesting I post my email as a comment on his blog.  Since the current blog piece is about NY and Hurricane Sandy, it seemed it would be well off-topic and convince those who happened to read it, and didn't know me, that I was at least bi-polar and, at most, certifiable.

Read the essay linked above and then here is my letter to him, with some truly personal stuff left out.*

I read your paper, "Dinosaur Bones" after wandering over from your blog and found myself saying yes over and over. (no, I'm not Molly Bloom)

I particularly liked this paragraph quoted below for several reasons.

Whatever our respective relationships to postmodernism, I'd hope we could agree that in practice postmodern theory does not encourage close scrutiny of individual images as such, nor concern itself with their facture or the physical characteristics of them as crafted objects. One can read the entirety of the critical literature on Cindy Sherman, for example, without encountering much in the way of detailed description of any of her images or prints. To whatever extent Sontag, and the postmodern critics addressing photography from the 1970s on, prompted people to think about photography and photographers in the abstract, they didn't do much to make them feel it might be important to "sit and look at the pictures." Nor to make them feel that engaging critically with photography could be done by the average citizen, in everyday language, without benefit of clergy

I love actual pictures, I enjoy the craft and seeing it done well. On the other hand, I resent very much going into a gallery in NYC and reading a catalog where the descriptions and analysis seemed to have leaped away from the actual photographs as relatively unimportant, never to return.

(I get tired of both of beautifully printed but pretentiously described images and technically poorly done images with equal or greater loads of crap tacked on.)

There is this enormous gap between the work of most of the vast number of actual practitioners and what gallery speak actually looks at and cares about.

I am of two minds, at least, about this gap.  I think criticism needs to extend beyond the narrow idea-driven pieces to those done with no intent but to capture beauty and interest or convey ideas. (I want to read a good book on how war or street photographers actually structure their art to take advantage of the basic cues in human perception and understanding.) On the other hand, the bullshitization of picture speak diminishes the importance and value of my beloved craft.
There must be some medium - happy or unsettled or not.

I am active in several amateur photo communities and I despair of getting most of the members to actually even consider any comment about a piece of work that gets much above the level of technical perfection or its lack. There seems to be no model for critics-junior-grade to look at the analysis of a photographer's work that covers the spectrum of its attempted achievement - what is the intent, how well does it achieve, what are the technical issues that contribute/diminish?  Why does it often seem as if photography in criticism is an art that doesn't give much of a crap about the craft and vice versa?

There is no modelling of the understanding that should go into the full appreciation of images. 

So I hate galleries because the actual images are often poorly done by the photographer (but usually excellently by the printer) and not nearly as original as the catalogs. 
I hate forums because the work is often poor technically but more because the intent is only to reproduce in some attractive - not necessarily pretty - way.

I hope you live forever - or as least longer than I do - so I can continue to read your work.


He replied: Thanks for this thoughtful response. Why don't you post it as a comment at the blog?


Wish I could but don't know where so I put here, somewhere comfortable,


For those who wonder how the picture at the head of this blog entry relates to the text.  This, of all the pictures I've ever taken seems to be of the sort that a modern, post-structural critic would conceive of even thinking about. I like it but, of course, most of many photographer friends don't. 

* of course there is "no personal stuff left out." What personal stuff would I write to someone I don't know? Are you mad?


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) A D Coleman" art art critic criticism photocriticism https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/12/a-letter-to-ad-coleman-critic Tue, 04 Dec 2012 20:07:35 GMT
Getting to the image - how people see and how the photographer can use that. Pt 1 https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/11/getting-to-the-image---how-people-see-and-how-the-photographer-nust-can-use-that This is the first of a series of posts that deal with how viewers of any level of photographic sophistication actually process images. I will post them so they will appear on the blog in actual order.

My hope is that at least one post a week will be added to this thread.

Any images used in these posts will either be mine or be used under the Fair Use doctrine of the Copyright Law of the US - as objects of critical discussion.


The "RULES" of Photography

Beginners hear two seemingly conflicting axioms about photography. First, “one should use the Guidelines (rules) of photography until you know enough to break them.” And then “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” said by that avatar of photography, Ansel Adams.

Well which is it?

Are there Rules or are there 'Guidelines' as people like to say? And these same people go on to say that 'Follow these Rules/Guidelines until you know enough to break them.'

If the 'Rules” (or Guidelines) aren't important because, even if we know them, we can break them, what is important?

I think the 'Rules of Composition', as we think of them, are wrongly constructed because, in an attempt to simplify complicated issues, they become essentially unrelated pieces of information and don't take into account some important truisms. 

A photographer must know how people see and interpret and comprehend images, must use this knowledge to construct images that are meaningful to the viewer.

The Rule at the top

Let's ignore all the simplistic Rules of composition for a moment and look at the issue afresh. There is a hierarchy of real 'Rules' that shouldn't ever be broken.

Alone at the very top of the hierarchy is “Know what you are taking a picture of.

Every photographer should know what actually caught their eye,  the center(s) of interest, what they are attempting to catch on the sensor and then should consciously compose the image around the center(s) of interest.

If the photographer doesn't know what he/she is taking a picture of, the viewer won't know either.

The Axioms that follow from the Rule at the Top

Below that most important Rule are three axioms that govern making successful images.

  1. Everything in the frame must have a purpose

  2. Important things should be in important places

  3. Elements that add to the image should be maximized and elements that detract from the image should be minimized.

The main rule and the three axioms that descend from it comprise my entire philosophy for making images. 

I want to make the point that these are my rules for how I think and how I believe photographers should think; they are not RULES describing how to structure pictures.  Pictures succeed because the maker knows how viewers see, think and respond and the maker creates the image to take advantage of that, not to conform to any (silly) rules of composition.

There are many smaller observations which cluster around these statements. Like gravity, there are principles that exist and are used by every photographer that they don't yet recognize. I'll attempt to explain them in the following posts. These observations or principles won't be difficult to remember or use because every skilled viewer already uses them but may just not be sufficiently aware of them to have named them yet.

As photographers we capture what we see in our mind's eye and then we present that image in a way that other people can see and understand it also. We take pictures for ourselves but, if we expect other people to be able to see and understand what we are trying to show with our camera, we need to understand how people see and understand.

Does that mean that images can't be mysterious?

No, an image doesn't have to be obvious but it must speak in the language that the viewers can parse so that even a puzzle is conveyed.

To be able to share our ideas, we must understand how people understand and interpret what they see.; we must know the language of images.

Like most high-level Rules of behavior, nothing I've written so far is of any help to actually taking good pictures, but these ideas are important to understand the rest of the real actual workable guidelines of taking pictures.

(this below is a simple understandable image. Converted to B&W so that the bright colors of the cyclists' clothing don't pull the eye. Shot at a slow enough shutter speed that the cyclists are blurred but distinguishable and the photographer is at the center, still)


Next Post: The Semiotics of Photography

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Rules of Photography composition compositions photography understand images https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/11/getting-to-the-image---how-people-see-and-how-the-photographer-nust-can-use-that Thu, 22 Nov 2012 13:46:18 GMT
Semiotics of Images - why some images are more comfortable than others -Part 2 https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/11/semiotics-of-images---why-some-images-are-more-comfortable-than-others  


Content is king. Whatever else people 'get' from an image, how they relate to the subject either intellectually or emotionally will influence or even overwhelm every other kind of judgment. I always remember asking a commenter who had posted over-the-top praise for a totally mediocre picture of a dog what she liked about the picture. She said that she just loved dogs and especially that breed. The reality of the picture disappeared and was replaced by that particular woman's strong attachment and emotional involvement in the content.

Thus a picture of a favorite or beloved subject, no matter its technical or compositional faults, will enrapture relatives or parents or other fans and we can't do anything about that; people are what they are and their lack of objectivity is uncontrollable.

So let's put that issue aside for the moment and talk about the influencing factors that occur on a different level of consciousness.


"I don't know art but I know what I like"

We've all heard that and we've seen how people like things that are understandable within their own frame of reference and experience and reject other things.

Why do people have these basic, even while untutored, reactions?

Subject matter aside, why do people like some images more than others?

Why are some images more acceptable, more comfortable than others?

It is my belief that all viewers, no matter their level of sophistication in photography, get at least some subliminal cues from images about how to understand them and the message the photographer is sending.

And understanding an image, understanding what the photographer is trying to show us, is crucial to the impact and success of any image.

The photographer knows what is important in the scene as his mind strains out all the irrelevant parts in the frame but when the information is presented without explanation, in two dimensions, to the viewer, the viewer must figure out from the visual cues, using his/her own experiences, what to look at and where.

If the frame includes irrelevant information presented in ways that the viewer is used to seeing as important, then the viewer, consciously or not, tries to parse out what is important.

An obvious example is a simple portrait with an in-focus, busy background. It is uncomfortable to the viewer because, even though the viewer knows that the subject is the important object, the viewer's eyes constantly are drawn to the unimportant objects in the background.

In short - people see everything, although they might not be conscious of it or realize the impact but the photographers must compose the frame and manage the content to make the audience see what the photographer wants.

Once you realize how people see and interpret visual cues things then you can use that as a lever on people's seeing to surprise them and interest them.


Example: Look at this picture.

What do you know about the people in the foreground?

Are they important?  Virtually everyone who looks at this picture would say, 'No.'

Even though the figures are large and close to the camera, the viewer sees  that they are cut off, out of focus, incomplete - and thus infers that these figures are probably not important. That is what I mean by the cues that people get and can interpret even though they, the viewers, have no education.

A_BKK_2007_00202 Now, knowing what inferences viewers will draw initially, can you understand how you could, by placing an important item in an unusual place and treating it in an unusual way, create a tension between expectations and actuality that adds to the drama of a photo?

I'll show a couple of examples of this later on in the section on centers of interest.


Why do people respond this way?

I have no idea.

Some influence is almost certainly cultural – so many of our responses are due to our cultural traditions.

The Western world reads from left to right and, in my experience, Western viewers enter an image, scanning from left to right. That 'habit' may be different for those from a different culture. We are used to seeing pictures in a certain aspect ratio and when pictures stray to far from these 'normal' aspect ratios, the viewer starts to become aware of the shape of the picture and that shape influences how we think of the image; an panorama, for example.

Some of our responses are probably built into our limbic system, like our tendency to be distracted and look at the brightest and most colorful areas of an image. Some are almost certainly learned, either in formal training or by experience.

It is clear however, that while many of these cues, this visual shorthand, are common to even unsophisticated viewers, certain of the language of images is only understood when the viewer has some experience or education.  When images get more complex and don't have these standard cues of bright colors or agreeable content, then people without special expertise won't generate an opinion; they don't know how to see what the picture is saying. Witness the reaction of most people to a great deal of street photography, a niche, like wine, that often requires some degree of knowledge to appreciate.

More Sophisticated Viewers

Enlarge people's frame of reference with ideas and names that people can use to categorize ideas and identify other elements in pictures. then, all of a sudden, people's range of things they like and appreciate gets larger. That kind of deeper understanding is what lets people understand the subtleties of art, wine, food - all that are formerly unreachable without names being put to ideas and concepts.

(This is one reason why looking at photos, reading critiques, trying to critique and self-examination are as important as getting the technical skills down.)

But, even a sophisticated audience will be distracted by misplaced cues that stir up innate reactions, so we must take peoples' natural responses into account when creating our own images.

Here is a typical example;

We all respond to bright lights, bright colors and detail; we will automatically look at them. Although any viewer knows absolutely that the center of interest in this picture is the young woman and we should be looking only at her, leaving the rest of the image as harmless kerfluffle, yet the busy-ness and brightness of the background in the upper left corner pulls our eye. The picture is less pleasing than it might be; there is a dissonance between what we know to be important and what our natural responses is almost forcing our eyes  to look at.

(this image was posted on the web and is used under the Fair Use clauses of the US Copyright Law)

In the next post, I will get away from these generalities and finally talk about specific issues that you can/must consider when creating images.

Next post  Creating an image---the-important things-and a start on composition

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Semiotics of images composition photography rules rules of photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/11/semiotics-of-images---why-some-images-are-more-comfortable-than-others Wed, 21 Nov 2012 15:49:00 GMT
Creating an image - the important things and a false start on composition - Part 3 https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/11/creating-an-image---the-important-things-and-a-start-on-composition As far as I am concerned, the photographer must see through to the final image from the very start of the process, even as he or she frames the content and sets the camera. 

The only important thing is the image, not the kind of camera, the number of pixels, the sharpness, the detail, white balance - only the image.

Before I go on about some of the principles and nuances, as I see them, of successful images I want to make two points both about the desirable end points.

1) Technical issues of composition and post-processing mean nothing unless the technical issues interfere with the viewer's appreciation of the image.

Good technical characteristics don't necessarily mean great images and great images may have 'good' technical characteristics - but who cares?.

Here is an image that is technically excellent but unfortunately forgettable – at least by me.  The color, detail, depth of field, framing are good to great. There is some confusion in my mind about which of the blossoms is the most important center of interest and, except for the stem, they don't relate to each other very much.

As documentation of a certain kind of orchid it is essentially perfectly done but, unless you love orchids, carries no emotional impact at all. 

All images used under the fair use clause of the US copyright law

Now look at these four images below.

No one, at least not I, should care about the technical issues except perhaps to wonder how they were done. It is interesting to puzzle out how they were done and note that each one violates at least a couple of the 'Rules'. Clearly the makers knew enough to use the way that people perceive images to make these specific images so great.

These images have marvelous impact - and that is the worthy goal – to produce images that make people gasp and forget about sharpness and color and composition as separate issues. In critique we may point out where the deficiencies are in technical terms but we should remember that the reason to correct the deficiencies is not so that the technical aspects are perfect but so that the technical efforts disappear as we look at great images.

All images used under the fair use clause of the US copyright law. These are not my images, although I wish they were. I will go back and cite the author and origin as I have a moment.





























In order to achieve this kind of image, this impact, the photographer must know all the principles and know how to exercise them.


And 2) the only really important issue is if the viewers look at what you want them to look at and see something in it the way you do.


Next post, how to look at and deal with the centers of interest at this blog post -Managing-the-center-s-of-interest---part-4








llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) composition depth field focus of photography pixels sharpness https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/11/creating-an-image---the-important-things-and-a-start-on-composition Tue, 20 Nov 2012 22:21:00 GMT
Managing the Center(s) of Interest - Part 4 https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/11/managing-the-center-s-of-interest---part-4 Centers of interest

People look at your pictures and instinctively try to figure out why everything is there and why each important item is where it is.

Here is an example where an overlooked item takes on the role of an unintended Center of Interest (COI).

The water heater has a much prominence as the subject!


The maker was careful to put his intended subject on the thirds and keep the wall line vertical but, beyond following 'Rules', he didn't look at the picture through the eyes and sensibilities of his viewers.

Clearly because the photographer was so entranced with his cute daughter and getting that shot right that he didn't even see the water heater. Of course, every viewer will try to puzzle out the meaning of the heater in the image.

And so they see the unintended COI and wonder.




So the photographer must be aware of all the Centers of Interest (COI) in his shot.

How many Centers of Interest can you have?                                  

This is a picture I took quite a long time go. (Yes, it is a bit embarrassing but it's the best example of bad picture-taking I could find.)

Colorful, lots of stuff but nowhere for the eye to rest and no idea what to look at.

I didn't fix on a subject, a COI, and the picture shows it.

So, a successful image really need to have one Center of Interest - at least.

If there isn't anything specific for the viewer to focus on and understand what the photographer is showing them, then their eyes will just roam around and their eyes – and interest – will go elsewhere.

The more COIs there, are the more complex the composition becomes and the more difficult the task of making it successful.

What about multiple Centers of Interest?

Most images are relatively complex, i.e. not so simple that they have only a single COI to look at, but the photographer must always know what portion is the most important and everything else in the image must relate to that.  If there are two or more COIs that are equally important they must be tied together and related, artistically and so that their relationship in the image makes actual sense.

Before i show examples of what I consider to be the proper use of multiple COI, let me show a couple of examples that may illustrate some errors.


In this image of a guitar player, there are three COIs, all equally prominent, with no clue which one the viewer should concentrate on.

So the eye goes from spot to spot, from face to hand to hand, without finding a specific most important spot and thus the image is unsatisfactory.

There are clearly other problems here with the pose, the lighting and most particularly with two of the potential COI, the hands, placed too close to the edge and even clipped.

We'll deal with the placement of COI and its importance in the next post.




Here is another example of multiple COIs.

These three runners are are in focus, better lit, a couple are even at the thirds where they should be important but still without any real relationship. 

We can look at each one separately but there isn't any artistic cohesion, no composition and, except for pretty people to look at, a forgettable image.





Now when the three runners, actually three other runners, form a little composition, merging together, so that whichever one our eyes light upon first, we are guided into a sort of composite COI.

The important point is that, whatever we include, however many interesting centers there are in an image, it must be clear to the maker and to the viewer, which are the most important, how they relate and their relationship in the frame must reflect that.







How to Handle Multiple COIs

Lots of things contribute towards  giving the viewer cues about important and relationships. I'll show some specific ideas in the next blog post but here are some examples of how I handle multiple COIs to make a specific impression.

Here is an example of a shot with two different, equally important centers of image, specifically placed at opposite sides  so that the viewers' eyes must  jump back and forth and the act of re-visioning of each center of interest emphasizes that there is something going on, a difference, and the viewer needs to be aware of it.

nyc-0799785 Another image of two Centers of Interest, spaced so that the viewer must look separately at each and this makes the view more conscious of the difference. This contrast between this lady behind a 'typical' flea market table and the painting of an elegant, wealthy (?) estate owner is emphasized by their separation, the expression on the vendor's face as she looks at the picture and the idealized vision of elegant ladyhood.

Now, an examples of an image with a main COI and a subordinated less important one.

Here is a  shot with a little unconventional framing.  The subject is straight on, his face filling the frame from top to bottom, but pushed to one margin so that the only background, either real or metaphorical is the sign.  He has a calm, obviously intelligent face and gaze yet the facial tattoos  assert there is something else going on with him. In the background there is a sign that is readable enough to add to the information in the man's face, yet the sign is obviously not as important as the man in this image.

The next blog post will deal with the importance of placement, focus and completeness of the object on how people see and interpret the image.



llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) art center of interest composition photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/11/managing-the-center-s-of-interest---part-4 Mon, 19 Nov 2012 19:52:00 GMT
Aligning the head, the eye and the heart - the spirit of street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/10/aligning-the-head-the-eye-and-the-heart---the-spirit-of-street-photography Most people recognize the name 'Henri Cartier Bresson.'

He said '"To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. ' What he meant, I think, was that a photo must incorporate a meaning (the head), to do that it must present the vital elements for the viewer to understand in a coherent way (the eye) and the viewer must be struck by the photo and respond to it (the heart.)

Marriage - One Man = One WomanMarriage - One Man = One WomanNear a 'Defense of Marriage' demonstration at the Capitol in Washington, DC

A colleague of mine described that kind of photography in more analytic terms :"Street shooting is maybe the hardest niche of all in photography. The photographer stalks his chosen environment where, essentially, nothing is happening - people are quietly going about their business - and yet has to select tiny moments when an image can be snatched which is more than the sum of its parts - where some fleeting coincidence of expression, gesture, positioning, and movement come together to create an instant which holds some undefinable meaning."

That is why good street photography is so very difficult. The photographer has to recognize the moment before it develops fully, get into position so that the crucial elements are aligned while the distracting ones are minimized and then capture the very instant. The technical issues of the photo must be invisible to the viewer; they are only important if they distract.

A good street picture needs no text or explanation. In fact a good street picture almost defies explanation because the impact is too complex or too subtle to be represented by words. Street photography is an acquired taste and many viewers do not ever get the taste.

In the days of film and manual focus, good street photography was a triumph - and expensive because the percentage of keepers is so tiny. In these days of digital, street photography is merely frustrating as we discard 99 images to keep one and take thousands to get one that we consider 'good.'

My goal is to present only what is necessary in a way that virtually every viewer, no matter their background, can see what I saw and what I am trying to show them.

Many more 'street' photos - perhaps too many - at lewlortonphoto.com


Photographers might be interested in some of the technical and tactical considerations in these shots. The crucial issue in each of these was geting to the right place with the camera ready to take the envisioned shot before it happened and the moment disappeared.

#1 - needed to get low so that the boy filled much of the frame yet with enough depth of field so his mother was vaguely visible n the background - and catch that instant when he was in decision.

#2 Get both the couple and the walker in the frame while the walker was in position, oblivious and the couple was embracing.

#3 Center the protester, make him large in the frame and keep the police slightly out of focus.

All these were converted to BW because bright colors drew the viewers' eyes from the important stuff.


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Bresson' Cartier HCB Henri photograhy street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/10/aligning-the-head-the-eye-and-the-heart---the-spirit-of-street-photography Wed, 10 Oct 2012 13:13:00 GMT
Art Photography - a few roses, a lot of thorns https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/9/art-photography---a-few-roses-a-lot-of-thorns As I roam around reading various photo blogs or actually going to galleries to look at photos, I run into the two same phenomena; first, that the meaning seems to exist more in the mind of the critic than in the photo and second that the larger the print the more the actual presentation of the print seems to affect the critique.

To deal with the second issue first. I had a chance to look at smaller (11x 14) images of the art hanging in much larger sizes in one gallery. The smaller pictures were very unimpressive, not as well printed and since I wasn't impressed by the technical aspects, I could concentrate on the subject matter which, on its own, was easy to dismiss as being relatively trite, a simple idea belabored intensely over a series of images that used male nudity as a 'selling point' while the nudity had no relation to the idea incorporated. (I understood the idea only because I read the notes printed on the wall of the gallery.)

The much larger (20 x 30) framed versions were actually magnificently printed; the colors were deep and vibrant, the edges sharp and defined where appropriate. While color was irrelevant to the subject matter, the larger images had both a real presence from the size and color and an implied authority because they had been actually treated this way.

It was impossible to separate the effects of the size and marvelous printing from the impact of the subject matter and so the bigger images were impressive even to a jaundiced eye – mine. This was, and is, wrong. I was rewarding the craftsmanship of the printer and the framer and lumping that in with whatever impression I got from the actual photo. It was marginally frightening to see just how, even though I tried, I couldn't separate the presentation from the art.

So, if you want your work to be appealing to critics, print it large.

The first point mentioned above, that the image seem to exist more in the mind of the critique than in the photo, bears a little more explication. The relative difficulty of understanding more 'advanced' art was treated pretty clearly by Clement Greenberg in his essay “AVANT-GARDE AND KITSCH” readable at http://www.sharecom.ca/greenberg/kitsch.html . One of his points is that avant-garde artists separate themselves from the more realistic and the road to understanding, while difficult, is worth it because somehow the more advanced painters are better and better for the viewer. This advanced art is not 'synthetic'.

Here is a quotation from his essay.

Left: Repin, Cossacks; Right: Piacsso,Woman with a Fan

“Let us see, for example, what happens when an ignorant Russian peasant such as Macdonald mentions stands with hypothetical freedom of choice before two paintings, one by Picasso, the other by Repin. In the first he sees, let us say, a play of lines, colors and spaces that represent a woman. The abstract technique -- to accept Macdonald's supposition, which I am inclined to doubt -- reminds him somewhat of the icons he has left behind him in the village, and he feels the attraction of the familiar. We will even suppose that he faintly surmises some of the great art values the cultivated find in Picasso. He turns next to Repin's picture and sees a battle scene.

The technique is not so familiar -- as technique. But that weighs very little with the peasant, for he suddenly discovers values in Repin's picture that seem far superior to the values he has been accustomed to find in icon art; and the unfamiliar itself is one of the sources of those values: the values of the vividly recognizable, the miraculous and the sympathetic. …........

That Repin can paint so realistically that identifications are self-evident immediately and without any effort on the part of the spectator -- that is miraculous. The peasant is also pleased by the wealth of self-evident meanings which he finds in the picture: "it tells a story. " Picasso and the icons are so austere and barren in comparison.

What is more, Repin heightens reality and makes it dramatic: sunset, exploding shells, running and falling men. There is no longer any question of Picasso or icons. Repin is what the peasant wants, and nothing else but Repin. It is lucky, however, for Repin that the peasant is protected from the products of American capitalism, for he would not stand a chance next to a Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell.

….... But the ultimate values which the cultivated spectator derives from Picasso are derived at a second remove, as the result of reflection upon the immediate impression left by the plastic values. It is only then that the recognizable, the miraculous and the sympathetic enter. They are not immediately or externally present in Picasso's painting, but must be projected into it by the spectator sensitive enough to react sufficiently to plastic qualities. They belong to the "reflected" effect. In Repin, on the other hand, the "reflected" effect has already been included in the picture, ready for the spectator's unreflective enjoyment.(4) Where Picasso paints cause, Repin paints effect. Repin predigests art for the spectator and spares him effort, provides him with a shore cut to the pleasure of art that detours what is necessarily difficult in genuine art. Repin, or kitsch, is synthetic art.”


This was, of course, written about painting where the art is created from a blank canvas. How does this apply to photography where we must work primarily with objects and environments that we seek or that present themselves? Do art photographers present undigested images and require viewers to extend effort?

In the blog 1/125, the authors term the two kinds of photography as 'unliterary' and 'literary' and write this:

In photography, the situation is somewhat more dire, because it is much, much harder for viewers to move freely between the “unliterary” photographic realm and the “literary” photographic realm. There is hardly any middle ground between them, the way there is with books.

Greenberg describes how the avant garde has moved into non-objective art and away from the strict representative of form as identity.

This is much more difficult for photographers as they generally must work with objects that are representative so the path seems to have been to step further away from the direct relationship between object and meaning and instead to have an idea which is tied tenuously to the photograph by an intricate web of words. Rather than undigested art what we are given is fully realized ideas, although simple, but are made difficult to understand by the degree of distance from the supposed art.

This has spawned a plethora of art photographic of varying degrees of technical competence.  Some of the art shows a great deal of work and technical achievement but that has no relationship to the depth of meaning of the related idea. In that way, this art is closer in form to the kitsch synthetic art that Greenberg decries.

The ready availability of supporting technology means a never failing crop of photographic artists who have honed craft before they have developed ideas and so there is, seemingly, a flood of photographic art that has little sense to anyone but the critics and gallery owners who need to support even weak concepts in order to provide grist for the artistic mill.

What we see is not deep concepts that are represented in the way that art is done – think Cubism – but simplistic single ideas that are illustrated with sets of images all tied back to that one idea.  This is false art - work that is intended to seem like art by infusing it with obscurity.

In 'art photography', the most valuable items in any photography exhibit are often the notes in the program to tell us what we are seeing and why it is important. [sarcasm]This may be an important step as the 'peasants' become educated and transition from lovers of kitsch to appreciators of art[/sarcasm] (Greenberg was a fervent Marxist at the time he wrote the essay) but the reality of the situation is slightly different.

In a comment in a blog on the 'APHOTOEDITOR.com, one quite excellent working commercial photographer said this:

The shittier a photograph gets, the more words are used to describe it because it can’t stand on its own. That describes most fine art photography these days. There’s more crap coming out of the art world than there is coming out of the commercial one.”

When art gets so far from common currency that it requires special knowledge to understand and appreciate it - and that knowledge is not embedded in the image - then there is real danger that gibberish will be passed off as art both by the artists who have no real clue and by critics who need something to promote. So when I read a note that tells me what the 'art' purports show and I still can't make the connection between the meaning as given and the art as shown, then I start to smell not flowers but fertilizer.

It is nice to see a photo that 'stands on its own', that has a meaning that doesn't require a plethora of words and very large images to make some impact.

I believe, and try to do, photography that is self-referential i.e. photographs that need to be looked at but provide all the information within the frame to allow even the marginally astute viewer to understand what I am seeing and what I want them to think about.

Hurrah for self-referential photography.






llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) art art photography criticism https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/9/art-photography---a-few-roses-a-lot-of-thorns Fri, 28 Sep 2012 18:15:12 GMT
Adventures on the Road in Northern Laos https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/9/adventures-on-the-road-in-northern-laos There are two kinds of tourists in Laos. The first is those tourists with more money and little time; these fly into the only well-known tourist destinations, see the sights and then fly back out. The other kind is those with a lot more time who travel from place to place by bus and see the many smaller places that are not so much sights as experiences. That's me. I had planned on 5 weeks in Southeast Asia, most of that in northern Laos.

Travel by road in Laos is very slow; there are only about 2000 miles of paved road in the entire country and much of that is poorly maintained. Additionally, the public buses are generally worn out specimens imported from Thailand, Korea or Japan, prone to break-down at best and to total failure at worst. Every long distance bus carries a mechanic and I was never on a long bus ride that didn't have some sort of mechanical problem of some kind. On the last leg of my final bus ride into Vientiane from the North, the mechanic sat above an open hatch in the floor in the back of the bus and had to finalize every up-shift of the driver with a resounding whack with a large sledge on the transfer case below.

I had landed in Bangkok one and a half weeks before, made my way across to Siem Reap in Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and then up through Laos to Vientiane and then to Luang Prabang, Laos' one true tourist sight. Luang Prabang is a beautiful small city situated on a peninsula where the Nam Khan meets the Mekong. (Nam is Lao for River).







Travel and schedule-keeping is rather catch-as-catch-can in South East Asia and, aside from having a general idea of what and where one wants to go, the exact itinerary is often set by chance rather than forethought.

 On my fourth day in Luang Prabang, having been told the night before that my room in the guest-house had been reserved, I was strolling along the main street with my knapsack and saw some other Westerners I had met on the bus trip sitting at a cafe having coffee. So I sat with them and after a while someone said they were planning on taking the 11 AM bus East to Phonsavan to see the Plain of Jars. I replied that I had rather head north to the highlands and the town of Luang Nam Tha, quite close to the center of the Golden Triangle. Well, that sounded interesting to a couple of the others and off we three went for the bus North.


I had previously ridden on designated long-distance buses but from Luang Prabang north, everything was local. There is no such phrase in Lao for 'this bus is full' and so, every time we either came to a town or saw someone waiting for a bus, the driver stopped. The Lao are small people and seats that ordinarily hold two Westerns fit 3 or more Lao. When the seats were full, plastic chairs and buckets went in the aisle. All baggage, except for the occasional loose chicken, went on top. It is inevitable, when sitting so close to people for a long time, when people were literally in your lap, to become more at ease with them regardless of cultural and language barriers. I carry pictures of my children to show to people and, by the time 3 or 4 hours went by, we were part of the gang, sharing food and drink and communicating, often in pictures or scant phrases from guide books.


For some reason, perhaps unaccustomed to bus rides, Lao women seem to get motion sick very easily and it was not uncommon to hear a soft choking noise and look over to see a woman vomiting quietly into a plastic bag brought along especially for the purpose.

 Wherever there was a large intersection, about every 2 hours, we stopped for a drink, eat and pee break in the little towns that grew up wherever people have a reason to pass. These towns are very poor, there is nothing within a hundred miles and the outlook for anyone growing up there is bleak. The bus stops draw lots of children who just hang around, looking at the buses, watching the people passing through.


Westerners are not rare, there are 2 or 3 on every bus but still we stand out by size and color from everyone else. Every Westerner draws a crowd of children who just watch us, evidently expecting something unusual that they can take back to tell their friends. This rural poverty is at a level infinitely deeper than anything we in the West see routinely and was quite upsetting but there was nothing to be done.


The road was narrow, twisty, hilly and badly paved. After about six hours into the trip, it was getting dark. The road had been climbing steadily for about two hours and it was starting also to get quite cold – especially in comparison to the baking heat of the lowlands. In the dark, the ups and downs of the road were very obvious and with no sights to distract us and the laboring noise of the engine drowning out any attempt to talk, there was nothing to do but sit in the dark and wait.


And, of course, in the valley between two small hills, the bus quit. Out we go into the absolute dark, to stand around on the asphalt. There is no dark quite as black as that night, there was no moon, no town, nothing to break the absolute dark. Even the light leaking out from under the bus where the mechanic worked seemed to be snuffed out almost instantly by the darkness around us.


No one spoke enough English to tell us what was going on, if they knew. The Lao were used to this and just squatted down in little groups and talked and smoked. We three Westerners stood and worried. Finally, someone, not me, brought up the subject none of us wanted to hear. There had been bandits holding up buses in this area and until only recently the Lao government had put a armed soldier on every bus. We could hear the driver and the mechanic banging away quite busily under the bus and we silently cheered on every bang.


After only a year or so, there was a shout, we all piled back on and the bus started again, slowly but steadily. We plowed on through the dark, up and down, up and down, each of us intently trying to parse every little sound from the engine, hoping for success but expecting failure.


Finally, an hour or so after our 'scheduled arrival' we pulled in the faintly lit dirt lot that was the bus station at Luang Nam Tha. Everyone piled out, the driver and mechanic climbed to the top of the bus, uncovered the baggage and started passing it down. By the time all three of us had out bags, everyone else had scattered into the dark. The driver hopped back in the bus and it pulled away and at that moment the station lights went out and we were in the total dark.


There we were 8 hours north of Luang Prabang, in the very northernmost part of Laos, standing in the dark, not knowing where to go and what to do.


Well, we lived and I'll tell you about the rest in the next part. Adventures on the Road in Laos - Part 2

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Laos Luang Prabang asia photography travel https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/9/adventures-on-the-road-in-northern-laos Sat, 08 Sep 2012 19:01:18 GMT
Adventures on the Road in Northern Laos Part 2 https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/9/adventures-on-the-road-in-northern-laos-part-2 Before I disclose whether I lived through being stranded in the middle of the night in an empty dirt lot in a small town in the very Northern tip of Laos, I did want to answer a comment that was made to the first post.

Someone asked how a Westerner used to the fast pace of modern society could tolerate the slow, slow pace of this kind of travel.

Like many of you, for most of my life I have had responsibilities that took my time, my thoughts and my attention. On trips like this I am cut off from every single thing in my other life that grabbed at me. I am free from all that and as these responsibilities fall away they are replaced by an increased sense of appreciation for every little instant, difference and experience in this new place. Every moment, no matter how tired or hungry or scared I was, rings sharper and clearer in my memory than any week of my ordinary life.

Well, we had de-bused and were standing in the dark not having a clue. So we put down the bags we had just picked up, pulled out our flashlights and guidebooks and found a tiny map of the town. We knew we had come on a long straight stretch from the South and, locating the bus station on the map, we could orient ourselves approximately to the town map and so we wandered generally East down a dark street until we found a much wider street and we could see some dimly lit windows.

There is a problem in tightly controlled countries; not every hotel or guesthouse can take foreign visitors. Many places don't even want to bother because of the increased scrutiny the hotel comes under from the police. In this part of Laos, only 12 or 13 miles from China, many smaller hotels are reserved for Chinese workers in the local factories and there seems to be a rule that Westerners are not allowed in the same accomodations as Chinese. Make of that what you will.

One of our little band group was a female Chinese national from Hong Kong and, in going from doorway to doorway, we eventually came across a Lao hotel-keeper who spoke Chinese and was willing to let us stay the night. The rooms were dismal, bordering on cell-like, no windows, a single dim bulb in the ceiling and no mattress but a pad on the plank bed. I slept like I'd been drugged and woke up happy and rested 10 hours later. The room was $3 and the inn-keeper grinned when we paid in dollars; obvioulsy a windfall profit for him.

We were all ravenous and set out to look for breakfast. While my friends kept on in search of more traditional food, I opted for a rice and bun shop where I got all the barbecued beef buns and rice gruel I wanted for the equivalent of 40 cents US. There was only one big table and the locals made room for me. When I was clearly flummoxed by the rice gruel, one showed me how to season it with the ground chiles, etc that made it more palatable, if not great. Having been welcomed, I went back to this same shop for each of the 4 breakfasts in Luang Nam Tha and, by the third day, I was part of the crowd and a place was made for me as I came in sight.



We had found slightly better accomodations. Actually only the mattress was better. There was still only a communal bathroom, cold water shower and bad light but we spent most of our time walking or riding or sitting in a cafe drinking Beer Lao. The most difficult part was taking a shower. The bathrooms were ventilated to the outside by slits in the wall, were unheated and there was only a nod towards warming water. Since nights got down to 40 degrees F in those hills, a morning shower was definitely both a wake-up call and an anti-aphrodisiac.

You may also note the lack of toilet tissue and the replacement with a bucket of water and a ladle that will be at ambient temperature.


the kitchen


the laundry


Luang Nam Tha was sort of a tourist town; it drew backpacker types on their way from the bigger cities down South who wanted to take 3 or 4 day treks into the surrounding hills to see the local tribal villages. These tribes, particularly the woman, still dressed in traditional clothes and, all through the morning, one could say them heading down through town towards the food market. The head scarves and the foot wrappings distinguish the tribes but I was educated to tell the groups apart. The only tribe I could absolutely identify were the Akha who are very obvious by their elaborate silver and metal jewelry. The third of my traveling companions was a 6'8” Welchman so you could easily imagine the amazement and delight of people when the three of us arrived anywhere. The adults generally just stared while the children laughed and pointed.

 Akha woman headress


  The Welshman and the Akha woman.


 Akha woman looking at pictures of my grandchildren



Over the next two days we rode motorcycles throughout the area, getting hand-drawn maps and interesting, if not accurate, directions given in mostly Lao and a bit of English. We rode on dirt paddy dikes, on never-paved paths and just saw everything there was to see – including being made guests at a Lao wedding where we couldn't leave until we each had drank a significant amount of fiery rice whiskey.

This was the last the three of us would travel together. (This kind of ad hoc meeting and parting is very typical of backpack travelers in Asia.) I was going South and East, the Chinese women was heading back to Luang Prabang for a flight home and the Welshman was wanting a trek.

On my last day in Luang Nam Tha, we all spent an hour or so at the two offices in town that did treks. The first, run by the government, was staffed by rather quiet and startlingly surly guides who didn't seem to care if we took a trek or not. The other was a private company, rather surprising that it was in direct competition with a government office. The Luang Nam Tha office was one three branches of this company who had offices in Luang Prabang and Vientiane. The office was run by a young Chinese man, one of the partners and he was extremely friendly and helpful and the Welshman signed up for a trek with them.

The Chinese woman said she wanted to give away her clothes as she did at the end of every trip, discarding clothing to make room for gifts, etc, in her luggage. She had everything washed and folded the night before and we set out specifically to find a village where the clothing gifts were acceptable. We went west from the town and stopped for a drink at a roadside restaurant right on the edge of what seemed like an appropriate place; a restaurant in Laos is a porch with plastic chairs and tables. There were two little girls working at putting out grass on the road to dry for thatching the hut and our appearance just stunned one and galvanized the other who ran to get her mother. We were quite close to one of the Chinese factories (we could tell because there was a well and freshly paved road) and the mother spoke some Chinese.

When my companion tried to give her the clothing, explaining that it was a gift, she refused to take it but dragged my friend, with us trailing along, to what must have been the head of that village. He was the one who would receive the gift and disburse it.



And there we stood, an older white man with a mustache, a very tall Welshman and a short Chinese woman, while this old man went through the pile of clothing, opening each piece, making a remark and then giving it to his designee. Inevitably he got to the bottom of the pile where the undies were discretely folded. Much laughing and blushing as he measured them and started to give one to a larger lady and then to a smaller young woman. When, finally, he held up the two brassieres and jiggled them in the air, the entire village laughed uproariously and the recipients blushed and ran home with their gifts.

 We sat for a while and drank more rice wine and then headed back, getting back to our rooms in time for supper and bed. In the morning, we three walked back towards the bus station, the Chinese woman heading for Luang Prabang, I heading to Udomxai and points East and the tall Welshman for his trek. On the door of the trek office was the sign below.


It turns out that the night before the young Chinese owner had received a call to come to the police station, 400 meters away. In the morning his car was found by the side of the road and he was missing. The two women who were the office staff were sitting in stunned silence. Two weeks later in Vientiane, I inquired about him at their office there; they said nothing more was known.  (I was sent a link to a post on a travel site that talks extensively about this 'disappearance.) 

 In silence, we all went on. The Chinese woman to Luang Prabang and then home to Hong Kong, the Welshman south and west now to see a gibbon project and I took a small local bus to Udomxai and then on to more adventure in Laos.


On to the last Part

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Laos Luang prabang asia backpacking photography travel https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/9/adventures-on-the-road-in-northern-laos-part-2 Fri, 07 Sep 2012 19:03:00 GMT
Adventures on the Road in Northern Laos - the third and last part https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/9/adventures-on-the-road-in-northern-laos---the-third-and-last-part Westerners can't really understand the dramatic difference between travel in the West and in the third world countries of SouthEast Asia. Except for Thailand, the infrastructure is weak, roads are terrible and schedules are optimistic. In January of 2007, I left Luang Nam Tha in northern Laos early in the morning on a small local bus headed for Udomxai in central Laos.

Laos,Nong Kiauw

Udomxai is a bus hub of northern Laos and international buses pass through headed for Vietnam and China. Even so the Bus Station is a smallish building with the bus schedule written on a board above the windows and a dusty dirt lot. According to the travel literature, the city is a major center for Chinese industry and doesn't have a great deal of attraction for the casual traveler. Absolutely correct.

The bus ride from Luang Nam Tha was a short one as bus trips in SEA are, only four or five hours, and I had hoped to arrive in time to catch another bus on to a river town called Nong Kiau on the Nam Ou (Ou River)

The bus pulled into Udomxai at noon and we pulled out bags down and headed for the station, me and  five other backpackers I had met in the bus, three from France and two Australians At the ticket window, I asked what time was the bus for Nong Kiau. The ticket lady said '11 o'clock.' In horror, dreading an 11 hour wait, I said, '11 tonight?”

“No” she said, “11 tomorrow.”

We had missed the only bus for that day. There was no way I was going to spend 24 hours in Udomxai and the others felt the same so we went into a huddle, developed a maximum budget and flourished some money at the ticket lady. In no time a neat clean minibus appeared, we dumped out bags inside and we were off on a four hour ride to Nong Kiau. After an hour or so winding down through the foothills we merged onto Route 1 which wound through northern Laos, eventually crossing over to Vietnam near Dien Bien Phu, the site of the famous battle that signaled the end of French colonialism in Cochin China.

Laos,Nong Kiauw

It is my belief that the further one gets from an airport the nicer fellow travelers are. The hard travel tends to make everyone thankful for company and someone to share decisions. The ride to Nong Kiau was terrific. The Australians were loud, friendly and charming and the French were suave, friendly and charming. As an aside, there is no nationality like the French; they can travel rough, live with cold showers and hand done laundry and still come out looking sophisticated, suave and well-dressed.

Nong Kiau is actually two separate towns on either side of the Ou River but the Chinese government built a bridge over the river and this span has united the towns.

Laos,Nong Kiauw

Laos,Nong Kiauw

 There is quite a bit of river traffic and there are several villages upstream that are reachable only by river. The river itself is shallow with many places that are only barely passable, even in the shallow draft boats that ply the river.

Laos,Nong Kiauw

I splurged on a bungalow overlooking the river ($18/night) and spent the next three days walking around the countryside.

Laos,Nong Kiauw

I made a couple of climbs up the vertiginous cliffs that line the valleys to see some of the caves, each time guided by a pair of boys who had adopted me as their personal tourist and were happy with a dollar an afternoon for their services. Coming back down one of the hills, I slipped and scraped off some skin and, much to my astonishment, after they saw my 'wound', they ran off into the undergrowth, came back with some leaves, chewed them into a pulp and slapped it on my scrapes. Honestly, I would have rather had something medicinal from a tube but I didn't want to insult their effort.

Laos,Nong Kiauw

Laos,Nong Kiauw

On the third day, I went over to look around the boat landing and take some pictures and saw this man who looked just the tiny bit more official than anyone else. I said hello, he replied, I asked if he was in charge and he said that he was in charge of tourism for this province. His English was understandable, much better than my Lao, and I asked he would have coffee with me. We sat and talked for a while then he led me off up a side road, showed me his office (where I took the picture below), saw the neighborhood school and soccer field and then came across, truly in the middle of nowhere, the compound pictured below. The sign said 'The Lao American Cooperation Project for Drug Free Ngoy and Viengkhan Districts, Loung Prabang Province.' Translated into English that mean US Drug Enforcement Agency. No black helicopters were visible but no one came out to say hello either.

Laos,Nong Kiauw

Laos,Nong Kiauw

Laos,Nong Kiauw

He had actual work to do and, as I took my leave, he asked if I would come to his house that evening for a baci ceremony. I accepted, got directions and hurried on back to my hotel to find out what baci meant. According to the hostess, the Baci is a ceremony to celebrate a special event, whether a marriage, a homecoming, a welcome, a birth, or one of the annual festivals. I guess I was the special event. So later that evening, I showed up at his house with a bag full of small gifts.

I was introduced to: his wife, her mother, his mother, his son, his daughter, his daughter's husband, the daughter's husband's mother and two small children. We all sat around a small brass table for the ceremony – and I was the center of attention and the ceremony happened.

I quote from the Lao Heritage Foundation at http://www.laoheritagefoundation.org/ceremonies/baci.jsp

The term more commonly used for the baci ceremony is su kwan, which means “calling of the soul”. The baci ceremony runs deep in the Lao psyche. In different part of the country the ceremony differs slightly in meaning. In general, it is nonetheless an emphasis of the value of life, of social and family bonds, of forgiveness, renewal and homage to heavenly beings.


Concept of Kwan:

Kwan are components of the soul, but have a more abstract meaning than this. The kwan have been variously described by Westerners as: “vital forces, giving harmony and balance to the body, or part of it”, “the private reality of the body, inherent in the life of men and animals from the moment of their birth,” and simply as “vital breath”.

It is an ancient belief in Laos that the human being is a union of 32 organs and that the kwan watch over and protect each one of them. It is of the utmost consequence that as many kwan as possible are kept together in the body at any one time. Since all kwan is often the attributed cause of an illness, the baci ceremony calls the kwan or souls from wherever they may be roaming, back to the body, secures them in place, and thus re-establishes equilibrium.

The Baci Cenermony

The pha kwan is an arrangement consisting of a dish or bowl, often in silver, from the top of which sprouts a cone or horn made of banana leaves and containing flowers, white cotton or silk threads. The flowers used often have evocative meanings and symbols, such as dok huck (symbol of love), dok sampi (longevity), dok daohuang (cheerfulness/brilliance), etc. The cotton threads are cut at the length long enough to wrap around the adult wrists. These are attached to a bamboo stalk and give the impression of a banner.

Around the base of this is the food for the kwan. The food consists usually of hard boiled eggs (symbol of the fetus), fruits and sweets symbolizing the coming together of several parts, in this case the forming of a community (a stalk of bananas, khaotom-boiled sweet rice wrapped in banana leaves), bottle of rice whisky for purification, and boiled whole chicken with head and feet with claws for divination purposes.

The pha kwan is placed on a white cloth in the center of the room, with the maw pawn sitting facing the pha kwan. The person(s) for whom the baci is being held sits directly opposite of him, on the other side of the pha kwan. The maw pawn or mohkwan is a village elder, ideally an ex-monk who will be officiating the ceremony, chanting and calling the kwan.

Laos,Nong Kiauw

This task of preparing and setting up the pah kwan or flower trays for the ceremony is often shared by elderly women in the community. Before the ceremony actually begins, the younger people would pay respect to the elders. Everyone touches the pah kwan as the moh pohn chants a Buddhist mantra. The maw pawn calls upon the wandering kwan to return and inhabit the body of the person the ceremony is intended for. When the maw pawn finishes the invocation, he places the symbolic food into the upturned hand which the recipient has by now extended. The maw pawn then takes the cotton thread from the pha kwan and wraps it around the extended wrist, tying it there. While securing it with a few knots, he chants a shorter version of the invocation strengthening the power of the blessings. Once the pook kwan is over, everyone touches the pah kwan again as a way to conclude the ceremony.

Laos,Nong Kiauw

After the ceremony, everyone shares a meal as a member of the community.

In Laos, white is the color of peace, good fortune, honesty and warmth. The white cotton thread is a lasting symbol of continuity and brotherhood in the community and permanence. The baci threads should be worn for at least three days subsequently and should be untied rather than cut off. Usually it is preferred that they are kept until they fall off by themselves.

After the ceremony and the meal, everyone bid me goodby formally and I left to walk back to my hotel. I took a short diversion out onto the bridge.

It was quite dark by them and there were only tiny lights from the few houses along the river bank to light the valley and the light from a moon that lit the bridge. It was cool, almost cold, I was 12,000 miles from home and no one knew my name and I had just been welcomed into the home of a virtual stranger and made a friend.

I kept the cotton strings on my wrists long past the recommended three days and only on returning the the US a few weeks later did I untie them. The strings still hang on the wall where I can see them as I type this.

A Link to Part 1



llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Laos Luang prabang asia backpacking photography travel https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/9/adventures-on-the-road-in-northern-laos---the-third-and-last-part Wed, 05 Sep 2012 19:05:00 GMT
Photography as Art https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/9/photography-as-art Lew Lorton Photography: Monochromes from Myanmar 2010 &emdash;



I sing only passibly, can't write more skillfully than that, can't draw water and can barely play music on a radio. I was very lucky and pleased and eventually fulfilled by finding photography as a creative outlet. While most other areas of 'art' have a required technical underpinning that is relatively well concealed behind the public impression, photography, because it uses a complex device - a camera -camera, is seen as a 'skill' rather than a 'talent' to be exercised.

In most other avenues of art – drawing, sculpture, painting, dance – the technical underpinnings are so difficult to attain that anyone who achieves some level of skill, no matter how uncreative, is regarded as an artist. Witness the public success of Thomas Kincade. And the inability to attain the skill is obvious because there aren't any technical supports to boost the unskilled along, so an unskilled painter, dancer, sculptor, writer is easily detected.

Photography, on the other hand, is well supported by technology and thus even the worst, unskilled, untalented photographer can occasionally produce a good picture just by random chance. Modern cameras auto-expose and auto-focus so what is left to signal the difference between a hack photographer and an artist who is a photographer?

Well, first, what is the difference between an artist and a photographer – or between an artist and someone who is content just to practice a craft? I read a definition somewhere, so I can't attribute it, that an artist strives to present a view that no one has seen before, to show something in a new way or to bring a new way of looking at a otherwise familiar concept.

That doesn't mean that all artists, or even a significant percentage are good or successful at achieving this goal; it just means that urge to be on new ground is the driving force.

The 'torture' in 'tortured artist' comes from the constant agony of attempting and failing to do that in the vast proportion of attempts. One doesn't have to be a good artist to be a tortured artist.

To actually be creative, one first has to be able to control one's tools, have an artistic vision and then create. In photography, the technical issues are so prominent, and even difficult, that the vast proportion of photographers who get past the 'push the button' stage are content just to achieve technical 'perfection'; to create perfect reproduction of what they point their lens at.

And, unfortunately this passes often for artistry. Look for yourself at the vast number of perfectly done commercial photographs in publications; enormous technical achievement but rarely an artistic ones. When faced with the uncertainty and pain of creativity, many photographers just amend their goal to technical perfection.

What is art in photography and is it possible without technical perfection? To answer the second question first, technical perfection is irrelevant in a good picture, the degree of technical perfection is important only if the lack of it detracts from the impact of the image.

When a picture creates an idea or an emotion that transcends the frame and exceeds the impact of the content alone for the viewer – that is art. It doesn't necessarily have to be a high concept or intellectually fulfilling. To this day I remember a Kodak commercial on television that showed a bunch of puppies and a little child tumbling over each other. It was photographed incredibly well and the supporting music was appropriate and not intrusive. That combination, for me, was art.

There are many good photographers (Gary Winograd) whose artistic vision is less accessible and one needs a little education and understanding to 'get' them. Like tasting wine, the more experience and teaching one brings to a subject, the more that subtleties can be appreciated.

Ansel Adams always springs to everyone's mind when the average person thinks of photographers. One of the biggest disappointments of my photographic life was seeing a large traveling AA show. With the exception of a very few iconic images, his pictures were perfectly exposed, perfectly composed and sterile of feeling. For most of his images, IMO, AA elevated technical perfection above art.

On the other hand, Paul Strand was several levels below Ansel Adams in technical achievement, if by that one means perfect reproduction of what lay in front of his lens, yet his every picture carried an emotional impact that virtually leapt out of the frame.

How does one get to be an artist – even a mediocre one – as a photographer? The same way one gets to Carnegie Hall, practice, practice, practice. Take pictures, look at pictures, understand and internalize the forms, structures and arrangements that resound in your mind and memory and then try to use those concepts to build your own pictures.

Feel welcome to go back to my pictures - some successful, some not so.

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) art artist craft craftmanship photo photography talent tortured artist https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/9/photography-as-art Sat, 01 Sep 2012 15:20:00 GMT
Images of Summer https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/8/images-of-summer Summer images

For those who enjoy larger images, I have put these pictures on a slideshow at my website.  Just click this link to open the slide show in another window.


summer-redder lilies





summer-from 0901 - trimmed



summer-Course Lesson 1_066

summer-becky's orchid

summer-2006 04 19 tulips_00106

summer-2006 03 17FredWindows_00101

summer-2005 06 12 Col Fair Day 20011

summer-2004 09 25 Trip to NY00125

summer-2004 08 21 Harpers Ferry flea market00193

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) faded flower flower photography summer https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/8/images-of-summer Thu, 30 Aug 2012 20:20:00 GMT
Almost fluent in my native tongue https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/2/almost-fluent-in-my-native-tongue I like the English language, it seems unending to read or to write. I love writers like Hitchems or Nabokov or the like who practice the perfect way to twist each sentence to make it more meaning than that huge flock of pedestrian writers including, at the very bottom, hacks like me.

The glory of English is its casual acceptance of new words from anywhere. Here, for example, is a link to a list of English loanwords by country of origin.

Interestingly that same source says that some significant percentage of the words in English come from French. This while France is fighting a losing battle against the use of English loan words in France or Franglais. They even have a law that attempts to thwart the flow of Anglo-Americanisms into the pure French language and culture (Le Loi Toubon).

This brings up visions of pairs of French linguists wearing berets and carrying batons prowling the streets, striking down any passerby who dares order a Big Mack or send an e-mail – both proscribed terms. When I last visited Paris in October, I saw no language police patrolling, although the waiters seemed to carry on that same work with indifference rather than batons as their weapons.

English is flexible but, in many situations, insensible to routine order and extremely difficult to aquire or to instruct the nuances that a native speaker knows by her very existence. Try explaining the structure of a sentence like “Luckily I already had had a shower when the postman rang.” to a native Korean speaker. I tried and failed.

In the last 20 or so years English has become the lingua franca (yes, I know that must anger the French even more). It is taken for granted that all or most educated Europeans speak both their own language and English. Additionally they often they speak five or six others, unnecessary except as part of a pan-European plot to make Americans feel inferior.

The mega-assault of the American entertainment culture pushing out through every possible communications medium has infused the entire world with, if not English, than English-isms. In Asian countries you will see teens and children wearing clothes emblazoned with American symbols and an English phrase, often totally meaningless but worn for the cachet. In virtually every Asian country, you can find native English speakers, often expatriates who have serially failed at everything in their own countries, getting by teaching English badly to willing students. I have been traveling all through this language infiltration and have experienced all levels of fluency – often to my extreme confusion.

Today, throughout southern and Eastern Asia, the penetration of the electronic Western culture and its side effects means that virtually anywhere an English speaking tourist might go, a local will speak at least tourist-English.

 This was not so at recent as twenty years ago. My wife and I returned to Kyoto from a 3 day excursion to Takayama, a sizeable destination for Japanese tourists in the mountains of Gifu Province. After three days in that town we had not encountered a single menu in Roman characters, only a very few signs that we could read and no person that spoke even a few words of English. The only other Westerners we saw were a French couple and,, beyond a nod to us as we sat at an adjacent table in a noodle shop, they did not speak to us but spoke to each other in glorious French. When we eventually returned to Kyoto and saw a Pizza Hut sign, we ran to it with the exuberance of Legionnaires to an oasis.

In most countries, I could get along with phrase books or the locals 'tourist' English or even a few words I learned as I went along. (I am fairly comfortable speaking my slightly understandable version of Romance languages or German but the unfamiliar sounds and accents of Asian languages are almost unattainable for me except for a very few phrases.)

As I began to travel more – and in less developed settings – I saw that language differences were more than an obstacle to me. The lack of mutual intelligibility created this false but unpleasant barrier between me and the 'locals' and so I adopted a strategy to break down this barrier.

I always try to learn at least one or two common useful phrases in the language of my destination country and I always carry a phrase book. These books inevitably have a set of commonly needed phrases like 'I want to go to the bus station', their phonetic equivalent and, most important, the phrase as written in the local language.

In an appropriate situation, I would ostentatiously take out my phrase book, search busily for the phrase I needed, then try to pronounce it. Inevitably, no one would understand me and I would try again, each time with a slightly different pronunciation. Eventually, with some degree of smiling frustration, I would show the book to my 'target', they would, again inevitably, laugh and say the phrase correctly, I would repeat it poorly, also inevitably, and by the time I got it close to correct, we would be friends and the barrier would be gone. They would understand that I was not holding myself away and they would become my teacher.

The second strategem did not involve language but was just a way for me to show something about my own life and illustrate where we were alike. I always carried many copies of a small picture collage of my grandchildren. Again when the situation was appropriate, like I was seated next to a family on a bus or boat, I would smile at their children and then show them the picture of my family. I would pull out a piece of paper and draw a diagram with stick figures of generations to show that they were my grandchildren. Ihe pictures were chosen carefully so that there was no indication of wealth or living standard but only the children. Western children are a total rarity in rural Asia and the picture would always be of great interest. Often I would end this kind of interchange by asking, in sign language, if I could take their and their children's picture .

But, back to language. The nuances of English are often unappreciated in 'tourist' English.. Two years ago, my son and I were on a train in Myanmar going from Yangon to Mawlamyine. This piece of rolling stock was made, according to the painted over plaque on one of the cars, in the 1930s and hadn't been much upgraded or repaired since. The seat padding was erratic and many of the seats had only two adjustments, fully upright and lying down flat in the lap of the person behind.

We had left our hotel in Yangon at 6 AM, it was approaching noon and food seemed an interesting diversion. About then we noticed some people from the 3d class car behind us first going forward then returning from the front of the train with paper plates of steaming, hot food and surmised that, against all probability, there actually was a dining car – or at least somewhere we could get food.

We made our way forward and, amazingly, came into the dining car. The tables were rickety battery cafe style, only a few actually attached to the wall and the chairs seemed to match. There was a small counter behind which there was an alcove in which we could see a shelf and some food preparation equipment, including a wok, heated by a flame fed by a large nearby gas cylinder.

The Myanmar man behind the counter stared at us for a moment and then ducked down, rummaging on a shelf ad then pulled out a single rumpled, stained menu typed in a font reminiscent of old Underwood typewriters that list a variety of dished and 'cofee, tea, cold rink to drink.' Prices in kyat were the equivalent of $1 for a main dish.

All good so far.

'Cold drink?', he asked. My son and I both nodded and he pulled two orange drinks from a cooler and uncapped them using an opener that hung on a string from the wall.

I looked at the menu left lying flat on the counter so my son could read it also. There was a list of items, usually some sort of meat with rice, cooked I assume in the wok. The tail end of the list were Myanmar dishes, the names untranslated but in Roman text.

'Beef with rice' I said.

He put his finger on the first item and said 'Rice chicken.' Now I like chicken but I am a little leary about chicken in Asia. Asian chickens aren't handled and fed like Western chickens are. They are less oppressed, they run around eating what they can, being chased by everything on legs and wheels until their time to be stuffed tight into a wicker cage and then summarily executed under conditions surely unsanitary by my tender Western stomach. My guess is that salmonella tainted meat is the rule rather than the exception. On top of that, chicken cooks very quickly and, in a wok, the chicken doesn't spend much time in the purifying heat. I had the vision of spending three days in a hot, squat toilet pondering the lack of toilet paper so I wanted beef.

'Beef with rice' I said. He shook his head and said 'Chicken Rice' so I chose '”Pork with rice” Trichinosis takes months to develop and I will be home in three weeks.

He put his finger on the first item and said 'Rice chicken.'

I got it.

No matter what I wanted, 'Rice Chicken' was in my future. 'Two' said my son. Perhaps we will have adjacent squat toilets.

The counterman-cook went in the alcove and began to rattle metal things. My son and I sat and looked out the window at the flat scenery of the Mon state.

In perhaps three minutes, he was back with two paper plates, each with a huge mound of steaming fried rice, glistening with the oil of ages. There was no obvious sink in the alcove. On top of the rice was an egg.

The counterman-chef looked down beaming, then dashed off only to return instanter to present us each with a fork wrapped in a paper towel.

On top of my rice was a fried egg, but there was no chicken. I need my protein; I want my chicken.

I looked up and said 'Rice Chicken.' He was uncomprehending.

I pointed at the mound of steaming hot rice and said 'Rice.'

He, without hesitation, pointed at the egg and said 'Chicken.'





llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) english humor photography travel https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/2/almost-fluent-in-my-native-tongue Wed, 22 Feb 2012 20:08:34 GMT
Occupy DC and the Park Police at McPherson Square - February 14 2012 https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/2/occupy-dc-and-the-park-police-at-mcpherson-square---february-14-2012 McPherson Square in Washington, DC is where Occupy DC has been for months, protesting and camping. In view of the circumstances, the Park Police have seemingly been laid back against the enforcement of the no sleeping or camping regulations but, pushed by all sort of political and civic pressures, this was the weekend was when they moved in.  

Long time Occupy DC protesters told me that in the last several days, perhaps in anticipation of the Park Police activity, their ranks had swelled but, unfortunately not always for the better.  According to one woman, the new people were responsible for a lot of the night-time noise, drinking and drug use that has exacerbated the situation.

The police were there in overwhelming force and they behaved civilly and, except for one flurry where some young men tried to grab and push a section of barricade, everything went, if not happily, then smoothly. 

These are just a few of the images and I encourage viewers to go to see the slideshow full screen by holding down the Control key and clicking on http://lewlortonphoto.com/p408377446/slideshow

Lew Lorton Photography: Occupy DC February 4 2012 - McPherson Sq raid &emdash; occupydc-0792636-Edit Lew Lorton Photography: Occupy DC February 4 2012 - McPherson Sq raid &emdash; occupydc-0792619 Lew Lorton Photography: Occupy DC February 4 2012 - McPherson Sq raid &emdash; occupydc-0792638 Lew Lorton Photography: Occupy DC February 4 2012 - McPherson Sq raid &emdash; occupydc-0792698 Lew Lorton Photography: Occupy DC February 4 2012 - McPherson Sq raid &emdash; occupydc-0792711






llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Occupy Occupy DC Park Police action resistance https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/2/occupy-dc-and-the-park-police-at-mcpherson-square---february-14-2012 Fri, 17 Feb 2012 16:35:00 GMT
The Internet destroys democracy https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/2/the-internet-destroys-democracy I found this on my computer - and may have actually written it.

Within an essay entitled “The Problem with Film Criticism” (http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=4059) , Charles Taylor, formerly a film critic at Salon. Com, writes this:

WHEN I started as a film critic online at Salon.com, readers could click on a link that allowed them to e-mail me directly. Within a month, I heard from more readers than I had in a decade as a print critic. Not all the letters were nice (though the rude writers often apologized if you wrote back to them and reminded them a person was on the other end of their missive), but I felt in touch with my readers. There was also an edited letters column. That all ended when the publication made it possible for readers to post directly without going through an editor. Almost immediately, I and the other writers I knew stopped hearing directly from readers. Instead, instant posting became survival of the loudest. Posturing and haranguing ruled. If the writer was female or Jewish, misogynists and anti-Semites would turn up. Why wouldn’t they? There was no editor to stop them. Bullies and bigots seized the chance to show off. And those reasonable people, the ones I and my colleagues heard from? They went nowhere near the online forums.

This“lively forum” or “spirited debate” or whatever euphemism is now used for online bullying has always been defended by the claims that balance would be restored as reasonable respondents came in to counter the blowhards. Bullet wounds can be stitched up as well, but the damage is already done.

It is not hard to see the difference between on-line anonymity and other discussion. In my local newspaper, a letter to the editor must be signed with a name and address and the submitter is called by an editor to establish his/her identity before the letter is published. Letters are, in general, well thought out and polite.

On the other hand, comments on the same subject in the newspaper's Internet discussion are drawn from the same population but the submitter can use an anonymous screen name and they are, as one would expect, shorter, ruder and often vulgar.

Does that sound familiar and unfortunately similar to the behavior on any site that allows anonymous posting?

Any article posted online that is remotely controversial according to the unwritten rules of this audience draws a crowd of critical respondents and the responses almost instantly degenerate in attacks, not on the ideas with other ideas, not as answers but as ad hominem (or ad feminem) insults.

It is rare that one can actually find an actual exchange of ideas on some controversial issue that is not liberally sprinkled with epithets in an obvious attempt, not to persuade, but to win by intimidation or throttling of the discussion.

the falseness of the claims made for the Web as a new beacon of democracy. In many ways, the Web has been a disaster for democracy.


Is this things the way that they were meant to be? Should thugs be allowed to control the discourse?

An additional source of disappointment here on Internet fora is the usual lack of the reasonable respondent who will speak for the center and keep the peace or even counter the use of bullying as a tactic to win a discussion.

Where are these hordes of 'reasonable respondents' that are supposed to 'counter the blowhards'?

Two examples: first example) an acquaintance had sent me a supportive PM about a discussion in which I was taking a lot of flak in an online discussion and I responded, asking why they had not said something in the thread. Their answer was that they didn't want to get involved in that kind of stuff.

Second example: I read a blog post on a site purportedly for writers (open.Salon.com) by a woman who had a difficult married life and she was convinced and expressed at length the idea that all men, including her husband, were basically disgusting beasts but some of them managed to cover that over for social purposes.

The several comments that I read were, in the main, supportive but not one actually brought up the idea that thinking that the entire opposite gender are hateful, terrible people might be an unhealthy attitude and that is not a healthy way to spend the rest of one's life.

The unwillingness of any of these respondents to say what some of them must be, or should have been, thinking was disturbing. If this had been a man saying that all women were deceitful bitches, would it have been acceptable?

There was a blog post in the same venue (Open.Salon.com) very recently by someone who had previously written an entry explaining how she didn't 'get' the Occupy movement. In her followup she said that she was flooded with PMs raking her over the coals for 'doubting.' Once, after a post of mine had been harassed by two or three locally well known, but anonymous, screen names, a friend here wrote a PM asking why I wrote on such unpopular topics.

Is this the way that democracy is envisioned on the Internet, a place where people in the masks of screen names get to bully the thoughts and ideas they don't like and the vast number of people just turn away?

When people say rude and sexist things in the locker room or office and no one speaks up to counter them, those who don't speak are rightly criticized for their passivity. The unwillingness of people to say the difficult thing in a strange environment is what allows sexism in lockers rooms or the office and racism in every environment? Not speaking out against bullying, no matter what side you take in the argument, is de facto support for the bully

Well, in the absence of either reasonable respondents or the editorial capacity to actual moderate the discussions, what is one to do when faced with these kinds of respondents?

It is interesting that in the Facebook group, Orphans of Open Salon, moderated by several still-current members, there is this rule: If you are mean and nasty to someone you get no chances- you are banned.You are all adults and should know better so no mean stuff.

There is not any absolute right to hide behind the anonymity of an Internet user name to do damage in another's yard not is there any absolute right to deface any one else's work with one own verbal feces.



llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) anonymity anonymous free speech internet https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2012/2/the-internet-destroys-democracy Wed, 08 Feb 2012 20:13:00 GMT
The Man from nowhere https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2011/11/the-man-from-nowhere We were sort of lost in Venice. Which, if you have been there, is understandable and probably the default condition for most tourists who are not standing either in front of their hotel or in St Mark's Square.

Venice up close is not as pretty as one would think – or hope. Most of the buildings are seriously shabby on the outside and the natives are almost predatory. I won't easily get used to paying $4.50 for a can of soda and the food just isn't that good, no matter how much it costs.

It was the third day of our visit, the very end of three previously wonderful weeks in Italy and we were pretty much churched out. The highlight of our stay in Venice had been our hotel which was a tiny but glorious place right near St Mark's Square. We had seen all the sights we wanted to see, had visited Peggy Guggenheim's collection and had just learned that all the public workers has scheduled a strike for the next day (no vaporetto) – and we were tired of Venice and wanted to be pretty much anywhere else.

So, enjoying the last day of public transport, we took the #1 vaporetto to the Rialto, crossed the bridge and just started to walk. The maps of Venice are a little misleading; the streets are shown as a little wide and straight. Not so. There are few 'streets' in Venice, there are many alleys between the blank walls of buildings and sometimes those alleys widen from 4 feet to 8 feet for a while for storefronts. Every once in a while, the alley will open into a square and that's often where you will find restaurants, shops, etc. It was heavily overcast and so there was no sun to orient us and we just wandered a bit, disoriented but confident; after all this was an island, we would eventually come to water and we could find a bus stop.

We ended up in a small square with a single restaurant, its chairs arranged out in the street and a menu board propped up on an easel.  There was a single dapper man sitting there drinking coffee and reading, who got up and left as we approached.   Not offput because I was hungry, also my default condition, and so we sat down. The menu board was irrelevant; every restaurant in Venice promises virtually the same food, always the best and the freshest. We were the only customers eating which wasn't really a negative thing; there are about as many restaurants in Venice as there are store fronts and this was, after all, the end of the season.

The waiter was immediate and pleasant and his English was better than my Italian; I speak menu Italian, he spoke tourist English. The simple and fine meal finished, my wife and I were sitting over our drinks; she, hot chocolate, me caffe americano decaffeinato and the waiter drifted over to ask if we wanted anything. Waiters don't rush customers in Italy and, after all, we were an advertisement as long as we sat there.

I asked where he was from; from his accent, he was clearly not Italian. He said that he was from Kurdistan. I am not a historian but I did know that Kurdistan as an independent state had not existed for centuries and their struggle for independence and sovereignty had resulted in several countries defining the Kurds as a terrorist group and doing some bad to terrible things to them. Saddam Hussein has a notable place in Kurdish history for killing 5000 Kurds in one day - poison gas, biological weapons or simply running them down with tanks.

I asked him to say something in a native Kurdish language; he did and then, somehow incited by my question, still standing by the table he launched into a history of the Kurds, indenting with his finger nail on the tablecloth as a map to show the Kurdish homelands in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. In a growing excitement, he was quickly beyond his English and he spoke fluently, fervently in Italian for perhaps 15 minutes, drawing and redrawing on the table, showing with crossed hands how he had been arrested, pounding his fist into his hand as he talked of repression, waving his hands in the air as he talked of trying to have a country.

As much as I could get the general ideas of what he was saying, in pauses, would bring my wife up to date.

Each time, he would wait until I was done speaking and then continue. Eventually, he wound down and he looked, back and forth at each of us, expecting us to say something, what I don't know.

I asked if his family was here; he replied his wife was here, his mother and father were, he tapped on a spot on the table cloth map, in Syria.

Just then another tourist couple wandered into the square and, perhaps encouraged by the fact that we were sitting there and not writhing in food induced ptomaine, sat down. He straightened up to again become the pleasant, smiling anonymous waiter.

My wife and I sat for a few minutes longer, pretty much speechless.  I had previously asked for the bill and, leaving money in the tray we got up to leave.  The waiter returned to the table, we shook hands and he said goodbye.

Before we turned into the calle that leads, with some twisting, to the Rialto bridge, I looked back. He had already taken the dishes to the kitchen and returned, As I watched he whisked away our table napkins and the tablecloth and the map of Kurdistan, drawn with the nail of his forefinger, disappeared.


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) kurd kurdistan travel https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2011/11/the-man-from-nowhere Wed, 23 Nov 2011 21:26:00 GMT
The Strange Homecoming of Terry Lakin https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2011/5/the-strange-homecoming-of-terry-lakin  

I was entranced by an article in Salon by Justin Elliot on Friday, 13 May about Dr Terry Lakin, the Army doctor who refused deployment overseas because he believed that Barack Obama is not eligible to be the President and thus could not initiate his deployment orders.

All of the 'birther' arguments aside, I just couldn't understand the mind set of a seasoned Army Officer, not to mention a physician, taking this kind of career-ending, life-shaking stand. I spent 24 years in the military as an officer and I worked day to day with every kind of military doctor. As individuals they run the same political/personality gamut as civilian doctors, with the two exceptions -  the extraordinary overtly flaming liberal is pretty rare in the military and the more conservative committed segment is greater. Because of the US military involvement, overseas assignments, separation from family are routine and, to some degree, every military doc buys into the 'Duty, Honor, Country' triad. For doctors, I think the third part of that is not 'Country' so much as it is duty of care.

So when I read on the web site of the Terry Lakin Action Fund that Terry was returning to Baltimore Washington Airport, not ten miles from my house, I was drawn to go. According to the web site, supporters had arranged with the airport for a demonstration area and there was a statement that they wanted, expected hundreds of people to greet Terry. Again, according to the site, Terry had spent hundreds of thousands of his own money on the defense lawyers and needed help and support; it was only from Maureen Dowd's account of the court martial in the NY Times, that I learned that at least part of his defense had been underwritten by the birthers.

And an obvious tilt towards the 'birther' conviction is what characterized the group I found down in the baggage area at the airport. A smaller group than I had expected, perhaps fifty people, casually penned in an area in the baggage claim area, watched carefully by three policeman and an airport employee.


Many of the people carried home-made signs – as suggested by the web site; many also wore something red white and blue. These were clearly people who wanted to be seen as lovers of the US. The words 'God' and 'Constitution' were the most popular text bites on the signs. One woman waved an large enlargement of a popularly circulated Kenyan birth certificate that purported to prove that Barack Hussein Obama was born in Mombassa, Kenya.




One woman wearing a Terry Lakin Action Fund Staff shirt said that she wasn't paid but worked on the effort a lot. When asked what they hoped would happen next with Terry and she said they were hoping for his reinstatement and return to duty. I said, “An Army officer refuses a direct order from a superior to deploy to a battle zone, gets court martialed and kicked out. Do you really think there is a chance of reinstatement?” She gave me a rueful smile and turned away.

Wandering back and forth, I took pictures, said hello, just looked around. When people saw my camera, they set themselves and smiled, ready to be photographed in this, in their eyes, meaningful event. There was no obvious denoted leader but one tall attractive woman was making statements to camera phones and moving around purposefully. When she turned my way, perhaps attracted by my camera, I asked her about the 'birther' posters. “That's what this is all about, isn't it?”, she responded. She went on to talk about how Terry was standing up for what he believed and that he was denied discovery.


I asked how she felt now that virtually everyone, including the Republican office holders in Hawaii, verified that Obama was indeed born there. She said that she had spoken to Obama's sister who said that he was adopted and that last week, a US congressman had hugged her and told her to keep on. And what about the long form released by Obama? A clear fake, she replied. Well, wouldn't he have the facilities to make a good fake. Well maybe he was doing it on his own? She seemed deeply committed to the belief that Obama was not suitable, no matter what disruptive facts came along.

She left, possibly drawn by more urgent issues and I started circling the crowd again. At the periphery of the crowd stood a woman, holding one child and flanked by two others; she was obviously physically distinct from the others in the welcome group. She was quite small, very lovely and rather dark-skinned, Asian, perhaps a Filipina. She was quiet and seemed tired. I realized with a start that this was probably Mrs Lakin, Terry's wife. Occasionally some one or two of the Terry Lakin Action Fund Staffers would go over and talk for a while, but she and the children were, both euphemistically and actually at the periphery of the crowd.


 She stayed there, not attempting to do more until the same tall woman who had been giving the statements, swooped over and, evidently having gotten an alert that Terry was disembarking, ushered the family to the mouth of the arrivals gate.

For a few minutes there was nothing and then he was there. Weaned on television and movies where important events occur against a background of music and appropriate lighting, somehow I expected something more. He looked exactly like his pictures, medium-height, trim, grey hair cut short; easily seen as a military doctor, except now of course he was not, could not, wear a uniform. He walked forward and embraced his family, first together, then individually – rather than exuberance, it was the quiet happiness of a man who loved and missed his wife and children. Both he and they were clearly tired, certainly worn by the 5 months that had separated them and the trial that preceded that.


He was ushered towards the waiting crowd where people took pictures and asked for his autograph, one man holding open a book entitled 'Where is the Birth Certificate.' Terry Lakin answered a few questions so quietly that his voice could not be heard at the rear of the small crowd. He didn't make any statement and the exuberance of the expectant crowd drained away into the sort of flat reality that this was not the beginning of something but the unwelcome end.



In a very few minutes, he and his family were lead outside to a waiting car which drove off, led by a small contingent from a Christian motorcycle club. As she was leaving, I stopped the spokesperson and asked her what Terry would be doing now. She said that he might open a clinic and that the fund would help him if they could. Donations had dropped off since Obama had released his birth certificate. I asked if he is licensed to practice medicine in Maryland? 'Oh, I wouldn't know anything about that', she said and was gone.

As they drove away, I remembered something from Maureen Dowd's column. During the court martial, LTC Lakin said

the winter had been “a confusing time, a very emotional time for me.” His shoulders slumped, he offered excuses about how he had gotten conflicting advice from lawyers — his defense was underwritten by Birthers. 'I understand that it was my decision, and I made the wrong choice,' he told the judge.”

A press release on the TLAF website released on April 27th said, in part,

Had the Obama administration agreed to allow the document unveiled today and other related documents as requested for discovery in Terry Lakin's first pre-trial hearing, the matter would have been resolved and soldiers assured their military orders were lawful, given by a lawful Commander-in-Chief.

A good soldier, having played his part in this issue, would have returned enthusiastically to the service for which he is so ably trained.


The ultimate act of bravery in wartime is to sacrifice yourself to save your comrades. So clear is one act,  throwing oneself on a grenade, that it has become the single predominant cliché used to describe a knowingly total  self-sacrificing act.

Did Terry Lakin, chose his brave act, throw himself on a grenade, only to look up and find that he was the only one who was ever at risk and nothing was ever in danger?




I have written to Terry asking to talk with him and have received a message that that it is being considered.

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) birther terry lakin truther https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2011/5/the-strange-homecoming-of-terry-lakin Mon, 23 May 2011 20:33:00 GMT
Pictures of Involuntary Memory https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2010/12/pictures-of-involuntary-memory I am a slave to involuntary memory; cues encountered in my everyday life that evoke strong recollections of the past without conscious effort. That, coupled with a peculiar inability to consciously remember ordinary life experiences, has made me the most self analytical of people, forever worrying the memories I do have, causing my wife great frustration or anger at my day to day inability to remember what she thinks I should.

Large swaths of my past are gone, providing great grist for some former therapists; I cannot remember – and generally don't care - what I did last Tuesday but a certain smell or taste or sound will bring up full, almost three dimensional memories of some trip I've taken.

What I do remember are the experiences that seem meaningful in some permanent way; little episodes that seemed almost unimportant at the moment but now I remember as having taught me something. Perhaps that is why I love photography so much. Isn't that what a photographer does – isolate important portions of the milieu and present that to the viewer?

And these memories have informed my current life and giving me a better place to which I can retreat when minor day to day annoyances loom larger than they should. I have learned the most from traveling in places where I do not share the ease of a common language with the people I meet. Ease of language makes it simple for people to construct a wall that separates them from me. Without a language, we seem to communicate much more simply and thus allows the better, deeper motives to display themselves.

This last January, I was in Myanmar, in a small city on the eastern edge called Hpa An. Hpa An was off the routine tourist route without much for tourists to see and there were only 10 or 12 Westerneers in the town. There were none of the usual tourist-level transport that often carts Westerners direclty from scenic destination to scenic destination and so, in order to get to my next destination, I needed to take a series of ordinary bus rides involving two connections at even smaller towns. Hpa An, while not a center for Western tourists is the capital of one of the war lord states, a center for smuggling across the border in and out of Thailand so there are lots of local travelers, lots of activity and lots of buses.


circle where all the buses stop


 I had bought my bus ticket at a store front in the town center where mostly radios and MP3 players, etc were sold. Interestingly, in a country where there are few private autos, there are hundreds of buses and but companies which provide transport both short and long distances along marginal roads between every town. Buses are often jam-packed full with people in the aisles, on the steps to the doors and on the roof, yet the actual seats are numbered and seemingly reserved for the first comers who buy tickets.

I had been directed to the square where the bus tickets were sold. Since selling tickets is a sideline for the shops, I could only find where the tickets for the correct bus were sold by looking in each store for the tell-tale pad sitting on the counter and saying, with terrible pronunciation I'm certain, my destination. After two or three abortive attempts, someone took me by the arm and led me to the correct store where the counter person would sell me a ticker.

Buddhist nuns and monks get the best seats in all public conveyances, both out of respect and also in recognition of the stringent rule that they must not touch a person of the opposite gender. In most bus trips, the buses are so jammed that prolonged physical contact with other people is virtually a certainty. If there are no monks (there are many fewer nuns), the best seats, those just behind the driver, are then given to foreigners.

The ticket seller had a grid square diagram covered with plastic on the counter top and, before issuing my ticket started erasing and re-entering text, obviously making space for me. Then he took my money and issues my ticket, handwritten in Bamar, and written, on the place where my name should be, the simple word 'forigner' (sic). 

The next morning, I showed at the designated time and waited for the bus. My fellow travelers, all Burmese, were not shy about inspecting me. A Westerner, traveling on a local bus, was a certain object of curiousity.

my bus - better looking from a distance



I was a little nervous about finding where I had to get off and find the next bus. The guide book had instructions that were, in retrospect, correct but frighteningly in-explicit. I had only a little idea of how long this leg of the trip should take and so kept a sharp eye for some sign, anything written in English that would give me a hint if I was close. Finally, just after passing through a sizeable town, I looked back and saw a sign announcing a Danish economic development project in the town I was looking for, now three km behind me.

I yelled out to the bus driver saying only the name of my final destination; he immediately pulled over with the passengers of the entire front half of the bus voicing comments. Luckily we were in front of a roadside cafe and, after he off-loaded my bags and put them in the shelter of their overhead, he gave me explicit instructions on how to get to the next stage of my trip.

Unfortunately, his instructions were in Bamar and I understood not one word. Knowing he was losing time, I thanked him with the one word of Bama I knew and shook his hand. Several of the passengers smiled and waved goodbye as the bus drove away.

There was a restaurant right in front of me, I hadn't eaten or drunk for 6 hours and with no other immediate plans, so I sat down and ate, attracting no more attention in that roadside restaurant in rural Myanmar than would, say, an Eskimo in Alabama. There was a great deal of conversation and many sidelong looks at me. Eventually, after I finished my meal and was lingering over a bottle of beer, a man wearing a western style shirt came over to my table and addressed me in English. He asked if I was lost and I explained that I was going to Kinpun but I had missed the stop and had no idea of what I was going to do. He said that he could help.


I grabbed my camera bag and he took my knapsack and we walked across the road to the side of the traffic going back into town, the direction I needed to go. We waited for three or four minutes and, inevitably, a local truck/bus came along. (These are small Japanese trucks or scooter fronts with a little open passenger cabin in the back that can hold a seemingly infinite number of people.) He flagged the bus down and explained my predicament. My bag and camera bag went up on top and I jumped on the back step, along with the 3 or 4 other men already holding on, waving goodbye  as I left.


So there I was, improbably, bucketing along this bumpy highway 12,000 miles from home, in the dust and the sun – just having a great time. I was a little concerned about the camera bag and the ten grand of equipment so every time it vibrated away I pulled it close to me, using one hand for the bag and one hand for holding on. The man next to me yelled to a teen who was sitting on the roof and the teen moved over and put his leg over the bag, holding it in place and then smiled at me. The same man then tugged on my hat, now hanging on my neck and patted his head, clearly urging me to put on the hat. Mad dogs and Englishman, you know.

Every time I went to move my hat on, the truck lurched and I swung dangerously, held on by only one hand. I was willing to chance heat stroke rather than let one hand stray too far from the bar. And then it happened, that insignificant little thing that I remember so strongly. The two little men, one on other side of me, not more than 5 foot, 4 inches, each put one arm around me and held me solidly up on the back of the lurching truck while I pulled my hat on. That simple strong pressure across my back, the touch of these helpful strangers stays with me now.

In ten minutes we were in town at the market place; the driver stopped while everyone explained to a bike-cab driver where I needed to go. I again said my single work of Burmese, Mingalaba, shook their hands and waved to them as they left.

typical bike-cab



Another ten minutes of frantic peddling – large Westerner and bags – and I was politely dumped at another bus stop where I waited for yet another bus for the last leg of this day.

bus for the next leg of the trip - again the only Westerner in sight


 Perhaps it is over-sentimentalizing but so what. A strong wind in my face and the hot sun immediately brings back that day. I remember that day, I remember the people who helped me and most of all, I remember that solid pressure across my back, holding me safely in place while this big, pink foreigner got his hat on.

 (please take into account that these pictures are to help the viewers to understand the situation and are not for artistic value.- because as pictures, they're not much.

Lew )

llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) bago burma bus kin pun myanmar photography travel https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2010/12/pictures-of-involuntary-memory Wed, 15 Dec 2010 21:45:00 GMT
Meeting A Man Who Wanted to Kill Me https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2010/9/meeting-a-man-who-wanted-to-kill-me I am sometimes quite bewildered when I am in a powerful situation that is emotionally engaging and should, by all desserts, have some significant, memorable meaning yet I cannot perceive what that meaning should be. Earlier I wrote about one such experience in “the color of small money”; today I will write about another such experience that occurred earlier on that my first return trip to Vietnam in 1998.

I was staying in a small hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, still known as Saigon to most people, and, upon learning that I had hired a car and driver for a day, the receptionist asked if I would take along her cousin and his friend so they could practice their English.

My ultimate destination that day was the city of Tay Ninh approximately 90 km to the northwest of Ho Chí Minh City. The city is the home of the Cao DÂi religion, an indigenous Vietnamese faith that includes the teachings of the major world religions and has as its three saints, Sun Yat-senVictor Hugo and Nguyen Bánh Khiêm. This religious group controlled the section of Vietnam around Tay Ninh during the American War and its own army kept the fighting  well controlled and away from its colorful temple and compound. I was going specifically to see the colorful temple buildings and the worship services which are open to the public.

It was a hot day and, of course the hired car, a dark TOYOTA Cressida, although in fair condition, had no air-conditioning. We had set out early and when we stopped for breakfast, I realized that the young couple had planned on going the entire day without food or drink because of the expense. I bullied them into actually joining me by telling them that I wouldn't eat or drink unless they did and that I would then blame them for my suffering, It was easy to be generous when breakfast for the four of us, driver included, cost less than the equivalent of $4.

Around lunchtime, we were driving along a relatively flat area when I saw a small village restaurant set back about 200 yards from the main road along a small road that ran on top of a paddy dike. There were perhaps two dozen houses ranged along the road on either side of a small store and a typical restaurant, a concrete pad with four corner posts and a corrugated slanted tin roof. Drinks were kept in a plastic cooler and cooked food was prepared on a small brazier over coals. The furniture was the small plastic variety that Westerners would think of as childrens' furniture but that is common throughout SEA.

In a country where private cars are rare and at a time when foreigners were even more so, the arrival of a large Toyota Cressida could not have attracted more attention if we had arrived on pink elephants.

People had already started piling out of their house to see a car when the door opened and a large pink foreigner got out and a veritable melee ensued. Women picked up their infants to show them and small children scooted behind their parents' legs. My translator couple explained that we had stopped for lunch and we went up into the restaurant and sat down. The four of us talked quietly and the rest of the crowd was absolutely still with totally innocent curiousity. Remember, this was soon after the country has opened for tourism, long before the major influx of Westerners, we were in a private car and well off the beaten path. After just a few minuted, the crowd seemed to come to the consensus that, if they couldn't understand us, we couldn't see them and they drew their chairs up to our table and, in no time we were at the center of a quiet, attentive crowd.

Eventually someone asked my translators a question for me, which I answered. Then for the next 20 minutes I answered questions through the couple.

“where was I from” the United States

why had I come to Vietnam. I had been here during the American War

where was I? I named the small town.

What did I think of Vietnam? It was very beautiful and the people were very friendly and courteous.

Then came many questions about my life and my family. I passed around pictures of my family and bought cigarettes for the crowd.

Finally we got up to leave and a veritable receiving line formed to say goodbye and shake hands. As we got close to the car, a little man who had rushed away down the street shortly before, pushed forward through the crowd and said something to my companions. He was dressed in the classic style one pictures when they think of an asian farmer, pants cut off above the knees, a simple loose shirt, flip-flops on muddy feet and a cone-shaped straw hat.

The young man said, 'He said he was in Bien Hoa City where you were and at the same time, Sir.'

I smiled. The farmer spoke again. “He said he was shot by a helicopter.' and the farmer, with a smile, pulled up his pants leg to show the shiny patch the size of a quarter where a high velocity bullet had punched through the meat of his thigh. There was undoubtedly a matching patch on the dorsal surface where it had exited.

In 1968, during the Tet offensive, a large force, perhaps one thousand VC, had rushed across a wide open field on the perimeter of the huge Bien Hoa Air Base. Another group had been supposed to rush the main gate and take the helicopter flight line but this group never appeared, perhaps it had been vaporized by B52 strikes. In any case, enough helicopters got off to repel the attacking VC with massive casualties. This was at the beginning of the offensive and the bodies lay out in the sun for four days until the situation stabilized and the bodies could be gathered up. During those four days the badly wounded died and the rest crawled back into the surrounding fields.

So, thirty years later, I stood in the blazing mid-day sun in a small village in the middle of Vietnam looking down at this little man who, if he hadn't been shot, would have seen it as his duty, if not privilege, to shoot me. I had no idea what to do or say. He held out a small composition book and talked to my companions.

“He wants you to write down your name and your family name and the city where you live.”

I ducked into the rear seat, came out with my travel journal and, through my companions, asked him to do the same.

So there we were, side by side, leaning on the hood of a Toyota, , each writing a message neither one of us would be able to read . We returned each other's books, looked at mutually unintelligible scribbles and we both smiled, We shook hands again, I gave one final wave to the crowd, which they returned and we four travelers got in the car.

By the time our car had reached the main road, the crowd around the restaurant had dispersed, I don't know if that little farmer ever thinks about that meeting and, if he does, I can't imagine what he made out of it. There might be a message somewhere in there but I sure as hell don't know what it is.


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) asia bien hoa cao dai montagnard travel viet nam war https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2010/9/meeting-a-man-who-wanted-to-kill-me Thu, 09 Sep 2010 21:35:00 GMT
The color of small money https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2010/9/the-color-of-small-money The hill people of South East Asia– the montagnards – have little interest to national borders and many of them fought for South Vietnam and the US. Many were , in fact, quite happy to be armed and supplied to fight against the Kinh (Viet) people who make up nearly 90% of the whole population. After the war, the victorious Viet made life uncomfortable for many montagnards, obliterating their traditional villages and moving to people to concrete camps in less desirable areas where their income is virtually nothing and pitiful even when compared to the small income of the working class Vietnamese in 1998.

I, of course, knew little of the details until my second trip to Vietnam in March, 1998, just after the country opened for tourism. The first 2 weeks I toured the southern half of the country, seeing where I had been stationed, visiting the nominal 'tourist' sites and then, at the end of the second week, I ended up in Hanoi. Hanoi is a charming city with the famous central lake and a very interesting old section. The main part of the city is very continental with wide sidewalks with lots of trees and, even then, a good number of cafes to serve tourist. I had been to see the quite grand Mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh's body, amazingly well-preserved by Russian embalmers, was displayed. (Supposedly every year, the body is shipped back to Moscow for a refurbishing.)

The 4 abreast lines are quite long and tourists must go to a special booth to buy a ticket while all Vietnamese are admitted free. Behavior in the lines is quite strict, no loud talking, no crouching, no chewing gum, all enforced by the guards that line the route. It was unclear where the line actually started and, when I approached a guard, holding my ticket, he ushered me over to near the head of the line where the crowd made room for this unusual visitor. In 98, caucasians were an unsual sight in HCM city and to the people in line, many of whom were from the country, a foreigner was really a target for their interest.

After seeing "Uncle Há lying looking quite good, especially considering he was dead, I went for a long walk. Most shops in Hanoi are of the old style, their entire front is a door which is rolled up at the start of the day and the goods moved onto the wide sidewalk. It was immensely enjoyable to walk along the street of shops looking at the goods for sale, trying to guess what the unknown foods in indecipherable – to me – packages. It was in this neighborhood that I first encountered a montagnard.

The montagnards are quite small, much smaller even than the average viet and when I saw this tiny woman holding a sleepy toddler, mutely begging from passersby, it was her incredible small stature that I noticed first. Even with her worn face, she looked too small even to have reached puberty let alone actually borne  a child. She was dressed in traditional clothing, quite ragged, and with the kind of head wrap that would have identified her tribe if I had been so educated.

She didn't approach people but stayed still on the outer edge of the wide sidewalk, the toddler heavily asleep and held by one arm and her other arm out with her hand cupped.

Before coming abreast of her, I had stopped at a storefront for a drink; Hanoi even in March is warm, especially for me coming from a frigid US East coast. The shopkeper bustled over, pulling a plastic chair for me to sit. As I st the montagnard woman moved down the sidewalk, not approaching me but taking up a position on the very edge of the wide sidewalk closest to me, not attempting to make eye contact, but clearly waiting on me to stand. Seeing her approach, the storekeeper took after her with a loud spray of words, as small as she was, still towering over the montangard women who retreated ten steps down the sidewalk and resumed her stance.

For all the obvious reasons, I am not comfortable giving money to beggars and I particularly didn't want to hand anyone a bill which, even from a distance could be identified by all who watched. And here is why the color of Vietnamese money is important.

The Vietnamese have no usable coins; coins are expensive to mint and manage whereas paper is not.  At that time bills ranged in worth from the equivalen of one quarter of a cent, the smallest 'small money' to the equivalent of about $2.50 dollars. Clearly changing money means one walks away with a bundle of notes.  To make distinguishing bills easier  two systems are relied upon.

The larger denomination notes are approximately the size of US currency and the separate denominations are indicated both by number and by color. The small money is actually much smaller in dimension and also uses the color and denomination markings to separate the worth. While sitting there drinking my orange drink, I picked through the bale of money in my neck wallet, took a green bill from my pocket and folded it in a small compact little square which I cupped in my hand. As I stood up to leave and walked down the sidewalk, I motioned to the Montagnard woman to come over and I dropped the little rectangle in her hand.

She made the traditional wai gesture of respect and thanks and then turned and scurried away. (The wai is the Thai greeting and show of respect, indicated by pressing ones palms together near your chest and bowing. (The height of the wai and the depth of the bow indicates the amount of respect).  I was walking in the same direction as she and I could see her head tilted, almost certainly unfolding the money. She stopped, stood still and turned around to face me. I had stopped also, when she did, not wanting to come up on her.

She had seen that what she had almost certainly expected a green bill small money worth 1000 dhong, or about 5 cents US was actually a green 50,000 dhong note, worth about $2.50 US – perhaps food for a week for montagnard.family. Seeing me just a few steps away, she hurried back towards me, stopped and made wai again, higher hands, bowing deeper, holding for what seemed like forever and then she disappeared up an alley.

To this day, twelve years later, I haven't sorted out how I feel about that incident. The only coherent thought I do have is that I am sad, maybe ashamed, that what was so little, nothing, for me should be so much for someone.


The pictures below are of a Hmong man in the fog above SaPa and of Montagnard children playing near a school in a 'resettlement' village.


Hmong man in fog


little boy on porch of school

smilking little boy


llorton@gmail.com (Lew Lorton Photography) asia hanoi money montagnard photography travel viet nam https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2010/9/the-color-of-small-money Thu, 09 Sep 2010 21:08:00 GMT