A Letter to AD Coleman, Critic

December 04, 2012  •  4 Comments

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?



Geoffrey Forrest(non-registered)
I would like Clayton Bowman and Lew Lorton to contact me by email. I would like to know where he got the information he published here. Was it in any way directly or indirectly from me?
I have to say I agree completely with the facts he states but wonder how and where it came from.
I am currently in contact with ADC who is still ranting on about things that happened over 25 years ago, but I think the situation and my opinions are to be considered PRIVATE and between me and the two friends of his that I have cc in our emails. NOT for publication on a blog site which I have nothing to do with our disagreements.
Lew Lorton Photography
Thanks you, John, I like it also.

Mr. Bowman, after following Coleman's writing online for the last year and a half, I have realized how wrong my initial impression one and have changed this blog post to reflect my enlightened stance.

John Petro(non-registered)
I guess I must be a "modern, post-structural" photographer because I like the picture you put at the head of this entry and it is the sort that I would consider taking. And when I look at it, it does make me think. I like it a lot.
Clayton Bowman(non-registered)
You are so wrong about Allan Coleman. If you faun all over him he is almost sweet. You are a fan. If you have any conflict with him, you are toast... "The Collman Payback", Go to his nearbycafe, site. Try reaching him on any of his sites. The mails don't get through.

They are all self-serving promotions for a person who is seldom invited to return after the organizers spend any time with him. He may be important for their portfolio reviews and panels, but he is not really a likable person.

He is not very intelligent, he is an intellectual... The difference... Intelligence is the ability to think in options and choices. Intellectual is the usage of specific methodology and terminology.

And, look for the name Jeffrey or Geoffrey Forrest or Forest and see an example of this. Why would he write about this subject in a newspaper with nothing to do with photography and against someone and use their name and city...He also mentions Forest in an other article he has up on his site about Cologne, Germany, saying Forest is more well known in Cologne than.."in his native land", along with another guy, Philip Pocock.

I have also been told that Mr. Forrest never said what this article proposes but, basically the opposite and Mr. Colman "Twisted the truth and "lost his notes".

All of his girlfriends over the past 25 years are photographers and he is more currupt than you would imagine. He does little or nothing for others and tells them that, up front... Then does less. You can pay him and the 2-3 sites he is behind do not respond and nobody really gets involved for very long.
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