Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2001/05/23

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Subject: [Leica] About responses to PAW
From: Donna-Lee Phillips <>
Date: Wed, 23 May 2001 07:53:25 -0700
References: <>


I do look at the PAWs and all the pages LUGgers post. Unfortunately, my
pre-accident career was as not only a practicing photographer, but a
fairly widely published critic. I haven't written any theory or
criticism for 17 years, but the habit of taking a great deal of time and
care in responding to even a single image dies hard. I had two rules
when writing or teaching:

First was to write something which would be educational whether or not a
person actually went to see the exhibit in question or bought the
book... to offer something useful to the photographer and the viewer in
terms of how I saw the work (and in my writing my personal perspective
was always clearly established, and the fact that mine was only one of a
number of possible opinions never omitted.) I like to think that my
criticism holds up so that someone reading it now might find it
useful--entertaining and enlightening by the classical canon. Since I
find reading anything difficult now, I can't say for sure.

Second was a rule I also applied without fail, and in my teaching as
well. I NEVER looked at a photograph and critiqued it in terms of how I
would have made the image. I already know how I see the world, or knew
how I was trying to discover seeing. There are, in my world, no right or
wrong ways to make images. The rules of composition etc are like the
rules for writing a proper letter or resume--useless. One size doesn't
fit all, and never has. Not only would I do everything possible to try
to NOT critique a photograph by reworking it so that it looked as it
would if I had taken it, I also generally avoided like poison the
'rules' of good photography. Following the rules of good composition
results in photographs which look like photographs we have already seen.
What is the point?

Far more important was to discover what the photographer intended to
show or to discover, and by that yardstick to measure how well s/he had
succeeded in communicating that intention to me, the viewer. I would
much rather enjoy a poorly composed, badly exposed, but passionately
experienced photograph than sterile perfection.

Since it is not an easy thing for me to say a few words which MEAN
anything, I generally refrain from offering a token which doesn't say
much, even when I am very moved or impressed with those photographs I
see posted.

I can, however, immediately identify those images I find habitual,
predictable, or banal. It would be very easy to say that, but what would
be the point?? Because it is always easier to say something negative
than to do the real work involved in expressing an authentic, complex,
positive response, I generally don't say much. I do enjoy many of the

For me, so far, LUG has been a reintroduction to a world I was ejected
from quite violently and I thought permanently nearly two decades ago.
It is refreshing, although not always worth reading, to discover that
most of what passes for 'conversation' among photographers still focuses
on equipment and technique rather than seeing. I supposed I'd be
disappointed if the group was intent on the philosophical and (yes)
ideological thinking underlying the production of all imagery, or on the
implications of its use, which is what interest me. Those people who do
spend much time on the issues which really matter to me in photography
seem to leave the group... so I lurk to look at the photographs.

When, and if, I am sufficiently recovered so that I can begin scribbling
meaningful critical responses to the PAWs and other images I enjoy here,
I will probably hobble elsewhere to do so. A newsgroup like this is not
the place, it seems, for long and thoughtful responses to photographs.
When I am capable of writing anything, I can't usually put what I have
to say into a few concise words, at least not words which mean anything.

In the words of my editor and mentor (quoted from a source I have
forgotten) "Information is not meaning". To everyone whose photographs I
have enjoyed but not written anything about, I hope a simple "thank you"
will say what I mean. "Thank you" isn't a lot of information, but I
believe it does contain my meaning.