Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2006/08/02

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Subject: [Leica] Subway project featured in sponsored section of PDNonline
From: bd at (B. D. Colen)
Date: Wed Aug 2 06:45:50 2006

Hi, Richard - First, thanks for the kind words - far too kind. But as many
posts and exchanges here do, they got me thinking....
What makes photographers such as Smith, Richards, Nachtwey special is not
necessarily photographic skills; I'd argue that Richards's are average at
best, while Nachtwey's are sublime. (And actually I would leave Smith out of
this discussion as I really do believe that he was driven my genius and a
touch of insanity, and that doesn't fit with what I'm about to say. ;-) )
But rather than photographic skill, I think what distinguishes Richards and
Nachtwey in particular is a sense of outrage, and a life's commitment to use
photography to set right those things they see as wrong. Of course they both
have great eyes, and have both developed distinctive styles of shooting. But
beyond that, they are willing to sacrifice, or at least risk, virtually
everything else in their lives for their work - and that takes something
very special and rare; I know I sure don't have it, and I don't think many
people in any field do. (Never forget that Richards was beaten literally
half-to-death by Klansmen in Arkansas and  suffered permanent brain damage,
causing substantial loss of his short-term memory. And all one has to do is
watch War Photographer to realize what Nachtwey has sacrificed, to say
nothing of the astounding risks he takes while shooting.)

I learned long ago that while I feel compelled to photograph, and want to
produce photographs that will interest, challenge, provoke, and hopefully
move viewers, I am not prepared to give up certain comforts and a certain
level of security in my life for the work. So I've chosen a subject area
that doesn't require that sacrifice. (Note that the subway work is along the
two lines on which I commute. ;-) )

All of which is not to point out that I don't consider myself the equal of
folks like those you mention - not that I need to point out the fact that
I'm not ;-) - but rather to say that I think it's worth thinking about what
it is that makes them so special, and what separates their work from ours,
even from those of "us" with technical skills equal to theirs.

Now, all of that said, does that mean that theirs is the only worthwhile
documentary or PJ work? Not at all. Consider, for a close-to-LUG example,
the value of Ric's work documenting everyday life in a particular locality;
consider Tina's dedication to reminding us of the needs of countless people
around the world, and on and on and on. For that matter, consider the value
to one extended family of documenting the life of that family.

End of sermon, or brain dump....

On 8/2/06 4:48 AM, "Richard" <> wrote:

> May be, but I am serious. As you know, I am on a
> photojounalist/photodocumentor kick. I got a few of the books you
> recommended (both Eugenes are so damned good!) and in fact, I just picked
> up Natchway's Inferno and Richards' Stepping Through the Ashes. I grew up
> in NY when I first moved to this country and all my family is still in
> NYC/NJ area. Richards' Stepping is the best book I have seen because of his
> emphasis on the people. I wish I can do things like that. I muck around
> with 777 developer to get that tonal range (and yes it's great), UT2 inkset
> of various paper (and you gotta see UT2 ink on Museo Silver Rag, wow!), but
> it's like I am just whiling away taking pictures of *safe* subjects rather
> than images that really mean something. I don't know.
> Note to others: I am not saying B.D. is as good as Smith, Richards,
> Natchway, etc. I am not saying anything in that department :-) May be he is
> or may be his not.
> At 01:49 PM 8/1/2006, B. D. Colen wrote:
>> You are, as a number of our friends would tell you, far, far too kind.
>> On 8/1/06 3:54 PM, "Richard" <> wrote:
>>> Damn.... When I grow up, I want to take photographs like yours...
>>> At 04:33 AM 8/1/2006, you wrote:
>>>> Okay, it's sponsored - but what the hell - it's good exposure...And I 
>>>> was
>>>> interviewed by the writer and didn't have any prior 'approval' or 
>>>> editing
>>>> rights...;-)
>>>> ent_id=1002875985
> // richard (This email is for mailing lists. To reach me directly, please
> use richard at
> _______________________________________________
> Leica Users Group.
> See for more information

Replies: Reply from leica at (R. Clayton McKee) ([Leica] Subway project featured in sponsored section of PDNonline)
In reply to: Message from richard-lists at (Richard) ([Leica] Subway project featured in sponsored section of PDNonline)