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Rich Ruh

I agree completely, Brooks.

Dave Ciskowski

Just got done basically agreeing at length in a comment on your post yesterday about George Barr's work. So... yes!

Technical quality definitely makes a difference, but it's not the most important factor in a successful image. The best I can say is that a superior technology will put fewer barriers in your way. Better still to understand the strengths of whatever technology you have, and work to take advantage of it.

Scott Jones

Man, Brooks, this was beautifully written. Thank you so much for this piece.

John Acurso

Hi Brooks,

I actually think you two may agree on the third point, that using a piece of equipment will tell you if it works for you or not. He just front loads it with the fact that great tech specs don't mean great results in practice, which I think we could all agree with.

There were a few good points in the that article but like most of these sorts of things, they are biased towards the person's own way of working. I also think many points were far from developed in a coherent way.

Anyway, I think a great image is a great image and we see those from various cameras and technologies. Most of us don't end up suggesting that those would be better if he or she had only used a (fill in the blank). They exist, and are great, because of what WAS used not what might have been used.

Brooks Jensen

Jim Bullard wrote me this email — and I respond below:

Subject: RE: Your response to Mark Dubovoy

Sorry for sending this as an email. For some reason your blog won't allow me to comment.

In a) You say "losing site of the forest..." That should be "sight." One of those small details, but I'm sure you did that to catch those of us who are detail oriented. ;-)

Actually I agree with both you and Mr. Dubovoy, most emphatically with your paragraph regarding myth. I have argued that same view many times with photographer friends. Where I think Mr. Dubovoy (I don't know him either) is right about attending to detail is in the craft end of photography.

Prints more so than in the digital age, the photograph is two things, a window to the photographer's intent and an object in itself. Your premise addresses the first while Mr. Dubovoy addresses the latter. While Ansel's remark is correct, the same can be said of the reverse. A sharp idea presented without skill of execution is equally fuzzy and fails to communicate. While I'm sure that your use of "site" when you meant "sight" does not bother you in a blog post (or me either for that matter), had you been writing poetry or what you intended to be a literary work, I'm sure you would be bothered by that detail. When making art, details count.

The essence (for me) of being a photographer is in trying to balance the inspiration/insight/creative aspect with the craft aspect in order to make the clearest statement. There is danger in coming down too hard on either side of this debate, although having subscribed to LENSWORK for many years and bought some of your prints I think you do protest too much that detail isn't important to you. Your work shows otherwise. Despite your words, I believe you have a very balanced approach to the window vs object aspects of photography. I don't know enough of Mr. Dubovoy's work to venture such a judgement.

Jim Bullard

Site? What site? I can’t find it and you can’t prove that I didn’t correct it. ;-) Thanks for the heads up on that one.

I can’t argue with anything you state because I think you are right. I do care about detail — but to a point. I want my photographs to exhibit enough detail that they convey the message and I use every technical scrap of skill and knowledge I can to render that detail. On the other hand, I know that this does not guarantee an interesting image although it may ruin one if I fail the technological or mechanical challenge. Art is tricky in this because without an artifact, art is just thinking. Something has to make into molecules (even if those molecules are simply light diodes on some computer monitor on the opposite side of the planet) somewhere along the way or there isn’t any art. I guess, in retrospect, my reaction to Dubovoy’s comments were in his use of the term everything, followed by an advocacy that seemed to ignore feelings and emotions. The balanced truth is probably somewhere in the combination of these two myths where great passion and great craft meet in a crescendo.

Chris Raecker

Craft is not Art. However, craft is necessary in the making of an art object. To the extent that an object successfully reflects an Art vision, then craft has served its sole purpose related to Art.

Chuck Kimmerle

Another well-reasoned and well-written article, Brooks. Nicely done.

Jim Bullard

I agree on the use of the word "everything". Our local TV weather cast has a weather question every night and they often catch people by including "always" or "never" in the question. "Everything" is in that same category. It's not a black & white world and art is greyer than most of the world.


I thank you for this posting. I enjoy reading L-L, but I find Mr. Dubovoy's articles to be less about art and all about the technical aspects of pushing the optical resolution of the photographic process to the commercial limits; cost no object. Mr. Reichmann's articles, on the other hand, frequently use a variety of cameras from the iphone all the way up to MF.

I know that if I obsessed over such small details I would enjoy photography a whole lot less. As usual, it's all about balance, and Dubovoy's article was tipped all the way to one side.

Kenneth Tanaka

I largely agree with your nicely crafted rebuttal, Brooks.

Amateur photography has always harbored the notion that image "quality" is directly proportional to, and commensurate with, financial or time investment. Ah, if it were only true we'd see a "Flickr" stuffed with Meyerowitz, Abbott, Cartier-Bresson, Franks, Haas, Atget, Levitt, et.al. But alas 'tis not so easy.

The real details not to be overlooked are talent and vision.

Brooks Jensen

You bring up a very interesting point that I've observed myself — and still wonder about. I'll invent a term for this comment so I can express myself: enlargement degradation, that is, what happens to degrade an image as we make larger and larger prints. With film, I always found the enlargement degradation to be graceful and gradual. At some point, the grain would simply get in the way and I'd lose the smoothness of gray textures. Sometimes flaws in focus would soften the image, gradually as I tried to enlarge too much. The enlargement degradation was incremental and proportional — graceful, like a whisper, the film saying, "Tut tut tut, you know better, Brooks."

Conversely, with digital images, the enlargement degradation is is cliff. I find I can make larger and larger prints that look good and smooth and focused until the next step suddenly just looks awful — pixelated, fuzzy, forced, blocky, blotchy, yuk. There's probably a term for this that folks are using, I'm just not aware of it. The point is — BAM! — what was a lovely image looks just terrible once I pass some threshold of something or other. It's as if something in the physics of printing just collapses and the entire image writhes in protest by shaking itself to bits and bytes. As long as I don't pass that threshold, I'm fine, but it is an impenetrable barrier beyond which there be dragons.

As I've increased the pixel count of my cameras, so has the print size I can make, so there is an obvious relationship. Regardless of camera, however, the cliff still exists, just at different enlargement factors. It is anything but a graceful enlargement degradation and very definitely a difference in which film is a clear advantage.

Does anyone else observe this besides me? Can anyone explain in lay terms I can understand?



THANK YOU, Brooks! As always, the voice of reason!


Mark Dubovoy's essay is just another brick in the wall (albeit a small one),  another  attempt to resuscitate color landscape's bankrupt photographic aesthetic. The aesthetic reached a high point with Eliot Porter's Intimate Landscapes and has since floundered by becoming: more and more presentational, less and less representational;  more and more clinical,  less and less intimate;  more and more indulgent,  less and less necessary.

Everything matters, but what may be surprising is how little is required. 

Gary Nylander

Well written response, Brooks, thanks very much.


Very sound Thesis Brooksie

Of course, writers have words to communicate in whatever genre they desire and photographers have images. As you say, it is all about visual communication; shooting a concept/theme as strongly as possible to direct the viewer with your message.

A lot students often wonder and make the remark: " my image is better than the one exhibited at the gallery", and yet they fail to realize the lack of communication or message in their image.

its your best yet Brooksie

Marco Maroccolo

Hi Brooks,
this discussion reminds me of what I've read in a good book by Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri (1943-1992) "Lezioni di fotografia" [Quodlibet Compagnia Extra, 2010] ("Photography lessons").

The English translation is mine:

"You see many things. The fascination of the image is also in finding a balance between what you see and what should not be seen. It should not be a photocopy of reality. The problem is always the same. There is also an important current photography of research that makes this extreme definition and precision, that they see everything, absolutely everything in a homogeneous way, all well balanced, all well-graded, his poetry and his line of work . I prefer this continuous polling of what you see and what should not be seen. Show how in reality there is always an area of mystery, an area that is unfathomable to me and determines the interest of the photographic image. I do not like to see all this as a synonym for depth of vision. I think it's a mechanism of surface structures and the depth must be sought in other values​​. Other values ​​that are then also the problem of giving space to things."


Exactly. I could not have said it better myself.

It is true that good work demands attention to detail, but the converse is far from true. Merely being fastidious is no guarantee of fine work.

All these people that he mentions (Adams, Sexton, et al) would be hopeless in any situation that demands quick, decisive, reflexive, instantaneous composition, the kind of work the Leica is best at. Why would anyone even bring up large-format technique on a Leica forum anyway?

I find Ansel-Adams worship deeply offensive and perverse. Anybody can make a good composition in 4.5 hours. When you can do it in the blink of an eye, then you're good!

I hate pretentious landscape photographers. Photography is about the fleeting moment.

I would love for one of these guys, with their tripods and slow composition, to confront a rugby match and come up with a near-perfect composition such as this:



The notion that the spontaneous or inadvertent has no part in great photography is a false one, one I find offensive, deceitful, mendacious, and repugnant.



Photography is not and cannot be 'art'; the attempt to imbue photography with the qualities of a painting or sculpture is simply mistaken, and leads to obsession with technique. I cannot express forcefully enough my opposition to this sort of thinking. The surfeit of 'landscape' photographic work, most of it utterly worthless, is a direct result of these misguided views.


Believe it or not, though, as much as I disagree with Mark Dubovoy article, he is right on one thing: testing materials under actual working conditions. I have found that the ISO rating of B&W films is rather too high for optimum results with 35mm film.

But back to howls of derisive laughter.

Mr Dubovoy seems to be a caricature of the 'environmental' photographer. He's 'passionate' about his work (so what?). He even calls his site "The Passionate Lens". Is he joking? Does he really think that people respond to this malarkey? Perhaps the bourgeois types he hangs around with are impressed with this. I certainly am not.

Everyone, it seems, is 'passionate' except me. I'm dedicated. I don't give a damn if he's passionate. His feelings don't enter into it. Is my dentist 'passionate' about his work? Is my neurosurgeon 'passionate' about his? I don't really care. What I care about is whether they are dedicated to doing the best job they can.

Rather than quote at length, I simply offer this link to his web site. Perhaps many of you too will find yourselves rolling on the floor laughing your asses off.




Nicholas Fulford

Inspiration without craft is fuzzy at best, and confusing at worst.

Craft without inspiration may appeal to the mind, but is about as artistically appealing as watching astroturf "grow".

First be passionately engaged, and open to moving in unfamiliar ways to unfamiliar places. Don't worry about the destination, but develop a keen sense for the extraordinary by listening and watching. (By all means plan to be in interesting places at interesting times, but do not be so focused on that, that the perfect bit of inspiration goes by unnoticed.

Second, look at work you love, to determine why it is powerful, moving or disturbing. Experience it first, then analyse how the artist conveyed what (s)he saw so well.

Third, learn your craft. Spend time trying new techniques, playing with your gear, and stretching yourself in unfamiliar ways. The gear can do a lot in the right hands, and the right hands are those of someone who is inspired and is able to communicate the viscerality of vision into a form that transforms the viewer. Part of craft is also learning the classical rules of composition, and setting them aside as necessary, (but know them you must.)

Fourth is an extension of third. See the print you want to make before you push the shutter. This is an exercise of creative imagination, the raison d'etre of being an artist.

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I read this post completely concerning the comparison of most recent and earlier technologies, it's amazing article.

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