Wednesday, October 22, 2014


What with my rich, full life of knitting scarves and looking out the window at the birds (Cooper's hawk in the fountain yesterday morning!), I've been a bit pressed for time.

So rather than writing an actual post, I think I will just continue this week with another recent response to a reader, this one remarking upon my photos and asking if I have any favorite photographers.

"Thanks so much! Just so you know, I had never owned a camera before four years ago when I started my blog. I bought a used Canon point and shoot from amazon and just started taking pictures...I still use the same camera and still know absolutely zero about the technical aspects of photography. I'm not bragging about it. I just haven't had the time or wherewithal to learn more. And I have not come close to exhausting the possibilities of the unassuming camera I own now.

I'm also far from an expert on photographers, though I do love to look at and ponder photographs. I like Garry Winogrand a lot. Saul Leiter, who apparently spent his entire career taking pictures within a two-block radius of his apt. in NY. Brassai, Henry Horenstein. Weegee. Lillian Bassman did some beautiful fashion photography. Edward Weston. I enjoyed the recent documentary on Vivian Maier and even more the documentary Bill Cunningham: New York.

People whose work and approach I can't stand are Cindy Sherman, Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Mapplethorpe. There's no real love in them and/or they glamorize degradation. Anyone who fetishizes people makes me crazy, who tries to wilfully portray people as vapid and ugly and grotesque and degraded and false on the one hand, or who sexually fetishizes bodies, or who poses people in fake ways to either make them look worse than they are or to make their suffering glamorous in some way, to prey on them, like Mary Ellen Marks and her series on the prostitutes in India.

Look at those rich beautiful colors on the walls and doors of the brothels! 

Look at that lustrous peacock green silk sari! Why that would look good on....ME!...

Then she purports to empathize with the plight of the prostitutes. If you're so empathetic, why don't YOU have sex with 26 men in one night? For seven rupees. Then there are the "nature" photographers who fetishize animals, who backlight and pose, say, elephants to sell sex or clothing or perfume. I'm against capital punishment on principle but I do feel such people should be shot.

I can't say how much my little amateur photo-taking has enriched my life. The camera is like a person or I should say the thing you're trying to photograph is like a person. Sometimes the leaf or flower or whatever is willing to yield itself up, and sometimes it isn't. If not, you have to move on. You never "capture" anything. The world gives itself to you and you just happen to be there to receive it. But to receive, you have to be willing to live in a lot of silence You have to be willing to stand still.

I wonder if things do not call to us, literally. I think it's one of the reasons I have always loved silence. I always have one ear out for the call from another world. You can't look at flowers and leaves and telephone wires and branches against the sky and fail to believe that trees, for example, have an inner life. Rocks have an inner life.

St. Paul observed that miracles are for unbelievers, not believers. I couldn't agree more. If you have eyes to see the staggering, inexhaustible beauty with which we're surrounded, you're not going to need to travel halfway around the world for a Virgin Mary sighting.



  1. I especially like the second to last photograph!

    Sage words on Mapplethorpe and the others.

    And yes to silence. I, who am often culpably talkative ...

  2. You struck as a lightning bolt when you zapped Mary Ellen Marks's lack of empathy. I swear, I can almost smell the scorched earth! I just love your Yankee pithiness.

  3. Wow, Saul Leiter is amazing! As a painter I've always been jealous of photography - to be able to walk around, be drawn to a little intersection of everything, and snap… and when it works it's so much lighter and purer than paint. But your photos are a huge gift: I always feel like I'm outside when I'm looking at this blog.

  4. Heather, I couldn't agree with you more about photographers who misuse their gifts to portray peoples' degradation and more. Diane Arbus is also in that category along with Mapplethorpe. I love your photos recently posted from the ranch, whose name escapes my unraveling brain. Love your reflections in Magnificat.


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