The Woman is Perfected: Diana & Nikon

I don’t believe in the metaphysical world. That doesn’t mean, however, that really weird things don’t occur quite regularly in my life just to mock my foolish lack of faith. This book, that I’d read a number of years ago and which had greatly influenced my thinking about photography, was placed on my nightstand by me not long after the pandemic had given rise to the unprecedented isolation that characterized most of 2020.

I was, as maybe many of us were, wanting to revisit some of the things that had once mattered in shaping my world view, but that I’d moved past over time and maybe even forgotten. We had a lot of time to fill and I’m sure we each were reaching for anything that might help us get through a very tough moment in all of our lives.

But the book just sat there for well over a year. It didn’t reach for me and I likewise returned no favors.

Photographers have been known to greatly dislike books like this. Art critics, intellectuals, great writers, almost as a rule, not photographers themselves, weighing in on someone else’s craft is rarely taken well. But, for the most part, people like Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, John Szarkowski, and Janet Malcolm have been well represented among the many north stars in my own photographic journey.

The first I ever heard of Ms. Malcolm was one summer day when I opened my mailbox in the early 1990s to find a double issue of The New Yorker magazine. The cover art work stopped me cold. A baroque color illustration of a deceased woman readied for burial with a frame bearing some words that I soon realized was poetry so powerful it would change forever my perspective on poetry itself.

Inside the magazine was the reason for the double sized issue. An article, hands down the greatest magazine piece I’ve ever read, entitled The Silent Woman, written by Janet Malcolm, about the the tragic and painful life of the great 20th century American poet Sylvia Plath. As with the subject of so many New Yorker pieces that I loved back in those days when I kept up a subscription, I had absolutely no knowledge or interest in the topic of either poetry or Sylvia Plath prior to opening my mailbox that day.

This piece, which was in two parts, was actually Ms. Malcolm’s entire forthcoming book, printed exclusively for New Yorker readers in its entirety prior to publication. If I can write my way out of a paper bag today, I would argue it is because of my exposure to and complete absorption of this one Janet Malcolm article on the poet Sylvia Plath that summer.

So when, much later, I learned that Ms. Malcolm had written extensively on the subject of photography, I sought out whatever I could find. Unfortunately, I could only find the intriguing title of this book that still sits on my night stand, Diana & Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography.

It seemed like years before I could actually get my hands on a copy of the book. But when I did, I was immediately struck by how much this writer, who I’d connected with so profoundly on subjects that held no prior interest for me: poetry, someone else’s marriage troubles, the pitfalls of biography, etc. was now able to articulate my own inarticulate viewpoints on photography as if she were reading some part of my subconscious mind.

The Diana in the title did not refer to Princess Diana, I quickly ascertained. And that was just the beginning of my enlightenment and the enrichment of my perspectives on what had become an absolute obsession for me, the making and taking of photographic images.

We have a balcony now. And at some point in the middle of June it became absolutely perfect for sitting out on our balcony in the mid-afternoon when there is no direct sun bearing down on us. But it was also excellent for catching up on some long overdue reading there in the still quite bright California daylight. So, after over a year of looking down at this book on my nightstand, haunted with guilt every morning and night, I grabbed Janet Malcolm’s collected New Yorker pieces on the subject of photography pictured above and started to once again read through her great work.

Of course the writing and insights and opinions throughout Diana & Nikon had lost none of their relevance or impact or their lasting influence or ability to inspire me.

It took a couple of weeks of leisurely working through the writing to finish the book. I took my time and that was a great part of the pleasure. As I said, this would have been beginning in the middle of June. This year, 2021.

Diana & Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography is a first edition hardcover book that has been in my possession for a better part of two decades. I read it when I first got it, referred to it maybe once or twice over the years, and other than that didn’t touch it again until early last year when I placed it on my nightstand with the intention of reading it during the pandemic lockdown, something I failed to do at that time.

But I finally read through the book beginning in mid-June and finishing it before the end of the month.

I learned only a few weeks later that Janet Malcolm had died on June 16th 2021.

Okay, I still don’t believe in the metaphysical world. That doesn’t mean, however, that really weird things won’t continue to occur quite regularly in my life just to mock my foolish lack of faith.

Doctor My Eyes

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long

‘Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams

People go just where they will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it’s later than it seems

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it’s too late for me

~Jackson Browne

Women of Color Organize for Access and Accountability in Photojournalism – The New York Times

“Tara Pixley often felt isolated in the newsrooms where she worked as a photographer or photo editor. As a “black woman who was the child of immigrants, raised by a single mom, and also a first-generation college student,” she struggled for a decade to fit in. She was the only woman of color in the photo departments where she worked and was ignored or treated dismissively.”




The Democratic Forest: William Eggleston


“Eggleston was in New York during the last week in October for the opening of a new exhibition of his work at the Zwirner gallery that runs through December 17. All of the nearly 50 images in the show were taken in the ’80s as part of a mammoth series called The Democratic Forest, which in its entirety includes some 12,000 images. But in the Zwirner show, for the first time, many of the images have been reproduced on a giant scale, some of them five feet across. Staring at them on opening night (and it is a measure of how Eggleston is idolized, particularly by the young, that hundreds of people braved a truly filthy rain to attend the opening), I thought, when you make a picture that big, there is no room for error, no place for a photographer to hide. And in this case, no need. You could put these pictures on a billboard, and they would lose none of their integrity.”

Source: William Eggleston: The Father of Modern Color Photography – The Daily Beast

35mm f1.2 Voigtlander Nokton ASPH: My Favorite 35


I once owned the much anticipated and very expensive Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE. That lens drove me crazy. I can’t imagine the genius and time and planning and expense that goes into making such a complicated and high-end piece of kit as that, or any Leica lens, so I don’t really like to bash things simply because they just didn’t work for me. But that lens didn’t work for me and I’ll leave it at that. I loved the 35mm 2.5 Summarit. Nice lens that made really classic looking images. I loved the 35 ‘Cron. I don’t think that things can get much better than any Leica Summicron lens. Period.

But like so many others, I covet fast lenses. So back a few years ago when I had the money to experiment I bought a Voigtlander 35 1.2 ASPH Nokton. I have to say, if that lens had been dressed up in a Leica barrel and had a red dot on it and I’d paid what I paid for the 35 ‘Lux FLE… I would have been happy with that purchase. To me, this is the 35 ‘Lux style lens I was after from the start. But unlike the Leica, I can handle it. It never fails me. It has some distortion and I’m working with a profile in Lightroom now to try to address that issue but… it’s okay. I’m okay with this lens. I’m okay with the color, the contrast, the sharpness, the wonderful 50 ‘Lux-like bokeh. Everything.

Anyway. Here’s a quick shot I grabbed the other day and below please find a detail from it to show a little of why I like this lens so much.


Previously Unseen Arbus – The New York Times

“Diane Arbus: In the Beginning” shows, among other things, that Arbus settled early on many of her major themes.

“Street photography was the advanced mode of the day, and practitioners like Lee Friedlander, William Klein, Helen Levitt and Garry Winogrand all claimed New York City as their turf. So did Lisette Model, a Viennese émigré with whom Arbus studied briefly. Ms. Model didn’t give her student much formal advice. Instead, she urged her to ease away from the stance of objectivity then considered requisite for serious photography and instead establish emotional relationships with her subjects, and see where that would take her. For Arbus, the advice was heaven-sent. It gave her permission to be the artist she was ready to be.”

“Diane Arbus: In the Beginning” runs through Nov. 27 at the Met Breuer, 945 Madison Avenue, at 75th Street; 212-731-1675;

Source: Previously Unseen Arbus, Unearthed Years After Her Death – The New York Times

Rodeo Clown


That’s Rodeo (ro-DAY-oh) as in Beverly Hills. 😉

Weekend Forecast: More May Gray in L.A.

More old Nikon street photography. Not as old as most of the stuff from last week. These were from the Nikon DSLR days. D70, D2Hs, my favorite, the almost disposable (I had two) D80, the mighty D3, and the D700. Oh, and in there somewhere was a D200. 😉

Sunday Color Sundae

Son of Even More Ancient Street Shots of Los Angeles

Yes it just keeps on going. I THINK all or most of these were taken, as were the rest in this week’s blast from the past, with the Nikon Coolpix 950. Trusty little devil. Between 2000 and 2004. Which is mighty trusty indeed for a first generation digital camera. Solid.

City of Night

I grew up in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. Aliquippa was the home of a giant steel mill; at one time it was the largest in the world. The entire monstrosity was near 11 miles long and employed close to 15k workers.

The town was like something out of a rust-belt boom-town dream. Or was it a nightmare? Aliquippa was in the Guiness Book of World Records for having the most bars per square mile. A recent article in our local newspaper put it this way. “Aliquippa was a dirty little town of 30,000 with more bars, bordellos and gambling rooms than most would care to admit. In 1918, a state Supreme Court justice offered the following assessment of Aliquippa:

It is said that the region is largely peopled by uneducated foreigners, who invariably carry concealed deadly weapons; that murders are common; and that when a quarrel ensues, the question as to who shall be the murdered and who is murdered is, largely, if not wholly, determined by the ability to draw such a weapon quickly.”

When I moved to Los Angeles I understood that this place certainly had its share of dangerous areas and situations. It was the 1980s and there was a crack epidemic and gang violence was a scourge in LA. So I resolved immediately to stay on the Westside and far from the bad areas of town. And I held onto that resolve for the first ten or so years that I lived here. But, you know, being a person from the place where I come from, the street has its attractions to me and after playing it safe for so long I longed for something that seemed more like home. Sounds weird to me now even to type that.

So I become somewhat familiar with some of the more interesting parts of LA. And at night. So when digital cameras finally became available with their convenience and the ability to experiment, check your results in real-time, and move quickly on, I had the greatest idea. Go out and shoot the bad parts of town with my digital camera. lol.

Well, ISO capabilities back then weren’t at all like what we have today on our digital cameras. And I didn’t actually, it turns out, have a death wish. 😉 So this project wasn’t something I devoted many evenings to. But it was an interesting time in LA. I think the LAPD had street crime on its heels at that moment. Or was it the exact opposite? I remember both periods quickly followed each other. Different police chiefs and different approaches. Anyway.

I had some tricks. I would go out on really REALLY cold nights. Nights that cold are really uncommon in LA so when the chill hits here, the streets can be very deserted. Anyway. Hope these images capture the imagination that I was gripped with when I took them. I would be the first to admit there’s probably not a single really strong image in the whole bunch. But they do capture something of the atmosphere of the city back then. The darkness and strangeness I was after more than anything else.

Faces of Ancient Street Shots of Los Angeles

More from the Nikon Coolpix 950. Probably from around 2000 to 2004. I’m like Vivian Maier Lite. Less calories. Less filling. Etc. Please enjoy responsibly.

More, Even Better, Ancient Street Shots of Los Angeles

Again, these images were taken with one of the first great digital cameras, the Nikon Coolpix 950. Probably from around 2000 to 2004. I had so much fun with this camera that twisted the part with the viewfinder from the side with the lens. Twisty little sucker. Like having a viewfinder camera and I don’t know why I remember it being ‘live view.’ Maybe I’m misremembering. Anyway. Yet even more images to come tomorrow.

My Ancient Street Shots of Los Angeles

All of these images predate even my first DSLR, the Nikon D70. These were, believe it or not, taken with one of the first great digital cameras, the Nikon Coolpix 950. Probably from around 2000 to 2004. Yes, I’ve been doing this a long time. More to come.

My Paparazzi

mypapi_0001Who are all these people? lol. Looks like… hmm. Maybe, maybe not. Who’s to say? A bunch from the Nikon days.