Place and Time

written by: David Vestal

Besides limiting us, location may define us. I’m told I am a New York street photographer. Well, I was one, and may be one again. Here in Connecticut there are no New York streets: What to do? Not New York streets, unless I take a trip. In most places, light strikes and bounces off things, and is refracted, diffused, and otherwise trifled with by other things. When there’s light we can photograph almost anywhere. Time also matters. I took New York street pictures when I was there. That was some time ago. Why not photo- graph where I am now? Read more »

Being Different

"Do as you please" should be the only rule
written by: David Vestal

In today’s photo art market, “being different” is the path of conformity. Every photographic artist is more or less required by dealers, curators, and collectors to “be different.” Different from what? No one knows. A few years ago someone in a college photo art department wrote and illustrated a book titled Breaking the Rules. I’m sure it was meant sincerely, but its title should have been Following Fashion, because that’s what it did and recommended. That’s what many photographic art authorities do and recommend. They try very hard to be different. Giving elaborate titles to ambiguous works is a popular Read more »

Twenty Quotations about Art

Thinkers' works suggest what art is, and what makes it good
written by: David Vestal

No one knows what art is. Its most serious practitioners spell it with a small a, not a big A. They leave the capitalizing to Auctioneers and other Authorities who sell Art. Small-a artists make art, the real stuff, which is not always the same as Art. “Anything can be art, but very little is.” I wish I knew who said that. Is photog- raphy art? Some of it is. Most isn’t. And this goes for all media. How can we tell if it’s art in any given case? Mostly through experience. Art isn’t a dilemma, it’s a “multilemma.” What’s Read more »


written by: David Vestal

The word “masterpiece” comes from the medieval craft guild. You’d spend a few years as an apprentice, sweeping the floor and doing the dirty work, then you’d rise to be a journeyman working under a master, and after a few more years, when you’d learned all that your master could teach you, you would produce a special piece of work to show that you were a master craftsman in your own right. A cooper, for instance, would make a really excellent keg or barrel, and the senior craftsmen of the guild would consider it critically. If they liked what they Read more »


Sometimes instinct is better than thought
written by: David Vestal

“intuition n. [ML. intuitio, fr. L. intueri to look on, fr. in- in, on + tueri. See tuition.] The power of knowing, or the knowledge obtained, without recourse to inference or reasoning; innate or instinctive knowledge; familiarly, a quick or ready apprehension… .” We use intuition when photographing, when selecting and printing photos, and in everyday unconscious decisions of many kinds. I intuit (that’s the verb) that we don’t have to figure things out that are truly instinctive, hard-wired in our brains, or things we have learned from much experience. In such cases, too much thinking may lead to self- Read more »


Intention and Memory

written by: David Vestal

By the time I’ve written a column and sent it off, I usually have forgotten not only what it was about it, but even that I wrote it. PT Editor Scott Lewis can confirm that I once sent him two columns, one after the other, with the same title and on the same theme. He was surprised when the second one arrived, and I was surprised when he told me. And of course I don’t remember what the title and theme were, nor which version was published. I do recall that I wrote essentially the same thing twice, in different Read more »

Marks on Paper

Is creating images an important activity?
written by: David Vestal

Back when I was part painter, part photographer, and not yet writing, I had a disturbing thought: “Is making marks on paper anything for a grownup to do?” Marks on paper seemed so trivial, so futile, so egotistical. What vanity! But then, what human activities aren’t trivial? What do we really need? It’s pretty simple: food, air, water, shelter, a tolerable climate, and each other. And we need to understand each other, and to like ourselves and others. Pain and pleasure show us what to do and not do, and they don’t always come straight to us. We’re a social Read more »

“Beautiful– Wish We Could Use It”

written by: David Vestal

That’s what advertising art directors said in the 1950s when they saw my pictures. Skilled at self-deception, I brought them personal photos— just what the ad market wants least and can hardly ever use. I suppose I was prompted by a subconscious determination to stay out of the photo business. My photos are personal. They’re about what I see and feel, and aren’t meant to get anyone to buy anything. One art director at a big ad agency picked up the prints I’d brought and slammed them edge-first on the table to straighten the stack. I still regret that I Read more »

Improper Nouns

No need to add "fine art" in front of "photographer"
written by: David Vestal

A noun is a word that stands for anything we talk or write about. Grammar is a system for using words, including nouns, clearly—teachers say, “correctly.” Folklore tells a story about “correctly.” A man knocks on the door of a house. A small boy opens the door: Man: “I’d like to speak to your father.” Boy: “He ain’t home.” Man: “That’s no way to talk. Where’s your grammar?” Boy: “She’s upstairs takin’ a lay-down.” A “proper” noun is the name of a particular person or thing. It begins with a capital letter. Your name and mine, and that of this Read more »

What’s this Self Doing in My Photos?

written by: David Vestal

The excellent photographer Tio Cabron takes me to task. He is a bright lad of 70 or 80 summers—like me, not exactly a spring chicken—and he makes persuasive points. I quote from his letter: “I feel it necessary to chime in while you’re waxing philosophic on the man or the product. I don’t think they can be separated. And that’s because: You know the old saw ‘No man is an island’? Bull! Every man (and every woman for that matter) IS an island and that’s where all this curiosity and lofty analysis springs from. Nobody knows [anything] about the person Read more »