James Thurber's Walter Mitty Complex & Me

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Although not a question, recent interesting posts have dictated this response. Dan's post regarding what other photographer's works are hanging on our walls & Grey Wolf's post regarding Paul's web site amongst others has been turning over in my mind for several days, fermenting.

It is quite obvious that there are very numerous photographers out there, all quite good & noteworthy, and I wish I could be like-------. A lot of competition just in numbers alone, and yet, we each struggle along on our chosen path in photography. To what end???? It makes me wonder if "my voice" will ever arise above the surface. I do not believe I have the time nor the inclination to create a web site, I'm busy just doing normal work of shooting & printing. Like Atget.

Now Atget was a photographer in my opinion. I was given a small book on Atget for Xmas which I read in a few hours between bites of fruitcake. He did his "thing", photographing "history" of Old Paris not carring about imperfections in his negatives or prints. He certainly did not creat a web site, nor did he run to the nearest AD guy schlepping his portfolio. He was a Jerry Rubin guy, just "Do It". If it hadn't been for Bernice Abbott, perhaps his glass plates would still be somewhere hidden in the basement of some old building in Paris.

I'm of French ancestory, first generation American, degreed & having taught History, and my grandfather's name was Eugene, like Atget. So I'm thinking, Walter Mitty he I come!

Now Walter is another interesting guy, whether he thought of himself as a Cop arresting a bad guy, or a flying ace turning his Spitfire into action or a Mario driving a heavy Chevy # 3 into a banking Daytona curve. I have to believe in my Walter Mitty, the Photographer, that in one day, perhaps all the work I am doing will come to the forefront and find a place on someone's walls or in the archives of some instituion. Maybe!

Are there any other Walter Mitty's out there??????

I hope each and every one of you have a productive year--Bonne Annee, mes Amies--From Vail, Colorado--Raymond

-- Raymond A. Bleesz (bleesz@vail.net), January 03, 2002


raymond - while i love atget, you are correct that without ms abbot's efforts, all of atget's work could have easily been for nothing. in my opinion, if you wish for your work to have meaning and value, you must aim it somewhere. decide what it is that you can offer, and work very hard on creating it AND finding the appropriate home for it. when i was much younger, i LOVED making photographs, and spent incredible amounts of time (and money) pursuing it. but i went through two separate periods in my life where i put down my cameras for over a year at a time because i just couldnt figure out what i thought i was doing/accomplishing - people would look at my work and say, "that's nice" and that's about all - i was clever, i was technically good, i understood how to compose a balanced image, what was the problem? part of it was that i shot everything - nudes, sunsets, still lifes, kitties, landscapes, street people, etc - no focus or direction. it took the harsh criticism of one of my gallery directors to get me moving in a specific direction. i worked at creating "fine art" for several years after that, and managed to get a few things published, a few one-man exhibitions, a few things in the permanent collections of some art museums, etc., but i knew in my heart that while i was pretty good at that, i was not an "artist". i could tell by the lack of interest i had in other photographers "art" work - it all seemed so contrived, as did my own.

however, i got lucky back around 1980 when i was hired to photograph a large number of historic bridges in oregon. at first i just went out and shot the bridges, but that soon changed - i started understanding what i was shooting in terms of the underlying engineering and architecture, and the way it blended into its setting, and then i started recognizing how hard it was to do this job properly. so, i started studying the way other professionals did this sort of thing, which led me to a very deep study of the earliest topographical photographers such as baldus, frith, bonfils, watkins, collard, etc. oh my god, what a revelation! i finally started learning how to photograph things that meant something to me, and i still study the past masters religiously - some of those folks were completely amazing, especuially when you consider what they had to go through to make a single image. i was lucky enough to go out on jobs with jet lowe, the photographer for NPS HAER, and we talked for hours about the history of what we were doing, and the way the early guys patterned their work after even earlier topographic artists like david roberts, and how they acheived certain effects in their work using different techniques. i had finally found my calling, and identified an avenue by which to pursue it. i do HABS/HAER work for a living, and everything i do goes to the collections of the library of congress. yes, i am one of a fortunate few who manage to do what they love for a living, but even if i didnt get paid for this work, i would keep right on doing it until i went bankrupt, and i would give everything i did to my state historical society for their acrchives. years ago, lots of people documented city views and street scenes and new major buildings using archival processes, but nowadays, almost nobody does that at all - it is almost an empty field to work in - newspapers doucment plenty of stuff, but never in depth,nor for long- term archiving, and most contemporary photograhers only work in color which has very little archival value to museums. if you admire atget, follow in his footsteps and record the world around you - BUT at the same time, find a place for your work - contact your state museum or historical society and ask them if they would be interested in you donating some architectural documentation to their collections. if they are, ask them to provide you with a list of things they would like doucmented. i did this very thing about 20 years ago, and they gave me a list of things that i am still working on today... good luck.

-- jnorman (jnorman34@attbi.com), January 03, 2002.

Monsieur J Norman-- I'm glad I got a Walter Mitty response from you--your observations, comments, insights are right on track & positive. I hoped the Walter Mitty posting would elicit responses such as yours as I enjoy being a Gadfly on occasion. I think it is health for this forum to occassionally move away from technical questions & delve into "philosophy".

Perhaps my musings were taken too seriously however. I too have had a specific "voice" in my photography, an area or two of major study, contemplation & and bodies of work. Likewise, I have had exhibitions, publications, & images in the Colorado State Historical Society Archives. I too, have done this & that which has diverted me from my guided path. However, my calling has always been "straight photography" with "Histography" always at my fingertips. I view things as a Social Scientist--people, places, events & things--the Zeitgeist of my time & place, "humanitarian in style, reality in essence", and I continually redefine my subject matter. My graduate professor hammered a few things into my thick skull which had a profound effect, such as, History is based on "facts"--and what is a photograph in essence--a fact--hence Atget et al. I have zeroed in on Turner's "Vanishing Frontier" of my geographic region as well as documenting the ranching/mining/agricultural heritage of the Rocky Mountains. My finacial renumeration, however, doesn't seem to be as good as yours. On another venue, I have been doing a long term project on my father's petite village in the Vosge Mts along the route du vin in France & have had the honor of having Monsieur Jean Claude Lemangy of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris critique my portfolio--a humbling experience at the Arles Recontres Photographie.

I believe we do what we can, and do it as well as we can. Achieving "fame" is not one of my goals, however, achieving "contentment" in my work is. And, honestly, I still deal with Angst.

In your posting, you mention "jet lowe"--Did you mean Jeff Lowe, the Mountaineer?? and please clarify your abbreviations (nps--National Park Service, etc) and thank you for sharing your life experiences with us.

respectfully, Raymond

-- Raymond A. Bleesz (Bleesz@vail.net), January 03, 2002.

indeed, fame is not the goal (thank god, or i'm a complete bust!). sounds like you have found some excellent venues for your work and interests. sadly, there seem to be far too many people who do excellent work, but dont know what to do with it, and conversely, far too many people who do mediocre work, but manage to promote and sell it with outrageous success. as with atget, perhaps all we can do is hope that somehow, the best work will survive. i guess my fondest wish would be that 150 years from now, somebody might look at one of my photographs and be mesmerized by the way things used to look, the bridge or the building that used to be there - just the way i do when i look at the pictures carleton watkins took of oregon city and the columbia river when he came here in 1867.

NPS is the national park service, HABS is the historic american building survey under paul dolinski, and HAER is the historic american engineering record under eric delony. jet lowe is the staff photographer for HAER (see "industrial eye"), he works in 5x7, has a masters in engineering history, and is surely the most amazing contemporary photographer i know of...(he's the guy who gets to photograph stuff like the renovation of the statue of liberty, and document the brooklyn bridge for the library of congress - what a life!) i am also a fan of david plowden. my primary employers are government agencies, like DOTs, forestry depts, state parks depts, etc., who must abide by federal regulatiosn when they do projects that affect historic resources - the primary method of mitigating these effects is archival recordation of the resource to HABS/HAER standards. best of luck to you.

-- jnorman (jnorman34@attbi.com), January 03, 2002.

The other day when I fired off the Betax I swear it went "t-pockta t- pockata t-pockata".

-- Sean (coalandice@yahoo.com), January 03, 2002.

Folks, I realize that it is a lot of fun to run off on the keyboard with a 'stream of consciousness' with no caps, no punctuation, and no paragraphs. Surely you can do better so that us elderly types can figure out what you are trying to say.

Frankly, I am past trying to decipher that sort of stuff and when I see it, I go right by it. Too bad. I assume there are useful thoughts in there. Why disguise them?.

-- Richard C. Trochlil (trochlilbb@neumedia.net), January 04, 2002.

Hi Raymond -

I am also one of the folks that does HABS/ HAER Recordations. If you are interested in archival documention, you might also look into your local public library. Often times in the library's "local history room" there is a photographic collection. Reference librarians love it when people take an interest in their image collections, and want to help them grow.

When I am not doing HABS/HAER projects I try to record the built environment for some local libraries. While they can not pay for much more than film and paper, I know it has really made a difference in their collection and in the visual record for people to study and learn from.

Good luck John

ps. Your State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) can send you a copy of the Standards for HABS / HAER photodocumentation and for the detailed or "outline" reports they accompany.

-- john nanian (jak@gis.net), January 04, 2002.

s'funny... I've got a kodak everset that makes that very sound... tuh-pocketah, tuh-pocketah, tuh-pocketah...

have to send it in I reckon....

no mitty-esque cravings for fame here... more like quixotic wanderings...

my hallway walls are lined with empty, junk 5x7 CFH's... so in a way Raymond... you've arrived. rest easy now, won't you?

-- tribby (linhof6@hotmail.com), January 08, 2002.

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