Amy Berge - Film Soup 2
Philosophy & Reflections

Who Made You Gatekeeper? My Response to a Bigoted Email

May 10, 2021

Once in a while I have an email sent to me that rubs me up the wrong way. I sometimes ignore them and sometimes respond, but once in a blue moon I feel I need to vent publicly about the content. This is one of those occasions.

A couple of weeks ago I published an interview article titled, ‘A Conversation between Film Soupers Amy Berge and Jen Stamps‘. Holly, who compiled the interview, does a little bit of work for the website these days – she helps find people to contribute to the site, and has more recently been spending a lot of hours creating a book. In short, she’s part of the team, a very valuable part at that.

I have for a long time now been trying to expand the niche of 35mmc. More specifically, I have been trying to encourage content from a more diverse range of people with a more diverse set of interests within photography. I’m not very good at this alone as I tend to just gravitate to photography and cameras I’m interested in and/or people who seem to share my interests.

One of the reasons I wanted Holly to be part of the team is that she has a very different perspective on photography to me. She likes and engages with different types of photography, follows different people, and operates in different circles of the online film and alternative process photography community.

This is exactly how an article about film souping ended up on 35mmc.

Let me first be clear about my attitude toward film souping. I’ve written recently about my lack of interest in serendipity in my film photography. I take pleasure in pre-visualisation and the satisfaction when what I pre-visualise comes good in my end photos. The idea of disrupting that process by intentionally damaging the film’s emulsion to the point that I would have no idea if I am even going to get an image at the end boggles my mind. I don’t even like the results the massive majority of the time. In short, it’s not something I can currently see me ever doing.

But, does the fact that I am so against it as part of my photography mean that I don’t respect other people’s desire to take part in such activities? In short, no, not at all.

I totally respect whatever path photographers might take in their work. In fact, more than that. I almost get a vicarious joy reading about the pleasure that some people get out of partaking in photographic pursuits I don’t personally enjoy myself. I love the fact that other people enjoy different things to me, and I don’t need to enjoy those things or even understand them for me to feel that way.

I know how much pleasure photography gives me. So when I read about someone else enjoying it, I feel an empathy toward that enjoyment. I don’t need to like the photos – it’s a bonus for me personally if I do – but really who am I to judge the quality of someone else’s photography? Who am I to judge the output of someone else’s enjoyment?

This is what 35mmc is about for me. It’s a blog about personal experiences of photography. It’s not a celebration of what might most frequently be considered objectively “good” photography, instead it’s a celebration of people’s experiences of photography, and indeed the emotions it makes them feel.

So whilst I might not personally have any interest in film souping, or the results it achieves, I am interested to read about three people who do – for their own reasons – enjoy it for themselves. Which is exactly what Holly’s mini-interview with Jen and Amy was about.

Did I publish it expecting all 35mmc’s readers to enjoy the photography? No. I didn’t even expect everyone to take the time to read it. But I did – perhaps naively – publish it expecting readers to respect it for what it is. That being a reflection of the enjoyment that three photographers get out of partaking in a particular alternative photography process.

Which is why I was a little bit (a lot) annoyed off to receive this email:

Dear Mr. Gill;

I was attracted to your website by its idiosyncratic nature, but . . .

Do you vet any of the articles you allow on 35mmc? Some of the equipment articles are of interest but many of the other articles display an alarming lack of photographic talent and artistry.

The recent article “A Conversation between Film Soupers Amy Berge and Jen Stamps – By Holly Gilman” is appalling. The images attest to the complete uselessness of what is espoused in the article. I can almost hear Ansel Adams rolling over in his grave. The old comment about a million monkey’s at typewriters cranking out Shakespeare (eventually) comes to mind.

Your site could be so much better.

The above is a perfect example of the sort of gatekeeping and of arrogance and hubris toward other photographers I see online far too much. It’s bigoted, self interested, and myopic. It is the sort of opinion that boggles my mind way more than something like film souping ever could.

I might not understand why someone would want to do this sort of thing to their film photos through my own perspective. But I realise others might have a different perspective. I even respect the email writer’s entitlement to his own opinion.

What I don’t understand is why someone would want to diminish someone else’s enjoyment. I also really don’t understand how it is possible to enjoy the richness of photography whilst simultaneously not seeing how other people might enjoy it differently.

After receiving the email, I sent a message first to Sroyon (who also works for 35mmc) to see what he thought of it. We had a bit of a chat and then he remembered a passage out of Adams’ book ‘The Print’ which reads,

The reader must bear in mind that what these books are intended to accomplish is to present a concept (visualisation) and a modus operandi (craft) to achieve desired results. This is obviously directed to serious participants in photography, but it should not be interpreted as dogma; each must artist must follow his own beacons and chart his journey over the medium’s seas and deserts. I wish to dispel any thought that my approach is rigid and inflexible.

I responded to the email with the following reply:

In discussing this email with one of the team, a passage from Adams’ book ‘The Print’ was brought to my attention:

[The above passage screen grabbed]

Specifically, “it should not be interpreted as dogma; each artist must follow his own beacons and chart his journey over the medium’s seas and deserts”.

One of the most wonderful things about photography is the vast array of opportunity it provides participants with when it comes to discovering ways to express themselves creatively.

It seems you don’t agree, so perhaps you could tell me how and where I should draw a line around photography, which types of creative expression I should exclude, to which/who’s set of “rules” I should prescribe, and why…?

I am yet to receive a reply, and frankly I don’t want one. There should be no line drawn around photography as a pastime, we are all entitled to express ourselves creatively however we damned please, and 35mmc will continue to celebrate that fact!

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67 Comments

  • Reply
    Andrea Bevacqua
    May 10, 2021 at 10:31 am

    Hi Hamish,
    my thoughts are exactly like yours but, as you said, I really don’t mind (and sometimes I even enjoy) to read different approaches about photography in this case.
    Here I see a few problems. Who sent you the e-mail probably takes himself too seriously and maybe is also frustrated by the fact that he would like to arrive at Ansel Adams level but is not quite there.
    Also, this is the usual problem of our days: social medias are fantastic if they would have been used how they were intended to, but unfortunately they get the chance to “speak” to too many people and anyone can say whatever they want…even bags of bullshits most of the time or is just a way for someone to pour out thei frustration to others.

    I personally think you guys are doing a great work. Your website is good mix of talented people who is able to produce good quality works and people like me who is just enjoing his journey and is happy to look around and discover new ways of doing things.

    I would not change anything of your website.

    Bravo!

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    May 10, 2021 at 10:39 am

    For me, one of the great things about 35mmc is that it is inclusive and (to me) seems reasonably diverse. There is no need to compete or be ‘the’ expert. I’m all for criticism, but think that it should always seek to be constructive. If I can’t be constructive about something, there is a strong possibility I’ve not understood it,
    For myself. I’m very happy to see stuff on this site that I don’t understand, or that challenges me.

  • Reply
    Charles Higham
    May 10, 2021 at 10:46 am

    The email seems to be composed by someone who in the first sentence claims to be open to idiosyncratic content, but in reality he isn’t (I’m going to asume it’s from a man). It’s also conceited in that he is essentially stating he is ultimately the unquestionable judge of what has talent and artistry and what doesn’t. This arrogant and rigid outlook is a strong indication of someone who actually hasn’t a clue, and who lacks talent or artistry themselves. The gratuitous rudeness shows someone who is either tone-deaf, or who can only react negatively to new or challenging ideas they aren’t comfortable with. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is an insecure person. I suggest waiting for some more comments to this post and then sending him a link.

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      May 10, 2021 at 12:31 pm

      Just wanted to add to my comment above that the email sender is, like any of us, perfectly entitled to disagree with or criticise a photographic method or an online article – but constructively. I feel it’s a shame he couldn’t have done it more gracefully.

      • Reply
        Holly Gilman
        May 10, 2021 at 7:25 pm

        Here’s to that! I thoroughly welcome constructive criticism but will not personally tolerate these types of comments 🙂

        • Reply
          Jerome Lovell
          May 11, 2021 at 3:37 am

          Gosh, I’m amazed at adults (I assume) at how butt hurt you and others are by someone’s criticism. Oh, and you won’t tolerate these types of comments? Who are you to judge what types of comments are appropriate? If something is garbage, that’s what it is. At least to this guy. I happen to like the work, but that’s me. Not everything Is art-worthy; “Piss-Christ” for example. God might be in the picture, but it wasn’t art. Art is anything that confirms in your soul that there is a God. You know it when you see it. Either he doesn’t see it, or maybe it’s just not art. There’s a lot of fake art out there. Stuff that people think if they say they appreciate it that they like it, that it makes them cool or somehow “in the know”. That way of thinking could make a six year old an artist. I think we deserve better than that and our legacy moans for better. Instead of berating the man, find some common ground somewhere. You might learn something.

          • Hamish
            May 11, 2021 at 9:47 am

            “Find common ground” is good advice. I have been making particular effort to find common ground with an anti-vax/anti-mask person I know recently. It’s been fascinating to find where our opinions crossover.

            But (of course there was one coming), it takes both sides to have that desire. The emailer here showed zero empathy or desire to find any. Proven somewhat by a lack of response to my reply.

            My point is, suggesting we be open minded is all well and good, really this whole article is a big fat suggestion that more people should be open minded. But how much hubris should we have to be tolerant of, we all have our limits…

          • Charles Higham
            May 11, 2021 at 5:49 pm

            Genuinely fair point Jerome. Absolutely, if people hate something they should be allowed to say it. But actually it wasn’t so much the fact he disliked the post (and the casual way he dismissed others), it was the arrogant and rude style in which he did it. When I see deragotory comments inflated with what in this case was pomposity, it’s not a bad thing to puncture them. The critic shouldn’t object to criticism. Maybe the guy is ok and it’s a storm in a teacup. But as Hamish said, we all have our limits.

  • Reply
    Stephen John Curzon
    May 10, 2021 at 10:54 am

    Great article! It’s a bit like Voltaire’s quote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Photography is a broad church, and not everyone is going to like everything, but like you, I still enjoy reading and learning about approaches which are not to my personal taste. Which is why 35mmc is such a great resource.

  • Reply
    Keith
    May 10, 2021 at 10:55 am

    One of the great joys of the two series of “Grayson Perry’s Art Club”, was the way in which people’s individual approach to the artistic process was celebrated. There were no “right” or “wrong” ways to approach the task. Whether or not you lliked or disliked the final piece was only part of the experience. You came away with an enormous respect for the artist and their particular way of responding to the various themes. This in turn enhanced your appreciation and understanding of the piece.

    Unfortunately photography is often dominated by those whose attitude stems from a degree of personal arrogance. Whether it’s equipment or the rules applied to determine whether or not an image is any “good”, these individuals are dismissive of anything outwith their limited world view. Photographic snobbery for want of a better phrase and absolutely encapsulated by “Your site could be so much better”. What a pompous fool.

    Personally, film souping is something I’m unlikely ever to dabble in, but I’m so glad others do. There’s more than an element of Jackson Pollock about the whole process and that’s definitely something to be celebrated.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Reply
    Rock
    May 10, 2021 at 11:00 am

    Well said Hamish. I for one appreciate your efforts, and those of Sroyon and Holly – keep doing it please. The posts, all posts, have been a real pick me up this past year w hat with lockdown and illness. Cheers, Rock

  • Reply
    Jalan
    May 10, 2021 at 11:12 am

    Isn’t it ironic the technical obsessive “traditionalists” embrace Adams who shamelessly manipulated his images in the darkroom to the point of unreality? As an artist I embrace the randomness and “flaws” of film photography to create images that are engaging and unexpected. I almost never show my images to my photographer friends because they are completely closed to anything but the dogma they learned from other photo technicians. That clinical “rules based” approach is OK for them – I don’t care if they spend their lives chasing MFT charts. But they should realize the current renaissance in film is mostly driven by the artists. The technicians rode film almost into the grave; the “soupers” are the ones who are buying the old cameras and newly reissued film stocks!

  • Reply
    Tony Smith
    May 10, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    If I dont like an article I move on, mainly because I believe its important in life to try not to be an opiniated self important cock.
    I have now bookmarked that article (missed it the first time) because I have been loving redscale, have bought Lomo Purple and love the idea of souping. My personal journey has led me to feel if I want perfection I will shoot digital, if I want an experience I shoot film and have fun with it.
    Different strokes etc.

  • Reply
    Clive W
    May 10, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    There’s a parallel here with the natural world. Nature creates its own messy diversity through genetic mutation, and most mutants work less well than the unmutated type. But every so often, a mutation does something new and beneficial, and without the ‘experimentation’ offered by mutation, that benefit would never have arisen. None of us, in fact, would be here today.

    So it is with artistic and technical experimentation — although, in this case of course, there’s an intentional guiding hand at work. Most experiments turn out to be dead ends, but without taking that risk, we will never discover anything new and valuable.

    Conservatives (small c) have the funny idea that the thing to conserve is the sum of exactly the number of changes that had been made when they arrived. They set themselves up as arbiters of perfection when they really have no more idea than the rest of us. I also much prefer diversity and inclusiveness, and find both on this site. If I don’t like everything that appears here — and I don’t — that’s for me to deal with.

  • Reply
    Ralph Turner
    May 10, 2021 at 12:32 pm

    For me, one of the site’s strengths is it’s broad spectrum of people, tastes and articles. In other words, well said that man. Long live 35mmc 🙂

  • Reply
    Ken Rowin
    May 10, 2021 at 1:15 pm

    That article on film souping wasn’t my cup of tea, but as I see it, someone might be motivated to try their own experiments and make their own amazing art based on those experiments. That’s what makes photography so interesting – everyone can find their own niche and do something unique and different, yet all comes under the umbrella of photography. Thanks for publishing a variety of articles that can inspire us all.

  • Reply
    Dave Walker
    May 10, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    “Your site could be so much better”?

    Feel free to make your own, mate…

  • Reply
    Clive Shepherd
    May 10, 2021 at 2:25 pm

    “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy…” is the most apt response to erupting town fools of all sorts. I enjoy your website. I don’t read every article. I pick and choose what interests me. Keep up the great work and “illegitimi non carborundum” (I know it’s not authentic Latin but it may bait another foolish bastard.)

  • Reply
    David Henderson
    May 10, 2021 at 3:19 pm

    An interesting, and well-written feature. I’m with you 100% here. Souping does not really fit in with my photography, but I totally ‘get’ why it appeals to others, it’s their hobby; no-one has the right to gatekeep.

  • Reply
    Doug Anderson
    May 10, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    I was sufficiently intrigued by the term “souping” in the header of the article to start reading it. Once I realized it was not about push processing, which the term meant back in the day, I skipped to the next blog on the very short list I read almost every day. The idea that I might complain about an article that did not particularly interest me is completely bonkers. Thank goodness this guy or gal hasn’t found my blog 🙂

  • Reply
    Yul Vazquez
    May 10, 2021 at 3:55 pm

    He wanted attention. The pomposity of that email is staggering..referencing Adams and Shakespeare ?!! LOL
    What’s his work like? His site? This is a blowhard who needs a hobby.
    Keep doing your thing.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 10, 2021 at 8:42 pm

      “You be you” as the youngsters seem to say these days

      • Reply
        Ben Garcia
        May 11, 2021 at 6:04 pm

        Spot on! I love that there’s a “rant” tag attached to this. LOL!

        As Yul says, this is a certain kind of person. As someone who lurkes and doesn’t comment too often, I can’t imagine being motivated enough to expend the energy of sending a message like this. Who cares? As the site runner, I think that [Hamish] you probably see so many more of these people preferentially than most most of us. Lucky guy!

  • Reply
    Peter C
    May 10, 2021 at 4:19 pm

    I love this site and others like it for the very reason that there is photographic variety and information to be found here. Do I read each and every article that comes out? No, absolutely not. If something does not appeal to me, at the moment, I won’t read it. However, my interests and ideals change with the seasons and, maybe, tomorrow I will read that article that I have no interest in reading today. Having a site that is too focused limits what I have access to and it limits my creativity. I shoot everything from full frame digital to 35mm, 120, and 4X5 film. I have had thoughts about doing alternative processes and things so these articles may prove useful to me at some point.

    I’ve said it before and I will repeat it here. Photography is an art. How you choose to create what you want to show the world and how you present it are up to you. Just because you don’t like someone else’s process doesn’t mean that what they’ve created is rubbish. It’s art, you interpret it however you will. I’ve seen plenty of works of art that didn’t appeal to me but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t appeal to someone else.

  • Reply
    MrSnappy
    May 10, 2021 at 4:21 pm

    “There is no truth. There is only perception”
    (Gustave Flaubert. 1821 – 1880).

  • Reply
    Mark O’Brien
    May 10, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    The photography tent is large, and there’s room for all kinds of experimentation, processes, gear. you name it. While , like you, I don’t find “souping” to be one of my interests, I can understand why some are attracted to it. It’s like everything else in life, if it doesn’t affect you personally, move on. However, some folks have the idea that “St. Ansel” should be the arbiter of what constitutes good photography. He’s one opinion, among others, and I am pretty sure that he would not want to be held up as the icon that he’s become. The final result is what is of importance, and most people won’t care how you got there, and they’ll judge the image by their own prejudices and experience.

  • Reply
    Eric Norris
    May 10, 2021 at 4:24 pm

    Hamish: I’ve had the opportunity to work with Holly on the upcoming book, and I now follow her on Instagram and YouTube. I may never try film souping, but I find Holly’s enthusiasm and interest in finding new creative outlets very fresh and inspiring. Looking forward to her next experiments!

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    May 10, 2021 at 4:25 pm

    Reminds me of a conversation we had recently on FB about some people’s inability to see that others interests and passions might be equally valid as one’s own. People with “enthusiasms” make life , well my life anyway, so much more interesting.

    I’m not especially interested in expired film but I’m always interested in what people do with it.

    A life credo of “don’t be a dick” covers most eventualities.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 10, 2021 at 8:39 pm

      Ha, yes, I like the “don’t be a dick” rule

  • Reply
    Justin Kingery
    May 10, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    Wow. And he didn’t even have the courage to post his thoughts publicly. He probably would have told Jackson Pollock, Rothko, Franz Marc, etc. that their paintings were rubbish, too. Talk about showing one’s ignorance!

    Great reply. There’s an extra “must” in the Adams quote that needs removing. Cheers! And thanks for all you do at 35mmc. It’s absolutely wonderful.

  • Reply
    davesurrey
    May 10, 2021 at 6:05 pm

    Crickey…here we are with a pandemic raging across the Globe with millions dead already, China and Russia ever more threatening to the West, the “leader of the free World,” with his massive nuclear strike capability, seemingly on the edge of dementia, and with almost all of our lives currently turned upside down and then we get all this angst about someone who dared to criticise a web blog.

    Yes, this is Hamish’s blog and he has every right to include whatever articles he wishes just as he has every right to say he disagrees with what others write in reply. But what I can’t understand, when this seemed to be a clear piece extolling the virtues of free expression and opinion, is why so many of the comments seem to be so aggressive towards the emailer.

    Either we tolerate free speech, even though we may not agree with what is being said, or we enact censorship and all that goes with it. Personally I’m on Voltaire’s side.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 10, 2021 at 8:38 pm

      This is a conversation I have had a lot of times with my wife. We are, it seems, in a war of criticism these days.

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    May 10, 2021 at 6:49 pm

    Hi Hamish,
    This morning, before I typed this response, I walked around our property and tried to find the plinth holding a statue of me and my immortal words. There was none. You see, none of us really have the definitive answer or opinion about anything that is etched in stone. We have opinions. And, opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one.
    I didn’t care much for the article. I don’t believe in cross-processing, stand development or developing film in coffee. But, that’s just me. I don’t damn the author or the practitioners of the technique just because I don’t like it. Others are probably inspired by what they say. Good.
    I was raised in a home where my mother was a commercial portrait photographer. She photographed people as they were. I was surrounded by LIFE magazine and Nat’L Geo growing up in the 1960’s & 70’s. All pretty straightforward photography. I like unmanipulated images. When I use photo shop to adjust my negs to post online, I only apply the same corrective steps I use in my darkroom. I also don’t think people should put ketchup on their eggs.
    But, as we used to say, different strokes for different folks. I don’t get on a high horse (or plinth if I had one!) and express my opinion as if it was gospel truth (except for that ketchup/egg thing…) I just read the next posting. It isn’t hard.
    To your disgruntled reader: jeez, just move on. Or, write, illustrate and post your opposing viewpoint. Or, just shut up. Or block 35mmc so you won’t become distressed. Or start your own blog. But don’t tear down without offering up another solution.
    Now, I’ve got to grab my stone cutting chisels and carve TRUTH in stone avoid people eating their morning eggs with ketchup…
    -Dan

  • Reply
    Peter Roberts
    May 10, 2021 at 7:04 pm

    If we all slavishly emulated the style of Ansel Adams, or any other critically acclaimed photographer for that matter, how boring and ultimately pointless photography would become.
    The greatest strength of 35mmc is its diversity of content and celebration of image making at all levels.
    Don’t ever change it Hamish.

  • Reply
    CHRISTOF RAMPITSCH
    May 10, 2021 at 7:04 pm

    I really like 35mmc the way it is. I definitely like some articles more than others, and only a very few I don’t like at all. But to complain about them? That would imply that my own brand of photography is somehow superior, and even just writing that sentence makes me chuckle. Nah, keep up the good work and if you don’t like it, switch the channel…

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    May 10, 2021 at 10:30 pm

    I agree with what the guy says about film souping but not his comments about your site.

    I used to be frustrated by the celebration of mediocrity on so many podcasts, so just stopped listening to them and instead stuck to those who aspired to excellence. THat’s why, Hamish, I’ve not been getting into hot water on Twitter for months because of my comments 🙂

    I do the same when looking at blog posts. I read snd react those I consider relevant and ignore those which consider photography to be a random thing to which one doesn’t need to apply any skill. If they want to waste film and be praised for the results by other artless clueless types then good for them. After all Lomography did a lot to revive the interest in analogue photography by appealing to such like ones. That has been good for Ilford & Kodak, therefore good for us. If the Emperor want’s to ride naked then so be it. It gives the rest of us something to laugh at

  • Reply
    Cheyenne Morrison
    May 10, 2021 at 10:36 pm

    Hi Hamish, I agree with all the sentiments here apart from one thing, using Ansel Adams as the basis of your rejoinder to the email.

    Adams cemented his place in popular photography, the press during his lifetime, and after his death as the “Inventor” of the Zone System, but in fact he stole the idea from another photographer. The hypocrisy of his statement that you quote is born out by the fact that throughout his life Ansel Adams tried to cover up this fact, and even worse destroy the career and reputation of the man who really did invent the system William Mortensen.

    William Mortensen (1897–1965), an innovative pictorialist visionary whom Ansel Adams called the “Antichrist”. By the time of his death in 1965, Mortensen’s once-prominent name had faded to obscurity. His work and archives were scattered posthumously among his students and admirers, or lost and destroyed.

    The critic AJ Coleman even contends that Adams’s “zone system” for exposure was taken largely from articles written by John L Davenport, who himself relied greatly on Mortensen. Adams would later concede he was “embarrassed” to find out Mortensen had “anticipated some of my pet ideas of technique: controlled exposure and development of the negative”.

    Unlike the pictorialism favoured by Moertensen Ansel Adams, favored realism, as did many of his famous peers, such as Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston. Collectively referred to as Group f/64, they became known for producing sharp, high-contrast, “straight” or “purist” photography, and disdained borrowing techniques from painting and other art forms to manipulate photos the way Mortensen did.

    Mortensen called the work of “purist” photographers “hard and brittle.” In a popular five-part series in Camera Craft magazine called “Venus and Vulcan: An Essay on Creative Pictorialism” (reprinted in American Grotesque), he wrote “‘Purity’ is conceived to consist in limiting photographic expression to the mechanically objective representation that is inherent in the uncontrolled camera … [but] Imagination is a wayward and willful wench, and when she is on the loose she is not to be held in check by any arbitrary boundaries that divide one medium from another.” Mortensen wrote “The Fallacies of Pure Photography”? around 1933 in the magazine of the day called Camera Craft in which he pointed out the shortcomings of “Straight” photography.

    Following these articles Adams spent the rest of his life attempting to destroy Mortensen’s reputation. Adams, along with his f/64 sycophants and allied critics & art historians, were on the winning side of the battle to define “fine art photography”. they did this by attempting to destroy the reputations of the competition, may fine technicians and visionaries among them.

    I feel that the fashion in which Adams treated Mortensen illustrates that, while Adams may have been a brilliant technician, he was a rather loathsome human being. He actively sought to destroy Mortensen’s career because it didn’t conform to the f/64 definition of fine art, and after he succeeded in destroying Mortensen’s career, he even had the indecency to joke about his artistic demise. “artists” with such a small-minded and fascist mentality as this should not be idolized, unless you want others force-feeding their definitions of art to you.

    A.D. Coleman wrote “Anathematized, ostracized, and eventually purged from the dominant narratives of 20th-century photography due to the biases of a small but influential cluster of historians, curators, and photographers, Mortensen plunged into an obscurity so deep that by 1980 most considered him unworthy of even a footnote.”

    Even years after his death Adams could find little or nothing nice to say about him. In retrospect, although Mortensen’s subject matter was often grotesque and sometimes fell into the kitschy, his mastery of craft was and is astounding. Most people seeing a Mortensen print for the first time find it hard to believe it is a photograph.

    Recent years have brought praise for Mortensen’s development of manipulation techniques and a renewed interest in his work. If you can find a copy of “Mortensen on the Negative” (1940) you will find it one of the most entertaining technical books on photography you can read. The Command to Look: A Master Photographer’s Method for Controlling the Human Gaze by Mortensen is far more interesting than any of the pontificating that Adams ever wrote, and in his books Mortensen comes across as a very bright, self-assured and unpretentious man – and funny!

    I’d encourage anyone who is interested in photography to spend some time comparing the works of Adams vs Mortensen and examining the argument between these two styles.

    https://bigthink.com/Picture-This/william-mortensen-the-anti-christ-of-american-photography

    https://petapixel.com/2019/11/05/realism-vs-pictorialism-a-civil-war-in-photography-history/

    https://petapixel.com/2016/09/22/ansel-adams-wrote-pictorialism-photography-history/

    https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/06/william-mortensen-photography-master-macabre

    • Reply
      Hamish
      May 11, 2021 at 9:52 am

      Thanks Cheyenne, your encyclopedic knowledge never fails to impress

    • Reply
      Ben Garcia
      May 11, 2021 at 6:09 pm

      What a wonderful mini-article, Cheyenne, thanks!

    • Reply
      MrSnappy
      May 13, 2021 at 8:18 am

      Thanks for the links Cheyenne. I had never even heard of Mortensen!

  • Reply
    Adrian
    May 10, 2021 at 10:39 pm

    Hi Hamish, I totally agree with your attitude. Your response was very appropriate and also very gracious in the face of such unconstructive criticism. Art, like culture, is constantly evolving and to insist on only one approach to the photographic medium would make it pointless – everyone would be doing the same thing and there’d be no progress, and presumably with the exact same equipment.

    Don’t change a thing, please!

  • Reply
    AlistairH
    May 10, 2021 at 10:50 pm

    This is not just an on-line thing in the photography world! I have taken part in open studio events for many years, where anyone can come into my workspace, see what I do and how I do it, and, if they want to, buy my work. Almost everyone who visits is pleasant (whether they like my work or not), some are enthusiastic, and quite a few leave their money with me. However, I always get a few who come and tell me that I am doing photography wrong!

    They never comment on the work itself, but on the technique use to make it (which I am willing but bored to discuss). Most often, it is that I am doing things with software that I should not. Next up, it is what I am doing with my cameras is wrong (not “getting it right in the camera” and hence falling back on the previous point), or using the wrong camera, or using the wrong exposure mode. I have had all of these! All this is said to my face! Invariably, when I ask them to tell me about their own photographic work, I get a non-answer or “I do a few landscapes”. (There is no point in asking how many thousands *they* made selling their work in the last year!)

    At first, I felt that I had to defend my work from these comments. Not any more! I have been doing this successfully for long enough to have the confidence ignore nasty people or (when they are very nasty) tell then to F-off! What really worries me is the effect they could have on newcomers who are just starting to show their work, with all of the uncertainties that involves.

    An interesting trend has appeared having compared notes with people in the same open studio events working in other media. This is a bit of a generalisation, but seems to be repeated over many years and locations Wood-turning is like photography but more so – very pedantic loud and overt negative opinions from other self-acclaimed practitioners. Painters seem to have a bit of snobbishness, but not as much. Textile artists (my partner is one) are quite the opposite, and never seem to have any snarkishness at all.

    Sorry, this is a bit long, bit it has struck a chord!

    • Reply
      Hamish
      May 11, 2021 at 9:51 am

      Yes, it’s odd isn’t it. I wonder if it is driven by the capitalist side of photography. We are sold the idea that perfection is the goal by the idea that we should constantly be buying better cameras. I do think that must have some impact on the way people think about photography. Though I suppose that doesn’t make so much sense in the world of wood turning…?

  • Reply
    Rich
    May 11, 2021 at 12:07 am

    Do you need a gatekeeper? I was one until I got fired for sleeping on the job with the gates wide open! 🤣

    As to souping, as someone said, it’s not my cup of tea. But if _you_ like it, more power to you!

    –Rich

  • Reply
    Peter
    May 11, 2021 at 12:11 am

    Hamish,
    I must 2nd all of the positive words supporting you and 35mmc in these replies.

    If it is not your cup of tea don’t drink it; but for the love of all that’s holy don’t go back to wherever you bought it from, tear it off the shelves, burn the source to the ground and prevent others from trying it!

    Sadly, some find easier to criticize than accept the fact that it takes all sorts to make this a wonderful world. I have looked forward to seeing 35mmc in my inbox and it always takes precedence over the other rubbish in there.

    Never let the naysayers tell you otherwise!!!

  • Reply
    Sacha Cloutier
    May 11, 2021 at 1:35 am

    2020 was collectively a horrible year. For many of us, it will probably stand as a one of the defining moments of our lives. I am 40 and live in Canada, the closest thing to having this much change on the world around me was 9/11. I am not saying that Covid equals the atrocities of that day, simply the impact that this has had on the world around me. Both brought changes to our lives with brutal effects. Covid has forced many of us to look for community amongst the chaos. To me, that is what 35mmc has given me. Have I read all of the articles? Not even close. Have I enjoyed every article that I read? Nope. Have I commented on all of the good ones? Also, no. The amazingness of this site is that you can give and take as much as you want, or on the hard days, can. Holly has been a fantastic addition to this. I read a lot of what she writes and she brings an interesting take on things that differ from your standard fare. Both are great perspectives, but that difference makes it extremely worth while. I especially like what you stand for and you have stood up for me before. I’m glad to see you continue to fight for us.

  • Reply
    Laurence Kesterson
    May 11, 2021 at 4:26 am

    I wish that you’d provided a link to the article in question. I must have missed that article. I get most of my 35mmc content by email alerts. I try to look at each new article and update, but sometimes I get busy and weeks pass by…

    Anyway, what is souping in the current vernacular? As a working news photographer shooting Tri-X developed in D-76 1:1 with a borax mix for most of my career, we always referred to developing film as “souping.” Does souping refer to a different darkroom technique now?

  • Reply
    Chris Pattison
    May 11, 2021 at 8:55 am

    They sound like a “complete bell end “. That might be an Ansel Adams quote, but I’m not sure.

  • Reply
    bp_reid
    May 11, 2021 at 9:06 am

    One thing that you can guarantee, when you put things out in public forums, not everyone will be happy. I’ve not seen the article in question but I will say this; When I first came across 35mmc I found the site too narrow in it’s focus to hook me. Over the last 6-12 months with increasing variety and a shift to images and ideas, as opposed to gear, has made it a regular read for me. No it’s not perfect, and there are definitely articles with issues but that’s inevitable where people are exploring stuff that’s new to them. I would not like to see the current openness to new and different stuff lost.

    • Reply
      Hamish
      May 11, 2021 at 9:37 am

      I’m pleased the shift is noticeable

  • Reply
    tjen dezutter
    May 11, 2021 at 9:40 am

    Hi
    It’s always nice to read the posts in 35 mmc. It’s feeling good that there is place for mainstreaming ideas even in a smaller becoming world of filmphotography. After the reading of the soup- cooking (hihi I like soup) I ‘ll ask if there is a possibilty to reunite different forms of filmphotographing art ? Yes, even the souping is art cause they concquered their places in exhibitions in and outside Europe !
    May’be we could look at the work with understanding eyes and …learn from our ideas ?
    There are many people who said to me also you’re foolish to do impressionistic photography on film .. But is this not just my decision? Ansel Adams was a photographer not a law- writer ! In photoacademy Bruges Belgium there is a teacher giving special techniques to them who have mastered their portfolio …He is also into filmphotography .Put lensen for a year under the ground in his garden to see what effect on film they have when using them after time underground! Is he foolish, so I don’t think so .He’s searching, exploring borders to develop his view on art…Let’s do also !

  • Reply
    Taylor (@avecfilm)
    May 11, 2021 at 10:42 am

    One of my favorite things about photography is how it blends art and science – I think of photography as a spectrum. No matter your photographic style, you almost always have both art and science.

    Photographers can be drawn to the very technical, or not – it doesn’t mean there is one “right” way. For every photographer who is into gear and understands all of the technical aspects, there is another photographer shooting a camera with minimal settings and a plastic lens – and everything in between.

    As someone else said, the photography tent is big.

    When art can inspire a response – then that’s when I think it’s successful. You may not like or understand why someone would film soup, but it elicited a reaction? Good. If you don’t like it, it doesn’t mean it’s inherently wrong or bad.

    This is my first time reading this site (and commenting) – thank you for the discussion!

  • Reply
    gavin
    May 11, 2021 at 1:49 pm

    Btw everyone of those Images on soupers article could be an album cover ….google Vaughan Oliver work for 4d ….As a creative director this kind of work inspires design and creativity …wonderful stuff

  • Reply
    brine
    May 11, 2021 at 3:45 pm

    I guess I am more like you, although I would never do film soup, I enjoy the energy and passion of the people who do it. I read the article and enjoyed it. I can honestly say that I have seen some results that I like and always try to be supportive of any artist’s journey.

  • Reply
    shawn granton
    May 11, 2021 at 11:07 pm

    What Is ART, anyway? The writer of the “gatekeeping” email, along with a few commenters, thinks they have a handle on it. Art is subjective and there are no right or wrong answers. It’s okay to have an opinion about it, what is not okay is to believe your opinion matters more than others. Repeat an opinion with perceived authority and enough volume and repetition and it becomes accepted by some as “fact”, The Right Way To Do Things. Never mind that doing things “wrong”, whether on purpose or by accident, is where real progress and change can happen.

    I’m also going to point this out since it hasn’t been mentioned yet: The author of said critical email is male, and holds up a couple of other men as an example of “real artists”. The writer and subjects of the piece he’s critical of? All women. Reflect on that for a moment.

  • Reply
    Christopher
    May 12, 2021 at 7:48 am

    Well said Hamish! The diversity is part of the joy of 35mmc. Personally I cannot WAIT to try film soup and I love Holly’s photography, while I will never own a Leica and don’t understand the fuss – but boy I love reading people gush about them on here. It’s all part of fuelling our photography soul.

    Keep up the amazing work.

  • Reply
    Lee
    May 12, 2021 at 6:49 pm

    I think what I like best about this article is that it verbatim shares the text of the gatekeeping email. And if that gatekeeper is a regular reader of 35mmc, they will definitely see how they and their views have been singled out to the entire community as an example of how not to be. Even though the identity of the email writer was not given, hopefully they will see how we all reacted to their closed-mindedness and either leave this friendly forum, or change their views.

    It’s like the television ads that the Lincoln Project (anti-Donald Trump Republicans) make and then pay to air on TV stations near Palm Beach, Florida during times when Trump is known to watch programming, such as various Fox News shows. They’re meant to shake Trump’s confidence, pick on his weaknesses, and make him feel small and stupid. I think you accomplished the exact same thing with this post for the gatekeeer who sent that initial email. The fact that you haven’t gotten a response to your well-reasoned reply speaks volumes.

  • Reply
    Kurt Ingham
    May 15, 2021 at 2:48 pm

    I find that when I react this strongly to someone’s comment it pays to examine my own beliefs, and yes, prejudices

  • Reply
    Dean
    May 16, 2021 at 10:20 am

    Well I think this site is excellent, I’ve learned a great deal here.
    I read the article on souping, mainly because I had no idea what it meant. It’s not something I will be trying yet, but who knows in the future. The seed has been sown. Which is what makes our hobby the brilliant thing that it is. There is always something to learn.
    This chap should appreciate that, he may gravitate towards it on his own one day. It matters not what we think is acceptable or not, we have to allow others a different view, and be polite, instead of thinking only people who share our view are correct.
    I’d block this bigoted plonker, I doubt he’ll learn in the near future.

    Keep up the good work folks, my eyes have been opened on several occasions, I’m sure there’s more to come.

    Dean.

  • Reply
    Daniel
    May 17, 2021 at 8:41 am

    Hamish, it’s obvious why you don’t get it: you are a) a nice person and b) an open-minded individual. I confess to be on the consuming side in that I read a great deal on your site and contribute nothing. But the general tone in both articles and comments is extremely positive and respectful; it makes a refreshing change to so many other sites where people seem intent on putting down others’ work or equipment to make themselves feel better. Keep up the good work!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 17, 2021 at 10:00 pm

      Thanks, Daniel, that’s appreciated!

  • Reply
    Phil
    May 17, 2021 at 1:57 pm

    One of the reasons I love film photography so much is the fantastic diversity in equipment, films, developers, papers, techniques, methods and outcomes. We need more diversity and experimentation in photography, not less.

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