on photography (MINE; an exchange of emails, with apologies to Susan Sontag)


The following is an exchange of emails I had within the past day with my friend Ewa from the Bronx. Her email from yesterday evening contained what I regard as very insightful comments.


May 29, 2019

Dear Roger,

I appreciate all the pictures you send me. Sometimes I have no time to give them the right amount of attention, but when I do, I go over all of them carefully.

They are very nice and show different and sometimes surprising City views.

It’s interesting how people play suggestive roles in the pictures, making natural gestures look theatrical (like the one from May 19th). I sometimes get surprised by unusual framing like with the photo where the Statue of Liberty peaks from between the trunks, or fronds of greens in the park. Frozen crowds and some of the places that I have never been to make the pictures distant, but knowing the fact that I could experience them on my day off makes looking at them like at goods at the store that I could afford.

I don’t have time to walk around the city, but it gives me an insight into New York City’s architecture and landscapes and life of the city in general.

I admire the style and cropping. Once again, thank you, Roger.


May 30, 2019

Thanks for your emails from last night, Ewa.

Thanks for complimenting my photos

I have never been good at hardly any technical, hands on skill. I never seemed to have any aptitude for photography. I was pleasantly surprised to find that several people seem to like my photos a lot.

I have gotten a little bit adept at things like cropping and tweaking photos, but I am far from being a pro.

I appreciated your email because it showed an awareness of certain key things.

My photos are a sort of paean to Manhattan, my city. My feelings about it are similar to what Walt Whitman’s were.

Your comment “It’s interesting how people play suggestive roles in the pictures making natural gestures look theatrical (like the one from May 19th)” is very much on target. I find that a photo of, say, Central Park or Fifth Avenue is enhanced by having people in it.

I have acquaintances who have much more expertise in photography than I do and who own expensive cameras. Often their photos do not engage me. A splendid photo of the Taj Mahal in the evening; a photo of whales taken from a whale watching expedition or of a moose in a national park often leave me sort of detached. I feel that if I wanted to see such photos, I could find them on an internet site for tourists or in National Geographic.

A further thought: A relative of mine, noticing that I not infrequently include photos of myself (on my City walks) in Facebook posts, posted a critical comment about this on Facebook a while ago. When I complained to the relative, the relative replied: “Don’t understand why you post a picture of yourself almost every day in the same pose.”

Well, my hero Walt Whitman loved to have his photo taken — he was fascinated by the new invention of photography — often in a photo studio on lower Broadway. Posting pictures of myself may be a form of self-flattery, but the intent is also to show myself as being part of the scene: that I was at such and such a spot in the City on a particular date and time. In different parks, on the Brooklyn Bridge, on the steps of the New York Public Library, in front of some famous Manhattan building, and so on. I think it adds verisimilitude to a sort of photographic travelogue or diary of a City walker (me).



— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 30, 2019

Central Park 2-47 p.m. 5-19-2019

Central Park, May 19, 2019; photograph by Roger W. Smith

Walt Whitman (3)

Walt Whitman

2 thoughts on “on photography (MINE; an exchange of emails, with apologies to Susan Sontag)

  1. Pete Smith

    Well yes, Walt Whitman was known for self promotion, to the point of making up “fake news” reviews lauding his work. I don’t think that’s what you’re doing and your photos lately have been very nice — lots of improvement over previous ones — but it disappoints me that you have to diss a relative or two in your post and suggest that your photos are better than those taken by people with “expensive cameras”. You should be more respective of differing points of view, just as I am of yours. There’s a world out there where people enjoy each other’s work; you should find it.

  2. Roger W. Smith

    I said in my email to my friend that despite my not having expensive apparatus/equipment (which was implied) and despite my not being technically proficient (it would appear), people seem to like my photos, for reasons my friend Ewa articulated. This was followed by a sentence in which, by way of making a point, in responding to and amplifying upon Ewa’s comments, I noted that unnamed persons of my acquaintance who have expensive (i.e., better) cameras seem to often take photos which I don’t find that interesting. That’s all I said. Too bad you always find fault with me and my posts.

    My photos are “better” than those of other people? I don’t care to make such comparisons, and I wouldn’t be inclined to, since I don’t think I am a great photographer. I have often complimented other people’s photos (such as on Facebook) — I have no idea what kind of camera they used and don’t care.

    I “should be more respective of differing points of view”? Where does that come from? I often take great pleasure in the writings, photos, etc. of others, and I go out of my way to let them know. Did you mean respectful? I don’t think I was being disrespectful, but it often seems to be the case with my posts that you are looking for something to complain about, which shows an animus towards me and my writing and way of thinking; does not pertain to what I actually wrote; and misconstrues my meaning for the sake of being able to find fault. I have to be free to let me thoughts take me where they may, without fear of “censure” or feeling that I need to have them sanctioned by you when you seem to be speaking as the designated “minder” for our family.

    This is a typically petty comment which misses (perhaps deliberately) the point of what I wrote. Your anger is actually very self-centered and self-serving. It is caused by vanity (on your part) and has nothing to do with anything I wrote. No reasonable person would take offense at anything I said.

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