Napa, California, July 4, 2018.   Photo By Barry Schwartz


I have long been a fan of quotes, pithy, profound, convoluted, simple, poetic, evocative, musical, gracious, linear and circular. I’m ever on the alert to understand how people do what they do, how they understand themselves, how they keep going, how they see themselves in the world. There is no particular discipline represented here, except discipline itself.  I’ll go with that. I’ve put them in an order that means something to me, but, to quote Michael Lewis: “The book you wrote may not be the book people read.”


“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

– David Bowie


“At best, thesauruses are mere rest stops in the search for the mot juste. Your destination is the dictionary. Suppose you sense an opportunity beyond the word “intention.” You read the dictionary’s thesaurian list of synonyms: “intention, intent, purpose, design, aim, end, object, objective, goal.” But the dictionary doesn’t let it go at that. It goes on to tell you the differences all the way down the line—how each listed word differs from all the others. Some dictionaries keep themselves trim by just listing synonyms and not going on to make distinctions. You want the first kind, in which you are not just getting a list of words; you are being told the differences in their hues, as if you were looking at the stripes in an awning, each of a subtly different green.”

– John McPhee, writer, from Draft # 4.


“The ‘secret’ is skill. If you haven’t learned how to do something, the people who have may seem to be magicians, possessors of mysterious secrets. In a fairly simple art, such as making pie crust, there are certain teachable “secrets” of method that lead almost infallibly to good results; but in any complex art, such as housekeeping, piano-playing, clothes-making, or story-writing, there are so many techniques, skills, choices of method, so many variables, so many “secrets,” some teachable and some not, that you can learn them only by methodical, repeated, long-continued practice — in other words, by work.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin, from her essay “Where Do You Get Your Ideas From”, in her collection Dancing at the Edge of the World, Thoughts on Words, Women, Places.


“Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.”

– Carved in stone on the wall of the Scottish Parliament.


“My father was a business man and I am a business man. I want philosophy to be business-like, to get something done, to get something settled.”

– Ludwig Wittgenstein in a letter to M. O’C. Drury, 1930


“I didn’t have the nerve to do what came next, so I had to do it without the nerve.”

—Paula Fox, author


“There is no formula. The formula comes out of you. So, whether it’s a top light or whether it’s some other thing. It just happened to be — that’s what was necessary to do this particular movie or this particular scene. So, I did it. Bottom line is, the design behind all of that, or the thinking behind the design of all of that came out of Marlon Brando, because Marlon had this makeup stuff he was using, so top light seemed to be the most effective way of dealing with him. You don’t really want to see his eyes. There was a big Hollywood rush about, “You can’t see his eyes.” That’s right. You can’t.”

– Gordon Willis, director of photography, about lighting Marlon Brando in The Godfather, during an interview with Craft Truck.


“Always play for the song.”

– Steven Van Zandt, musician


“I’ve not read The English Patient since it came out in 1992 and I suspect, and know more than any one, that it remains cloudy with errors and pacing. And at the back of my mind I keep recalling one of my favorite remarks, that Erik Satie made when asked about the fact that Ravel had turned down the Legion of Honour: “It’s not enough to have refused the Legion D’honneur. The important thing is not to have deserved it in the first place.”

– From Michael Ondaatje’s speech in 2018 upon winning the Golden Man Booker prize, by vote of the public, for The English Patient, honoring the most popular Man Booker novel of the last 50 years.


“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful – be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.”

– Patti Smith


“As you can imagine, these changes didn’t arrive without some resistance. One of the biggest defenders of the status quo was, unfortunately, the carpenters’ union. The group feared that change would mean less work for its members. I remember a union business agent visiting our job site in 1954. He asked to see my long-handle hammer. He walked to a saw and cut off several inches of the handle so that it would comply with union rules. I went home that evening and put on an even longer handle.”

-Larry Haun, from his book A Carpenter’s Life As Told by Houses


“I’m reminded also of the three rules we came up with, rules to live by. And I’m just going to tell you what they are because they come in really handy. Because things happen so fast, it’s always good to have a few, like, watchwords to fall back on.

And the first one is: One. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a really good bullshit detector. And three. Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don’t need anything else.”

– Laurie Anderson, from her speech inducting her recently deceased husband, Lou Reed, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


“When you create something out of nothing, the first rule is to agree.”

– Tina Fey


“Objectivity is the delusion that observations could be made without an observer.”

— Heinz von Foerster


“Beauty will result from the form and correspondence of the whole, with respect to the several parts, of the parts with regard to each other, and of these again to the whole; that the structure may appear an entire and complete body, wherein each member agrees with the other, and all necessary to compose what you intend to form.”

– Andrea Palladio, Architecture, Book I


Elsewhere on the Interwebs Relating to Photographic Elucidation (and enjoyment)

American Flag on the way to Catalina

Photo by Barry Schwartz


Sometimes all one wants to do is think about photography to the exclusion of other art forms.  However, since photography documents the entire world (arts and non-arts), it all works out.

Here’s a series of pieces I picked up from the Interwebs over the last little while that astounded, enlightened, and illuminated me about photography, its subjects, its history.

Photographer Charles O’Rear was not looking to make an iconic photo, just a good one, as he drove down a road in a neighborhood I know well, because I live there. Years later, that drive produced one of the most famous photographs ever made, appearing on computer screens all over the world: the blue sky and green grass that is the background for Microsoft Windows XP. Here how it happened. From the website Artsy.

The Story Behind the World’s Most Famous Desktop Background


Lisette Model was a photographer, and, crucially, a teacher, whose influence remains integral to how fashion and documentary (street) photography is perceived and practiced. Beginning in 1934 and photographing to the end of her life, Model also spent 30 years teaching at the New School in New York City, helping inform photography by informing practitioners. By Karen Kedmey on Artsy.

The Pioneering Street Photographer Who Taught Diane Arbus


There is an infrastructure supporting the history of photography, sometimes in public, sometimes hidden away in specialized places known only to a few. One of those places is the “morgue” at the New York Times, containing clippings and research material going back to the beginning of the paper. Archivist Jeff Roth, who runs the morgue, knows his way around pretty well.  The remarkable Steven Heller has a blog, The Daily Heller, with a continuing series where he asks Roth to come up with some of his favorites. The latest is on the transcendent Pete Seeger.

Jeff Roth’s Archival Pick: Pete Seeger


Minor White, one of the great and influential photographers and teachers of the Twentieth Century, has 5,000 of his photos and contact sheets digitized and available for anyone to look at, courtesy of Princeton University. I thought I knew something about White, but in the last few years (even before I saw this article), I learned I had a lot to learn.  From the terrific all-purpose website, Open Culture.

5,000+ Photographs by Minor White, One of the 20th Century’s Most Important Photographers, Now Digitized and Available Online


Ashley Maynor is a filmmaker and educator in New York who grew up in the South. Her grandmother has taken photos all her life, documenting virtually everything and everyone she comes into contact with using cameras, 8 mm film, and video. Maynor spent years avoiding her Southern heritage, but she came around to appreciate the South partly through her grandmother’s photos, so she made a short film focusing on her grandmother’s life.   There’s a subtext in the film that asks the question about what, if anything, separates her grandmother’s work from a professional documentarian or fine-art photographer. “I think she does have a notion of the truth in her photography, but boy is it sometimes a really brutal truth.”

Maynor talks about her process and her film in a great interview in the online magazine, The Bitter Southerner, which includes a link to the film, which you can watch for free.

For Memories’ Sake


Toni Frissell, who lived from 1907 to 1988, was one of the great photographers of the 20th Century, shooting fashion, portraits, and photojournalism, including war photography. She shot fashion under water in 1947, pre-dating Howard Schatz by some decades. Before she passed she donated her entire archive of 340,000 items to the Library of Congress. Here is a nice piece on the Dangerous Minds website, with fantastic photos.

Meet the Woman Who Photographed Frida Kahlo, The Kennedys, Elizabeth Taylor, Fashion & War


Andrew Moore has published books, produced work for exhibitions, and been widely published for decades. I used to see a regular feature of his in INC magazine of a double-spread documenting very large spaces of every kind and their support systems, without realizing how wide-ranging his work really is.   His latest project is the result of three years work in Southern Alabama and includes text written by himself. With many fine – and glorious – photos and words on the wonderful site The Bitter Southerner.

Blue Alabama


Jim Wilson has been a staff photographer for the New York Times for 40 years, based in San Francisco. He has seen it all and done the rest;  photojournalists produce, on demand, every kind of image you (or an editor) could possibly imagine.  Here, on the website of the paper itself, he talks about the ways technology has changed – and not changed – how he does his job.

How Technology Has Changed News Photography Over 40 Years



Mary Catherine Bateson on How To Be A Systems Thinker


Most artists are not obsessed with art to the exclusion of the rest of the world; despite a common misconception of non-practitioners, it makes for better work to be curious about the wider world.

An aptitude for curiosity can easily lead to a lack of focus; without some self-curation, there lies madness, and no career. A little structure can go a long way. Practitioners in the arts world – really, any world – are cognizant to some degree how they fit into the system they operate in. This awareness gets better with repetition and self-awareness.

By default, this makes everyone a systems thinker, whether they do it well or not-so-well.

Mary Catherine Bateson is an anthropologist and author with something authoritative to say about all that. She has a singular take on systems theory and its better-known cousin, cybernetics, because her parents, Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, helped invent them during the 1940s and ‘50s when they helped organize and run The Macy’s Conferences.

The Conferences were intensely collaborative experiences with a small group of big-thinkers, including artists and social scientists. Computers were never the focus; their work was really about systems theory, fueled to an extent by their sense that the world after WWII was going to be a different place, which, of course, they got right.

Bateson quite literally grew up in the company of this remarkable, highly accomplished group. Like her parents, she has the ability to put into ordinary language what in other people’s hands would be needlessly jargon-filled ideas.  You can see her in action in a video on Edge.org.  The video runs about 40 minutes, and because she is humorous and plain-spoken, it’s not a slog. “You don’t know have to know a lot of technical terminology to be a systems thinker.”

The ideas and processes she talks about apply to artists and creative entrepreneurs as much as any other profession. Truth-in-advertising, Bateson is a friend of mine through her father, who I knew well when I was a young man.

Mary Catherine Bateson on Edge.org:

How To Be A Systems Thinker