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On talking about photographs

On talking about photographs

For a number of reasons I find myself talking about other artists work and helping  photographers do the same.  Sometimes this takes place in a group setting and othewise during private mentoring sessions.  I have struggled to discover a way to make this conversation successful for many years, now I want to share with you a small idea that can help.  

I spent a good amount of time thinking about how I see my own photographs. I came to know that is it less about a conversation I have with myself and more simply a feeling I have upon first glance of a new work.

As a printmaker there is a step when I first lift a print from the press and turn it over.  It is at this moment, for a very brief time that I will, or will not, get the "feeling".  I cannot put words to it, it is just a big feeling I get before the analytical part of my brain starts deciphering and categorizing what I am seeing. This is the key part of what I want to share.

The information you receive when first seeing a new picture will cause your mind to think of a string of words and feelings (hopefully).  My suggestion is for you to turn on a mind recorder of sorts, then look at the work and record what comes to you. Later play back the tape, and see what you felt. 

My wife Kathleen has spent a great deal of time at her work learning and thinking about how our brains work. It is through conversations with her that this idea came to be.  I will never claim to understand this science the way she can but some of what she says made sense to me when thinking about looking at photographs.

Ok here is my ask:  Try it, pay attention to your very first thoughts and let me know what you think. Let's talk about it. 

Be well,




At first, I thought she had a tropical leaf or fruit in front of her face, wondering what was your message regarding that choice.

Now I see it is a relic of our collective recent past – a COVID mask. Along with the angular geometry of her arms and elbows, I see this as an editorial of how recent women’s rights have been historically achieved: voting etc. The mask is coming off to reveal the word of woman.

I like the contrast between her sharp triangles against the softness of her face, her hair and her bodice. This represents the feminine to me.

Looking deeper, I see this as a comment on how the political right (the GOP in general) is purposely pushing human rights down and passing laws to diminish our rights, particularly women’s, people of color and gender minorities. The mask is now a muzzle on our freedom of speech. An American burka. Her breasts are a reminder of the nourishment we once received as an infant. Now disregarded and disrespected.
Again, your imagery strikes me with a gentle force of the inevitable.

Tom Nirider

Ray, thanks for this insight. I made a self-portrait in the forest the other day, something I’ve been thinking about trying for a long time. I looked at this photo yesterday, and felt something very powerful. I’ve long loved to depict the nude body as art, but this photograph is charged with new emotion for me. I long to share it with others, but then I hesitate out of fear and shame that are products of my own past issues (who would possibly want to see this?). Perhaps I will be thought of as foolish?

You have shared self-portraits, how did this make you feel and what were the consequences (either good, or bad)? I looked at the photograph again just now, and that feeling about it has not faded. What this means, I do not know, but perhaps the lesson in your post here is to not really worry about all of that, but just let the mental recording speak to you. But still I struggle…do I share this, or print it and place it on the wall in my tiny studio, or just keep it hidden? Somehow sharing an image makes it real for me in a very important way. This, to me, oddly seems like an issue of growth as an artist and as a human being.

Thanks for this. Hope to catch up to you soon!
Tom Nirider


I have been thinking about this question all day. I find that words fail me when I am looking at beautiful photos. It’s something that I have struggled with because, for a long time and much of my “past life” words were my livelihood. But the problem was, I think, that my words were for and about other people and their work. Because of that, I got so far away from my center that I lost my ability to speak and hear and know my truth. At that point, I turned my back on words and found myself relying on pictures (both mine and others). And so I’ve found myself here to listen and learn. In being able to capture and see feelings, I hope that we can all find and build a better more peaceful world.


Because of my profession I tend to view images in an analytical way but each image presents a fascinating diagnostic challenge and the excitement you are talking about.

But I know you are talking about photography and for me is the image that I see of another photographer like yourself that triggers a creative and emotional feeling that leads me to create myself.The quietness of your images, for example, awake a sense of beauty that truly reorients my brain, as you said.


Having recently participated in a photo share where we tried to practice what you are saying, I strongly agree with this approach!

It’s often difficult to break old habits, so an intentional approach to simply “seeing” the work and absorbing it, requires effort and practice. I hope it’s what viewers of my pictures will do: let it move them first with the totality of the image, then let the analytical side of the brain deal with it. With a bit of trying and practice, it works and is a very rewarding way to see art. In this day of “swipe left” and literal interpretations, it’s worth the effort to re-orient my brain.

There are a few artists whose work immediately captures the non-literal side of my brain. I usually associate this experience with profound beauty, and an emotion.

I also believe for myself that I shouldn’t make a picture that is incapable of moving the viewer.

Your comments are spot-on.

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