Interesting read.

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by travis|1, Nov 3, 2002.


    The Seven Levels of Photographers
  2. its nice to know i'm not alone at the bottom of the list....!
  3. Travis:

    This is beyond interesting, it should be required. My wife and I like the style of humor. Thanks for the link.
  4. This is a great site that I have had bookmarked for a while. BTW, he thinks the best camera in the world is an M6 - but not the one with the little red dot on it...and I think he might be right!
  5. Charles, who told you I was down there too? The whole ideas are (basically) true, but that note about certain guys sometimes dressing funny and tending to stay up late somehow pertains to me, too!
  6. Everyone,

    I'll assume you have read Ken Rockwell's satire before reading this.

    I thought Ken Rockwell's satire was very well written. I also felt that all that had been said before--though not any better. Ken Rockwell is a good writer. He is not just funny. He has wit. I'm thinking of "wit" as the ability to cut someone's head off and still leave it resting on the body. (Dryden said that first, I believe--not I.)

    After reading Mr. Rockwell's satire, that certainly made my ears burn (while, fortunately, leaving my head firmly attached to my neck) I went to his photographs.

    And here is the problem.

    Ken Rockwell is certainly a good photographer. He is disciplined and he is serious. He has shots from everywhere--California, France, Guatamala; you name it. Technically everything he does is exactly right. But it is too right. His photographs are predictable and safe, and, therefore, only mildly interesting at best. The photographs lack "soul"--the thing he values most highly. Somehow he misses the essences of the places he photographs. There are no epiphanies in his technically excellent photographs.

    If only this artist could take the chances and leaps of imagination that he displays so brilliantly in his wonderful satire! He would be an absolutely wonderful photographer.

    I cannot emphasize enough just how good a writer Ken Rockwell is. I think of myself as a fairly accomplished writer (the O.Henry Award people gave me an honorable mention in 1997) but I know I could never get away with a satire like the one under discussion. Writing good satire is hard. That this is an exceptionally good satire written by someone who is primarily a photographer says a lot about the genius of Ken Rockwell.

    The irony is that the ultimate success of Ken Rockwell in completely pulling off his critique of "whores" and "measurebators" (brilliant word play that) depends not simply on his deft use of words but on his photographs. If you are a preacher who every Sunday delivers flaming sermons that send sinners to everlasting perdition you had better be leading a crystal pure life. One glance at a plunging neckline and your credibility plunges. Likewise, any photographer who flilets other photographers had better have either a body of work that is awesome or include a fair amount of self-deprication in the satire.

    Satire is like sticking your tongue out at someone--it renders the creator ugly. That being so, the creator puts him/herself in a dangerous position. You need to be well armored to withstand the counter attacks. Ken Rockwell has one big hole in his armor--his not brilliant photography.

    All this said, I think the best thing about Ken Rockwell's satire is that it is basically good natured as well as being insightful. It should offend few if any people. His lowest level is populated by "measurebators." The measurebator is rendered as being so idiotic that no one--not even a genuine measurebator--would think of him or herself as one. The worst thing is that it invites ready rebuts--really nasty ones of the sort that regularly put self-righeous preachers in their place.

    The truism about glass houses and throwing stones applys in this case.


  7. A Footnote:

    Having read my missive above I have a feeling that I may well be flamed by the object of my critique. I got that feeling because of two things. I really stuck the needle in deeper than I had really wanted to regarding this fellow's photography (I'm not backing down, however). Also I sense that the writer of the truly sharp satire we've been discussing is lacking in self-humor. You see that when he is touching on his own website.

    Since preemptive strikes have recently acheived a certain legislative legitimacy, I'll offer these. One: The clown wears a funny face and costume for a good reason: It is the persona that protects the real artist within. The satirist, especially a photographer-satirist, really needs a sense of self-humor somewhere in his/her toolbox. Two: Painful as my judgement of the satirist's photographs might be I meant to be primarily constructive rather than simply destructive. The genius (a word I do not use lightly) is there. It only needs to chill out.


  8. As a simple man who makes no claim to being either an "artiste" or "pholosopher", I found Ken Rockwell's web site great. Funny. Nice pics. Informative. And, lacking in pretension.

    Thanks for steering us there, Travis.

  9. Sorry, I'm not a "PHILOSOPHER" either. (Query: Is proofreading a female thing?)

    Good shouting,

  10. I wish we could put smilies in our posts, 'cause I'd put the puking
    one right here [ ].

    Now let me get back to my detailed analysis regarding off-axis
    MTF performance of various Leica 28mm lenses, I'v e got a
    critical decision to make someday.
  11. rowlett

    rowlett Moderator

    Rats... I wanted to be the first to admit being at the bottom -- well, maybe somewhere between Level 1 and Level 2 -- of Rockwell's list. Interesting read. About his photography, I like how vivid the colors are.
  12. You guys are too sweet. I wrote that article one morning when I had a crazy whim. I'm really tickled silly that so many people get a kick out of it, and I can't stop laughing when people form Russia and China have translated it. Personally I don't classify myself and think that anyone who bothers to is silly. I also realize photography is all in the eye of the beholder. Some people like my stuff (I won a huge trip to Hawaii I'm taking next week and Microtek is using my work to showcase their scanners soon) and others hate it. I keep the really nutty stuff that some encourage me to do off the site and try to stick with what the general audience seems to like. Like these shots of me at ? Thanks again for your kindness. KR
  13. Ken, nice to hear from you on this forum. Congratulations on your witty essay and, also, on the very moving sequence of pictures in your link. There are easier ways of getting a hair-cut!
  14. Hi from Malaysia

    Now there are 7 levels and a square got only 6 sides. Maybe to make it
    easy for myself I put all the sides as Level 7.
    Regards/wong kh
  15. Hi again,

    Square = dice
  16. I thought it was all about the equipment... I swear I would take better photographs if I only had a Summilux 35/1.4 ASPH. I swear. I'm sure. Gotta have one...
  17. Is really a good satire. I am on levels 1,5,6 all the time. As I am fully digital, at level 1 my standard argument is: "If I get the Canikon 1Dxs with 11.2345 MP we can get more detail and print larger". True, but does it really matter. Even knowing that I am down to level 1 might not prevent getting the Canikon 1Dxs. It's warm in Hell. Actually the real hell is only my bank account. Uwe
  18. To Alex S.: Yeah! To Ken R.: Great satire, almost a clinical analysis. Love your site (I *will* contribute), also like some of your pictures although I tend to agree with Alex on his critique --prizes and publishings notwhithstanding. As a Mexican, I would like to point you to a great amateur's site that has managed to capture Mexico with a soul filled vision: Cheers! --Jorge.
  19. Everything Ken Rockwell tells, makes lot of sense.<br>
    some points that I noted are:<br>
    1. Digital Camera- use the standard limited color spaces for which most are designed<br>
    2. The $100,000 three-CCD studio high-definition television cameras around which I work today still have problems with this, and so our cheap $5,000 single-striped CCD digital SLRs will, too.
  20. I respect what Ken says. Problem is it sounds like his ego fighting his practical side arguing with his professional side etc....

    His photography is inspiring and beautiful but narrow minded.....Ken clearly has worked hard at learning how to capture one type of image very well.....problem is....2 second exposures on a seascape has been done a billion times (whether you're shooting 35mm, 120, 4by5 etc.) The long exposures with Velvia are nice but again....*been done* He give awesome advice and I tip my hat to his knowledge on equipment and the "process" he's very helpful in that respect "thanks Ken" :)

    But there are cracks with his philosophy. I personally do work professionally but I try to impress the layman not the photographer. Ken is the 1st to tell you to buy the D100 & the F80 but he's self centered enough to also have a picture of himself using a 400mm 2.8 lens on the front page of his site. Ken? dragonflies & frogs man?

    Ironically Ken speaks of "soul" & "spirit" but calls "Christianity" *Mythology* lol

    Surfs up dude

  21. Ken like Nikon only, he will be glad to talk to any ameature. but when you tell him you have a F100 he shy away. why?
  22. I find a lot of similarities in the writing styles of Ken and Phil.
    Both use good natured humor<br> and have an open honest way of expressing
    things, but Phil is more narcissistic of the two!
  23. I came to Ken's website because of his equipment reviews, and then I accidentally bumped on his satire, which strangely links to this forum! His photographs are great, the type I like!

    I bounce between level 1 and 4 most of the time(but never 2 or 3), only occasionally I wonder up to level 5 and I do think that I might have wondered up to level 7 at least once in my close to 40 years of living.

    Cheers from Singapore,
  24. Hey ken? If you didn't want folks to read the info on your site (yellow background) then why is there so much info cut & pasted on it? You tell everyone they don't need everything you your self are using lol ie; 400mm lenses Nikon D1H's lol. Here's the best part - you say on your site in the "about me" page that someone gave you a left handed Nikon F100 to beta test? Did it ever occur to you to remove the watch that clearly appears on your left hand when one clicks on the "contact" link because the home page that depicts you with the "Left handed Nikon F100/400mm Lens" shows the watch on the right hand...geee you didn't reverse the image by any chance? lmao.... q;-)
  25. Level 0 is for jaded people who run websites and ruthlessly
    whine about where other people are in there spiritual
  26. What a lot of whining about Ken. I didn't see a gun being put to anyone's head in
    order to force them to read Ken's remarks. The we have to listen to someone tell us
    that his pics aren't up to snuff. More BS. Maybe if anyone bothered to understand
    what he said, which was that he shoots what HE wants, and isn't gonna jump off a
    bridge is some don't like it. I would be quite pleased if my pic caused me to win a
    paid trip to just about anyplace, let alone Hawaii. I hate snobs.
  27. Super pro Ken is accessing my email account and subscribing me to porno sites. *loser* Surely your "God" has provided answer for handing truths no?
  28. I got here through Ken's site.

    He's a great guy. Just like someone else said, he makes photos that HE likes. If you think his photos stink it doesn't matter. He has great points. You can be a great photographer and know nothing about these things. You may also not be, but you can definitely be aware of these things. Believe me, if you run a web site which has many visitors, you will experience alot of different people.

    I don't consider myself to belong to a specific group either. You should never just accept belonging to one group and think that it's good enough. That's not what making photographs is about. Making photographs is about trying to create that something.

    I don't strive to make the same type of photographs that Ken does. We don't share the same taste. Still I think his photos are great. I'm not talking about technically great here. He has a good eye.

    Anyways my point is that Ken Rockwell has important things to say. End of story.

    Saying that someone has to be the best on earth at doing what this person is doing in order to have an opinion is a really stupid thing to say. When it comes to art, that statement only mean one thing: the person saying it does not understand art.

    Maybe Ken is the best on earth at doing what he does. Only he himself knows.

    I use a Nikon F3. People who know what an F3 is may call me a measurbator (FYI, I chose it so I could take it with me during my military service on northern Sweden -- daily three feet drops etc). None of my measurbator friends understand my choice of camera however. It's a manual focus camera. In their eyes, you're f***ed when you have an MF camera. It's not even exotic. It's something left over from the stone age. They spend loads of money on the latest consumer compact digital camera and they keep the shutter release depressed while aiming at the pavement and looking in a different direction. They ask me how many pixels do my crappy stone-age analog film hold? I say huh? I usually say my Rolleiflex 120 film camera hold a few hundred. Thay stare at me like "I was asking a serious question and you just make jokes".

    Maybe I should mention that I disagree with Ken on some technical points. Just in case someone was getting any ideas.
  29. From Ken's "About" page :

    I also like to kid around now and then, so if you believe everything you read then that's your problem. Sorry. I have a huge sense of humor. I fool around, make stuff up and create hoaxes, too, when I feel like it. If you believe everything you read on the internet and see on TV have I got a bridge for you!

    Further down the page, about the lefty F100 :

    I have to return it to Nikon eventually, and of course when it breaks it won't be repaired. I even had a veterinarian friend in Africa who specializes in elephant care send me some phallus hide from the Loxodonta Africana (known for its flexibility and grip when wet) which I then had a local taxidermist apply to my camera in place of the original rubber.

  30. Hey thanks for pointing that out. I've been a bit harsh on Ken and it's not justified on my end......Photographers ego I suppose. Truth of the matter is, Ken's site has been a great help....saved me tons of time with my D1H (and many other topics) thanks to Ken's research and input.

    Ken my apologies for my unprofessional comments attacking you here....good luck with your work and the site and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.
  31. I'm an engineer, but not a measurebator.
    I don't earn a dime from my work.
    I'm afraid to tell people I own Nikon SLR's and Digis.
    I fear showing my work to anyone but my dog.
    I won a Nikon photo contest, and refused to respond to them.
    I hang prints in my house and put obscure names on them from
    Perhaps I'm a level 9, Dante Photographer. Afraid of my work, afraid of other people knowing I work and afraid of being discovered as
    a closet photographer.
    Cripes, I'm outed.

    (my son bought me a Holga 120, I keep it in my Yugo)
  32. Ken,

    We now know you to actually be Michael Jackson, in some sort of disguise. Your
    comments will receive the accolades that they richly deserve.
  33. My error, the previous post was directed at Neal, not Ken.
  34. Ain't got the foggiest idea what level I'm on. I still need to eat, prefer shooting film in rangefinder Leica M's because I can do that without really thinking about it, most of the time would rather be fishing, and discovered that most clients are perfectly willing to use digital via scanned negatives if I tell them that's how I plan on shooting.
  35. Well, after reading the wonderfully enlightening posts, I jumped into my XK-120 with my Retina III filled with TRI-X, snapped some pikies and will see if I can rise to Level 0 after I get out of my darkroom this AM. Think "Dark Star".
  36. Hello, I found this discussion from Ken Rockwell's page. :)

    I've been reading with interest, however, the earlier comment re. the "left-handed" camera, and subsequent comments prompted me to take a closer look. Well, looking on the "Contact" there is an image, again, with the watch on the right hand. However, the photo is a clickable link, which opens a rather large image. I guess I'm interested, because I, personally, am left handed. :)

    In any case, looking at the photo on the contact page, I got a little more curious... The watch didn't look quite right.

    I clicked on the image, and seeing it blown up, I knew what it was. I had to dig my watch off my desk to double check, but I am correct. A watch on a right-handed person has the crown on the outside, making it easy to wind while wearing. When worn on the right hand for a leftie, the crown is on the inside, forcing one to take off his watch to wind it. I grew up with this frustration, so am a bit sensitive to this. :)

    If you will notice on the watch on this image: <> the crown is on the _outside_ of the wrist! It is clearly being worn on the left arm! However... It gets weirder...

    If you look at the blow-up, the watch appears to be on _upside down_!

    So, has he merely taken a photo, flipped it in Photoshop, and reversed the two elements that would make it obvious? and taken a shortcut re: the watch dial, not expecting anyone to look that closely? or is he playing games with us? I tend to suspect the latter, including the existence of the "left-handed" camera.

    Hey. I'm left-handed. I could certainly use such a camera. I'll "beta test" it for an indefinite amount of time. ;-)

    Interesting thread. Interesting topic, interesting individual...
  37. Furthermore, you'll notice the part in his hair is opposite of his other photos. And in one of his family photos, he has a rather distinct tan line on his left wrist.

    However, the fact that any of us have looked this close to disprove an idiotic statement in the first place, I'm sure gives him the last laugh.

  38. Where does the TEACHER/TRAINER fit into Ken's Seven Levels OR this web-site, for that matter? One aspect we all SHARE in common is our desire to better ourselves--our skills in our kraft--isn't that so?

    Isn't that why we loved (or hated!) Ken's Seven Levels? Isn't that why we post/observe/read/evaluate each other's work, here, on this web-site?

    One of the first things I learned when I got into TEACHING was that there would be NO END to the LEARNING! That I would forever be BOTH the student AND the teacher! That I must learn from those who know/understand MORE than I do, and teach those who don't.

    I welcome learning from my "betters" --even if it is just a tid-bit, here and there! One small, new secret that my expensive education and vast experience has overlooked or missed!

    Occasionally, I have something helpful to show someone else, too! THAT pleases me almost as much as a capturing a great image, to be sure!

    THANKS KEN, you've taught me a LOT!

    Bob Slater
  39. Sorry my answer is 2.4 years too late, but here it is. So Ken's pix are boring because they've been done a billion times before. If there was one tree in the world, people would travel from around the world to lay in its shade or wonder great thoughts or marvel or worship. Since there are trees by the billions, civilizations lose their reverence & cut trees down by the billions. Both forests & civilizations are lessened & destroyed. John, don't lose your reverence because answers come to you by the billions. It's just God loving you enough to give you answers by the billions. Just take one answer at a time. From an amateur astronomer who marvels daily(sometimes even worships) that there are 2 million million billion stars in a universe 90 million million billion miles across who takes one star at a time...litesong
  40. I am looking to buy a digital camera I hope I get a good copy.
  41. man I should print this and hang it on my wall :)
  42. I got here through Ken's site. I read it almost every day. Now I will be reading every day also.
    I love Ken's site. I don't think he writes satire. I think he is a dry wit, somewhat egotistical and given to fits ofpouring out whatever comes to his mind that day. If you read him religiously there are a large number of contradictions in his opinions. He obviously doesn't re-read his journal very often. But that's like almost everyone else.
    I have no idea where I fit in his categorization of people who put images on paper. I am older (59), I have a Nikon D200 and four lenses, and I just love to carry it around, snap pictures and maybe print one or two out of a hundred or more and hang them unframed on my wall.
    I also greatly enjoyed Alex's lengthy review. All true and all critical but well done and not terribly self-serving.
    I realize this is an old thread but I hope to be contributing more as time goes on on this site.

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