Those (Damn) Volunteer Instructors

What is it with those guys? It’s always a guy. You’re busy working with your camera, and he, an authority, comes over and tells you you’re doing something wrong, or he has a better way of doing it. I was not aware that some people are able to invade our minds, decipher our intentions, penetrate our aesthetics, and, without being asked, so generously offer to impose their opinions.

And why does this always happen only with photography, and never with painting, though the first initially happens in a dark box, and the latter often out in the open? Imagine, you’ve set up a chair and an easel, and you’re painting a picture of, well, whatever, and someone happens by, and says, “That’s the wrong color. Try burnt sienna,” and you’re thinking of another form of burning, perhaps tossing a Molotov cocktail. How many graduates of Hogwarts are there? Are there as many as are graduates of the Rule of Thirds Academy?

My “sister,” the extraordinary Canadian artist, Barbara Bender, had a recent experience while photographing ultra-modern architecture in Las Vegas. Barbara is an accomplished master at complex layering and blending of multiple images. Here are her words:

“I was doing in-camera multiple exposures of details in and around fantastic new buildings. Because of the technique, they are rendered unrecognizable, and shapes and colors become distorted. Anyway, a man came up behind me and told me I didn’t need to bracket so much (I was doing a burst of nine images per frame). I told him I wasn’t bracketing but doing multiples, and showed him the playback. He got all snooty and said he was a professional photographer and a freelance for National Geographic, and that he is a purist. I said good for you. I am not a purist and work like this was just featured in LensWork. That got his attention. Then his nose went higher in the air as he informed me that LensWork only publishes monochrome. I said yes, but this was in the digital LensWork Extended, which includes color work, and that I’d had two monochrome portfolios in the past two years, in addition to two color ones. I stared him down and that shut him up. Snotty fucker. He lost the pissing contest.”

Warning: don’t get on the wrong side of Sister Barbara!

And what is a “purist?” Is it someone who bathes regularly and abstains from thought? Or is it one of Garrison Keillor’s Norwegian bachelor farmers? Perhaps it is someone who missed the etymology class on the word “artificial,” which derives from the Latin ars (art) and facere (to make).

My “sister” Nancy (I have several “sisters”), hearing this story, asked WWRD? (What Would Raphael Do?) That was an easy question to answer. Once, in Kennebunkport, Maine, an insistent volunteer instructor accosted me while I was concentrating on the extraordinarily difficult task of photographing scenic beauty without contributing to a postcard collection. On another occasion, a similar event happened in downtown San Francisco. Both times I tried to smile, and pretended to solicit further advice. When they had emptied themselves of thought — it didn’t take long — I thanked them and gave them my card. The first examined my card, blushed, and starting laughing with embarrassment. The second tore up my card, said something of which my parents would not have approved, then disappeared in the fog.

Talking about helping out photographers, I had a wealthy stockbroker friend who owned a Leica and an idea. He offered to pay for my travel to accompany him on business trips so I could scout out points of photographic interest and write a book about them. The idea was to provide business professionals, who had only a short time between meetings to go to a place and get the photographs they presumably wanted, as efficiently as possible. Stand here (footprints) and point your camera there (arrows). I could have had all this free travel, but I was too much of a purist.


© Raphael Shevelev. All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint is granted provided the article, copyright and byline are printed intact, with all links visible and made live if distributed in electronic form.

Raphael Shevelev is a California based fine art photographer, digital artist and writer on photography and the creative process. He is known for the wide and experimental range of his art, and an aesthetic that emphasizes strong design, metaphor and story. His photographic images can be seen and purchased at