Our good friend, Alexa Dilworth, created a Facebook post linking to an article in Slate Magazine about Ei Reed, Magnum’s first African-American photographer.

As I try to become a “better” photographer, I go to workshops, camera clubs, classes, galleries and other places where I hear critical talk about photographs. I hear about rules for making good photographs, about how people’s eyes move across images, about something called negative space (presumably bad) and about something called composition. I see technically perfect photographs as well as photos made with toy cameras and cellphones. It’s easy to find HDR color, black & white as well as more natural colors. Worst of all, I see lots of photos that I don’t like or that leave me indifferent: This is not a good thing.

For my own enjoyment of photography and other arts, I need to enjoy it more, learn to understand it. I feel anxious when I look at the work of other photographers: will I like it? Will I feel competitive and poo-poo what I see?

Thus it was with pleasure and relief that I looked at the photos of Eli Reed: I really liked the photos that I saw at the website.

How about this photo?


Surely this photo violates a bunch of rules. It does have some slanted lines and I guess that it follows the rule of thirds well enough. But the face of the girl on the right is half-hidden! That can’t be right! But my eyes go immediately to her eyes. Perhaps this is because I’m male; perhaps not.

More importantly, if the girl on the left were not looking so fixedly at the girl whom we cannot see, this photo would not be nearly as good as it is.

I still feel a bit anxious that I’m paying attention to how this photograph feels and to what I see and not enough to its formal properties, its composition and so forth. So I appreciate and need the validation of seeing this photograph praised by important people.