Photography 101 – Anthony’s Scissors

This begins a series of very basic pictures.

The images are monochromatic renditions of boats in the fog from a recent morning in Springs. Considering that it’s my 101st post here on WordPress there couldn’t be a more appropriate title than “Photography 101”.

All of us who take pictures with any kind of serious interest can benefit by being both teacher and student.  We remind ourselves what works behind the camera and then we pay attention. When we get out there with our cameras in a “101 state of mind” we start to see things better.

What works best for me is keeping things simple.

What that means is eliminating everything that’s not needed in the picture. In some cases that means eliminating 90% of your photograph (which is not easy). You get attached. You want all of it… the sky, the clouds, the water. But part of you knows it doesn’t work. Getting rid of the clutter isn’t always easy because it requires a critical eye. It calls for non attachment.

A long time ago I was taking one of Anthony Nobile’s workshops. Our assignment was to take a black and white picture, develop it and return the following week.  I still have a distinct memory of working on my own picture. After a few days, the group of us gathered again in the garage where he conducted classes. Our chairs were pulled into a close circle around a portable heater.  Tony was an unorthodox instructor who spoke with very careful language so we were on the edge of our seats.

I remember him leafing though our pictures while his cat brushed against our shins. The room was quiet – monasterial.  After a few moments, he selected a landscape and held it up. Then we watched as he cut out a small rectangle with a pair of scissors. He raised the cut-up print looking something like a rogue priest holding the Eucharist.

All he said was,  “this works.”

It wasn’t religion (thank goodness) but it was a game changer for me. Someone else’s print had been cut up, but it could just as well have been mine. Tony’s pair of scissors ushered in a lengthy period of ripping up my own prints that lasted a couple of years. Occasionally there were some good moments – times when I pulled a picture out of the developer that actually worked.

It was around then that I began to understand the nature of simplicity in photography. That was 35 years ago and I’m still in 101.

10 thoughts on “Photography 101 – Anthony’s Scissors

  1. I think what makes this image engaging, besides the simplicity and mysterious quality evoked by the fog, is the glimmer of sun as well as the overall softness of the light and texture of the reeds.


  2. After a dozen years at Audubon magazine, followed by a short stay at National Geographic, I got very tired of looking at nature photos, including landscapes. But your extraordinary work has rekindled my fires. Thanks, John.


  3. John, touche! You really hit the mark with the synopsis of Anthony and his scissors, the garage the cat and the stove … but you left out the peppermint tea … I swear you must have been there when I was there, it sounds so eerily authentic … excellent bit of writing … Thanks so much, I was transported to Northport for a moment there … (image is awesome too!)


  4. I’m understanding your way of taking pictures much better now. Keep the things simple. Yes! But does it also mean: Don’t crop?

    I do crop. Not a lot, but some times it’s just necessary. It depends on what I saw as I took the picture. Or better: How I saw the situation as I took the picture.

    My be it’s silly to say so. I never was taught like you are. All I know is: There are lots of photographers they won’t never ever crop …


    1. Anthony absolutely cropped (and so do I…assuming it works). That’s what his scissors were busy doing at that workshop–he was cropping one of his student’s pictures (and we were horrified)!

      I’d say we’re both very much in synch on this. It sounds like we both do some cropping but not too often. My teacher (who studied with Caponigro and Minor White) was quite a character and I’m sure you would’ve loved him.

      When I sent you the link to this post I was saying “I’m still learning photography…35 years later”. 🙂


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