I’m so happy for my dear friend, Jimmy Colton. He is semi-retired from our industry, still quite active and producing Pictures of the Month, and content for Zuma Press. But, he has moved to Florida, and is also expressing his creative instincts by making pottery, which is quite beautiful. But I do miss his important presence in our industry as a picture editor, and a source of wisdom, reason and decency. A recent example is his latest blog, “Have You Ever Thought About Plumbing As a Career?”
The title comes from a legendarily tough critique offered to a young aspiring photog by a picture editor who was obviously a devotee of “tough love.” Whether these words were said is the subject of debate. But, I can say, I have overheard some very nasty critiques in my time, some of which were the equivalent of taking a sledgehammer to the very fragile ego structure of a burgeoning (or not) photographer. “Why do you pollute the earth with these bad pictures?” is one I believe I might have heard once at the Eddie Adams’ Workshop, though again, given the haze 2am critiques mixed with numerous beers produces, I might be off on that quote myself.
The point Jimmy makes, quite eloquently, is that there are ways to go about critiques, or the offering of opinions. Difference, mixed with respect, is a healthy thing. No one is always gonna love your pictures. Failure is an ever present aspect of the photographer’s portfolio, along with the successes. Jimmy knows this, coming from a picture editing family. His brother Jay was also a photo editor, and his dad, Sandy, was a legend at the Associated Press.
I was on assignment, as a very young photographer, for the AP, at the finish of the Belmont Stakes. It was a potential triple crown run, and expectations were high. So were my nerves. I was sent to shoot the third race as a test. It was perfect. But for the big race, I hung with Spectacular Bid, the favorite, too long, and then swung to the eventual winner, which was Coastal. My film was miserably unsharp, to the point of being unusable. Tommy DiLustro, the AP editor on site, simply called out to me as he was furiously punching out selects, simply saying, “I wanna talk to you about your film, Joe.” He pulled me aside, quietly, and spoke to me about my mistake. He didn’t humiliate me, scream, dress me down in front of the other shooters. But he made his point. It was constructive, not destructive.
Many years later, I was on assignment for Jimmy when he was at SI. It was a big, expensive job, with a lot riding on it. It was the pictorial announcement package for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Jimmy wanted a highly evolved, technically complex, whiz bang set of pictures, such as below. The entire United States’ trampolining team, in the air, in an airport hangar in Lubbock, Tx. Multiple exposure. Four days of prep. Lots of dough. Lots of tension at the camera. Shot on one piece of film. Done.
You have to realize as a photog, a pic like the above is a big leap of faith for your picture editor as well. This goes off the rails, their butt is on the line, maybe even more so than yours. You are in it together. So when Jimmy called me with a thumbs up on this, it was better than getting any photo award.
‘Cause Jimmy was in it with me. His counsel was always available to you as a shooter in the field, or back at the office with a group of pictures you didn’t really know what to do with. He remained, throughout his career, a safe harbor for photogs. He remembered, and not all inside staff at the magazines do, how cold it can get out here in Freelanceville.
So his plumbing post has special resonance for me. In this age of discord, his admonishment to all of us to keep it civil and supportive is wise. Differ, of course, but do so graciously, constructively. Let’s face it, there’s plenty of people out there who are only too ready to screw photographers right to the wall via onerous contracts, rights grabs, lack of loyalty, underpayment or non-payment. To quote Ned in the 1981 movie, Body Heat, “Sometimes the shit comes down so heavy I feel like I should wear a hat.”
Lots of adversity and nastiness out there. No need for it amongst ourselves.
(The banner photo up top is a screen grab from Jimmy’s PhotoJournal. Portrait by the very fine photog, David Berkwitz. Jimmy and I go way back, by the way. He was the editor on location for Newsweek for John Paul II’s first visit to his native Poland. That was a crazy trip, and we’ve been friends ever since.)