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Author Topic: Of Cameras and Art  (Read 18090 times)
Mark D Segal
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« on: September 17, 2006, 09:28:45 PM »
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Hello Alain,

If I may be so bold as to distill the essence of your essay in one sentence: "Without vision, knowledge, skill, dedication, taste and experience, you can have bagfulls of the best hardware and software money can buy and it won't produce a decent photograph, but unfortunately most people don't appreciate that".  Fine. Quoi de neuf? And why should most people know any better? But I'll bet the people who pay good money for your photographs know exactly why they are doing it and what they are getting.

Those of us who have had the pleasure of dealing with the public at large in a commecial environment should be pretty thick-skinned regarding just about anything that comes along. I worked part-time in photographic retail when I was a youngster and some of the episodes with our customers are unforgettable even now. But hey, that's life, n'est-ce pas?

Cheers,

Mark
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
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giles
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« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2006, 09:58:30 PM »
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One thing that crossed my mind is to wonder:

Does the limited understanding of the medium make it easier or harder to sell?
(If a potential customer thinks driving out to a location with a P&S is all that it takes, will they do that?  If they think "magical" professional equipment is required, will they be happier to buy?)

Granting a-priori the value of educating people, in a sales situation if the priority is sales (which it's going to be sometimes for someone trying to make a living) does it matter other than for the photographer's status as misunderstood genius  what the customer thinks about the balance of equipment, technique, post-production craft and artistic vision in producing the prints they're looking at?

I really liked the article.  Thanks Alain for sharing it, and Michael for hosting it.

Cheers,

Giles

P.S. I've been told "you must be getting some good photographs" when shooting. My thoughts usually run along the lines "I wish", "I hope so", "when will this wind/rain/sunshine/... cooperate?", and "there's a shot here somewhere: why aren't I seeing it?".
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erusan
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« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2006, 01:30:58 AM »
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And why should most people know any better?

I read the essay with much pleasure and found it inspiring, meaning a confirmation of consciousness of the attitude mentioned by mr. Briot in myself, and the intention to do better in the future. Which, I assume, is one of the goals of this essay: enlightening the masses.

On the other hand, I consider the above quote to be spot-on (if I read it correctly). Interest in photography for many non-professionals goes hand in hand with a fascination for the material which is used. Perhaps it is an attempt to compensate lack of skill, who knows, but it is a well recognized phenomenon.
But why not let those people roll around in their own cosy but fictive world? Is it necessary for high-end pro photographers to take the chatty remarks of ignorant amateurs serious and go out of their way to announce this "gospel" about the truth of image making, even though they know it's hardly any use? Or, put differently, why does mr. Briot go through the trouble to try and "save" the straying sheep?

There is no doubt that (us, I) amateurs with our limited understanding of art have an attitude to things that may cause bad dreams to some of the Wizards of Light. What interests me though, is whether the motivation for these eloquent and very informative "rants" are frustration about this ignorance, or true compassion with the poor unknowing crowd.

Disclaimer: I hope the above makes sense, the essay provoked thoughts and I would like to share them. No intention to insult anyone.

P.S. I remember an essay by Michael Reichmann in which he states that better material is preferred, and how the whole story of "it's the photographer who makes the image" is a relative concept, characteristic of "forum wisdom" ;-)
« Last Edit: September 18, 2006, 06:55:50 AM by erusan » Logged

erusan
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2006, 02:07:24 AM »
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Alain,

Do you think that these remarks you are getting would be the same in Europe and Japan?

I personnally think they would be different in Japan. I feel that there is a strong cultural influence on the relationship between the artist and the art watcher/buyer.

I do feel that people in Japan tend to show more respect for a person recognized as a master and would rarely question the artistic superiority of such a person. Most viewers would most probably not bring the discussion to the matter of equipment, or then only as a result of curiosity.

If I were to risk a dary hypothesis, I would say that the prominence of hierarchy as a structuring part of the Japanese society directly impacts the relationship between the viewer and the recognized artist, which prevents some questioning.

Or is it the same in the US, and you would not be enough of an institution yet to prevent some people from hoping that they could top your work... had they the same gear?  Just kidding of course, you know how much I respect your work.

Cheers,
Bernard
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Craig Arnold
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« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2006, 02:22:09 AM »
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Well it's the old equipment v art chestnut again isn't it?

I like to think of them as two distinct but related hobbies. The technical hobby can be mastered by anyone with a somewhat logical mind, and explored to great depth by anyone who has the money to do so.

The second activity, and of course by far the harder and more scarce, is the making of great images.

Curiosly I know a fine art photographer who actually finds the technical side of photography very difficult, and perhaps as a result, in his lectures tend to focus far more than they should on aperture, shutter speed, film type, etc. Such people  have a rare gift for seeing and capturing beauty, but have had to really work hard at mastering the technique required to turn that vision into a print.

I think that sort of photographer actually contributes to the problem the essay explores. And being a very humble sort, the man I'm thinking of probably feel a bit bemused that people with expensive equipment aren't turning out higher quality work.
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alainbriot
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« Reply #5 on: September 18, 2006, 02:36:49 AM »
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Alain,
Do you think that these remarks you are getting would be the same in Europe and Japan?
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=76747\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Hi Bernard,

It is hard to say because I only do shows in the US.  I sell to the rest of the world over the internet and you don't get these comments over email or phone because people are pre-qualified by the time they contact you.  Shows are different since anyone can walk up to me and ask any question they wish.

But, I did sell to a worldwide audience at Grand Canyon and had the same questions from European visitors.  Japan is a little different because people exhibit a much more reserved public appearance and show a lot of respect.  I have not received this type of comment from a Japanese person but I had several Japanese men show me their expensive cameras and tell me they couldn't do what I do with them.

Alain
« Last Edit: September 18, 2006, 02:52:07 AM by alainbriot » Logged

Alain Briot
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« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2006, 03:00:06 AM »
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But is this about respect? I mean, that would be an interesting essay for sure: if you do not have the knowledge required to acknowledge the expertise required for a certain outcome (of any kind), is it then still possible to respect that outcome?

Even so, I still think, as the essay mentioned, that this is somewhat barking up the wrong tree. LL visitors generally already know this adagium, and the described reactions are, in my opinion, less than helpful for other prospective photographers.

A more appropriate response might be something along the lines of this:

dude: "Boy, those are some great images, you must have one mighty expensive camera?"

you: "Of course, you can't win a formula 1 race if you don't have a formula 1 car, can you?"

dude: "Yeah"

you: "But then again, if you put johnny nobody in a ferrari or you put Michael Schumacher in one, who will bring back the first price by the end of the day...?"

And if you feel a bit more to the point:

you: "But then again, if I put you in a ferrari or I put Michael Schumacher in one, who will bring back the first price by the end of the day...?"

etc...

Of course, depending on the intellectual capacity of dude, you might try different metaphors, Nascar, football, baseball, and best of all, if buyer likes your metaphor it will be much easier to charge the extra (compensation for the insult).: "You can be proud of your purchase sir, you now own a real Michael Schumacher!".

btw. Alain, it seems your essays are becoming somewhat of a therapeutic diary. What's with the continuous negative approach? I kind of miss the enthusiasm for the line of work your in....



Quote
Hi Bernard,

It is hard to say because I only do shows in the US.  I sell to the rest of the world over the internet and you don't get these comments over email or phone because people are pre-qualified by the time they contact you.  Shows are different since anyone can walk up to me and ask any question they wish.

But, I did sell to a worldwide audience at Grand Canyon and had the same questions from European visitors.  Japan is a little different because people exhibit a much more reserved public appearance and show a lot of respect.  I have not received this type of comment from a Japanese person but I had several Japanese men show me their expensive cameras and tell me they couldn't do what I do with them.

Alain
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=76752\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
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Oscar Rysdyk
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alainbriot
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« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2006, 03:57:14 AM »
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btw. Alain, it seems your essays are becoming somewhat of a therapeutic diary. What's with the continuous negative approach? I kind of miss the enthusiasm for the line of work your in....
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=76755\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

The next essay will be very different in tone.  Variety is the spice of life ;-)
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Alain Briot
Author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Composition, Creativity and Personal Style., Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold.
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pobrien3
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« Reply #8 on: September 18, 2006, 04:41:38 AM »
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We can complain all we like, but this is a running theme and it's not going away soon, and frankly it doesn't bother me no matter how often I hear it.  Oscar hit it on the head - the average punter does not have the knowledge to acknowledge the expertise.  If I had a dollar for every time someone said "that's a great camera, no wonder you get good shots" or something along those lines, then I'd make more money than I ever did out of the photos.  I'd bet there's almost no-one reading this board who hasn't heard that comment.  When I hear it I usually just agree with them and tell them that it's so good I often send it out by itself while I sit at home counting the money.

Should we care how carefully and uniquely Rembrandt mixed his paints, what type of saw Leo Fender used to shape the strat, what chisel Rodin favoured?  Art comes after mastery of the craft - once you know how to use the tools, you can more competently express your vision.  If Joe Public thinks that the equipment is what makes your shots special, then he's not likely to change his mind nor is he likely to be a buyer in your market.  But remember it's the equipment that gives you the tools you need (no good giving Mr Schumacher a pushbike, to overextend the earlier metaphors); Joe Public couldn't print the Grand Canyon 7 feet wide from a shot with his point and squirt.

Smile, and be grateful they prefaced it with "your work is beautiful..." - they could have said "that's no good, it's only down to the equipment".  The people who make these comments aren't generally the one's who will buy your work, and if they do, you got the last laugh!
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2006, 05:06:36 AM »
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If I had a dollar for every time someone said "that's a great camera, no wonder you get good shots" or something along those lines, then I'd make more money than I ever did out of the photos.  I'd bet there's almost no-one reading this board who hasn't heard that comment.  [a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=76758\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Similar approach here, just after a potentially that's-the-camera-right-?-!- kind of person starts commenting on a photo I took, I anticipate by saying myself that it is mostly the result of me using a good camera and being lucky (with the weather of whatever).

Actually, this could be the result of a conversion with Alain last year.

It works wonder when you try to avoid one more of these conversations.

Cheers,
Bernard
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pobrien3
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« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2006, 05:20:40 AM »
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When I'm taking pictures at performance events, I get the opportunity to use a flattering approach - I often say that it's impossible to take a bad picture of such a great subject (dancer, actor, musician, etc.)!
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Ben Rubinstein
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« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2006, 06:07:12 AM »
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We should all go back to shooting with Leicas, that would shut them up!

That said, Alain, you shoot with large format, how the hell does the camera make your picture when it is possibly the most manual and difficult to handle formats of camera around? Oh sorry, it was the filters right!

I did really enjoy the essay, made me laugh out loud quite a few times...
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2006, 06:46:16 AM »
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That said, Alain, you shoot with large format, how the hell does the camera make your picture when it is possibly the most manual and difficult to handle formats of camera around? Oh sorry, it was the filters right!
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=76761\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Alain would have been seen shooting with a 1ds2 as well recently... no wonder his images are so nice... :-)

Cheers,
Bernard
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Kenneth Sky
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« Reply #13 on: September 18, 2006, 07:24:52 AM »
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This problem transcends photography. You would be surprised how many of my patients think that access to medical facts on the internet give them the ability to diagnose disease. They just come to my office for confirmation and a prescription that they are legally not able to sign for. Alain, has no one ever asked you how long and hard you had to work to create your masterpiece? Perhaps, it's an answer they don't want to hear. A connaiseur recognizes genius in others.
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TimothyFarrar
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« Reply #14 on: September 18, 2006, 08:36:40 AM »
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Alain, what an excellent article!

After finishing up our show season over the weekend, my wife and I have been concidering the best methods of dealing with this class of people.

One could assume that this class of person is not going to buy photography in the first place, so why waste any time on conversation with them, or take the other side, they are presenting a challenge, perhaps a choice selection of comments will make them change their minds.

Anyone ever been sucessful in selling to this type of person?

From our experience, those who are there to purchase photography, don't engage in conversation of the technical aspects, and all those who do are simply not there to purchase anything (at least from our booth).

The problem we see the most of is from people who have the film prejudice (ie digital is simply not an art form). Many of these are possible buyers of photography. We have seen people that are amazed at the work until they learn that we shoot digital. At all the shows we have done, the 1st place in photography (prize money) always goes to a traditional film photographer. These are all issues that directly effect income.

So for the possible buyer who has a prejudice against digital, what do you say?

"Digital simply provides us with better ability to present our artistic vision of what we captured from the camera."

"These colors are not the result of filters, but rather we bring out the natural colors captured by the camera through our development process."

Or do you just say it how it is?

"In the same way the master sculptor manuplates clay to produce their art, we transform what the camera records into the art you see on the paper in front of you through our own unique form of skill-full manuplation."
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Craig Arnold
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« Reply #15 on: September 18, 2006, 08:36:50 AM »
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This problem transcends photography. You would be surprised how many of my patients think that access to medical facts on the internet give them the ability to diagnose disease. They just come to my office for confirmation and a prescription that they are legally not able to sign for. Alain, has no one ever asked you how long and hard you had to work to create your masterpiece? Perhaps, it's an answer they don't want to hear. A connaiseur recognizes genius in others.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=76767\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Very good point. As a computer programmer one is constantly told how someone has a 16-year old nephew who can do the most amazing things, write software and fix any technical problem.

And yet those youngsters go off to University do Computer Science degrees and then I still have to teach them for 2-3 years to get any really useful work out of them.  
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Ben Rubinstein
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« Reply #16 on: September 18, 2006, 09:18:42 AM »
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Hey, apart from anything else, even if there incredible digi P&S could do it straight out of camera, the maxim 'f8 and be there' has two points, the technical, and much more importantly, where they there on that damp and cold dawn morning having planned exactly where to be at which time for the composition that they've had in mind for 6 months? You've got to be there even with your incredible camera!


I had been waiting for the snow all year. When the snow started to fall I checked the forecast and it was going to be heavy. I packed up the car and spent the whole day looking for a suitible vantagepoint. That morning I was driving at 4am to reach the location at 6 for sunrise in thick and heavy fog right in the middle of the Lake District. I got to the place I wanted then waded into the freezing lake up to my knees and sat on a rock for two hours while photographing this scene. This was almost the last shot I took. Shot on a 10D with a 17-40L at f22 (diffraction) with an awful manfrotto L bracket, and this is only a 40% crop of the frame, I had been shooting wider. The picture has only 4 layers minus the sharpening. To hell with the technicalities, I had to be there didn't I?
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David White
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« Reply #17 on: September 18, 2006, 09:31:14 AM »
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After receiving this essay from Alain a while back, I sent him a response which he publshed on his site as an essay.  It can be viewed here.
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David White
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« Reply #18 on: September 18, 2006, 09:55:10 AM »
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Alain Briot writes in Of Cameras and Art:
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I could have loaned them my camera, told them to take a couple of photographs with it, but unless I followed them home, waited for them to get their film developed and their photos printed, I would not be in a position to make my point.
For me the real issue here is that the result of such an experiment would very likely not be as decisive as one might expect. It presumes the other person involved would actually see any qualitative difference between the two prints. Quite possibly the other person would notice a significant difference in detail and/or acutance - but even then there are differences in near vision that can make or break even this perception.

'Way back in my college days (which happened to be at the height of the hippy era), a very common occurrence was for a person to have a particular epiphany upon ingesting a psychoactive chemical. I heard this any number of times: "It's as if I never really saw colour before. Everything I see is just so incredibly vivid. The colours are all so sensual." These people were not referring to a temporary distortion induced by the chemical agent. The effect was usually permanent, persisting long after the moment and day of the awakening. It almost seems as though most?/many? people have a sort of unconscious de-colourizing filter happening in their visual cortices. My guess is such a person simply isn't paying much attention to colour (or line or form or texture) but instead uses vision as a means to various practical ends, and not as an end in itself.

When I show a portfolio of photographic prints to a sympathetic but non-artist individual I can pretty well predict in advance that the viewer will be looking through the print as if it were a window to the original scene. His/her interest is almost entirely focused on the subject matter. If someone is fishing in the picture and the viewer does fishing, the overriding question will be: what rod was the person in the picture using? What kind of motorboat is that? Where is that scene located? Certainly, there is some recognition that the scene is "pretty". If the colours happen to be esp. vivid, then the colours will be "pretty" too.

Adults normally bring a set of expectations to any new situation to use as a starting point. A photograph does not particularly suggest that the visual fine art mindset is appropriate. Most photographs are vacation snaps or advertisements or newspaper illustrations - these are all cases when the photograph is meant as a transparent window onto the original subject: i.e. documentation. A colour photograph is all the more realistic; and a sharp, detailed colour photograph yet more so. In contrast, a painting with evident brush strokes is rarely assumed to be anything other than a work of art, so the mindset (often including liberal helpings of inferiority and apprehension) a typical viewer brings to it will prepare him to give at least some attention to the painting as a physical object as well as to the subject matter (if any) it references. In my experience, to expect the typical viewer to approach any realistic colour photograph with the mindset she reserves for painting is to set oneself up for disappointment.

That takes us to the special case of the non-artist viewer who is also a photo hobbyist. The typical profile of such an individual seems to be a male who loves machinery/gadgets for their own sake, and who may in fact use his camera ... if at all ... to take pictures of other gadgets, such as cars, trains, and planes. This is what Peripatetic nicely calls the related hobby of photo gadgeteering. Nevertheless, it is surprisingly common for the photo gadgeteer to cross-dress into the art microcosm, motivated by a real enthusiasm for all things pretty. Now prettiness might seem to be the naural domain of the human female; and one might expect gender insecurity from keeping gadgeteer males from crossing the line here. In fact, males are engineered such that a fairly large minority have at least the rudimentary appreciation of prettiness it takes to admire the nubile female form. This in turn occassionally bleeds over on to sunsets, mountains, and lakes ... with the usually disastrous results (forgive my parochial prejudice) we are all familiar with.

So the case that Alain reports of the photo gadgeteer who is convinced that the camera makes the picture is just one symptom of the more general case of the photo gadgeteer who has not yet gotten sucked into that vortex whose maw is Pretty, whose funnel is Beauty, and whose end point is that black hole of Pure Art from which no ego escapeth.
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #19 on: September 18, 2006, 10:22:09 AM »
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This problem transcends photography. You would be surprised how many of my patients think that access to medical facts on the internet give them the ability to diagnose disease. They just come to my office for confirmation and a prescription that they are legally not able to sign for. Alain, has no one ever asked you how long and hard you had to work to create your masterpiece? Perhaps, it's an answer they don't want to hear. A connaiseur recognizes genius in others.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=76767\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Given the situation with access to medical care in Ontario these days your patients should consider themselves fortunate that they have you to come to. Due to four decades of partially myopic policy here, many others truly do need to depend on the internet "faute de mieux" - but this is just an O.T. rant of mine about another talk show - the point you are making is completely valid. My wife makes jewelry and we sell it at craft fairs. It's the same story as every other story in this thread. People who know what's involved and have that kind of taste appreciate it and buy it. Others make various other kinds of converation and we just grin and bear it.
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
Author: "Scanning Workflows with SilverFast 8....." http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/film/scanning_workflows_with_silverfast_8.shtml
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