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Thread: The Real Problem with View Camera Magazine

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
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    The Real Problem with View Camera Magazine

    I've decided to start another thread because neither of the existing ones deal with the real issue.

    The fundamental problem with View Camera Magazine is that there is no apparent attempt at editorial direction or quality control.

    This is a particularly serious problem for this magazine because the contributors are photographers rather than professional writers.

    Because Mr. Simmons consistently says that he wants specific comments, I am going to focus my remarks on the current issue to illustrate what I mean. He won't like what I've got to say, and perhaps others will also take exception, but so be it.

    Norman McGrath is an accomplished architectural photographer. While he has a book to his credit, on the evidence of the two pieces that he wrote for the current issue for View Camera, he is not a writer. That understates the problem. Either he had a great deal of editorial guidance while writing the book that he published some years ago (which is perfectly normal) or his current articles for View Camera were tossed off without any regard for the people who might read them. Unfortunately, he did not get the advice of a trusted friend before he let View Camera publish these pieces. To put it bluntly, they are embarrassing. They are rambling, disjointed, anecdotal and amateurish to the point where one has to wonder whether Mr. McGrath was stoned when they were written. The fact that they were published is staggering, but is also not ultimately his fault. As noted above, he is a photographer, not a writer. He needs to have people around him who will say, as should have happened in this case, that the material was unpublishable, and he certainly deserved an editor who would ensure that the material was in decent shape. One of two things happened. Either the editor at View Camera does not know how bad the material was, or he or she doesn't care. Either way, the magazine failed Mr. McGrath, and the chief victim of that failure is Mr. McGrath himself.

    There is a different problem with the staff-written articles that introduce the portfolios. The problem is that the narrative portion of each of these articles has no apparent function other than to bridge various quotes, themselves of little insight. The writing of these introductions is at high school level, and would not recieve a grade higher than C from a generous teacher.

    As in the case of Mr. McGrath, I think that Mr. Barlow was badly let down by a complete failure of the magazine to exercise an editorial function. I am going to pass judgment on whether there was any point to the project that he undertook (an issue that he raises himself). I am simply going to observe that the articles do not allow one to draw any meaningful conclusions and, more importantly, that he makes repeated statements about people who donated materials that are not just ingratiating, but fawning. There are statements in his articles at which I cringed out of embarrassment for him. I am speaking specifically about references to sponsors referred to as "Kind Mr. so and so" and "Gentle Mr. so and so". Where on earth were the editors when Mr. Barlow was impaling himself like this?

    I was stunned at a two-page "review" by Ellis Vener on a Sekonic light meter. Mr. Vener's article is not a review. It is a two-page description of features. And what is on the back page of the magazine? A full page advertisement for the meter that Mr. Vener spent two pages describing. From the point of view of a reader, the obvious conclusion is that Mr. Vener is now in the business of writing what is commonly known as a puff piece. If I had been him, I would have told Mr. Simmons to find a staff writer to fulfill this function. Mr. Vener has a reputation to protect, and offering himself as an advertising copywriter for Sekonic to further the interests of a magazine that will print blatant puff pieces can do nothing except undermine his reputation. Why on earth would Mr. Vener put himself in this position and, more importantly, why would View Camera put Mr. Vener in this position?

    So why do I read View Camera? When I buy the magazine, it is to obtain the articles that Kerry Thalmann and others write about historical issues. Mr. Thalmann is no great stylist, but writing an article that sets out historical data about a company or a series of lenses does not require style. He and the others who do this yeoman work do it competently, and they can write a sentence in English. When View Camera runs an article of this kind in which I am interested, I purchase the magazine, photocopy the historical material, and throw the magazine itself in the trash.

    I would have a higher regard for View Camera if it had an editor who had sufficient regard for the photographers who write for the magazine to ensure that they do not embarrass themselves in public. Unfortunately, that is not currently the case.

  2. #2

    The Real Problem with View Camera Magazine

    So, you didn't like it?

  3. #3

    Join Date
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    The Real Problem with View Camera Magazine

    So what's wrong with articles written for photographers, by photographers? At least the photographers who write know their subject inside out.

    Which is of course why you like Kerry Thallman's articles.

    If you don't like it, don't buy it. If you don't buy it, Steve improves his product or goes out of business.

    Public bashing won't work - write to Steve directly with your criticisms.

    Graeme

  4. #4
    Doug Dolde
    Guest

    The Real Problem with View Camera Magazine

    Rory, I have to agree with your observation, particularly regarding Norm McGrath's articles. In fact I thought much the same thing when I read it, that it was pretty disorganized and inconclusive.



    I'm finding Lenswork much more to my liking these days; I can get equipment reviews anywhere. Lenswork focuses on photography and editorial viewpoints, not gear.

  5. #5

    The Real Problem with View Camera Magazine

    Rory,

    I too am often disappointed by what I read in View Camera, but then again I am disappointed by most of what I read in print. The truth is that it is darn difficult to write and few people who do it for a living are any good at it. How does this happen? We all know that we donít really live in a meritocracy.

    Mr. Simmons is just running a business. Maybe he has not been approached by someone of great talent and information who can do the work he needs done. That person is not I, but perhaps it could be you. Perhaps you could offer your editorial services.

    There are some good writers who visit this forum. They do it because they love it and they do if for free. Money has a way of screwing things up. Consider freelancing an article for View Camera and if Mr. Simmons turns it down, send it our way and we can better judge what can and should be done in the name of good writing on the subject of large format photography.

    Cheers,

  6. #6

    The Real Problem with View Camera Magazine

    Dear Rory

    I am anxiously anticipating your writing articles, helping to edit, but most especially, investing in View Camera magazine so we can all benefit from your abilities and expertise. Perhaps with enough investment on your part, the magazine can begin to eliminate ads.

    Glad you are stepping forward and not merely commenting from the sidelines!

    Regards,

    John

  7. #7

    The Real Problem with View Camera Magazine

    I have to agree with you, Rory. The writing is often quite embarrassing in View Camera magazine. There are too many articles that don't even use complete sentences. If photographers are writing the articles, then shame on them. If it is an editorial lapse, then somebody isn't doing his or her job. If it is an editorial decision -- purposely to print badly written prose -- then that decision is simply wrong. There is really no justification to tolerate incomplete sentences and poor grammar. It can impede the flow of communication to the point where it simply stops -- and think of the poor readers whose first language is not English!

    The poor layout is also often a problem with the magazine. Several articles in the past have been set in landscape orientation. While I have no quarrel with printing full-page photographs in that orientation, it becomes a serious problem when you're trying to read text that extends across an entire page. Lines of 40 words or more are simply impossible to read, and violate one of the most fundamental tenets of typographical design and layout.

    If you get one person to put in two day-long proofreading sessions for each issue, it would largely eliminate the vast majority of these basic problems in English. First, of course, editorial standards must be set -- something that may or may not have been done yet.

    I realize that the magazine may not have a lot of money; that it is written by people who would rather be out in the field than at their desk; and that the editor may be trying to preserve a certain "quality" of writing in the submissions. Personal expression and idiosyncrasies should be respected, and personally, I am open to creativity and innovation in the use of the English language (so long as it is within the bounds of comprehensibility). But the magazine's editor simply must do better. Wielding the ax is justified, even necessary, if the magazine's primary function -- communication -- is in jeopardy.

    Finally, the staff should strive to produce a journal that is worthy of future generations of photographers. Clearly, there are many, many articles published in View Camera that have great artistic or technical merit (there are others, as you say, that are simply laundry-lists of snazzy features and read like a publicity bulletin put out by the manufacturer). But whatever the merits of an article, it should at least be set down in such a way that it will be understood for many years to come, by people who many not understand all of the passing fashions in our language.

  8. #8
    Beverly Hills, California
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    The Real Problem with View Camera Magazine

    PLEASE! This unjust, harsh criticism just can't be good for anyone. I believe View Camera is a relatively open publication. Instead of criticising, you should be out there refining your LF technique so that perhaps one month, you'll have a decent portfolio or technical article you can rightfully request to have published in it.

    (And I thought expecting too much out of life was just a problem that I alone struggle with - apparently I have company.)

  9. #9

    The Real Problem with View Camera Magazine

    Goodness. Sounds to me like someone either 1) needs to start their own photography magazine because they have the time, expertise and the energy to bring those of us that have been long time subscribers of this "specialty" magazine from these quasi self imposed literary doldrums OR 2) they simply need to get out in the field and use some of their skills on their photography and leave it at that.

    Even the highly regarded New York Times has experienced a taste of some crow recently. Steve is doing the best that he can and given the fact that he sells thousands of magazines a month and not hundreds of thousands of copy a day with a budget that comes with these numbers we should be very thankful that we have a venue for our chosen medium even if it is not perfect.

    Since I know that your heart is in the right place because of your other contributions to this forum I would simply recommend that your forward your resume to Steve and we would all be better for the results.

    Cheers!

  10. #10
    5x5 with 4x5
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    The Real Problem with View Camera Magazine

    :..Instead of criticising, you should be out there refining your LF technique ..."

    Hmmm. I was not aware that View Camera Magazine was worthy of such status to not be as open to criticism as any other publication..

    Why is it that just because their focus is the large format world, that they are above scrutiny? It is a minor publication, and yes, not a very good one at that, when judged on journalistic content.

    It is no more than a LF version of Popular Photography -

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