dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

"I gave you one simple task: kill Superman.
And you failed!"
Dan Stella's ten precepts of good photography

For my father, who guided my photgraphy but never lived to see it.

My father was a great photographer, better than 99 of 100 people reading this. Definitely better than me. My brother and I have tried for some time to organize a posthumous exhibition, but with 30,000 frames to review (2011 note: we're now up to 40,000), and no throwaway shots, it is a little daunting. And how could you ever follow the act of a guy who took a suitcase full of Kodachrome and candy on a trip, smuggled himself into the USSR in 1980 (left: Father and Son, Moscow), and managed to get back in one piece with all of the exposed film (as well as much too much Red Army gear)?

One sunny day in 1986, he handed me his Autoreflex T. By that point it had been to 44 countries and had the nicks, bright marks, pings and paint wear to prove it. To 13-year-old me, it was an impressive piece of hardware. He didn't need it; he was on his way to a Nikon, and ultimately to a roundtable discussion with Adams, Weston, Strand and Smith.

That afternoon was filled with a hundred shots, and a hundred, "Dante, is that picture really worth 50 cents?" Over the next few years, as minilab print after print hit the wastebasket, I heard the following:

1. Don't cut off the heads, hands or feet.

2. Hold your breath when you press the button.

3. Don't use 1/1000 of a second, ever. It doesn't work.

4. Don't shoot into the light. Point the subject into the light.

5. Keep the camera straight.

6. Use the 135mm for people.

7. 400 ASA good; 100 ASA better.

8. Shoot flash with the shutter at 1/60.

9. Avoid any shot that looks like it could be a postcard.

10. Any picture looks good blown up, but few look good on a contact sheet.