March 7, 2019

Don’t Listen to Others and Five Things I‘ve Learned From Others

Dunes of Nude No. 227

In my last blog post I strongly suggested that people should not to listen to other people’s advice, and someone called me on that advice! He reminded me that one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned came from following someone else‘s advice (Ansel’s already done Ansel)

He’s right, sometimes you should listen to the lessons taught by others! I’d like to share five lessons I’ve learned from important people in my life.


Mr. Casey

Mr. Casey owned Casey’s Camera in Rochester, NY. Upon discovering photography at age 14, I visited the camera shop frequently…probably much too frequently. I was there all the time; talking, asking questions and buying old cameras which I would then trade in a month later. No matter how long I was there, how many questions I asked, how many times I traded in cameras…he was always patient and kind.

It wasn’t until some 40 years later that I came to appreciate how very kind and patient he had been with me. 

And so I decided to track down Mr. Casey and thank him for his kindness, but I wasn’t even sure if he was still alive. I searched Rochester for Casey’s camera and came up empty but did find a Casey’s Camera in Las Vegas. I thought that was an odd coincidence and so I called the camera store and asked if they knew a Mr. Casey. The employee who answered said he had never heard of a Mr. Casey and didn’t know how their store had come by that name. Just as we were ending the call, I heard someone in the background yell: Mr. Casey, Dick Casey?

It turns out that this man had purchased the store from Dick Casey after he had moved it to Las Vegas and then retired. He didn’t know if Mr. Casey was still alive, but he knew that he had retired to Pennsylvania.

After a little research I found Mr. Casey and he was still alive. I spoke to him on the phone and told him my story and thanked him for his patience and kindness. He apologized because he had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s and could not remember me or those experiences. And it didn’t matter that he couldn’t remember, I was grateful to be able to thank him and register an important life lesson: be kind to the little people…figuratively and literally. 


Joe Boyle

Joe ran Leonard’s Camera Department in Garden Grove where I worked. Joe had been a combat photographer in World War II and after the war, he worked for the Hollywood studios taking stills for promotional purposes. Joe became more than a boss to me, he was also a friend and a mentor.

Joe’s approach to photography was different than what I had seen and experienced: he learned photography in the depression era and practiced it in wartime conditions, where you had to make do with what you had on hand. This gave Joe the ability to solve any photographic problem with without heading to the camera store to purchase a solution. Joe’s solutions may not have been pretty or fancy, but they did the job.

Once Joe taught me how to remove telephone lines from an image, not in the darkroom, but in the camera. He put his camera on a tripod and composed the scene. He then mounted an 8X10 piece of glass a few inches from the lens and while looking through the camera, used a Q-Tip to paint Vaseline over the telephone lines on the glass. The Vaseline would blur the telephone lines, rendering them invisible. It was beautiful in its simplicity and effectiveness.

I learned two lessons from Joe: the first is that you don’t need the best equipment to create great images. And second, that if you have a problem, figure it out!


John Holland

John was my photo teacher at Loara High School and my friend for life. I skipped most classes in my junior and senior year (barely graduating) and held my own “independent study” in the photo department. 

John was a “creative” and so much more than just a photographer. Besides photographing he painted, sculpted, designed and was an all-round creative person. The thing that I learned from John (although the lesson didn’t sink in until much later in life) was that photography was not really about photographing, but about creating.

John had a huge influence on my photography and my life. I created the image “John Holland Memorial” in his honor as we gathered in the High Sierra to spread his ashes.

John Holland Memorial

I miss John, he died too young.



Mr. X

I call this next person Mr. X because I don’t know his name. For those of you who have read some of my blogs or attended one of my presentations, you will be familiar with this story:

A few years ago I was attending Review Santa Fe where over the course of a day my work was evaluated by a number of gallery owners, curators, publishers and “experts” in the field. 

During the last review of a very long day, the reviewer quickly looked at my work, brusquely pushed it back to me and said “It looks like you’re trying to copy Ansel Adams.”  I replied that I was, because I loved his work! He then said something that would change my life:

“Ansel’s already done Ansel and you’re not going to do him any better.  What can you create that shows your unique vision?”

Those words really stung, but the message did sink in: Was it my life’s ambition to be known as the world’s best Ansel Adams imitator? Had I no higher aspirations than that?

That sent me on a journey to find out if I had a Vision. I did and it changed not only my photography, but my life.


Vered Galor

Vered befriended me and became my mentor shortly after my return to photography in 2004.

She and I were exact opposites in one respect, she was an artist who used a camera and I was a photographer who used a camera. She created while I documented and we had many spirited discussions about that. I had grown up with a photographer’s mentality and for me there was no worse sin than to “manipulate” an image. Vered was an artist and tried to convince me to create, which I resisted.

I am grateful that Vered was even more stubborn than I was, and did not give up on me. This is the first image that I felt that I had “created” from my Vision, and not just documented:

The Angel Gabriel

There are many great lessons to be learned from others, some come from advice given and others come from examples lived.




32 thoughts on “Don’t Listen to Others and Five Things I‘ve Learned From Others

  1. ALL great relationships with valuable lessons to pass along.

    I once showed a portfolio of images to a gallery owner who flipped through them at a fast pace, putting them all in the same stack. On one image, he stopped, stared, considered, and put it in a pile by itself. When he was done looking at everything, he picked up the one, selected photo, and said, “You see this one? There’s something different about this image. Figure out what that is and come back and see me in a month with more of what it has.”

    At first, I thought it was a vague response but the more I considered it, the more I realized he was right. There was something unique about his chosen image that wasn’t present in all of the others. He didn’t tell me what it was; he just told me to figure it out AND come back. Sound advice. I saw the difference and learned that photographs are not merely documentation. They have to include a piece of you, as well.

  2. Cole,
    Thank you for sharing your life’s lessons. Insightful and inspirational as always and so is your visual art. I look forward to your newsletters!

  3. Interesting and informative stories.
    I don’t think that most genuine, independent artists need to worry overmuch about “copying” another
    artist’s work. You absorb ideas and impressions from Nature and the artistic work of others. But the end
    result is that you take those “ingredients” and produce
    your own work . That is Creativity. That is Artistry.
    “Art is a selective recreation of Nature according to the artist’s values…..Ayn Rand

  4. Those of us of a certain age all ought to do this . It is humbling and therapeutic.
    Thank you for sharing this

  5. Hi Cole,
    very nice post. I really like John Holland’s image, quite moving (it’s Convict Lake, right?)
    I relate to many experiences you describe. I enjoyed Joe’s creativity in handling telephone wires in the camera, who would have thought about that?
    I had a similar experience a while back, before digital cameras – I was shooting Kodachrome film. I was in Venice, by the gondolas just outside San Marco square, during the blue hour. The famous lamps came on, an I wanted to make a halo effect around them. It occurred to me that I could blow warmer air on the lens to create condensation, and as it dries out, they form halos around the brighter spots in the image. I made a couple of attempts (didn’t have instant feedback at the time…), one came out pretty nice. This is the scanned image from the slide (darker than the actual image…): Not a masterpiece, but I learned a technique that I employed several other times 🙂
    Take care!

  6. Grear post. Like flyfishing is more than just fishing, photography should be more than just making photographs

  7. Love the storys, really enjoyed the John Holland because my two children went to Loara. I have my copy of the Angel Gabriel right above my desk top.
    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Thanks for shari g this Cole, your experiences are a wonderful insight into the images you create. Bravo Mr. X! What a truly inspiring figure, and so glad you included him- this list would have been so easy to compile without, but would always be incomplete.

  9. The Angel Gabriel moved me so much it prompted me to comment on an earlier venue… I remember, after telling you, I had left photography because I couldn’t make work like Ansel Adams. Your words to me “you are not Ansel Adams; find your own voice…” I have done so, and I am very happy. Thanks, Cole.

  10. Nice write-up Cole. FYI, I’ve listed you on my web site as one of my major photographic influences, partly from one of your presentations and partly from studying your work (not celibacy, I know). So, many thanks!!

  11. Well said, Cole. I could go a step further and add that “…there is nothing new under the sun…” only seen in a different way . . . and you are doing it.

  12. Casey’s Camera? You beat me to Rochester by a few years.
    I was the Director of Photography for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle for a couple of years before I went to ABC-TV in LA.

    Great comments.


  13. Cole,
    A great blog and great advice. “you are not Ansel Adams; find your own voice…” I love this comment, and the fact that you could accept it and move on is wonderful advice. Thank you for great commentary and for your positive insight. Inspiring.

  14. I always like your blog posts and I particularly appreciated this one. Like an earlier commenter said, we should all consider writing about how others have influenced and supported us along the way; a sublime way of walking the path of gratitude.

  15. Dear Cole,
    Very nice article and a strange coincident. I just poof read an article I wrote titled; “The Art Connection” which is about what influenced me to create. It was my mother who became an artist, in a late age and never had a formal art education. We all are influenced by our environment and the people we love, respect and appreciate. Thank you for including me in your list. The article with 4 images, will be in the March/April issue of “Art and Beyond” magazine. Take care I love your images they reflect your spirit and your soul!!!!!

  16. Marvelous recollections, Cole. It’s amazing how people’s influence stay with you. As for Ansel Adams, he was an instructor of my fathers at Art Center in Los Angeles. According to Dad, Ansel had the practice of over-developing his negatives. This would create that strong contrast in his images. You’ve found your vision and it is spectacular. Your images are unique and still leave me in awe.

  17. Too many photographers, at least in the past when we were young, were documentarians, rarely making an artistic photograph. We were devotees of Adams and strove to render each zone in the scene exactly as it was previsualized. His outsized presence and advice led me astray for too long. As your critic said. “Ansel already did Ansel”. It may also come as a shock, but it is possible to make great photographs, wholly ignoring Adam’s Zone System.. Better to be yourself, with bad zones, than a clone with perfect zones and boring photographs. If you stick with it, you will correct your “mistakes” while perfecting your personal vision. Adams said he wanted to be remembered as a photographer, not an artist. It seems he thought the label “ARTIST” was egotistical and grandiose. Humbug. Be a humble artist who says personal things about the people and places around us. Like our friend Cole!

  18. Hello Cole,
    Thank you for sharing this with the people who follow you. These are lessons that we can all learn from. And thank you for all you have taught me during the time we have contact.
    Kind regards from the Netherlands, Toine.

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