Old “new” photographs: A lifetime of editing

Lunch counter on Surf Ave., Coney Island, 1982
Lunch counter on Surf Ave., Coney Island, 1982
Nude in shower, 1980
Nude in shower, 1980

The entire process of photography is editing – in one form or another. You choose one moment over another; one subject over another. And, when you’re reviewing your work either on a contact sheet or a computer screen, you decide which image belongs in your portfolio. Those you don’t choose are largely determined by whatever imagery is “hot” for you at that particular time. It doesn’t mean the others aren’t great photographs, but your ability to see them changes over time. What do you see when you’re 16? How about when you’re 36, 66, or like me, 82! When you look back on your photographs from an earlier time you will see who you were then and what was turning you on. All the color photographs you see here were taken in the early 80’s and are only being discovered now — 30 years later!

Most of us have consistent subjects and contexts that make our mouths drop open over a lifetime. Essential aspects of our personality shine through over time. Yet how we edit our work may change as we see and appreciate different facets of our vision.

Over the past year or so, with Judith’s help, I’m finally taking a closer looking at thousands of color slides, taken mostly in the 80’s — cataloguing, printing and now sharing them with you. It’s been an exciting process since it’s been liking seeing them for the first time. And I have to ask myself the question: how is it that I am just now really paying attention to these photographs taken 25-30 years ago!? There are probably many reasons, such as being into some specific project or deadline that captured my time and energy, not having assistants to help organize, edit, and print, having worked so much in black and white and still being focused there, taking more photographs than I could easily digest, living a chaotic lifestyle… etc.! We all have our reasons. But I’ve always urged my students to see the editing process as on-going. Look again at what you did five, ten or twenty years ago and you may find gems you over-looked! (Oh yeah… I’m finally taking my own advice!)

Bronze back, Coney Island, 1980
Bronze back, Coney Island, 1980

The partnership of my wife in the editing process has made a huge difference. A number of images that have become my most popular were essentially “discovered” by Judith looking through my contact sheets — images that were, in a way, languishing among the overlooked and which might have stayed that way were it not for another pair of eyes.

This photograph, Smoking man, was taken in 1970 and "discovered" by Judith in 1989. It is now one of my most popular images.
This photograph, Smoking man, was taken in 1974 and “discovered” by Judith in 1989. It is now one of my most popular images.

At 82, I’m looking at photographs taken 30 years ago and seeing them with new eyes. I suppose it’s one of the advantages to age and having a lifetime of work to re-examine. Every time I go back, particularly if I’m looking with someone else like Judith, or dealers, curators, editors or friends, I see something I hadn’t seen before. Or, I may have “seen” it and loved it then, but for whatever reason it simply didn’t make it into print form and before I knew it life had moved on and the images got left behind. It is a bit like hide and seek. Sometime a great image will remain hidden for decades unless you seek it out. So my advice is: take lots and lots of photographs for lots and lots of years and enjoy editing them for the rest of your life!

Nude couple in loving embrace, 1981
Nude couple in loving embrace, 1981
Coca Cola Rustica, Coney Island, 1984
Coca Cola Rustica, Coney Island, 1984
Box umbrella, New York, 1986
Box umbrella, New York, 1986

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Barbi Reed

Harold, Once a teacher and mentor, always a teacher and mentor. You are SO right! We change, our experiences affect us, our eye changes, we have more knowledge and understanding. I am thrilled to hear you are revisiting images and I know there are gems still waiting to be discovered. The images here are extraordinary! I could leave with each one and it would continue to give back…such a miracle…as are you! πŸ™‚ Great blog and, as always, great work, Judith and Harold! With affection, Barbi

James DAmbrosio

My dear Harold, Really, there are no words that could help reveal your work, as if they require words, other than one word: Love. From the moment you first put a camera in my hand, and for all the other hands you have inspired to hold a camera, love has been the guide. Always. I remember your words as if only yesterday, back in 1990: “Close your eyes, and see with your heart.” You are my favorite photographer, and always will be. Your images have such richness because they are so simply rendered and felt, uncluttered by the mind. They… Read more »

bob salzman

Hi Uncle Harold, After contemplating your advise and spending hours splitting the differences between editing and revising, and pondering how taste changes over a lifetime or a millisecond, I returned to a poem I wrote about you at the Northshire, edited and then revised it to better fit this moment. I hope you like it in its new form. Uncle Harold at The Northshire In a corner across a prairie sea of cafe tables An untamed white beard bobs up and down In the slow roll of an wide-open mind This ancient urban mariner lifts His eye glasses up and… Read more »

Allan MacGregor

Hi Harold & Judith,

A very helpful blog for me, as I am beginning to look back and edit/revise my photos!!!

Thanks for continuing to teach so effectively through this blog. It is a treasure!

Thanks, also, for sharing the photo that riveted me when we last were visiting you! It is definitely one I wish I had taken!

Allan & Barbara

Walther Hetzer

Harold, I see this in Cairo, about 40 years after I was your “student” in NYC. Full of admiration still, and sop grateful that my daughter Hannah got to meet you at the book presentation recently. What you say about editing is not only true of photography, but about all the relics we have left by previous important stations in life and the traces the leave. You are as amazing at 82 as you were in the 70s! Affectionate greetings, Walther (of the Bond Street gang)

Jima Rice

Dearest Harold. You will not remember me but way back in the early 70’s, I took a couple of classes with you. Joanie Baker, my friend was there too. We learned b&w, I had a darkroom in my kitchen, and wandered N.Y.C. taking pix of “the streets” and my own reflection in windows. I kept at it for awhile, took classes at the Maine Photographic Workshop, kept wandering, got a divorce in 1972, and kept on taking pix while I wandered the mid-East and India for a year. I stopped photography in a “serious” way, eventually. I wasn’t prepared to… Read more »

Al Kajin

We see life through the lens of our experience- that lens may stay the same but out perception changes. I enjoyed your blog because it sums up what I’ve been trying to share with people that when they say that editing and or using AUTO in their cameras is “bogus” and not art I try to explain that whatever the way we get the results is the correct way… in that instant. Another time or place may require a different strategy. Results are what counts. I’m 60 and have been working in photography (and learning) for over 50 years now…… Read more »

art gunther

Fine street photography, and the capture of the cigarette smoke in that one shot is magnificent.
It is absolutely true that a look back has us seeing what we did not then. But that is the process of growing, living, no?
It is also reaffirmation that from the first shot to the last, the gift that we are given is evident, modified by gathered technical, etc., expertise, but there nonetheless.

Margot Jones

I was a student of yours at the Bond Street grotto and gave you a big hug at the Aperture exhibit. I even put us on my highlights of 2013 Christmas card! Your report has encouraged me to revisit my prints from the 70-80s when I was still printing my own B&W. I might even go back to printing again because rhe magical experience of watching prints emerge from the bath is something that I miss with color photography. Stay fresh Harold — and you know what I mean by that. Fond regards to Saint Judith.


Just great pictures. It prooves that the (most moden) equpiment is not the key fact for making photos that attract the attention πŸ™‚

Ruth Thompson

A portrait of my mom and dad, Judith looking like a Botticelli’s Venus, smiling faces of Sarah at nine and at 11 with two puppies hugging her face … and on and on and on … my perspective now is that beauty is a sacred gift, kept forever in the heart’s eye and never fading regardless the new perspectives with which age blesses us to view it. Loving you and my beloved sister on this day of days (they all are!) Ruth

rochelle finkelstein smith

Dear Harold, A voice from the past. Not sure whether you remember me, but I certainly remember you, having taken a number of your workshops on Greenwich Street (or was it Avenue?} as well as getting a few astrology readings. I’m so happy to have found your again and appreciate so much your sharing your photos and heartfelt words of life and love. It awakened a new creative spark which is prompting me to try new ways of looking. Right now, I’m taking macro photos of my mother’s art,focusing in on one to three inches of a painting. And it’s… Read more »

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