Behind the Letters: I'll Give You Grainy!

The New York Times mag fills a front-of-book page with a grab bag of the week's correspondence. Some of the people they print are mad, some are sad, and some are impressed. Who are these people? Why did they decide to write in? Did they read whatever they're writing about during brunch? Or, was it on a porch! Gawker Weekend will provide you with that back story.

In this week's issue, a 54-year-old writer from Jackson Heights named Eric Rudolph objects to a claim made by reporter Arthur Lubow in his Feb. 25 cover story on photographer Jeff Wall. It was an aesthetic complaint, so bear with us!

The letter, not online:

Your article refers to 'the grainy, blurry pictures of Robert Frank, Weegee, Cartier-Bresson and other great documentary photographers.' But most of their pictures not grainy or blurry. Quite the contrary. All were dedicated craftsmen who worked to produce the very best images possible, often under less than ideal conditions. In fact, Weegee worked mainly in large format (4-by-5-inch negatives) and with flash; both of these approaches tend to reduce grain and blur.
We spoke to Mr. Rudolph on the phone this afternoon.

So, the New York Times Magazine... how did you feel when you heard they'd be printing your letter?
They informed me by email that they were probably going to do it. And I thought that that was good. Because the point that was made in the article that I refuted was pretty ill-informed.

Had you ever had a letter printed before? Were you excited?
No. I'm a writer, so it's not that big a deal. I write about photography, and I find that when people cover the subject in non-photographic publications they just don't know what they're talking about. To call the photographs of Robert Frank, Weegee, Cartier-Bresson "grainy and blurry" tells me the author of the article has never looked at one, or that he doesn't know what grain and blur are. I just don't like it when I see ill-informed things, so I just knocked off a quick note to them, and I was quite pleased that they chose to run it because it makes a very relevant point.

Where were you when you wrote the letter?
I was just at home in Jackson Heights, looking at the article, kind of wondering why they were making such a big deal out of this. It was with my Mac Notebook computer and wireless, sitting wherever in the house, a real quick, off the cuff email.

Did the Times people edit it?
They took a little bit out. It was quite short. At the end of my letter, I said that I don't know why the writer of the article needed to denigrate these great masters in order to champion this guy Jeff Wall.

So you wrote that in right after you read the article, or did you think about it for a while?
It might have been a little while later. I was just thinking, "he's so wrong about that!" I got the feeling that the point of the article was that what this guy Jeff Wall is doing is new and happening and exciting, and that these dusty old black and white photographers are so boring and yesterday.

Are you a professional writer, or do you have another job?

I'm a writer. I was the East coast contributing editor to American Cinematographer from '97 to 2003. And I wrote for PDN [Photo District News] extensively. Now I'm focusing on writing for consumer magazines.

Do you take pictures yourself?
Yes. Black and white mainly— what you would call street photography. I'm mainly interested in black and white.