cole thompson photography
Issue 114 - May 20, 2020
Poudre River Spillway


  • New "The Story Behind the Image" audio recordings available

  • "My Biggest Failure"...two lessons learned

  • The Lone Man portfolio

  • Where you can see me next

  • Print Drawing

No great artist ever sees things as they really are.
If he did, then he would cease to be an artist.

Oscar Wilde

It is better to be hated for what you are
than to be loved for what you are not. 

Andre Gide

Everyone has a photographic memory.
Some just don't have film.

Steven Wright

Thank you for reading my newsletter!

Audio: The Story Behind the Image
Balance No. 1

I've just released two new audio recordings for 'The Story Behind the Image" series:

My Biggest Failure...
Criticism can be devastating,
but praise can be even more dangerous

In May of 2008 I created The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau which was widely published and exhibited. In addition to the public success, I consider the work a personal success because I love and am proud of the images.

And with the success came congratulations, praise and then the advice....

The overwhelming consensus was that I needed to strike while the iron was hot and take advantage of the publicity the project was receiving. I was encouraged to create additional "The Ghosts of..." projects and ride the wave of success.

It was suggested:

  • The Ghosts of 911
  • The Ghosts of Little Big Horn
  • The Ghosts of Manzanar
  • The Ghosts of The Killing Fields

My initial reaction? No way! I was inspired to create the Auschwitz series and unless I was inspired to do another location, I'm not interested.

But the praise and encouragement just kept coming in: fantastic!...brilliant! another Ghost series... ride the wave...take have a winning formula...this could be your ticket to the big time!

Slowly I was seduced and finally I agreed. I chose as my next Ghost project: The Ghosts of Great Britain. It was to be shot at the castles of England.

So off I went with my family in tow. My young daughter was to be my ghost and she brought her ghost costume: a white sheet with eye holes cut out. We went from castle to castle with her wearing the sheet as she spun or walked slowly for 30 second exposures.
It was a fun trip and we had some laughs as other tourists looked on, wondering what we were doing.
Old Wardour Castle
When I got home and processed the images...I absolutely hated the results and scrapped the project. I kept only one image, "Old Wardour Castle" above.

Why did I hate the project? Because it was not inspired, it was not borne from Vision and I had no Passion for the project. Instead it was a contrived marketing strategy.

In Cole-Speak: it wasn't an honest project.
It was an expensive failure, but it provided two invaluable lessons:

First, trust your instincts. Other's advice may be sincere and right for them, but it may not be right for you. In this instance my definition of success was quite different than how the advice-givers defined success.

Second, I was reminded of the powerful influence praise has. I was too easily seduced and set aside my standards.

Not cool.

This experience reinforced my belief that criticism can be devastating, but praise can be even more dangerous.

Georgia O’Keeffe addressed this:

"I decided to accept as true my own thinking. 

I had already settled it for myself, so flattery and
criticism go down the same drain, and I am quite free." 

My goal is to be be free from the opinions of others, for good or for ill. But the truth is that praise is a seductive siren that beckons, influences and sometimes changes my actions and opinions.

Even today as I show these images, I worry that if I were to start receiving positive comments about them I would be persuaded to change my opinion of them.

If others love them...maybe they're not so bad?

Maybe I was wrong, maybe these are good images?

Maybe that "Ghosts of..." idea wasn't so bad?

And while I’d like to think I wouldn’t let that happen, this is exactly what did happen a few years ago with another one of my images: I traded my values for popularity.

But that’s a story for a future newsletter.

The Lone Man
Lone Man No. 20
Sometimes, when we stand before nature, we feel very small.

And it causes us to think about things much larger than self.

  • Do I matter?
  • Is there more than this?
  • What is the purpose of life?
  • What is beyond the beyond?
  • Can I make a difference?

And during that moment of reflection and introspection, we are the lone man.

Lone Man No. 5
Lone Man No. 7
Lone Man No. 7
Lone Man No. 59
Lone Man, Zabriskie Point
Lone Man No. 6
Lone Man No. 35
Lone Man No. 37
Lone Man No. 71
Lone Man No. 72
Lone Man No. 46
Lone Man No. 62
Lone Man No. 46
Where You Can See Me Next
Ancient Stones No. 21

Here's where I'll be speaking - subject to frequent virus adjustments!

  • 6/9/2020 I’ll be Zooming with the Central Coast Photography Society at 8 pm MST

  • 6/10/2020 A Zoominar for Coastal Camera Club at 4 pm MST

  • 7/2/2020 I'll be presenting to the Vail Valley Art Guild in Eagle, CO.

  • 7/23/2020 Speaking at the Camera Club of Bozeman, MT: "Why Black and White?"

  • 7/24/2020 Workshop at The Camera Club of Bozeman, MT: "How I Found and Followed My Vision."

  • 8/18/2020 Maryland Photography Alliance Webinar

  • 9/25/2020 - 9/27/2020 - Studio Tour at my home in Northern Colorado

  • 10/22/2020 Presenting "Why Black and White" at the Southwest Missouri Camera Club in Springfield, MO.

  • 10/23/2020 - 10/25/2020 I'll be speaking and doing a workshop for the Professional Photographers of Canada at their annual event in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

  • 12/9/2020 I'll be presenting to the Olde Town Photographic Society in Arvada, CO.

  • 1/20/2021 - 1/24/2021 A workshop with "Out of Chicago" in Death Valley. When the date gets closer, contact Out of Chicago here:

  • 1/28/2021 Presenting to the Tuscon Camera Club

  • 3/31/20201 Speaking to the Ground Glass Photo Group in Rye, NY

  • 4/1/2021 Speaking at the Essex Photo Club in Caldwell, NJ. "Why Black and White" (and why Vision is the only thing that matters)

  • 4/10/2021 the Light and Creativity Workshop in Harrisburg, PA

  • 4/13/2021 tentatively speaking to the Chester County Camera Club in West Chester, PA

  • 4/14/2021 I'll be presenting to the Princeton Photography Club

  • 4/16/20201 The Lehigh Valley Photography Club is sponsoring a B&W processing workshop in the afternoon and then a presentation in the evening.

If you know of a group that would like to have me speak, please have them email me at:

Print Drawing
Trees from a Train No. 109

The winner of my last drawing is Pat Cicalo who will be receiving a print of his choosing!

Congratulations Pat! Please contact me and arrange for your print to be delivered.
For this month's print drawing, I'll be giving away Trees from a Train No. 109.

To enter: send an email to and put "Trees from a Train" in the subject line.

Thanks for entering!