cole thompson photography
Issue 123 - February 22, 2023
My Friend!
I've just returned from Death Valley where it was 70°, and now I’m back home in Colorado where we'll have a high of 10°today. What a shock to these old bones!

It was a great trip, because I came home with several images that I love. I always consider it a successful trip if I come home with just one image that I really, really love. And I did.

I also got to meet a lot of great people on the two photo tours I assisted John Barclay with. And immediately upon arriving home, we did Out of Chicago LIVE!

It’s been a busy month.

Surprisingly, even with how busy it‘s been, this is my third newsletter for 2023. Normally I only publish four a year, so forgive me if ’I‘m overwhelming your in-box.

In this issue:

  • Last Week for the Print Sale!

  • The Cole and John Show is Now Live!

  • Is An AI Generated Photograph...A Real Photograph?

  • Why Do You Create?

  • New Images

  • The Story Behind the Image

  • For Sale: My Canon EF 100-400

  • Print Drawing

Some of my favorite inspirational quotes:

"Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide."

D.W. Winnicott

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. "

Pablo Picasso

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy.”

Ray Bradbury

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Dr. Seuss

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

Vincent Van Gogh

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

Andy Warhol

“A work of art which isn’t based on feeling isn’t art at all.”

Paul Cézanne

“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.”

Yo-Yo Ma

Last Week for the Print Sale!
Harbinger No. 41

There are only a few days remaining for my print sale, which ends on February 28.

You can purchase any of my images, size 8 X 12, for $125.

Shipping is included to the US and Canada, with an extra $20 for international sales.

Simply browse my website, and then email me with the images that you are interested in.

The Cole and John Show is Now Live!
Frankenstein's Monster
The Cole and John show is now live, and we have published our first few episodes!

In the first episode, we finally agreed on a name for the show, in the second we talk about AI generated images, and in the third I propose that praise is more addictive than heroin.

You can subscribe and listen here:

And as you might expect, only one of us is taking this project seriously...and I'll let you guess who isn't.
Is An AI Generated Photograph...
A Real Photograph?
Midjourney by Jason Allen (and AI)
It was recently revealed that an award winning photograph was actually AI generated. I was discussing this with my son Caleb, who is majoring in Computer Science, and the question arose: is an AI generated photograph, a real photograph?

A day later, Caleb emailed me and said that he had posed that question to ChatGPT, which is an AI chatbot (think of the computer HAL in 2001).

Here is AI's response to the question:

The answer to whether a photograph created by AI is a "real" photograph can be somewhat subjective and depends on how we define "real." From a technical standpoint, a photograph created by AI is a digital image file that can be viewed and shared just like any other digital photo. However, there are some important differences between photos created by humans and those created by AI.

One key difference is that photographs created by humans are typically the result of a deliberate and intentional act of capturing an image of a real-world subject through a camera lens, whereas AI-generated images are created through an algorithmic process that may not involve an actual subject or a physical camera. This means that AI-generated images may not necessarily represent something that exists in the physical world.

Another difference is that photographs created by humans are often valued for their ability to capture a moment in time and convey a sense of reality or authenticity, whereas AI-generated images may be valued more for their esthetic or creative qualities. In this sense, the concept of a "real" photo may be less relevant for AI-generated images.

Ultimately, whether a photograph created by AI is considered a "real" photo depends on the context in which it is used and the purpose it serves. In some cases, an AI-generated image may be just as valid and valuable as a photo taken by a human photographer, while in other cases, the distinction between a "real" photo and an AI-generated image may be more meaningful.

Wow, not a bad answer, but it's a little creepy being referred to as a "human" by a computer.

This week I had friend write an article for his Club's newsletter, in which he talks about how he described an image to DALL-E (an AI system that can create images) and he then shows the result:

Find Your Vision

Thanks to the amazing job Serge does as the Programs Director for WPS we have one spectacular speaker after another at our meetings. And one of the positive side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been our Zoom meetings where we have been able to invite speakers from geographically distant places.

Last night’s program knocked it out of the park again: Cole Thompson came to us from his home in Colorado and gave an awesome inspirational talk illustrated with many of his projects.

He talked about finding your vision and not listening to what other people think your vision should be, or what “rules” you should follow, and that certainly one should not copy someone else’s vision.

He shared an anecdote from his early days when his photography imitated Ansel Adams. A critic told him “Ansel already did Ansel. What can you do that exhibits your unique vision?” That led to a sudden epiphany, and as he put it, he didn’t want to be known as “the world’s greatest Ansel Adams imitator”.

Lately generative AI has been in the news everywhere. ChatGPT has been all over the mainstream press, most recently on the cover of the current (February 27th) issue of Time Magazine. Before that, everyone was talking about OpenAI’s DALL-E 2.

While I certainly don’t want to be the world’s greatest Cole Thompson imitator, inspired by him, I thought I’d have a little fun with DALL-E and see what I could do. So with the prompt,

“A moody high contrast black and white portrait of a cat in the style of Cole Thompson with long exposure motion blur clouds and ocean in the background”

Meow, Sitting for Portrait

Scary, huh?

So, what’s your vision? I hope you share some of your images in our Member Showcase meetings, or even here in our newsletter. Till next time, may you always see beauty in your viewfinder.

–Fuat Baran, President (Westchester Photographic Society)

AI clearly doesn't do cats very well (unless it was portraying the cat in long exposure?) Nonetheless, this is a fairly impressive and yet scary image, that gives a hint of what's to come.

AI is a hot topic, and I doubt it's going away. I suspect my views on it will evolve with time, but for right now, I would not feel good about creating an AI generated image and then calling it a photograph or calling it "mine."
Why Do You Create?
Men with Hats

I was going through my old images, from when I was 14-17 years old, and found myself reminiscing about my early days of photography. It completely engulfed my life and I spent every waking moment either photographing, working in the darkroom or studying about photography.

Those were some of the best times in my life.
Indian Statue

As I looked at those old images, two thoughts came to mind:

First, I had Vision back then! I didn’t know what Vision was, but looking at those images today, it’s clear to me that I had one. And because I was self-taught, I was not yet exposed to the many external voices telling me how I should and should not photograph.
Apathy Now!

My second thought: Why did I create back then?

I clearly remember why: it was for the pure joy of creating something that I loved.
Gull and Moon

But then other motivations started to creep into my photography; I started creating for other's approval, and I tried to create images that would win, that would satisfy jurors, critics and buyers.

And slowly, as I focused on creating for others, I lost my Vision. It was obscured by all of those other motivations that had displaced my "creating for self."

And so for the next 40 years I wandered about; imitating, focusing on the technical and believing that I had no Vision or creative ability.
Clay Figure

Fortunately though, around 2004, I was challenged to find "my" Vision and I re-learned how to see and create for myself.

Part of me is sad that it took me 50 years to come full-circle and to learn this very simple lesson:

I do my best work when I create for myself.

But ultimately, I'm just grateful that I did learn it, for many people never do.

Why do you create, and why is this question so important to your Vision?
New Images
Powerlines No. 60
I just came home from a month on the road; Salt Lake, Las Vegas, Death Valley, the Alabama Hills and then home through Nevada and Wyoming.

I've been excited about my Powerlines series, and was lucky to add a number of new images to that portfolio.

The image above is my favorite from the trip.
Powerlines No. 61
Powerlines No. 62
Powerlines No. 63
Powerlines No. 66
Powerlines No. 67
Powerlines No. 68
Las Vegas Temple Against the Mountains

Another one of my favorites: I love the simplicity, the darkness, the extreme contrast, and the hint of mystery in this image.
Storm Over Death Valley
Death Valley Mud Flats No. 1
Dunes of Nude No. 310 
No matter how many "Dunes of Nude" images I create, I still love finding and creating new ones. I love this one.
Dunes of Nude No. 312
Salt Patterns
Dark Hill in Death Valley
Sand Sculpture
Plant in Crevice
Lone Man Looking at Harbinger

Does this go into my Lone Man series, or my Harbinger series?
Harbinger No. 53

And I was happy to add three new Harbinger images to my portfolio.
Harbinger No. 54
Harbinger No. 55
Ancient Stones No. 45

And a few new images to add to my Ancient Stones series, from the Alabama Hills.
Ancient Stones No. 47
Ancient Stones No. 48
Not Whitney

And lastly, this is "Not Whitney."

It's a joke John Barclay and I have because so many visiting the Alabama Hills for the first time, think this is Mt Whitney. I understand why, it's more prominent and more beautiful than Whitney, at least from this vantage point.

And because everyone makes this mistake, we would say: over there is Mt Whitney, this is "Not Whitney."
"The Story Behind the Image"
Monolith No. 29

Many are surprised to learn that I am a 100% exclusively black and white photographer. But here's a little secret, I'm really "only" 99.9999999999% black and white, because I have created two color images in my past.

(Father forgive me, for I have sinned)

My first color image is from Port Orford, Oregon, where I was working on my Monolith series. Because I always shoot in color and then convert the image to black and white, I could see this image in color...and decided to keep it that way.

And while it's not a black and white image, it is a very monochromatic one.
Gay Houses

The second image is a collection of homes in Ft Collins, Colorado. They were all so small and colorful, that it just seemed natural to group them together.

And why in color? Because these colorful homes wouldn’t have been very gay (happy) in black and white!

So why don't I do more work in color? Because black and white is how I see, and color has no appeal to me. I don‘t know why that is, and I don't think it’s important that I understand why, I just enjoy it.

Do I see more color images in my future? No, I'll leave that to those who love color as much as I love black and white.
For Sale: My Canon EF 100-400
I still have my EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM for sale. $800.

Let me know if you're interested in it, otherwise B&H is going to get a great deal and someone else will be buying it, with a healthy markup!

And...if you purchase it...I'll throw in a print and tell you my favorite f-stop!

Print Drawing
Faroe Islands No. 8

The winner of my last print drawing is Frank Dobrushken who will be receiving a print of "Ancient Stones No. 31."

Congratulations Frank! Please contact me and arrange for your print to be delivered.

For this month's print drawing, I'll be giving away "Faroe Islands No. 8" (above). The Faroes is my favorite place on earth and this is a favorite image!

To enter: send an email to and put "Faroe Islands" in the subject line.

Thanks for entering!