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Business / Philosophy of Photography Taking pics is one thing, but understanding why we take them, what they mean, what they are best used for, how they effect our reality -- all of these and more are important issues of the Philosophy of Photography. One of the best authors on the subject is Susan Sontag in her book "On Photography."

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Old 11-24-2009   #41
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the point is, an image is eye-catching for a reason.
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Old 11-24-2009   #42
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Franz von Bayros was a master of erotica in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He wasn't a photographer but the compositions of his black and white drawings were fantastic. A quick Google search wil turn up lots of pictures by him.

Much of von Bayros work has the composition based on the "rule" of halves. Thirds appear nowhere in most of the work.
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Old 11-24-2009   #43
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Thanks for this Stewart--very stimulating.

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Old 11-24-2009   #44
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Franz von Bayros was a master of erotica in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He wasn't a photographer but the compositions of his black and white drawings were fantastic. A quick Google search wil turn up lots of pictures by him.

Much of von Bayros work has the composition based on the "rule" of halves. Thirds appear nowhere in most of the work.

You clearly know your pornography sir however I would ask you to consider whether the content is eclipsing the image
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Old 11-24-2009   #45
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Stewart--please keep the posts coming.
I am really enjoying this--very helpful.
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Old 11-24-2009   #46
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Sparrow, I wasn't presenting von Bayros because his work was pornographic but because it was a great example of composition by halves. The style of his work was common in that era, the stark black and white, the stylized compositions, but his was unique because of the use of the half rather that the third. The discussion here was glorifying the rule of thirds and I was merely trying to suggest that there were equally good alternatives. If anybody here can suggest the work of another photographer or artist that worked in halves, or something else, then please suggest it.

Back around 1959 or 1960 I had an artist friend who introduced me to that stark black and white style of composition thinking that as a young photographer who preferred working in black and white I might learn something about working with dark and light masses in a composition. It was a whole school of art that had developed back in that era. Yes, it influenced my photography, and for the better I think.

I'll even give credit here to that young artist who introduced me to this genre, a brilliant beyond his years 14 year old when I first met him, and a fantastic artist as well. He went on to work at The Factory with Andy Warhol, starred in a number of Andy's films, and then became a respected poet and art critic. His name is Rene Ricard in case you want to Google it.

I think that as photographers we shouldn't restrict ourselves to just studying the work of other photographers. Expand your horizons!
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Old 11-25-2009   #47
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sorry Al, I was being facetious with the porn reference. I’m definitely not being prescriptive here, I did try to make that clear in the first few lines of the first post.
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Old 11-25-2009   #48
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I don't know , I think composition is much like civilization (maybe I should use socialization instead) , just on a smaller scale.
If you live by the rules of society and know them well , especially if you know how to bend them just the right amount , you'll be miles apart from ordinary folks. Without social training you're just one of those feral children they find every once in a while.
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Old 11-25-2009   #49
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I don't know , I think composition is much like civilization (maybe I should use socialization instead) , just on a smaller scale.
If you live by the rules of society and know them well , especially if you know how to bend them just the right amount , you'll be miles apart from ordinary folks. Without social training you're just one of those feral children they find every once in a while.
I think that is a very profound and apt metaphor
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Old 11-25-2009   #50
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Towards the end of the Great War this is about as good as it got, it would have been accepted as "reality" by the audience at the time.



At the same stage in the Second War the whole world had the mental tool box to see and understand an image like this, us plebs could see past it's shortcomings to a deeper reality, a bit like a language that had suddenly developed a grammar to go with all the words.



The former looks stilted, posed and old fashioned, the latter would be accepted and fully understood today as a man in immediate contact with an enemy, it could have been taken yesterday.
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Old 11-25-2009   #51
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So while photography was becoming more and more accessible the same can't be said for the traditional graphic arts, sorry but I'm having a go at a couple more sacred-cows now.

While the PJs were risking their necks to send images back from the Spanish war, Gerda Taro paid with her twenty some year old life, the best that high-art had to offer was, by the consensus of those that know, Guernica. Now without wishing to be unkind to comrade P. Guernica isn't the easiest picture to appreciate and hasn't got a particularly strong narrative, and one would have thought he could have gone to the trouble of doing something new instead of altering one he'd made earlier, but never mind eh.

Contrast Guernica with Capa's d-day shots, not only are Capa's more easily understood they are also surprisingly more abstracted.



While Picasso agonising about collaboration and having sex with his young models in the south of France, Capa was going forward with a section fire party outside Cordoba. The contrast couldn't have been greater, these new Photojournalists lived in a world that had lead in the air and its' people had blood on their hands and the public would pay to see it.
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Old 11-25-2009   #52
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Again highly opinionated but the path of vernacular art to me ran on through Turner and Monet then took a left at Picasso Chagall and Malevich becoming steadily more irrelevant is it went, it’s now living in Islington, paying for sex with its sister and producing ever more imbecile offspring.
Vernacular art was on the other hand, reignited by Capa, Cartier-Bresson and Co in the golden years around World War 2 and it was that new set of visual conventions that dragged Bacon back to proper work, inspired the likes of Hockney, Gormley and Banksy
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Old 11-25-2009   #53
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I forgot this bit about horizons.

I'm probably stating the obvious, and Roger probably covers it in AP every 6 months, but I see so few people doing it I thought it was worth mentioning. If you have a subject in the foreground and take your shot with the camera at the same height, the horizon ends up bang in the middle, like I said obviously, (the first drawing). If one stands on an upturned bucket, or sits on it, the horizon moves up or down in relation to the subject, like I said obvious but useful sometimes



If da Vinci had a m9 with a Noctilux he'd have set it to f22 gone up a step ladder, well after he'd run off screaming "my soul, my soul is trapped in this devils box". if you look at probably the most cliched image ever the Mona Lisa and consider the height of the horizon you realise he played with the perspective for some reason.

as an aside, I once bumped into David Hockney in the early 80's, he asked me where they (the college authorities) had moved the toilets to … I was so proud

PS sorry about the pic, I seem to have lost the ability to draw … computers have a lot to answer for
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Old 11-25-2009   #54
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part 4, is it) The Golden years; or why we know what we like even if we know about art

If one looks at photography's growth from the start of the Spanish war to the end of the Korean some 20ish years later just consider the huge amount of money the public had spent on the likes of Picture Post, Paris Match, Life, Sports illustrated and that German one with the snappy title. Then there were the newspapers that built their reputations on pictorial content, by the end of the war every nation on Earth must have had a New York times or a Daily Mirror, or the smouldering remains of one anyway, despite the letterpress process being little better than a woodcut for reproducing a photo the public demand was still enormous.

It was a disparate group of people that fed its growth with images and it was those all pervasive images that set in stone the publics view of what a "good picture" is; and left Picasso et el largely irrelevant, if interesting, minority pursuit. They were not in any way photojournalists at this stage, they were shooting current events and they were telling a story but they were absolutely not impartial, even the bourgeois Cartier-Bresson dressed to the left and Capa was almost an exile because of his radicalism. When Adolph put together the longest chorus-line in history and started touring Europe they provided the public with some pretty critical reviews.

I think I'm correct in saying that, in this country, along with potatoes newspapers were never rationed during the Second War, being as important to the war effort as the absence of hunger, these guys were doing propaganda of the highest order ...
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Old 11-25-2009   #55
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Now television does the propaganda. Even Time and Newsweek became orphaned. Unfortunately Fox News now spews the propaganda to the broader audience via the tube while its counterbalance, Alternet, gets hidden in a corner of the internet. Photography got lost in the shuffle.
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Old 11-25-2009   #56
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Quote:
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... While Picasso agonising about collaboration and having sex with his young models in the south of France, Capa was going forward with a section fire party outside Cordoba. The contrast couldn't have been greater, these new Photojournalists lived in a world that had lead in the air and its' people had blood on their hands and the public would pay to see it.
From what I have read, Capa had a bit of sex during that time as well.
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Old 11-25-2009   #57
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From what I have read, Capa had a bit of sex during that time as well.
I would imagine “we may be killed tomorrow” was a hell of a chat-up line
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Old 11-25-2009   #58
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Looking back we see a homogenous group with a common purpose, at the time this lot were far from the founding fathers revered here today, they were in fact a bunch of displaced Jews, political radicals and writers, with the odd English eccentric and bourgeois Frenchman who had proved a big disappointment to his dad. Alike only in so far as form follows function, and war is a young mans sport, Cartier-Bresson being a little older had the greater respect for rifle fire so tended to spend more time in the rear, and a justifiable distaste for National Socialism.

They were in a world where their skills were in demand, the press threw money at them, they were famous, they got to sleep with beautiful women, and go drinking with Hemingway; one can see why there were one or two egos floating about. Imagine that lot trying to get a US visa today, that story RichC posted somewhere about Cartier-Bressonis, Hemingway and the Brownie is so funny because it's so close to the truth. The thing is, these chaps were in competition with each other, Magnum was years in the future, mid 40's? they only started co-operating when the going got tougher.

They would have been looking with huge interest at each others' work, at what was getting the front pages, the papers would have been comparing circulation like excited public-schoolboys, a hothouse in which this bunch of left wing radicals and writers were striving to improve their skills and seeking the best kit and processing. As far as I know non had any artistic training apart from Cartier-Bresson and there was little history of off tripod photography to draw on ...
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Old 11-25-2009   #59
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If you have a subject in the foreground and take your shot with the camera at the same height, the horizon ends up bang in the middle,
Sorry to be a stickler... if you take a picture from eye level, and your subject is the same height as you, the horizon line will pass through their eyes.

Actually, the horizon indicates where the camera is situated. That's how you can tell if someone took a hip-shot, the horizon will be around the subject's midsection.
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Old 11-25-2009   #60
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Many of this original group were writers so the idea of narrative would be second nature to them, I suppose each would bring a different set of skills to this new media. It would be the mixture of those skills that created the genera, in turn it was that genera that provided the public with the graphic element of its news information until TV and video took over in the 60's and it remains as the public’s graphic vernacular to this day.

Now don't get me wrong here I'm not that keen on Cartier-Bresson, I've seen his negs, technically challenged springs to mind, as do pompous, bourgeois and elitist, however while Capa was one of many that brought a reckless bravery, swarthy good looks and improbably thick hair to the table, Cartier-Bresson seems to be, uniquely, the one with the artistic skills. Cartier-Bresson's personal tastes lay in surrealism and cubism so were useless in such a graphic medium, as Man Ray proved, but the clasical stuff Cartier-Bresson had learned from his uncle (I think) would have given him a head start on the others. He would have perhaps advised his friends and been copied by his competitors, it was a mix of mainly classical composition and proportion, with an alertness to the Gestalt philosophy, and occasionally an eye for the surreal that informed the aesthetic.

The equipment also brought something new to the party faster films got the cameras off tripods and introduced background, and movement blur and the new generation of superfast f1.5 lenses brought flare and recession through shallow DOF all of which would have been seen as faults in 1930, became just another tool to tell the story with by 1950 and sadly spawned the bokeh cliché by 2005. Cinematographers still cling to film to retain "that look" that Joe public understands and CGI has programs to mimic these one-time faults because they have become so much a part of our understanding.





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Old 11-25-2009   #61
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... That's how you can tell if someone took a hip-shot, the horizon will be around the subject's midsection.
Or if the photographer was short.
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Old 11-25-2009   #62
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So I can make a case for the our world visual vernacular springing from this group’s output from the 30’s and 40’s then being fixed in the 60's, when TV and video took over, and anyway by then the military were excluding PJs from the battlefield, and governments were demanding this bizarre and unattainable "impartiality" to keep them in line. The founding fathers went off to bask in their glory, or die in some foreign field if they couldn't kick the adrenalin habit. By the 60's it was the likes of Bailey, Lichfield and that Irish chap got to play with the new toy box and very quickly homogenised the worlds view of fashion, celebrity and the rest, it's within the confines of that toy box we have to make and judge our pictures today.

In the 30's every nation and region had it's own style and tastes ...



by the 60's things were fundamentally different the whole world had adopted the same aesthetics, and like it or not we both understand the world by it and make our art within it.




As I said it's just an opinion and conjecture not even a theory I’m a working designer not some academic sitting smugly on his grant, I only thought about it a lot because Bailey got the job I really wanted.

-Fin-
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Old 11-25-2009   #63
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The level of the prose also seems to have risen to new heights in this discussion. It's actually been a good read! I suppose it's difficult to write in a captivating style when it's just about silver or black.
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Old 11-25-2009   #64
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The level of the prose also seems to have risen to new heights in this discussion. It's actually been a good read! I suppose it's difficult to write in a captivating style when it's just about silver or black.
Thank you Al, I appreciate that, prose really isn’t my native habitat
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Old 11-25-2009   #65
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Outstanding, Stewart!
Thanks for taking the time to post this.
Very educational.
What's next?
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Old 11-25-2009   #66
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Stuart, many thanks for this fine presentation. I like the way you present and inform. You have great style.
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Old 11-25-2009   #67
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I think that you've got to take chances, find new or different ways of seeing the world, realize when you're stuck in a rut, and be willing to move on when you do get stuck in one. Sometimes you have to just stop shooting for awhile. Sometimes heading out on the streets with Rolleiflex instead of a Leica is enough. Try a fish-eye lens, try a 400mm lens. All of these things might turn out to be utter failures. They just don't match up with the images in your brain. Others might "click". You might just go back to what you were doing already, but now you'll know that it's really YOU!.
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Old 11-25-2009   #68
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Wonderful thread, already bookmarked

Thanks Stewart!
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Old 11-25-2009   #69
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PS I forgot to mention Ansel Adams part in all this, Adams was at the end of long line of photographers who strived to prefect the art in a technical way, he came closer to the perfect print than anyone previously had and was an irrelevance who came along towards the end a long tradition that was fairly unimportant.

Sorry that's unfair he was not only irrelevant he was also parochial, his adversaries are much more interesting and well worth a look.
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Old 11-25-2009   #70
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Stewart, this is a welcome refresher since I read Richard Zakia's book "Perception and Imaging" which covers a lot of the same concepts as you clearly presented here.

These concepts are very useful to reiterate once in a while because every time we are subjected to it, we'll have a different perspective with which to digest it. In the end, it can only grow our potential to create things "creatively."

So there, to those who think that creativity can stand alone without these "rules," you're in for a surprise all the time, unless *that* is what you're aiming for.

Now back to the class...
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Old 11-25-2009   #71
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Stewart, this is a welcome refresher since I read Richard Zakia's book "Perception and Imaging" which covers a lot of the same concepts as you clearly presented here.

These concepts are very useful to reiterate once in a while because every time we are subjected to it, we'll have a different perspective with which to digest it. In the end, it can only grow our potential to create things "creatively."

So there, to those who think that creativity can stand alone without these "rules," you're in for a surprise all the time, unless *that* is what you're aiming for.

Now back to the class...
In many ways the word "rule" is a misnomer, I just used it because that's the convention.

with one type of perception we have no choice, a lot of the Gestalt stuff happens weather we like it or not, if I say a girls face what do you see?



if I say man playing saxophone, what happens?

The other is a cultural aesthetic and it's part of living in a society, since the second war that has been global and we quite correctly all started pointing and laughing at Morris-dancers around 1959 when we learned what cool was
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Old 11-25-2009   #72
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For three years or so I hardly took any photos other than with a 15mm lens, the camera held out at arm's length, and including me in the composition, often with my toy monkey Monkette sitting on my shoulder. I found it amazing just how good the composition is in most of those pictures. A lot of them are on my blog http://thepriceofsilver.blogspot.com
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Old 11-25-2009   #73
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In many ways the word "rule" is a misnomer, I just used it because that's the convention.

with one type of perception we have no choice, a lot of the Gestalt stuff happens weather we like it or not, if I say a girls face what do you see?



if I say man playing saxophone, what happens?

The other is a cultural aesthetic and it's part of living in a society, since the second war that has been global and we quite correctly all started pointing and laughing at Morris-dancers around 1959 when we learned what cool was
....mmmm! - I wondered who the yob was - pointing and laughing at the morris dancers in Haworth main street - last summer! -shame on you!
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Old 11-25-2009   #74
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The quotation by Nikonwebmasrer that I included here has been deleted by someone in authority

He was probably correct ... but then that has sod all to do with what we are discussing here, has it? this really isn't about you.
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Old 11-25-2009   #75
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Yes, any job at all might pollute my work. On the other hand there's a paucity of rich girlfriends, and should I luck out and find one there's still the consideration that after a bit of time keeping her happy might start to seem like work.
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Old 11-25-2009   #76
FrankS
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it's a dirty job Al, but someone has to do it.
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Old 11-25-2009   #77
Dave Wilkinson
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Al Kaplan View Post
Yes, any job at all might pollute my work. On the other hand there's a paucity of rich girlfriends, and should I luck out and find one there's still the consideration that after a bit of time keeping her happy might start to seem like work.
it's does Al....but there are tablets available!
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Old 11-25-2009   #78
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When coming to a fork the road take it -Yogi

The famous optical illusion presented displaying outward and inward arrows is a cultural phenomenon.

Waaaaay back when I was presenting my Master's thesis in Art, my subject was the psychology of art. One of the curiosities I researched was the Famous Illusion.

It seems tribal folks in Africa were never fooled by the illusion. Why? because they lived in grass huts or at least structures that were round and did not have 90 degree corners to look into.

While it is convenient to assume optical illusions are nature and not nurture, quite the opposite is fact. Most optical illusions are learned indirectly from our environment, or better, interpreting and navigating our environment from a very young age.
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Old 11-25-2009   #79
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He was probably correct ... but then that has sod all to do with what we are discussing here, has it? this really isn't about you.
It's unfortunate, and seems inevitable - on internet forums, that something that is interesting and informative - over three or four paragraphs, becomes significantly less-so, when developed into a 'trumpet- blowing' epic.
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Old 11-25-2009   #80
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Stewart, thanks for presenting all this. Looking forward to more thoughts.


Side note/not so deep question of the day: Does a narcissist recognize their own narcissism?
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