David Vestal (1924 – December 5, 2013

When I first became seriously interested in photography and was taking pictures, back in the early 1970s (before then I’d been interested but to skint to actually buy film for the the camera I’d owned for around ten years) there was really only one magazine in the UK worth reading, Creative Camera, though that didn’t stop me buying some of the rest, mainly to drool over the equipment I still couldn’t afford.

There were also articles on technique, though mainly about taking photographs, recycling stuff about depth of field, exposure, panning and the rest, and occasionally about printing tricks, but little or nothing about making expressive images or about great photography. Photographing landscape would be illustrated by a few camera club images by the deservedly unknown author rather than the work of Ansel Adams or Edward Weston, let alone anything more modern.

For magazines with a wider interest in photography you had to go the the larger branches of Smiths which stocked the US magazines; Popular Photography, Modern Photography, Camera 35. In these magazines I learnt more about photographers and photography, though they also had technical reviews that went into far more depth than the UK mags – and made me buy the Minolta 28mm rather than the Leica to fit my Leica camera (and also to save up for the Leica 90mm f2.8 which I still occasionally use with an adaptor when I need a long lens on the Fuji-X cameras, while the Minolta, though once a fine performer has succumbed to fungus inside the lens.)

There were several regular columnists in these magazines who stood out, and foremost among them was David Vestal.  No mean photographer himself, as you can see from the set of pictures at the Robert Mann gallery, Vestal had learnt photography from one of the legendary teachers of photography, Sid Grossman of the Photo League in New York in the late 1940s, an himself became a legend.

I learnt much from his regular columns, not just about the how of photography, but also about the why and he was a man who inspired many. I don’t think there will be a better obituary for him than that by Jim Hughes in The Online Photographer; Hughes knew him well and in March 1972  began to serialise his “David Vestal’s Book of Craft—An Advanced Course in B&W Photography for Beginners and Others” in Camera 35  – and I became a regular reader. In 1978 it was published in book form as “The Craft of Photography”, and was one of the finest introductions to advanced photography ever to appear. Even if like me you never now go into a darkroom with intent it remains a book worth reading.




Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.