Harold & and me–but really Harold


Back in 1965 or maybe ’66 or even 1967 I studied photography with Harold Feinstein. Six or maybe eight classes spread over as many weeks in autumn. I was living in the Lower East Side as it was transitioning into the East Village or Alphabet City. I lived in buildings slated for demolition, worked at jobs similarly doomed and found relationships appropriate to my residential and vocational standards. Until photography came along (another story) and Harold opened me to an immersion life that went far deeper and beyond whatever he might have taught, the only solid rock in my world was intoxication.

Harold died just a few years back, leaving behind a wealth of photographs, students and wisdom. Judith Thompson continues his blog still, and that is why I’m writing this. When this came I was overwhelmed. Reading it was hearing Harold speak it, feeling the love he projected in my every encounter with him, in everything I’ve ever heard anyone else recall of him. Here I re-re-post it for you.

  *   *   *


Journey into the Unknown: Musings on the gift of life

Breezy Curtains, Vermont, 1975
Breezy Curtains, Vermont, 1975

Recently Harold had a short stay in the hospital. Afterwards he was reflecting on the things that have mattered the most in his life and I taped a short conversation between the two of us about his thoughts on life and photography.

Judith: As a photographer for 67 years now, and a teacher to hundreds of students over five decades, what would you most want to share with other photographers, artists – or anyone – about the meaning and importance of photography in your life.

Dancers' Arms, 1978
Dancers’ Arms, 1978

Harold: I would say our work is a form of prayer – a manifestation of the gift we’ve been given. That famous quotation “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” is true! It’s important for us to give recognition to what it is we behold. Not in judgment, but simply in acceptance — so that it can live a life of its own. What emerges will always be a surprise taking many forms that we may not even have thought about.

Our primary gift is in giving recognition to what is. Sadly, this is what rarely occurs in education. What is called education is often an attempt to replace “what is” with what “should be.” Yet, the journey into the unknown is so rich that it challenges all preconceptions of what “should be.”

Judith: And when you talk about the journey into the unknown, you’re talking about… ?

Harold: I’m talking about saying “yes” to the gift – whatever our gift is. Because each of us has a gift – a form of expression of the uniqueness of who we are – and the job of the educator is to encourage that gift in our students. To live life truly and authentically is to allow that full expression to come through. Why else are we here?

Horse’s back, 1974, Vermont © Harold Feinstein Photography Trush

The most important word in the creative process is “yes” – even before we know where it will lead us. “No” is dead in the water. So I say, come wander in your wonder. And that’s the journey into the unknown. All you really know about it is that it’s the truest aspect of what you are – and yet is has nothing to do with you at all! It’s letting in the light.

Judith: What do you mean by that?

Harold: I mean, because it’s a gift, it’s a sacred thing. Walking into the unknown of your own creativity is mysterious. It’s where you find yourself as an individual, but also touch on what is universal. Remember, you are not alone when you walk in to the temple.You have brought God with you.

Queen Anne's Lace back, 1999
Queen Anne’s Lace back, 1999

Judith: And the temple is…?

Harold: The temple is that place that is sacred to you. For me, my photography is a sacred act because I recognize it as my gift. And I’m hugely humbled by it, because I don’t own it. I can only be gracious to it. That’s all I can do… and, what’s another word for gift?

Judith: A present.

Harold: Yes. It’s obviously a present, but it’s also the present. To be present. So the gift is in being present now and now and now. To see what’s in front of us in any given moment. That’s why I’m always saying: “Will you look at that?” Because there’s just so much that’s absolutely extraordinary every moment in the ordinary. It’s called being present to the gift of life.

Judith: So how do you guide your students in this path, which is not just a path about seeing and about photography, but seemingly a path about living life no matter what we choose to do?

Harold: I say to my photography students: Whatever brought you into this room, and whatever brought me here, I consider sacred. That’s what I’m here for.

Whatever you do, whether it ends up with photography, or poetry, or any other area, is going to rest very deeply on your ability to see the strength and beauty of what you have. That is the dividing line between those who soar and those who don’t.

Triumph Hybrid Tulip, 2001

I’ve seen students who in the beginning are like shooting stars. You know, right away. It’s so obvious. You know, it’s so clear where they are. And others that will bump into every inanimate object there is. But, luckily I see people over a longer period of time and I get to see many of them at the point where they get their wings and they fly.

And the key element is that moment when they begin to give recognition to their gift – to say, “I am a photographer”. That belief suddenly fuels how far they’ll go with what they have. Talent — I’ve seen much of. Immense amounts of it.

But the most important technique is self-recognition. That and a prayer. And they’re not contradictory, because self-recognition is giving; is being gracious about the gifts that God has given us.

It’s not aout ego. It’s not blowing one’s horn. We only blow our horn and it’s only an egotistical act when we’re afraid of and feel insecure about what we have or who we are. But in terms of beliefs of oneself, to give recognition – to say “I’m beautiful. I’ve done something really nice here, really wonderful here.”

This is being gracious to the gift. Because we don’t own it, you know. We don’t own any of it. We don’t even own these bodies. We’ve rented these for a life span. That’s all. Dust to dust.

Judith: Amen. It’s hard to say anymore than that…

Blanket Toss Beach Play, 1955
Blanket Toss Beach Play, 1955



Here’s the link to the article on Harold’s blog.


This is my gift to you for whatever it is you might celebrate. Read it again! Explore the words and photographs at your leisure and for your enrichment.






Published in: on November 27, 2017 at 2:26 pm  Comments (11)  

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Richard….

    For me, reading your work and seeing your photos is like being trapped in a psychological tar baby. As one episode ends, I am drawn into the next. So much of your words apply to my life and present condition. I am 73 years old, single, physically and financially stable and…wondering what I will do when I grow up. I relate to your photos of New York. I was born and raised in New Jersey. I love to study and read history, philosophy and psychology. I enjoy travel.. So much of what you write applies to these disciplines. However, we differ on yoga and self discipline. For me, yoga is like fishing in a bucket in which there are no fish. (It is just a waste of time.)
    So….you ask for comments…I give you comments. I am planning my next trip to New Zealand and Australia

    Keep writing!



  2. How you must have wept those few years ago when he died, but was it because of the sadness for your loss, or was it because of the happiness for having had him in your life and for having learned from this wise, seeing and forgiving man ?

    Thanks Richard for sharing this, it was uplifting, I’m thinking each reader will have a smile on the lips or in the eyes after reading this.

    Holiday hugs,


  3. Thanks, Roland


  4. Thanks for the beautiful photos Richard. I especially enjoyed the part of your blog about feeling like sitting in a chair during retreat was a sell-out. I finally chose the chair for parts of my most recent retreat this past summer, one of the short ones where the morning boards are at 5:00am. I’m trying to pick up my practice again. Hope you and yours are well.



  5. My gift is recognizing or identifying talent. Your gift is being talented. Thank you for introducing me to Harold
    I would have sought out his friendship.



  6. Phyllis K

    Thank you. Your work is very beautiful and constantly getting more & more interesting.


  7. Thank you so much Richard for this! It was beautiful and inspiring.
    My best ~


  8. WONDERFUL!!!!!! But it’s too long for me to cope with. It would be
    a great course at the center.
    Thank you


  9. Perfect! Thank you…you were blessed


  10. Dear Richard,

    I really like the post on your photography teacher and your own work is pretty terrific. Regards and love to you both.

    Alan Heim


  11. […] an idea, attitude or belief.  Thanks to my first photography instructor, Harold Feinstein (https://goldberg.wordpress.com/2017/11/27/harold-and-me-but-really-harold/) I now have a history of frequently making snaps without necessarily looking thru the camera. The […]


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