Streets of Philadelphia … A Visual Diary … Page 8 … Lesson From Ilya Bolotowsky


This is the crossover from West bound to East bound on the Elevate train. I’ve been in love with the design and metal ever since I was a kid. I remember being around 13 and passing thru this and thinking, some day when I’m older and a photographer, I’m gonna make a photo of a lady as we look at each other. Maybe it took 50+ years but I’m glad young shooter remembered to plant this idea in our head. So as I was passing thru the time/directional tunnel, I became aware of a woman passing thru from the other side. I raised Andre’ the Fuji X100s and he was ready. She looked dead in my eyes and I got Andre’ in position and ….CLICK! The young shooter from the past is long gone. He stayed at home with Mom when the getting older shooter went to Viet Nam. I think a lot but not all of my innocence died over there. When I got home Mom said to me, looking right in my eyes, “Where is my son, your not my son”? Ya know parts of me died in Nam lke every other Vet but I managed to bring pieces of me home. When mom said that, well, the rest of me died.


I guess that Mother Light kinda adopted me and made me her child. I was actually saved by photography. There’s many ways to get saved and I implore you to find a few ways to salvation but remember, as shooters, we save ourselves and each other.

Photographers don’t work just for themselves. They work for other photographers. We seek and find satisfaction from each other and that feeds the selves that we are. Our responsibility is to our selves and to feed each other energy so that other photographers may continue to work.

Photography is about instant gratification. It’s very easy to see what we captured almost instantly. Then bring the image to life in LR and then send it to Flickr and other social media spots. When we see hits and likes and comments, it drives us to continue the good fight. So this instant gratification is an ongoing project. It’s the battle to fight for photographic survival.


This relationship with others is most important, especially for fuel to continue. But if we look at what’s going on in our process, we begin to see many symbiotic relationships thru the entire process. Many years ago I was photographing American Artist. I travelled all over to make the acquaintance of the artist and to make the photo. I made many including BB King, Salgado and his wife, Harry Bertoia, Luciano Berio, Edmund Bacon and many more.

I started to ask questions about the art that they were producing. One conversation was with Ilya Bolotowsky. I used an Arca Swiss 2×3 with a roll film back and also a 4×5 Deardorff. These cameras intrigued the artist. Ilya asked me why I used the Arca Swiss. I said it was a great tool, compact and extremely efficient. He looked at me and said, “Pity”. Then Ilya called me to his table where he had his brushes. I looked at them and thought he has many brushes. He said, Don, there are my friends. We work together and they know more about holding paint then I do but we work together to make the painting. He pointed to one really used brush. He said, this is “Jasper.” He helps me get the lay of the canvas. He picked the brush up and held it like it was alive. He looked at it, and I know he said something to it quietly. I could almost hear it but I definitely felt it. So we sat and sipped tea. It was the same tea my Grandfather gave me when I was very young. I looked at Ilya with a love that  I didn’t understand but knew someday, I would grasp it.

After tea, we made the photo. Ilya smiled and so did I. He said to me,”your camera is your friend but it’s your partner more then a friend.” On the train back to Philly from New York, I started to understand Ilya and what he was teaching me. I looked in the bag and saw Ilya laying there in rest and peace. See, I named my 2×3, Ilya. When he came to Philly for the opening of his exhibition, I brought 2 framed 16×20 prints. Ilya saw me and walked to me right away. I was honored because this master recognized me. I showed him and his wife the print. She dropped her jaw and Ilya look at it carefully and said, thank you maestro. I handed Ilya his signed copy and he immediately said, I didn’t sign yours. I panicked and went in the back of the gallery, opened the frame and then Ilya signed it. I still have that framed print on the wall.



I learned from Ilya about symbiotic relationships within my work. I name all my cameras and they may be subject to name change but they all have a name. They are all my friends and they are all share a synergism with me in my work and my life. Sure many younger shooters think I’m crazy. It’s ok I accept the charge and I will continue to be crazy. The Ilya Bolotowsky photo was made in 1976.


The beauty of life is found in the streets but it’s not the only place to find it. We should strive to see and capture life wherever and whenever we can.  I love the garden because it sings of new life daily and praises the passing of life from those plants that died. Tanya does all the work and I do all the photography. Sometimes I am allowed to use the lawn mower but never the weed wacker. she doesn’t care if I kill the grass but hurt a plant, I sleep in the garage. This is one of my Sunflowers. It’s now about 5′ high and will get to over 8′. I have 15 planted and 13 living. I looked at this in the morning going to the bus stop and after I came home, I wanted to make a photo. The wind had a sense of humor. See, it was still all over the garden, not a wisp of air. Then as I framed the camera, wind came and blew the flower all over.I looked at the garden and saw the beauty of the stillness and as I focused, the wind moved the flower all over. I closed my eyes and felt the blessing from above.  Ilya was making sure I had a name for my sunflower and he made sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. I named the flower Oscar, and then the wind slowed, and then the wind stopped and ….CLICK

Thanks Ilya………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

12 thoughts on “Streets of Philadelphia … A Visual Diary … Page 8 … Lesson From Ilya Bolotowsky”

  1. Reading this posting was a great way for me to end the day. Your thoughts always leave me thinking about how I relate to photography. And … some thought provoking images as well Don. Thanks for sharing. Take care.

  2. How many people know Ilya Bolotowsky today? I had a very influential art teacher in Jr. H.S. who studied with Ilya. He passed on so many things that Ilya said….Pieces Don? You’re more whole in pieces than you think….

    Thanks for helping me remember.

    1. Keith, Thanks for the post and i’m glad you knew about Ilya. I learned much from all the artist and architects I met and photographed. Ilya and Harry Bertoia gave the most. Ilya had a great eye and we chatted and he taught me without teaching. I was in awe of him and his work and after all was said and done, he gave me a small Blue Rotunda. It’s very small like 8×10″ but still hangs on my wall.
      I appreciate you seeing things in and about me that maybe is in the shadow for me. Thanks my friend.

        1. The times with Harry were precious. He loved classical music and made pieces that were the sounds of Music. WE would chat and he would run his hands thu the rods and the sounds were amazing. I saw Harry a lot more than Ilya but I made a great portrait of him. It will go to the National Portrait Gallery at some point along with many others.
          The thing I groked most from all the artist I met and photographed was Humility. Every one was extremely humble.

          1. Yes Keith, agree totally. I think that working in and around and even for, is the only way to live. That in itself provides a way to being a Human Being, unless your a Politician or even a Lawyer. Of course the. there’s no hope.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your personal stories about meeting the different types of artists in the process of making photos. It really helps the reader connect with you and your photos in a different way.

    1. Thanks Tina. Much about photography is about life. Life floods into the images and provides for the light we capture. Thanks for always being here and for being the person you are.

  4. Your articles are educational, emotional, and a life learning experience as you share your very personal thoughts. I have been around 72 years and working in photography since I was 5 years old, in my dad’s darkroom.

    Over the years I have had a lot of gear friends and today have limited myself to one friend in the gear closet because like so many other friends at this time of my life, they are gone.

    Photography is my passion, not only making images, but showing others how to make images. Please keep up the good work for all of us.

    1. Thanks Elliot. From one old kid to another old kid, your comments mean a lot. Some things come with experience and that’s great. Other things come in time. If we keep our eye, heart and mind open we get to gather a lot of interesting things. It’s nice to have that but it’s better to share it all. If we just keep everything kinda safe in the box and don’t share it with others, we miss more than we get. When the time comes to check out, that’s not the time to see what we have in our box, it’s the time to move on and leave the box for others. I don’t think I want to miss that experience and I’m sure you don’t either.

      Not that there’s any hurry, know what I mean……

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