This week’s “Free for All” letters.


"The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming" (1942) by Ansel Adams. (The Lane Collection/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust)
The fine art of photography

Sebastian Smee is an award-winning art critic, but his review of the exhibit “Ansel Adams in Our Time” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, “Ansel Adams in context: An updated American landscape” [Dec. 30, Arts & Style], showed a surprising lack of understanding of photography.

Someone without his art history bona fides might be able to get away with saying that Adams’s photographs are “boring” or that photography boils down to the camera simply capturing “an image of the world mechanically, in an instant (give or take), unedited.” But it is puzzling that Smee would ignore the work that went into an Adams photograph before and after the “instant.” Smee’s description of how, in contrast to that instant, “a painter transforms the world over an extended period through countless creative decisions, both conscious and unconscious, putting things in, yes, but more often leaving them out at will,” could easily be applied to Adams’s work with the camera and in the darkroom. Camera placement, camera settings and composition choices while capturing an image; time, temperature and chemistry decisions for film and paper development; and the burning, dodging and cropping during the enlargement process are equally creative decisions and the artistic equivalent of putting things in or leaving them out.

I would urge Smee to learn the art by taking a film photography class. He would learn how to load and unload film in the dark without damaging it; he would feel the rush of excitement and relief when seeing a good negative pulled out of the darkness of chemical development; he would marvel at the strangely ethereal yet tactile experience of having his hands in the light of the enlarger, between negative and photo-sensitive paper, trying to put things in (burning) or leave them out (dodging) in an attempt to have the image match the subject he remembers seeing through his camera; then he could watch the image magically appear on the photo paper shimmering under the developer in the tray. And only then would he know if all his camera and darkroom efforts were successful.

When Smee learns how to reconcile the more-limited sensitivity of silver-based film and paper with the wondrous sensitivity of the human eye, he may understand what Adams accomplished with his photographs. Then, rather than the Boston exhibit breathing “unexpected life into Adams’s work,” a repeat visit to “Ansel Adams in Our Time” might breathe an overdue appreciation of one of the greatest artists of the 20th century into Smee’s work. 

Michael K. McLaughlin, Laurel

Where is the demand for these descriptors?

The Post must have a huge secret file somewhere of letters that say “OMG, thank you for describing that female senator’s shoes!” and “Your sentence about that woman surgeon’s lipstick made my day!” Because despite the paper publishing letters such as this one that beg The Post to stop writing that, for example, a powerful human rights lawyer has “a penchant for statement jewelry and dramatic eyeliner,” as in the Dec. 29 Style article “A natural fit for this advocacy job,” such writing keeps happening.

Since writers and editors can’t be unaware that this practice is demeaning, dated, often sexist and unnecessary (especially when a photograph is included), they must be composing these descriptions deliberately, even proudly. I hope all of those readers who don’t just accept but demand information about a prime minister’s perfume are paying subscribers helping The Post defend democracy.

Shelley Reid, Clifton

Wrong descriptor

Regarding the Jan. 4 front-page article “For private sector, shutdown sows chaos, confusion and anxiety” and others:

The correct term for furloughed federal workers who are required by law not to report to work is “non-excepted,” not “nonessential.” The latter term was dropped decades ago because it is insulting.

Zachary Levine, Rockville

An editorial cartoon by Rick McKee [Drawing Board, Dec. 29] showed the new year, 2019, as an infant who is described as a millennial. I realize that there is a common impulse to categorize all humans younger than 40 as millennials (and blame them for every shift in consumer habits). Let’s recall where this word comes from: Millennials, including me, carry this label because we came of age around the turn of the millennium. While there is some debate about the range of birth years that define the millennial generation, I’ve never seen a definition that says someone born in 2019, nearly two decades after Y2K, is a millennial.

Jon Steingart, Washington

Who owns these waters?

The Dec. 30 Outlook prediction that “the race to claim the North Pole will heat up” [“The Year in Preview”] had some very good points. Unfortunately, it also had some incorrect statements.

Countries can claim an “exclusive economic zone” up to 200 nautical miles offshore. But countries with continental shelves beyond 200 miles can claim that extended entitlement. The United States, not party to the Law of the Sea Treaty, would qualify for a continental shelf out to 500-plus miles pursuant to the definitions in the treaty. Canada and Russia, among other countries, may also be entitled to an entitlement beyond 200 miles. Claims by countries to a continental shelf beyond 200 miles are submitted to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The CLCS is not a U.N. body but an entity created by the treaty. The CLCS does not rule on overlapping claims. It makes recommendations on the outer limit, with the overlaps settled by the countries themselves.

George Taft, Alexandria

Compromising how?

 In his Jan. 4 Weekend column, “Immigrant cuisines and fare play,” food critic Tim Carman made a passing reference to Ruth Reichl’s 2005 book, “Garlic and Sapphires,” as being “journalistically compromised.” He provided no explanation for that comment, and I was unable to find a reference to any controversy about the book. If Carman knows something about the book that the rest of Reichl’s readers do not, he should share; otherwise, I believe he (and the section editors) owe her a retraction and an apology.

Kathleen Wilson, Washington

Not remotely correct

The Dec. 16 news article “Report rebukes Canadian police force over deaths of indigenous residents” called Thunder Bay a “remote Ontario town on the shores of Lake Superior.” Remote? It’s on the Trans-Canada Highway. It’s near the border with Michigan and Minnesota. Its population is about 110,000.

I have driven across Canada from Vancouver to Calgary, from Detroit (Windsor) to Niagara Falls, and I have also driven across the United States from San Francisco to the District via U.S. Highway 50. I flew a U.S. Air Force Super Constellation up to Thule Air Base, Greenland, a location most would consider “remote.” Outside the fence (Yes! At 76°31′52″N 68°42′11″W, they had a fence around the air base!), there was an Eskimo (Thule culture) community. And there were other communities in the area. They didn’t consider it remote. A city of 110,000 connected to several national and provincial highways, remote? Surely you jest.

The rest of the story was serious: First Nation people are getting killed, and officialdom doesn’t care. But Thunder Bay, remote? The second-biggest city in Northern Ontario!

William Grenoble, Oxon Hill

Debating the greatest cinematic year

I think one more year could have been added to the Dec. 30 Arts & Style article “The best year in movie history was ” — 1964 also could be considered among the best years for movies. In that year, there were memorable musicals (“The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” “My Fair Lady” and “Mary Poppins”), comedies (“The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” “A Shot in the Dark” and “Kisses for My President”), references to the Cold War (“Dr. Strangelove” and “Fail-Safe”), action-packed thrillers (“Seven Days in May” and “Goldfinger”) and Hanna-Barbera Productions’ first attempt at an animated movie (“Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear!”), to name a few.

Casey Emmer, Great Falls

The Dec. 30 Arts & Style article about the best year in movie history omitted the second-greatest year in movies, which many people with any understanding of cinematic history would firmly assert was 1962. The year 1939 is commonly and rightly regarded as the greatest year because of the sheer number of four-star films released.

But only 1962 rivals 1939 for its remarkable number of four-star movies. To wit: “Lawrence of Arabia,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” “The Miracle Worker,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “Birdman of Alcatraz,” “Advise & Consent,” “David and Lisa,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Dr. No,” “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?,” “Lolita,” “The Music Man,” “Freud,” “Sweet Bird of Youth,” “All Fall Down,” “Lonely Are the Brave,” “Pressure Point,” “Cape Fear,” “Gypsy,” “Ride the High Country,” “Hatari!,” “Knife in the Water,” “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” “The Trial,” “The Longest Day,” “Experiment in Terror” and “Billy Budd.”

Why was 1962 such a uniquely productive year? Because the professional discipline of the Golden Age’s studio system was still alive and well; many of its greatest writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, composers and editors were working at their peak. “Lawrence of Arabia” mirrored the sweep of 1939’s “Gone With the Wind,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” enhanced and reflected 1939’s “Stagecoach” (both directed by John Ford), and “Advise & Consent” vividly portrayed a more realistic view of Washington politics compared with 1939’s wonderful “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

At the same time, the New Hollywood that was just beginning to emerge first exploded on the screen in 1962 with John Frankenheimer’s astonishing interpretation of “The Manchurian Candidate” and Roman Polanski’s stunning foreign entry “Knife in the Water,” as well as Horton Foote’s, Alan J. Pakula’s and Robert Mulligan’s rendering of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

This creative mashing of the deeply experienced, if waning, studio system with the incipient rise of independently produced movies came synergistically together in the hinge year 1962.

Gus Bauman, Silver Spring

Lost in translation

The excellent Dec. 25 front-page article “Lives lost, organs wasted” covered an important and underappreciated topic: organ transplants.

But an infographic of a U.S. map colored by the share of organs recovered in each region was printed in black-and-white in the print edition. As the share of recovered organs increased, the color scale became lighter and then became darker, so I found it almost impossible to distinguish the regions with the highest recovery rates from those with the lowest rates.

When running infographics that were designed in color, please print them in color — or if they must be printed in black-and-white, then at least check to make sure they are still readable.

Teddy Parker, Washington


A scene from Company XIV’s “Nutcracker Rouge.” (Mark Shelby Perry/Mark Shelby Perry)
A nutty reimagining

We know Sarah L. Kaufman has issues with “The Nutcracker” ballet; she said so in 2009. However, the “Nutcracker Rouge” performance in New York she described in her Dec. 23 Arts & Style review, “For this ‘Nutcracker,’ leave the kids at home,” did not sound like a fresh perspective or an improvement. It supposedly represented inclusiveness, diversity and love, but I suggest it was more about gender problems, sexual maturation of girls, lifestyle choices, diversity and various aspects of psychology. All are very interesting but perhaps too much to combine in one performance.

There have been a great many stage and movie versions of “The Nutcracker” since 1892, as Tchaikovsky was a musical genius and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s stories remain relevant. I am not sure that combined burlesque and Cirque du Soleil-style choreography improves on any of it. No doubt the Tchaikovsky score and classical ballet will survive.

Sorry, but it didn’t sound as clever or inclusive as it would like to be.

P. E. Perry, Reston


Georges Loinger in Paris in 2005. (Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images)
More than a mere soccer match

A friend used the Dec. 31 obituary for Georges Loinger, “Smuggled Jewish children from Nazi-occupied France,” in a very personal way to help extend the never-to-be-forgotten memory of the Holocaust. His teenage grandchildren live in the Geneva area, near where Loinger likely saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish children by helping them escape into neutral Switzerland while playing soccer on fields near the French border. My friend’s grandchildren also play soccer on French fields near that border. But, unlike the Jewish children during World War II, his grandchildren lead safe, secure lives and cross that border at will without so much as a passport. That’s easy to take for granted. So my friend sent his grandchildren a link to Loinger’s obituary and suggested that when they play on a French soccer field near the Swiss border, they take a moment to remember what was at stake for some of the children their age who may have played on that same or similar field 75 years ago. Hopefully, my friend’s grandchildren will always remember Loinger’s contribution to humanity. I know my friend and I will.

Doug Widener, Gainesville

Another tip for a Buffalo trip

The Dec. 16 Travel article “You’re going where? Buffalo” was a keeper visitors’ guide for my family’s next trip there. We spent a few days as tourists in Buffalo about 10 years ago after a trip to Niagara Falls. One very interesting attraction in Buffalo that the writer overlooked is Ansley Wilcox House, now the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, where Roosevelt took the oath of office on Sept. 14, 1901, after President William McKinley died. The site presents the historical confluence of McKinley’s visit to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo; his assassination, which shocked the nation into the 20th century; and the public life and service of Roosevelt.

Francis J. Gorman, Baltimore

Another biblical mother worth mentioning

In “Something about Mary that evangelicals ignore” [Religion, Dec. 29], the otherwise excellent piece on the Blessed Virgin Mary and the “Magnificat,” there should perhaps have been some mention of the “Magnificat’s” source in the Song of Hannah. The latter is in the Book of Samuel. The two hymns as ascribed to the two mothers are remarkably similar.

Diane Riker, Chevy Chase

Call them 'knickknacks' next time

The Jan. 2 front-page article “Between history and hate: A thin line for Nazi artifacts” wrestled with the ethics of auctioning off Nazi memorabilia for big bucks “at a time of growing anti-Semitism and white nationalism.” The article made a jarring reference when describing Adolf Hitler’s belongings as “Third Reich tchotchkes.” Given that “tchotchke” comes from the Yiddish word “tshatshke” of the same meaning, the juxtaposition of these words in that phrase was painful to this reader.

Douglas M. Pollock, Oakton