joe lipka Photography


The Fifty Project - Fifty Years, Fifty Photographs, Fifty Friends



"It is customary to received gifts on one's birthday. The occasion for this gift is my fiftieth birthday (August 28, 2001). For such a special occasion, I thought it would be fun to give gifts, not receive them. Here is my gift to you. Fifty photographs for fifty years. The enclosed CD is an electronic book containing some of the best work I have done (so far). The earliest is from the 1970’s the latest, last year. Consider this my “digitally re-mastered greatest hits collection” of photographs. We’ve been living in North Carolina for almost 15 years, so it’s polite to let you know some of the images contain nudity. Nothing worse than what you might see on cable, but in our part of the world, it’s considered genteel to let you know beforehand."



Introduction to Fifty

Fifty Photographs (gallery)

Technical Notes

Doing the Project


"Dad, what's your favorite photograph?" An innocent question asked by my daughters last winter. "I don't know," I answered, "I have lots of favorites". But, that question did start me thinking. I didn't think too long, because I would have had to make a very tough choice to come up with just one photograph. Despite my initial refusal to answer immediately, a subliminal seed had been planted. Like all good seeds germination takes time and the proper set of conditions.

Early this year, I started thinking about the milestone of turning fifty. At this point in my life, it seems natural to take stock of what’s been done so far and ponder what’s yet to do. In photographic terms, my best efforts so far are on this Compact Disc. Over the past thirty years photography has played an important and satisfying role in my life. I have seen many beautiful things, and met many wonderful people (like you) along the way. This document is a record of my photographic wanderings. If you recognize some place or something pictured here, you know you were there to help me understand what it means to be a photographer.

Consider this Disc the invitation to the opening of my mid career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (Like most photographers, I will not have any show at MOMA, because I am in that awkward state of my career; alive, but not this year's media darling.) Finish reading the forward, get yourself a glass of inexpensive white wine, a few blocks of cheddar cheese (fancy toothpicks are optional) and some crackers. Come back, read the introduction and have your own little opening party right in front of the computer. Oh, yes, and please try to keep the crumbs out of the keyboard.


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On Selecting the Best

"How rare is a great photograph? With the almost limitless number of factors that influence the outcome of a photograph, it is a wonder that good photographs exist. Consider the variables involved in making any photograph. Timing is everything – remember f/8 and be there? Photographers must make the correct exposure at a precise instant, or the image is lost forever. In the real world, everything happens only once (often too quickly). There is no instant replay in life. This is even true in photographing the landscape. Despite protestations from the uninitiated, the decisive moment also exists in landscape photography. Once you place yourself in the right place at the right time (the real secret of photography – now you know) then we must the run the gauntlet of the mechanical demons. Precise focusing, and a steady hand at exposure are necessary for a good negative. The gods of chemistry must likewise be appeased so that the negative can be processed without calamity. We must beseech separate deities for the safe production of a print. Thank heavens that a mis-cut window mat can be thrown away without destroying the photograph. With all the processes and handling errors possible in going from the field to the finished photograph, it is little wonder that any good photographs exist at all.

Two well-known observations on photography attributed to Ansel Adams are “Any photographer worth his salt should have ten thousand bad negatives” and “A good photographer can produce one good image per year”. Ignoring both dictums, I waded through eight thousand or so negatives, proofs and prints to select my best photographs. I recognize my deficiency in the quantity of bad negatives, and the (overstated?) optimism in the number of good photographs I have made. Recklessly disregarding the dictates of St. Ansel, I boldly selected about one hundred images that were important to me. Proudly displaying my efforts at a family gathering, my wife and daughters “suggested” they were better suited than I to make the final selection. After an evening’s review of wall-to-wall photographs, the final selection was complete. We had very few disagreements on the selection of images included in this publication.

After assembling this selection of photographs, the answer to the question “How rare is a good photograph?” finally came to me. I look back on the work included for this collection of images, and cumulatively, they account for no more than ten seconds exposed film over the thirty years. Good photographs are that rare."


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Technical Notes

“For Technical Data – the camera was faithfully used.”
- Minor White

"The cameras were a Canon F-1, a Wista Field 45, or a Conley 5 x 7 (a camera of indeterminate age and uncertain pedigree). When the Conley was finally retired, I purchased an increasing back for the Wista to allow it to use either 4 x 5 or 5 x 7 film. Lenses were Canon (for the 35 mm) or Fuji Large Format. Except for the Conley. I think the best description for the Conley lens is “old.”

Source images were vintage prints (oh, how pretentious), recent prints on Ilford multigrade RC, or the original 4 x 5 negative. The Epson 636 Perfection Scanner scanned the images.

I did the digital darkroom work in Adobe Photoshop 6.5 and wrote the text in MS Word

“Sturdy Woman Designs,” also known as my daughter, Victoria, did image sequencing and overall project design using Adobe PageMaker 5.5 and Adobe Acrobat 5.0."


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Last updated: March 31, 2008