When editing written work, one of the more difficult tasks is to “kill” or “murder your darlings”. That phrase can be traced back to Arthur Quiller-Couch from his 1913-1914 Cambridge lectures, “On The Art of Writing”. What does the phrase mean? To myself, it means to basically trim away the fat. Eliminate the self-indulgent elements that don’t necessarily aid in furthering the work. Even though the fat is where the flavor is, excess of it isn’t a good thing. The writer Stephen King has said,
“kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
So, too, must the photographer kill their darlings when selecting images for a photo book, zine or exhibition. The more images in their library, the more brutal the process must be. When I look at work by prolific master Elliott Erwitt, I imagine the photos “left on the floor” are likely images I could only dream of making. After repeatedly devouring his massive collection, Personal Best (teNeues, 2014), I wonder if Erwitt had to kill any of his darlings. Or, if the man had ever taken a bad shot in his sixty-plus year career.
Before I go on, I must give a disclaimer. Elliott Erwitt (born 1928) has taken the top spot on my list of favorite photographers. Not that’s worth anything, but consider it an advance apology for my unabashed gushing over his work.