The following letter by Ralph Hattersley, noted critic of photography, editor of the photographic journal Infinity, was originally published in the periodical Definition. We reprint this letter of four decades ago because it not only counters the lies, but is a means of showing something of their history and motivation. The Hattersley letter was written to Martha Baird.
March 18, 1962
Dear Miss Baird:
You have my permission to use, or not use, the following remarks re Mr. Siegel in any way you see fit.
It is my understanding that Mr. Eli Siegel is almost constantly attacked by a species of weasel which panders to public taste by mutilating fine men who are "foolish" enough to admit they believe in goodness and who are vulnerable because they do so within the hearing of all. That some people make commerce out of other people's virtues doesn't surprise me—hasn't it always been this way?—but it does arouse me to action. Though I have no personal antagonism against such sick critics, I do think they should be seen for what they are. And when it is understood that they don't even bother to study carefully those whom they attack—again, typical inhuman behavior—it makes one sick at heart to see intelligence so misused; for a person with intelligence can, if he has the courage, rise above this vicious commonness.
I'm not so arrogant as to say that I fully understand Mr. Siegel's work on such short acquaintance with it as I've had, or even that I would after a long acquaintance. However, I was invited to listen to an inquiry he conducted in an area of my specialization, in this case an extended critical inquiry into the photographs of Mr. Lou Bernstein. I've personally participated in many hundreds of such inquiries. I can say without equivocation that I've never before seen a photographic criticism as well-handled as Mr. Siegel's. Furthermore, if I had done nearly as well in the many such sessions I myself have conducted I would feel justified in being proud.
In this inquiry Mr. Siegel amply demonstrated the usefulness of such notions as that an understanding of art can help one make sense out of everyday life, that everyday life can help one make sense out of art, that rigorous, fair, and kindly meant criticism helps one see and develop his own potentials, and so on. His criticism was so fine that I unhesitatingly do it the honor of calling it therapeutic to the artist, to Mr. Siegel's students, and to visitors relatively unfamiliar with Aesthetic Realism. When one emerges from a session of criticism feeling relieved of a heavy burden, does this not mean something? If the weasels would like, for their own comfort, to assume that it means I am psychologically naive, I must hasten to disenchant them. Few who know me even casually well would make this mistaken assumption.
If at any time in the future Mr. Siegel feels inclined to commit his thoughts on photography or photographic criticism to paper in the form of an article or essay I, as Managing Editor of Infinity magazine (The American Society of Magazine Photographers), would be very proud to submit this work to my Editorial Board. In my opinion, printing Mr. Siegel in this context would constitute a major contribution to photographic criticism.
One additional thought: apparently the sick weasels find it inconceivable that there is at least one man in New York who has so much to give other people that they will flock to him to stand by his right side for the largesse so freely given. The (jealous? disillusioned? nihilistic?) weasels apparently feel compelled to label such behavior "cultist."
On the basis of what I've seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears, and despite a deeply engrained and proudly adhered to scepticism, I believe it highly probable that Mr. Siegel is one of those oft sought but seldom to be found men of true wisdom. Let us not malign his students for having the intelligence to see this.
RALPH M. HATTERSLEY, JR