3.04.2014

The mindset of one photographer.


All the business stuff we talk about exists only to support my inherent laziness and my desire to walk around with a camera and point it at stuff that might only interest me. Cameras are props that allow me to stare longer at people and situations by circumventing typical social conventions concerning direct staring and spatial intrusion. Everything I shoot is source material for future fictional writing. Or it's a resonant reminder of amalgamations I want to remember.

Everything I shoot for myself is a form of archival memory of a feeling, a thought, a visual  juxtaposition. My goal is rarely the printed image hung on a wall. My sharing mainly consists of putting images up on this blog to illustrate what I write about.

The images are self contained historical artifacts that I use to prove to myself that I've lived and experienced the things I have. If other people like them then my ego is happy. If no one liked them I would keep shooting but stop showing. How can the images have the same resonance for others that they have for me. None of us share the same unique set of experiences.

We are all on a journey through life and the only important thing in my mind is to understand where I've been and where I might be going. The camera helps me keep track of my progress. This is selfish but it's true. I don't do this (writing or photography) for anyone else and I suspect anyone who says that their over riding motivation is to share their work for other's benefit of either trying to fool their public or trying to fool themselves.

I had a thought today when I was talking to another professional photographer over coffee. Maybe the cameras that help us elicit our best work, the machines that help us break through the clutter. are the ones that give us the most friction and the least handling satisfaction. Maybe  having to fight against a recalcitrant machine is an important part of some sort of process. Maybe the operational friction makes us bear down harder and commit to our purpose more forcefully.

I was reminded when I selected this photograph that I was working at the time with the Samsung Galaxy NX camera and there were things I didn't like about the apparatus. The EVF was mediocre and the operational speed of the camera was much doggier than my usual cameras. Saving files was more an art than a science.... But it was the camera I had in my hand at the time. (and in its defense still very much a beta product). But somehow I felt more invested in the images that I successfully shot because each one required more of my attention and more of my focused intention.

Maybe we've been thinking about all this photography gear in the wrong way. Maybe we should be looking for cameras that create more challenges for us. More obstacles to overcome. Maybe the determination to win is vital to mastering the image rather than being handed the image on a spoon, with tremendous ease. Perhaps the challenge brings a deeper spirit to the fore and moves us to think more clearly.

Then again maybe all current cameras have become more or less transparent. The obvious ones being too transparent.  And it's the very transparency or lack of effort that diminishes our feelings of satisfaction and competence.

Someone recently remarked about the image of the art historian that I put up that they didn't understand. Was I pranking my viewers? The image had graininess and wasn't acerbically, surgically sharp. Could my reader have missed the entire point of a portrait or did I misunderstand the need for technical perfection in every modern piece of art? Non-perfection. The new feature set.

11 comments:

David Liang said...

I see where you're coming from Kirk. I can definitely see comfort and ease of use actually hindering creative output, since we subconsciously have a tendency to walk to easier road.

I do think there's a place and purpose for each type of camera, and their difficulty level and inherent pros and cons.

I still do not hesitate to pick up my D3 when I need to shoot an event, Nikons focusing and flash system is so mature and reliable I'd be a fool to choose otherwise. Likewise when I can work slower and be more deliberate with lighting in studio, there's no other choice than the a99. The color and files are beautiful.

I'm also still shooting film, I have a Bessa R3M I carry around and an old Minolta SRT. The Minolta's meter is broken and both force me to stick with one lens, one film and manually focus. I find I shoot much slower and think a lot longer when using these cameras, and opposed to digital I'm happy with just the process instead of the result.

I think you're absolutely right when you've mentioned in the past this is the greatest period of photography. We have so many choices and options to fit varying needs, I think the only ones truly complaining are the ones looking for a singular device/system to address all the varying creative and technical needs.

Anonymous said...

There are a whole class of people who enjoy fly fishing.

Fly fishing is shall we say not the most efficient means of catching a fish. It involves arcane terminology, constant movement, tying of many different knots on different sized line, and other kinds of delay, craft, intelligence, and so on.

In other words, deliberately slowing down, making things more difficult, putting a kind of challenge between the subject and object, renders a more rewarding experience.

To understand more of what I should call 'the experience of photographing' can be, chat with a fly fisherman about his chosen craft.

Carlo Santin said...

Hmm, I don't think I agree with what you are saying here. I've always made comparisons between photographers and musicians. In my case, I also play guitar. I'm not aware of any guitar player who purposely goes out if his/her way to use an instrument that gets in the way and makes the process of making music more difficult. Guitar players, like photographers, are on a constant search for the perfect instrument. The one instrument that will give them the perfect tone and help them to fully express what they hold within themselves. Fighting an instrument does not generally lead to a good performance. If I have to fight a guitar or overcome some difficulty with the instrument, then I simply will not continue to play it. Every guitar player I know feels the same way.

As a photographer it is very much the same for me. If the camera simply does not operate the way I need it to, then I would not use it. For me personally, many if not all of the new cameras offer too much choice, too many shooting options, filters, and other permutations. How many focus points do you really need? I've only ever needed one. My TLR doesn't have any. It's choice fatigue for me. I can't think about all that stuff at my fingertips and still make satisfying images. If I can't get my head around a camera in fairly short order, I'll leave it. That's just me, perhaps others throb with creativity at all of the options available to the modern photographer.

For me the struggle has always been the image, not the camera. That's where my roadblocks and hurdles exist and where my greatest joys and frustrations lie. So a camera that feels good in my hands, that helps me concentrate on the image, is most welcome. All the other stuff is just noise, and I don't think I'm a good enough multi-tasker to overcome a lot of that noise.

Tofuphotography said...

Thanks Kirk, I can totally relate to the first part of your post. It's why I take photographs:-)

Anonymous said...

"Maybe we've been thinking about all this photography gear in the wrong way. Maybe we should be looking for cameras that create more challenges for us. More obstacles to overcome."

Want more challenge? Maybe you should start shooting with the fully mechanical SLR's and medium format cameras of yesteryear. The wonderful Minolta SRT's, Canon FTb's, Nikkormats, the lot. ;-)
The way film stocks, especially other than 35mm are diminishing, that would soon become quite a challenge.

Or wish to shoot digital, but want the experience and results be as close to 35mm film as possible, both in good and bad, then try a Sigma dSLR or a compact with a Foveon sensor.

On the other hand, I also know of at least two well known professional fashion photographers who are shooting with Polaroid cameras on a regular basis. They're not doing it because it's hard, they're doing it because it's fun and interesting.
Another reason is the end result, the near instant physical photo, that is nothing like a digital file. One can still scan a digital file, too, of course, but the results will still be different.
Some people, on the other hand, prefer to just snap some shots with a regular digital camera in full auto mode and do most of the work - and face most challenges - with Photoshop.

Perhaps it's not all about the challenge or obstacles, after all. An overwhelming hardship without significant enough rewards would eventually discourage most people, but suitable challenges and the unique nature of the process make it a craft, and an enjoyable experience.
Cameras are being bought for all sorts of reasons and purposes these days. So maybe it all does indeed boil down to purpose, doesn't it.

"Could my reader have missed the entire point of a portrait"

That did indeed seem obvious, based on some of the comments.

"or did I misunderstand the need for technical perfection in every modern piece of art?"

Well, you tell us. Cameras are being bought and used for all sorts of reasons and purposes these days. That's just how the cookie crumbles.

Kirk Tuck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk Tuck said...

And there are surveillance cameras and robot cameras and all sorts of other pedestrian uses for cameras. I was hoping not to have to be so literal but when I discuss cameras and photography here it should be understood that it is in connection with how I shoot images and how a camera fulfills the goal of thoughtful self-expression, not just the mercantile fulfillment of a profitable job.

I don't care how wedding photographers or those zany birds in flight photographers see their use of a camera. I can't know that. I am not them. This is not a review site. Try not being so literal.

Anonymous said...

I kinda like the fly fishing analogue, and I can relate to that by comparing it to the motorhead world. Quite a few people are drawn to the old and/or classic cars and motorcycles, even though the modern ones are better in almost every way, and they are generally more efficient in getting from point A to point B.

But for some people the empty road with lots of challenging curves between point A and point B is the actual inspiration, the compelling reason for riding from point A to point B in the first place. Some other people, on the other hand, never get it, and some of them even dream about self-driving electric cars. Ick!

Suppose the guitar players are a breed of their own but, I doubt that most of the keen axe men and women would be willing to trade their beloved Gibsons for some digital counterpart that has no physical strings, and will play all the preprogrammed riffs in a perfect loupe by a swipe of a touchscreen button.
Well, maybe some of them would, but I bet quite a few wouldn't. Otherwise everybody would be playing iPads instead of guitars these days on live performances, too, and the guitar makers and workshops would quickly vanish into oblivion.

The challenge, the craft, the experience, the end result, the purpose. They all go hand in hand.

Anonymous said...

As Zen Master Suzuki-Roshi said, "Seek perfection in imperfection."

Alex Monro said...

I'm not sure if this is exactly the same thing as you;re talking about, Kirk, but I have found that my photography has become a lot more fun since I've got in to using vintage film cameras (Zeiss Super Ikontas, Kodak Retinas etc.) I think this is at least in part down to the challenge of actually getting an image. There's also some satisfaction in guesstimating exposures with the Sunny 16 rule and getting it right.

And occasionally I manage to create a reasonably good photograph this way, though I still use my digital SLRs when I'm really after the image, rather than the fun of making it.

Alex

Anonymous said...

You know I suddenly have an urge to load up my film in my F3. Or go out an buy a used 4x5. It would be an absolute waste of money for me, or would it?
I get lazy with my DSLR at times. Why bother setting up the tripod when the shutter gets slow. I can fire off twenty frames. One of those twenty is guaranteed to be sharp...