When I first became interested in photography there were only several ways to learn about how to do it and who was doing it well, or had done it well in the past. You could look at books about photography or you could read magazines. If you were inclined to do photography for a living you could go to school or attempt to find a good photographer to assist. Since gear turned over much less frequently pretty much by the third or fourth year that a Nikon F2 was on the market we all were pretty familiar with the concept and the various methods of use. For us, the real discussions were about famous photographers, how famous photographers lit, and why famous photographers chose to photograph something in the style or in the conceptual approach they used. Since all the cameras of the time were focused by hand, metered by match needle and possessed of the same three controls there sure wasn't much to say about the differences between them. It was big news if a new finder had a new kind of metering cell that allowed accurate center weighted metering at one EV less light level that is predecessor. And most of us could read the light anyway and didn't really need the meter.
While magazines dutifully reviewed camera body after camera body they saved the big guns for reviews of the new lenses. Which also were released much less frequently. A good review could cause a run on a spectacular lens. Maybe the maker would sell a couple hundred more in a year than they had predicted. Nothing like the insane backorders we are seeing today for mid brow cameras and lenses.
It's been said many times before that the real focus, in addition to the long and detailed photographer profiles that graced nearly every photography magazine, was on new films and new ways to use the films, along with interesting articles about how people lit. Not what they lit with. Just how they lit.
Now, for the most part, we've lost those wonderful, long form profiles of those who would be our current "famous photographers." Instead we reward mediocre hacks who recycle techniques that have been around for years but who have mastered social media and the art of being famous in their fields for doing pretty much nothing great. There is a side industry in photography of worshipping the Paris Hilton's of our business for their fame and NOT for their work.
I think Petapixel has it all wrong. The average digital camera user is no longer an informed liberal arts graduate who can overlay ideas and concepts popular in the realm of fine art to photography, they are people trained in linear, literal technical skill sets that are trained for no other reason than to be useful and profitable for big corporations. That demographic seems only interested in the gear. Petapixel and DP Review, and many others have built a reader market for people who are serial equipment review readers, technical review consumers and ardent members of forums where the discussions are never about allusions to action painting or conceptual art, or the resonance of J. Koudelka in modern street photography but are always about shutter shock or the moronic explanations of equivalency, or about the mushiness of control buttons. Nobody gives a rat's ass about the art of photography or the motivations of artistically inclined photography practitioners.
Except that's not really true. There are pockets of people who are interested and do care. There are niche blogsites like theonlinephotographer.com who try hard to be intellectually relevant and engage in spirited discussions about the art instead of the constant tool chatter. But if people really cared to learn anything at all about the art of creating work instead of chattering about equipment then these niche sites would be exploding with readers while sites like Ken Rockwell and DP Review would suffer the web equivalent of tumbleweeds and lone coyote howls.
I'm sad when I remember the 1978 issue American Photographer which profiled Richard Avedon. Page after beautiful page of his work with thoughtful and chewy captions. Lengthy interviews about purpose and vision --- and a one third of one page sidebar about the tools that he used to do the work. A throw away set of paragraphs about shooting with an 8x10 view camera. No sales potential for Deardorf; the average photographer would never embrace a tool that was so costly to produce with or which demanded so much discipline and knowledge. I'm sad that the journalism and literature of photography has become so diminished. The last refuge seems to be Photo District News. And that's quickly slimming down and now rushing to save subscriptions by beefing up the technical (gear review) sections.
While the writer at Petapixel was probably just responding to writer's block, or maybe incrementally improved equipment boredom, and needs a break, the great band of photo "enthusiasts" vote with their page views. As do I, and as do our VSL readers. Some suffer through rants like this to get to the equipment reviews that they know are coming, just like the third quarter door buster sales at major department stores. I don't have an excuse for any gear reviews I write. I rarely monetize them anymore and my turn over of gear has slowed down to a viscous trickle. I have just started to write about how I use the stuff instead of obsessing over newly added gimmicks.
I'd write more about the art of photography if I were an artist but, essentially, I am just a tradesman and all I can write about with any accuracy and passion is how I handle the work I do to keep bread on the table and electrons running through the wiring to power my various toys.
No, I think the writer was writing his retirement article. Petapixel was publishing his time out. We're addicted now to the endless flow of decent writers pumping out glowing or critical-but-compelling reviews of cameras that really don't amount to much in terms of breaking news. And I have to stop for a moment and say that money is the driving force for the content on almost every photo blog and web site. If there was a way to monetize the sites without having to help sell gear I am certain that discussions would change direction and assume a broader perspective. But it seems as though the only way the photo sites large and small make enough money to keep the doors open is by including ads for dealers, ads for gear and links for the latest products. I applaud sites that try to make money by selling prints from well known and respected photographers. I cheer when sites have book sales. I used to click through the (non-gear) ads to read about workshops and learning opportunities but those kinds of promotions have become limited to just a handful of the more elite sites.
If DPReview talked only about the art and use of the tools on the site I predict that Barney and his gang would be out of work in a matter of weeks. Trapped as they are into the paradigm they have helped create.
I'll admit I was a bit chagrined at Michael Johnston over at theonlinephotographer.com. He recently claimed to have committed to pre-ordering the Sony a6500 camera, emotionally claiming that it was everything he ever hoped for in a camera. I think he'll find his enthusiasm misplaced after a bit of use. The a6x00 line from Sony is quite decent, nothing to slag, but there is room for improvement in any camera that was not named Leica M3. Only a month of so ago MJ was in love with the Fuji products. Somehow I think we've switched universes; I haven't been interested in any new cameras since my purchases (and extensive use of) the Sony RX10iii and the A7Rii. I'm content just to shoot with them. But I'm using them for commercial work so I keep running out of cogent stuff to write about anyway. Other than how I use it.
No, the Petapixel writer's angst showed through but he blamed all the photographers who obsessed about the gear instead of pointing back to the site that trained them and addicted them to love the technical aspects of photography over photography itself. Petapixel can aggregate artful content if they really want to try and drive the market that way...
Here's what I think an interesting challenge to other bloggers and blog sites might be: Can we all go through the month of November writing our usual prodigious output without any unnecessary mention of gear. We could talk about the kind of gear we used to create images or the kind of gear we used on a job, if the type of gear we used was germane, but in doing so we'd all make a pact to disregard the brand names or specific models. What an interesting way that would be to ascertain what people really want from we writers instead of just what they say they want from the sources they follow. And imagine the chaos that would confront camera users who are used to getting so many miles of free and nearly free marketing hype type for their products; especially right after Photo Expo. Wouldn't it be like armageddon for them if the source of "previews", "hands-on assessments", "first looks", etc. of the newly announced gear just......stopped. Gone on vacation for the month of November? We might then understand our cumulative power as writers and market makers while manufacturer might come to a new appreciation of the marketing "free ride" they've gotten for a decade or so. I'm game to give it a try. I wonder if anyone else would come aboard. Can we go a month without gushing about the latest Sony or Fuji? Can we give the "game changer" narrative a 30 day rest? Probably not. We might all end up with readers and followers in the single digits....
on another note:
One other thing that's bothering me lately is the endless repetition of the idea that the best camera is the one you have with you. What a bunch of phony baloney bullshit meant to rationalize dumbing down our vision and cramming it into a wide angle cell phone camera. If you are an artist with a point of view and a style, and you are out doing more than just gratuitous social media documentation, you need to use the tools that create your style without compromise. You don't need to worry over the exact brand of camera but if your style is wonderful portraits with optical compression and narrow depth of field and that's what you want to see in the final images you work to create then stop making puerile excuses and just put your damn camera over one shoulder when you go out to shoot. The pull of laziness and the disheartening effects of entropy will have you heading down that slippery slope to mediocrity in a heartbeat if you don't. A little discipline and forethought means that the best camera is the one you selected, practiced with, developed a style with and had the fortitude to bring with you.... just in case you saw something you wanted to shoot without compromise. It's only a couple extra pounds at most, right?
I've tossed in some photographs just for fun. It's stuff I like and if I have the energy I might circle back around and talk about why I like them. That would be talking about actual photography, right?