A writer at Petapixel recently wrote a column and strongly suggested that we no longer talk about gear. From now on, only about the art of photography....hmmm.

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?


mcerutti said...

Love the Flag Pic and the Black and Whites. How did you do the selfie?


Anonymous said...

I am a music professor and amateur photographer out west of you in San Angelo. I make your blog a part of my daily reading. You are a fine writer, and your blog is my favorite photo blog.

I think you are more of an artist and creator than you may realize. I encourage you to “circle back around” to those images and talk about why you like them. You may find it to be food for the soul.

And much what an artist does can be considered tradesmanlike. I can’t teach creativity, but I can teach technique and hope to inspire creativity.

Kirk Tuck said...

Stephen, please tell me about San Angelo. I've been meaning to come out and see the city. It's kind of the anti-Austin in terms of traffic and uncontrolled growth. I'll probably head over for a weekend in November --- especially if you tell me it's kind of cool. Thanks, Kirk

Butch said...

I'm not an artist by a million-mile stretch. But I'm very, very interested in the device that's attached at the opposite end of the arm from the camera. I LOVED learning about Nancy Brown in her book "Photographing People for Advertising" (which she, my God! signed when I ordered an out-of-print copy from her). I love reading this-here site because it looks not just at that metal thing out on the other end of the arm, but the thoughts, feelings, and working methods of the photographer. Hey, I would love to learn more about the photographer who took those wonderful posed advertising images of downbeat Kansas City bar interiors maybe thirty years ago. And the guy who shot the wonderful Nike ad that showed a dusky gym interior with women playing, very well, under the basket, and some obviously very fit male college athletes over by the wall studying the action. I love hearing about gear that could help me do my job better as a very part-time school, Sangha, and community photographer. I'm very curious about the all-in-one Nikon DL 24-500 that will/may be released in January, and those Olympus OM-D 4/3 cameras that handle wonderfully and can make stunning photos, but like the Sonys, cost too much for my budget. The problem I find is where one or the other attachment drops out of the picture; when it's all about the metal or the photographer considered as artiste - really? Who cares.

Butch said...

P.S. I love Stephen's comment. My spiritual teacher pointed out that most real artists are beefy guys, not wispy poseurs. (Chihuly, Alexander Calder)

Richard Rodgers said...

Kirk- Thank you for this post.

I have become bored with equipment reviews

Today I posted the following:

“I see evidence of a fading past that I do not know, yet appearing more ‘authentic’ to me than the present.
Vince Lupo

Uncovered Vince Lupo's statement early last week. His clear and concise wording helps explain my ongoing photographic fascination with the Midwest. Nothing else needs to be said.


Aubrey Silvertooth said...

Kirk--I love this post. i especially love it after walking around Galveston Island's Historic Strand District this past Saturday afternoon and evening with nothing more than my thirty-two year old Pentax ME-Super with the Pentax SMC 50mm f2. That's all the gear I carried for the afternoon. I had a roll of Adox CMS 20 loaded in the body and a roll of Fomapan 100 in my pocket. It was a refreshing walk through a familiar area with a familiar camera. The Galveston Art Walk was in the evening so I looked the part of an old hipster with a film camera, until I explained to someone I purchased the camera new in the 1980s. Thanks again for the blog, Aubrey

amolitor said...

Yes, the regular drumbeat of "we need to stop talking endlessly about gear" (and I am guilty here) is as useless as asking there leopard to change his spots.

That said, there is a modest little audience, that mostly doesn't read PP, for non-gear talk. Mike J is the sole person able to make even a modest living serving this small audience, and more power to him.

I will try to struggle through November without any gear reviews ;)

Anonymous said...

Do it! Do it! (Talk about photography for a month, I mean). I'd like to know your thoughts about picture 13, for example.

Thanks Kirk for your thoughts. David

Dave Jenkins said...

Thanks for this post, Kirk. I really miss the wonderful, in-depth magazine profiles of significant photographers. I don't even know who the significant photographers are in this digital era, except some of the greats who are still living, such as Erwitt. I don't mean to sound like a senior flatulent, but so many of the photographers I have admired and learned from are passing (have passed) off the scene and I don't know who is replacing them.

John Camp said...

Kirk, I read your blog just about daily, almost every new thing you put up, and sometimes I read them more than once, so take what I'm about to say with that in mind. Of all your photos, the ones I like least are the theater shots, although they are technically excellent. For a long time, I couldn't say why that is, but I've decided that it's because actors *pose,* and they don't pose like a professional photographer would pose them, but rather, they pose as they would for a crowd of people, an audience. For example, in the first shot in today's post, the woman is looking up at the sky, and in no way engages with the viewer; the same is true of the woman putting on lipstick in yesterday's post, although that one has a certain voyeuristic vibe that's interesting. The same is true with most other theater shots -- the "audience posing" actually seems to me to create a psychological barrier between the subject and the photo viewer. I know how much you enjoy shooting theater, and of course, my tastes aren't yours...Maybe something to talk about in your "art" posts?

Noons said...

Don't wait for anyone else to follow, Kirk.
Talk only about photography for a month, or even longer if you feel like it!
I'll definitely be listening!

I've now taken to carry my camera (won't say which!) and two lenses anywhere I go, regardless of my willingness to use it or not!
The "best camera is the one with you" mantra hasn't got a chance with me now! :)

And I'm finding it immensely challenging to actually force myself to exploit the gear I have with me and know its most intimate details, like I used to do in the "bad old days of film".

I've almost ceased to go into gear review sites (no names, this is not intended as a direct attack). It's just not my thing anymore. But I do spend time appreciating images in photography sites that actually show photography instead of "how to photoshop your iphone output to make it look like you used a Canikon EOSD8123"!

Yes, I'm a Luddite when it comes to post-processing: if it's not something I could easily do back in the days of darkrooms, I don't do it!
Nuff is nuff!

PS: finished your book recently. Immensely interesting!
Around that same time I lived in Lisbon and some of your descriptions left me speechless: I used to go to the same places and see the same things.
Only wish I had an M3 back then! (oops, I just mentioned gear! :) )

Anonymous said...

I’m not sure Angelo is “cool,” but I have enjoyed being a part of the university and the community for the last dozen years. The oil boom has brought more traffic. Still, I admit that I feel downright oppressed when I have to wait for more than a single cycle at most of the stoplights in town.

We have nice art museum (SAMFA), a well preserved frontier fort, and a decent arts community for a city our size. I like the sky and the light the most, though. The world opens up once you head west of Eden.

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks for the comments and suggestions John. That might indeed be a fun place to start the "art" dialog. I hope you'll chime in and let me know more once I get the material up.

Anders C. Madsen said...

"...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..."

Did it ever occur to you, that - at least for some of us - this is the exact reason for coming back to this blog on a daily basis? :)

Being a one mand band is the way a lot of photographers outside of the big cities work, and having someone with decades of experience express the same doubts, the same frustrations as one self, is a godsend in many ways.

To me, you are the living proof that there is a way to support your family as a photographer, and many of the articles that I have really taken to heart are the ones where you explain how you go about combining the artistic and business aspects of what you do, and how you do it without compromising your own goals and principles while still making money.

It may seem like a small thing to you, but I can honestly say that without the "Commercial Photography Handbook" and this blog, I'm not sure that I would have been in my third year as a full time professional photographer, and making ends meet with increasing success. I left my job as a CTO of an internet service provider when the stress was about to literally kill me, and today I'm happier than I have been in decades (says my wife), and that is - at least to me - a huge thing.

So, whenever you doubt your place in the world with this blog, just come back to this comment - I'm pretty sure, I'm not the only one. :)

indianrunner said...

I might sound a bit teasing but I must say that I totally disagree. I think gear review sites and their readers are salt of our photographic earth. Why? Thanks to them we have so much new gear every year to choose from to do our work. They drive the constant technical evolution of cameras and provide plenty of financial resources for manufacturers to do so. People who are always willing to take out their wallets and rush to buy the latest-greatest are a good source of second-hand cheap cameras and lenses. Of course there are some downsides. But if you look at it in that way, skipping gear review articles in your stream is really a small price. I'm just sayin' as Mike would no longer say.

Anonymous said...

"my turn over of gear has slowed down to a viscous trickle."...right

Sometimes I go to art museums just to look at paintings, I don't talk about technique at all I have no idea how to paint a painting, just for inspiration.

Just got done watching "The Danish girl", I didn't know what the movie was about and I hadn't read the back of the DVD but the lighting was fantastic, as was the performances.

But I doubt if you could make it a month without writing about gear and I doubt if your gear acquisition syndrome is really in remission.


Gary said...

Oh heavens yes.

Anders said...

Many really nice photos.

Regarding "...the best camera is the one you have with you..." phony balony - I think it is a fact that more and more people don't give a damn about "real" cameras and just use a mobile phone, because all they are interested in are sharing some photos and selfies from a nice day with their friends on FB.

I recently read an article by Robin Wong who reviewed the Huawei P9 and I must admit the photos he took with it were really good. Many of them were actually far better than a lot of the images taken with "real" cameras on Flickr.

So it all comes back to the photographer, even though we all know that a real camera is so much better than those ghastly mobile phones :-)

Paul said...

Great blog post Kirk - a while ago I did a course by Thomas Leuthard on Udemy which was all about
"I select about 5% of my photos. The rest will be deleted. Learn how to edit photos and why you should delete 99% of them"

He describes the thought process behind why he took the shot in the first place and then how he edits. It was far more enlightening than knowing what gear he used.

I'm always on the look out for content on why and how a photograph was taken rather than what was used to take the photograph.

Maybe we should always post photos without EXIF data to avoid gear distraction.

typingtalker said...

I notice that Petapixel has advertising on its site so I expect that is how they support their work -- they deliver eyeballs to advertisers.

Would they be able to keep the doors open and the servers humming without equipment talk?

Anonymous said...

Furtunately, there are still some excellent photography magazines out there! One of them is "Photonews" from Germany:


No gear talk whatsoever, only current photography!

Too bad it is only in German, but if there is demand perhaps they will start an international version, too.

omphoto said...

I thought the mini exhibit here of your photos was excellent. Even if some were for commerce the context in this case puts them in another category of compelling, thoughtful and personal photography. Thank you Kirk for the work you do and the blog that helps all of us trying to find the balance between art and business.

Ron White said...

Do it Kirk! I've radically cut my gear turnover the last several years and feel more relaxed about my photography. The "Art" of photography is what most pleases me. I look forward to an inspiring November. Ron

Anonymous said...

Home run, sir.
Very well said.

MartinP said...

I liked this bit "incrementally improved equipment boredom" . . .

Was 2IEB a thing before you wrote about it? The technical state of most cameras for most purposes has been 'sufficient', within each usage group, for quite some time and your clever label denotes this neatly. :o)

And a photography focussed November sounds like an excellent idea!

Mark Davidson said...

I recently had botched cataract surgery that resulted in a subsequent vitrectomy that immobilized me for a month. It was a very useful break from a photography schedule that had kept me working non-stop for 16 months.

I have always been happy to work and the jobs are from a stable of superb clients that pay well and often.
The problem was burnout.

I love the problem solving challenge that a new project offers. I relish creating an image that will delight the client with a fresh take on what had gone before.
But the game had grown stale. Jobs had increasingly shorter deadlines and the solutions seemed to be coming from a smaller set of options.

Flt on my face, I listened to audio books, NPR and re-connected with the world. When the room was quiet, I thought about making images.
I was able to re-experience the excitement of creation and enjoyed thinking of new solutions to old problems.

Next week the Dr. gives me thumbs up (I hope) and I will be delighted to play in the light again.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk,

You mentioned The Online Photographer many times before, and I expected to find a site similar to yours. And was disappointed. On several visits in the past few months, all I could find was still gear talk. Yes, no reviews, but it's still more than 90% gear and related areas.

In print, the only magazine about the Photography, as an Art, seems to be Lens Work.

It's... just like that...

Thank you for your site!


Hardison said...

Just to answer your question: Every time you put up a bunch of sample photos like that, I go through them several times, looking at color, composition, and the other intangibles that attract me to the picture.

There was a day when I would have wondered what camera and lens each was taken with, but it matters less and less each year.

Anonymous said...

Possibly it's just easier to stir the pot about gear than to write engagingly on the art of photography?

Colin B said...

There is certainly a chronic lack of actual photography (as opposed to gear) related discussions in print and on the Web these days. And that is very depressing. If I see one more un-boxing video on You Tube...On a more positive note, there are some interesting things happening in the world of the Podcast. If you haven't listened to it, check out Ibarionex Perello's 'Candid Frame' podcast in which he interviews both established and emerging photographers. I reckon 90% of the podcasts make literally no reference to equipment - it's all about the photographers' background, inspiration, vision, motivation etc. And Ibarionex. Is a brilliant interviewer who lets his guests speak.