Productivity, moments and craft beer …
As I am completely incapable of original thought, my writing process, lately, has shifted towards taking other people’s brilliant ideas and morphing them into photographic ideology. Ideology rules the world today, why couldn’t I have a slice of it?
Here’s idea number one: Western (read capitalistic) countries have developed an unhealthy culture of productivity. I can’t open my mail without seeing 5 tips, tricks, hacks, whatevers, to boost my productivity (as if I wanted to). The thing is, productive people (a) tend not to achieve much, but multitask all their life and (b) become very unhappy for it, because our life satisfaction and general happiness depends on the tasks we complete and are happy with, not how much we juggle.
This translates so beautifully to photography that it’s like our art, passion and hobby was the original blueprint for the human psyche.
Think about ancient masters – film era, not cavemen – and many great current artists. They’ll typically release around 10 photographs … a year (ballpark). Whether those are to our taste or not is irrelevant. What matters is that each of those photographs will be spectacularly good in its own style and genre. Each will be … complete.
And think about the GAS-powered amateurs we are. Today, we’ll balk at a new camera if it takes more than half a second to achieve this output of 10 images. We’ll shoot thousands in a trip, discard 90+% of them, post-process a few and likely print zero. In this scenario, none will be … complete, and our experience will be lacking.
I won’t elaborate more on this, as it doesn’t generalize to all current artists or all amateurs. It’s just food for thought.
The second idea is somewhat related, but has more to do with how we experience time.
Again, because we try to maximise opportunities and bring home as much photographic loot as possible, we tend to “waste” many precious moments trying to capture them. Personally, I’m not subject to the first problem above anywhere near as much as to this one. My wife often tells me I’ll have a lot of memories of viewfinders on my death bed 😉
She has a point … I remember witnessing a double whale breach from a boat off Southern Australia in 2016, at least through the viewfinder of my camera. It was an exciting test of reflexes, that rewarded me with a perfect photo, which I later deleted by mistake. Ugh …
The link with the first issue is productivity.
The promise of the shooting envelope is productivity. I’ve taken photos of hunting terns with a spotting scope and film camera, hand-held, lying in muddy marshes, manually focusing with gear intended for visual use that inverted left and right. Some artists photograph olympic sports with a view camera. Anything’s doable. Some approaches are just more productive than others. As in 2 rolls of 36 slides yielding one keeper for me …
The promise of the shooting envelope appears to be that we’ll bag more opportunities, but it’s really that we waste less of those precious moments struggling at the eyepiece. It’s a valid and fulfilled promise.
I get it, and letting go of AF would be difficult for me today.
… if you love photography, maybe the moment isn’t the double-breach. Maybe it isn’t the first sprinter to pass the finish line. Or the graduation of your only child. Or the perfect alignment of passers-by in street photography. Maybe the moment is the process of making the corresponding photograph. Maybe a life of image-making moments is as valid and fulfilling as one of examining the world with our eyes? Isn’t that an artist’s life?
The third thought comes from a wine-tasting video in which one wine cost two orders of magnitude more than another. Roughly $10 and $1000.
The amazing thing about the tasting is that the cheap wine was very solid and pleasant. Everyone liked it.
The natural question that came to mind was whether the expensive wine was worth 50-100 times more. And the answer was an undisputed “yes”. The wine wasn’t 100 times better. You cannot quantify such things. But, for a wine lover and connoisseur, the rare experience of drinking something well made, well kept and of that class is rare enough to justify almost any price. Many can afford that wine, though few can appreciate it. For those who can do both, the wine might not be worth the money, but the experience of tasting it is worth every single penny.
The cheap wine was good, and had no flaws to speak of. But it isn’t complex, and gives very little information about the quality of the fruit, the type of soil, the intention of the wine maker, or the method used to make it. It is a drink that tastes nice. A valid promise, again.
But the expensive wine offers a complete experience involving the cork, the bottle itself, the colour of the wine, the aromas, the flavours, tannins, acidity, richness, juiciness, complexity, length, evolution over hours …
And even more than that, it is the discussion with other amateurs, the guessing games about how the wine was made, the exchange of notes … that make the moment exceptional and well worth the cost.
I think the same applies to photographic gear and experiences.
They translate badly into monetary value for most people. The reaction against the price of a Leica Q3 or Hassy X2D by some observers is noteworthy.
But, if you value the experience of holding something well put together and thought out, more than the photographs you make with it, or the performance capabilities of competitors, then it is worth the price of admission. Far more so than the cheaper options.
I feel a close similarity between the two wines and smartphones & cameras.
Smartphones have come such a long way, it’s almost impossible to find one that will not make great photographs. To the point that when I am not in a mood for elaborate thinking and PP, my default is the phone, that great cheap wine that requires little effort and provides superlative results. Phones have become fantastic, and require no effort. But they offer very little complexity. It’s exceedingly rare to look at a phone-made photograph for hours wondering what went into crafting it.
Crafting. If you’re not into wine but into beer, the phone is your Bud, and the “great camera” photo is that great craft beer. If you’re an amateur, you know how much labour and passion and expertise and dedication went into making it. And it’s not just about the taste, but more about the recognition of that human endeavour, that act of creation. The same goes with great prints. They make you look for hours, wondering about the light, the situation, the conditions, the lens, the focal length, the film or sensor, the exposure, the processing, the paper, the printing, the intention, the evocation …
I love phones.
And I love crafter cameras (and lenses). And prints.
And my dislike of the marketing promise behind do it all cameras (not the cameras themselves) has never been more intense. To me, it is the bane of our hobby, and the reason for the collapse of its market.
These are just personal thoughts. Just three among many trotting along in my mind about this topic. I don’t think I’m inherently right about any of them.
But it seems important to acknowledge that life is what we experience, nothing else. Not what happens but what we perceive of what happens. Not just the things we accomplish but how we accomplish them. Not how many photos we make, but how we make them.
To me, the experience of making and processing photographs is more important than the subject, the gear, or (often) the photographs themselves. What about youz?
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