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Holy Order of Minimalism when shooting casually
Originally posted by Ken Tanaka here
--- taking-off to broader philosophy ......
I am absolutely convinced that the self-consciousness associated with experience and gear wealth is often very deleterious to instinctive creativity and image reflexes, particularly for casual personal work. Internet photo sites tend to stoke this effect by hosting breeding grounds of gear lust and perpetuation of aesthetic clichés and silly digital technique.
I know that the more gear I schlep the worse my casual photography tends to be. I've become very self-aware of this phenomenon and, despite having an embarrassingly enormous inventory of camera gear, I've converted to the Holy Order of Minimalism when shooting casually.
Your back-story on this image being captured with a "borrowed Nikon FM" as "a complete novice" offers yet another testimony to my theory of the inversely proportional relationship between gear/experience and quality of results. Of course it's a pretty leaky theory that would never earn a doctorate. Experience with a camera, particularly with a particular camera, and having good aesthetic sense certainly does have great benefit. But there is much to be said for just returning to capturing what you see rather than worrying about creating aww-worthy images.
I thought this comment is useful enough and important enough to bear bringing to the front of a thread. I've been there, and I am sure that I am not alone, and also have an embarrasing wealth of camera kit. And yet, I have also converted to Ken's Holy Order - perhaps spontaneously - and tend to carry the simplest kit I can these days. Yes, I miss some picture oportunities, but I gain others. In fact trying to work out what lens to use, or how to frame cleverly etc becames a great hindrance. There are a couple of points that ken makes that I think are really valuable and worthy ofsome consideration:
- 'worrying about creating aww-worthy images' - the internet is a breeding ground for the sort of self important approach that seeks to make, always, the most awesome or amazing images. To the extent that it doesn't matter what you do, the final image is all. I believe this is highly questionable and that one of the keys to photography, and its power and language, is not about the awesome images, but the everyday record what you see work. Yes, even the snapshots that recall a child's smile lighting up their face. Don't try to live up to other peoples expectations!!
- 'Experience with a camera, particularly with a particular camera, and having good aesthetic sense certainly does have great benefit. But there is much to be said for just returning to capturing what you see' - We are surrounded by so much that is worth looking at. I wonder if the continuous desire to create the awesome means we miss the interest and poetry in the everyday. I posted a quote from Todd Papageorge (below) that expressed this much better than I can, but photography's language is not that of creation but that of selecting. Whilst manipulation is certainly not just a digital domain, there is much about the digital world (not just photography) that seems to be seeking to make something, virtually, better than reality
- 'I know that the more gear I schlep the worse my casual photography tends to be.' Yes!
- 'Internet photo sites tend to stoke this effect by hosting breeding grounds of gear lust and perpetuation of aesthetic clichés and silly digital technique' Yes, most of the sites that are well known feed on creating gear lust in their viewers and accolytes (the latter description is sometimes applicable if you read the forums). This completely distracts from the task at hand. If something doesn't work then, fo course, change it. but, the nature of the digital beast is that it creates a lust for things that are not helpful and don't add anything of value. Again, this is symptomatic of the digital economy and may hold a few lessons as to some of the reasons for the current economic crisis.
Ken, thanks for your carefully crafted and valuable comment.
Edited to add Todd Papagoerge's quote:
I think now that, in general—and this includes a lot of what I see in Chelsea even more than what I see from students at Yale—there’s a failure to understand how much richer in surprise and creative possibility the world is for photographers in comparison to their imagination. This is an understanding that an earlier generation of students, and photographers, accepted as a first principle. Now ideas are paramount, and the computer and Photoshop are seen as the engines to stage and digitally coax those ideas into a physical form—typically a very large form. This process is synthetic, and the results, for me, are often emotionally synthetic too.
Sure, things have to change, but photography-as-illustration, even sublime illustration, seems to me an uninteresting direction for the medium to be tracking now, particularly at such a difficult time in the general American culture. All in all, I think that there’s as much real discovery and excitement in the digital videos that my students at Yale are making as there is in the still photography I see either there or in New York, perhaps because the video camera, like the 35 mm camera 30 years ago, can be carried everywhere, and locks onto the shifting contradictions and beauties of the world more directly and unselfconsciously than many photographers now seem to feel still photography can, or should, do.
Tod Papageorge, Bomb Magazine
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