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The Unexpected

October 16, 2008





We often think that we need all kinds of equipment to be photographers. And I also think that one of photography’s primary weaknesses is that it has always been associated WITH equipment. The idea of studying photography gets lost because those new to it think they just buy the right equipment, and presto, suddenly you ARE a photographer.

There is little intimidation because learning equipment is easy, so within a short time you are making pictures, regardless of their significance or success, they are being made.

With painting, sculpture, etc, you are staring a block of clay perhaps, or a blank canvas, and suddenly the lack of knowledge is impossible to ignore.

There are new cameras out now, as there often are, but these new bodies are getting all kinds of play, exposure(no pun intended) and seem to be the focus of our entire industry in some ways.

But me, I don’t care. I try not to even notice because I know that in a few short months there will be more new cameras, more new software and the likes, and for me, it makes no difference.

I’ve never liked new things. Frankly they make me a little nervous, so I’m happy with the old, and I realize that these new things have nothing to do with what I’m trying to accomplish, which is to see better, to get better and to be able to have more freedom to do the things I want.

I could literally go back to the same camera I started with, a Nikon FM2, and be perfectly happy, and the crazy thing is, I’ll bet that exact body is still out there, working and in the hands of another photographer as we speak.

So recently I traveled to the heartland to do a portrait shoot and decided to take a camera I’ve had for years and one that I never use for portraits, and decided to only take a wide angle lens, also something I typically don’t use for portraits.

What I got were, I think, my favorite portraits of the trip. Now these might not be mom and dad’s favorite images, but for me, they are different, and are the look I like as much as anything else.

I also like the fact that because this camera is so small and is around my neck all day everyday, I get images with it that I would never get with a bigger, more pronounced camera.

Last week, at a lecture, I heard a conflict photographer say, “This entire ten-year project was done with a Leica, and nothing against digital, but it could have NEVER been done with the modern digital gear,” meaning it would have been too dangerous to walk around with the large, modern bodies, in a situation where it was deadly to be known as a photographer.

So, in a few short days, I must travel again, for another portrait and I’m toying with the idea of ONLY taking this old camera. Believe me, it feels really odd to show up with this thing and have the client say, “Where is your gear?” or “Your not going to use that are you?” But the result is all that matters, and stripping myself of the security of gear is to force myself to actually see.

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