Newer isn’t always better.
More isn’t always better.
Limitations can be creatively liberating.
Equipment isn’t the solution to 99% of problems.
The sense of entitlement and lack of objectivity is deafening.
Does any of this sound familiar?
As the digital photography revolution has matured, more and more people have been given ever easier access to greater and greater potential – both creative and technical. We have been promised the myth that anybody can do anything, if only you just buy this bit of gear. And then you’ll have to buy a new one next year, because the old one doesn’t do it as well anymore. So…wait a minute, does that mean you sold us a lie before? Because that’s awfully close to how it sounds. This kind of marketing only goes so far: look at the scary recent decline in new camera sales, for starters. The companies that are doing well are the ones who are innovating and delivering something genuinely different – on the stills side, I scratch my head. On the video side – well, DJI and Blackmagic immediately come to mind. Olympus could be there too with that incredible stabilizer, but they need to sort out their codecs.
Even though there’s a much wider creative envelope open, and higher levels of quality are increasingly easy to access, there’s also never been quite so much moaning about equipment and ‘if only’. Online forums do nothing to help either the manufacturers’ causes or the participants, yet they continue to grow – why? I battle with the fallout of trolls, fanboys and other assorted expert pundits here who are like pigeons over a review: they come in noisy droves and leave nothing but a mess. I am a hero one day for approving their choice of
religion equipment and Judas the next for exposing its shortcomings. Frankly, I couldn’t give two small mouse droppings about whether they like my images or not; photography is subjective and there are no absolute rights or wrongs anyway. But I do know that I can produce a) what I want, and b) what my clients want. But it doesn’t make it any less annoying or hurtful when people who are supposedly educated and wealthy enough to have thousands of dollars in disposable income are also able to make snap judgements without bothering to read even the full article, let alone the archives. I’m sure somebody will say it’s my fault for not making it obvious, and next I should be paying my readers since they bothered to be here at all.
I am not the only one online who realises that the future is still not here, and the mass online bitterness is a product of people realising something is missing and that sneaky feeling they’ve somehow been deceived, but not fully able to grasp why. (Hint: education should come first.) Any tool is useless without the knowledge to operate it; if anything, the sharper and more specialised the tool, the more likely you are to hurt yourself.
This is not a rant; far from it. It is an expression of sadness: we have more access and openness to creativity, collaboration, artistic development and powerful tools than ever for both capture and output/ sharing/ audience engagement, and instead of embracing and running with them – the majority of people who buy these things are just whining about the small things that only make a difference if you actually have the skill to get to that level. There are more images than ever in circulation and production, overall standards have gone up both creatively and technically, and yet there’s less value for a good image than ever. Why is this? You would expect that the more people who try to do something, the more people realise how difficult it is to achieve results of a certain level. What we have instead are initial responses of ‘great image, what camera?’ or comments like ‘it would have been better if shot with X’.
I put the blame squarely on consumerism and shortsighted immediate gratification. Manufacturers that have set up their consumers to expect immediate quick gains are going to flounder in future as they lack the ability to sustain their promises – this continued exceeding of expectations is one of the reasons why Apple is so remarkable as a company, and frankly, Nikon and Canon are not. We have inadvertently set ourselves up in a cycle that can never be broken, with expectations that can never be fulfilled: every iteration must be better, more amazing, lighter, cheaper, cooler, and make us more attractive to the opposite sex. But it’s clear this cannot work without operator intervention: a car only goes around a track as fast as the driver can make it. Images that work only appeal to us because there is some aesthetic preference and personal emotional bias that has been evoked. There is no way this can possibly be automated or formularised, and therefore no way you can ever transcend the limitations of the operator. More resolution just means bigger files, and important events will be remembered for camera frustration rather than an amazing glimpse into a transient moment.
It saddens me further that I can see it happening, but I’m powerless to do anything about it. I know I can make the images I want, and I am the limitation – not the equipment. My students are the same. I can write and shout til I’m blue in the face, but there’s not much point in talking to the hand that doesn’t want to listen. I can try to educate by writing articles and making them freely available, but that’s also pointless if nobody reads them. But maybe I have this all wrong; maybe most people don’t want or care enough to make a better image. They don’t get kept up at night wondering about experiments and new locations and considering how they could improve or rehearsing the shot list for tomorrow’s shoot.
And I leave it at this: where do we go from here? Where do you want to go with your photography? MT
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