One of the best things about this website is the people I’ve met through it. At this point, my motivations for continuing to create content and engage with the community are pretty evenly split between the pleasure I get from interacting with a huge range of people with common interests, and the satisfaction I get from writing. A look at the comments below the line on any one of the more popular recent posts* – that were not entirely gear or review related shows that there’s some very insightful and intelligent discussion starting off the back of the original article, almost always covering viewpoints or interpretations that I hadn’t initially considered – and whilst I do try to be as comprehensive as possible when writing, it’s of course impossible to be exhaustive. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn something from these discussions, and I think one of there reasons we enjoy the quality and size of community we do here is because such discussions are both self-curating and self-encouraging. I have been told repeatedly that as far as photography goes, this community is pretty unique on the internet for both erudition, engagement and civility. The next question is of course: how do we grow this?
In the last few days since Kevin Raber at LL published his editorial, I’ve received at least 100 emails asking ‘is it true?’ and ‘is this the end?’ Hopefully by now the internet hysteria has died down and most of us can take a collective deep breath and look at the situation with a bit more objectivity, it’ll become clear that the sky isn’t falling. Indeed, it’s quite likely to be the opposite. However, knowing how quick people are to accuse, react and generally come to (often wildly incorrect) conclusions without complete information, I have to state my position clearly upfront:
- Yes, I am a Hasselblad ambassador but am not involved at all in the operations, finances or strategic decisions of the company. I use the cameras, answer questions, and that’s really about it.
- This post was neither solicited nor compensated for by the company or any other party, and solely represents my own opinions.
- Whilst I am only a photographer now, I did work in M&A, private equity and at senior operational positions for the better part of 10 years beforehand. So I do know something about the issues at hand.
- I am of ethnic Chinese descent (why this is important will become clear later on).
- We’ll look at the situation with as much commercial objectivity as possible.
With that, let’s get on with the analysis.
I’ve written previously about what exactly contributes to the ‘medium format look’. However, I think to some degree we also need to both define what constitutes the hallmarks of smaller formats, but more importantly figure out where each format’s strengths lie. Having now shot what I’d consider ‘enough’ with a complete MF system wth lenses ranging from ultra wide (24mm, or 18mm-e) to moderate tele (250mm, or 180mm-e) I think I’ve built up a much more complete picture. No doubt this will change if the recording medium size increase further – with the 54x40mm sensors, for instance – but I think it’s fairly safe to extrapolate based on the differences between subsequent smaller formats.
I said at the start of 2016 that the overall market for photographic services (commissioned work, art, education) was getting lumpier and smaller: I don’t think that’s changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse. I suspect this is an underlying societal change more than anything: people are simply getting bored. So where does that leave us in 2017?
“Ugly boring boring boring. Such boring images despite having good equipment.” “Talentless.” “Mediocre”. Just a few of the choice statements this image brought out on Facebook for some odd reason; I have no idea why that kind of response only happened with one particular photograph; perhaps the commenters woke up on the wrong side of the bed, had an argument with their spouses or were served inferior coffee. In any case, it’s difficult to take such things seriously if there’s no body of work or any sort of artistic conviction displayed by the critic. But it did make me think about something else: what determines beautiful and ugly? What is the purpose of a photograph, if not to be a record of a unique point of view? Ideally, that point of view should trigger some sort of emotion – good or bad, because surely if there’s no emotion elicited in the audience, then the image has no impact at all – and thus won’t be remembered? Taking one step further, does it matter if the emotion is positive or negative?
I think if I were a painter, I’d probably work in a completely opposite style to the way I photograph most of the time: somewhat impressionistic, with strongly graphic, block structures that are aesthetically pleasing and no more than essential to the mere suggestion of the subject. Forget being explicit; leave that to the imagination of the viewer. It’s much more difficult to do photographically since the medium is one that faithfully records everything that’s there – good and bad and without prejudice towards ‘cleanliness’; you have to hunt quite hard to find something that remains graphic on a macro scale since large objects in an urban environment simply don’t stay perfectly uniform for very long, which in turn breaks the illusion of minimalism. Nevertheless, I think it remains an interesting visual training exercise because it forces you to really observe and distill the essence of an object…even if some retouching is required to clean it up afterwards. MT
85mm lenses and equivalents on native or adapted formats – yes, I probably have too many. Upper left row: Nikon 85 PCE Macro, Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus, Nikon 24-120/4 VR, Hasselblad HC 2.2/100; middle row: Zeiss 1.4/85 Milvus, Canon EF-S 18-55 STM (APS-C), Nikon 85/1.8 G, C/Y Zeiss 2.8/85 Leitax converted to Nikon mount; lower right row: Zeiss Hasselblad CF 2.8/80, Zeiss Hasselblad C 2.8/80 T*. I wanted to add the Hasselblad HC 35-90 zoom, but it wouldn’t fit in the picture. And there also used to be a Zeiss 1.8/85 Batis, Zeiss ZM 4/85, Nikon 80-400 G VR and Voigtlander 90/3.5 APO, but I’m recovering now…
Though this post may seem like a hoarders’ justification more than anything – I can assure you, it isn’t. Whilst you could probably pick one lens in each focal length or angle of view and hack your way into making it work, there are some pretty solid reasons why you might not want to – and this is something I’d like to discuss today. Trust me, there are reasons why I’d prefer not to have to carry two or three seemingly overlapping lenses on assignment – but often there’s simply no choice. Here’s my logic, using the 85mm-equivalent focal length as an example.
A combination of arts and senses in the appreciation: the feeling of weight; the design, composition and balance of visual elements; the subtle sound of the movement and even the sensation of temperature when you pick it up. Yet I doubt few will home in on any single one of these elements – but if you did, and only looked at the design for typography or prose, for instance, you might find quite a lot lacking…
I have a little hypothesis which I think many of you will appreciate. It’s somewhat off topic, so those of you expecting a how-to or review may want to skip today’s post. The creative person is not limited to one field: often, they have interests in other subject matter, and will try to apply themselves in a similar fashion. Musicians who enjoy photography or painting; chefs who sing; singers who cook. And often one tends to be not only good at the other, but there’s also a translation of style of sorts between the different disciplines, too. I can’t cook, or play music, but I do appreciate those two skills and can comment to some degree, in the same way that I can comment on design work which I do in addition to photography. And like my photography, people have noted my design work tends to be balanced, precise, and structured, but not necessarily simple…
I’ve often thought that this is perhaps both the easiest and hardest subject to shoot, and shoot well. It’s also the most accessible human documentary subject for all of us, and almost always one of the chief motivations underlying our own photography. As I head into 2016, and with an increasingly active young daughter, I’m personally finding myself pointing the lens at her – as is the same for any parent, I think. Yet unlike with other forms of social or commissioned documentary photography – I find it much harder to make an image I’m happy with, even though the subject matter means more to me personally than any of my other work (to which I think most pros in the audience will agree, too). And it’s not because toddlers are fast and active little humans; I think it’s got to do with subject familiarity and some principles that also underpin quantum mechanics. Have I completely failed to make sense yet? Let me try a little harder…
A photograph is an observation of a scene at a given moment in time. It’s an effectively instantaneous snapshot of the state of a scene or person or other subject, given the relative rate of change of those subjects. If we extend the duration of observation – i.e. with a long shutter speed – we might see some hints at that change in the form of motion blur, or eventually, averaging. If we get lucky, or observe for a long period of time, we might eventually be able to capture an interesting change or temporary state of the system; however, this assumes two further things. Firstly, that we can differentiate what is ‘interesting’ and have a good benchmark of what to look for; secondly, that we are aware and responsive enough to capture it. I think we can already see why there are some serious challenges here.