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Saturday, 29 December 2012


That's really funny. Especially before breakfast on a Sunday.

Great picture, but Whoever said "you don't see painters debating which brushes are best" never listened to two or more painters debating exactly that, or two engravers arguing over which was the better burin (a tool for engraving on steel). Probably the only tecnical subject which gets more painterly discussion is the selection of pigments for a specific use.

Curiously, i have no real problem accepting the (literal) sense of the first sentence of hugh's quote from the other day, provided you insert a qualifier like 'type' or 'brand of' before equipment; as you note, one needs equipment of some sort to practice photography, after all. But that statement doesnt actually equate to (the self-evidently false) "equipment doesn't matter", even though it sounds like it implies that, and might even have been intended to imply that.

I have more of a problem with the suggestion that mature artists will have less equipment. On a practical level i think it is simply untrue--we tend to accumulate tools, and often to be able to afford better ones without completely forsaking the ones we learned on--and it also ignores the fact that while many artists settle into a technique they are satisfied with, many others continually try out new tools in order to push boundaries they find irksome, or simply to shake things up and reinvigorate their work. Look at salgado, who has always used a wide variety of types and formats of camera.

Also, i can't help mentioning that as a contractor who used to build houses for a living, i've been privy to hundreds of heated discussions about which tools are best. Try asking a carpenter swinging a vaughn hammer why he isn't using a plumb. Just be sure you have room to dodge first.

Not funny but very true.
I am an artist that paints and photographs to make pictures in both mediums.
This morning I was painting using a new brush that I purchased last week after searching the racks at a local art supply supermarket for just the right tool.
It made a big difference in how I was able to cut into curves of negative space.
I have posted recently about my D800E and the work I have been using that camera for, but yesterday I was at the New York Botanical Gardens and I chose a GF3 with the Olympus 15mm body cap lens to shoot with, and I produced images images that were true to my vision at the moment.
Who was it that once said "Don't be a fool, know your tool".

Connoisseurs and practitioners of all types of course discuss their tools. To say otherwise is to ignore the truth. On the other hand, as an artist, we must still rise above the tool talks and produce the arts, because your customers do not care what tools we have, they just care about the results.

I had been meaning to send you this link for a while - now seems the appropriate moment:


I especially like the place in the comments, where one guy reveals that he actually has samples of this particular model of pencil from back in the thirties, but only occasionally sharpens one to test it out. Sounds just like myself and my 1938 Leica IIIa :-)

Methinks only people who don't paint employ that cliche. I'm still using the Camlon Pro Artetje brushes I bought in Japan six years ago, and they're great. I just wish I could buy them locally.

Painters really don't argue about brushes, as much as simply discuss them, or exchange information, basically because brushes, unlike cameras, are relatively cheap, and so there's less at stake in making a decision. (The most expensive brush in common use, that I can think of, is probably a Winsor and Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable in Size 10 -- which will run right around $200, or the price of a mediocre point-and-shoot.) I've been painting for a long time, and the most I've ever paid for a brush, as far as I can recall, is around $50, which I thought was kind of absurd. If you read through that website you linked to, you'll find that they're really discussing their preferences, rather than arguing about which is best, and you don't get that heated Nikon vs. Canon fanboy stuff. But, if brushes cost $1,000 each, so you could only afford three of them...then there'd be some heated argument on the painting forums.

I'm not sure what brand my favorite brush is right now, but I think it's an Escoda with mongoose hair. Maybe. Or a Princeton bristle.

I followed some guitar forums when learning how to play acoustic guitar. They would debate various nuances not just of guitar brands, but also brands and materials of picks! Collectors of pens go off on long threads about the nibs.

People who claim photographers are unique in arguing about equipment haven't taken the time to see what other passionate interest groups are like.

So, out of 174,000 registered and active users, 74 voted. Yes, does seem like a "hot button" issue. 8-).

With brushes, pigments, carving chisels, and even planes, it's a relatively small investment, so I can try a few different brands. But cameras tend to be a larger investment, so the interest in contentious debate is probably higher. And the interwebs is great for contentious debate.

This is why I'm planning to focus on 8-string baritone. There's only one model, so no room for obsessing.

I've recently taken up my trumpet again and joined a community band. Me being the modern connected suburbanite that I am, I searched the web for sites that specialized in trumpets. I found a couple of sites with good information that got me back up and playing passably well after my approximately 25 layover from the instrument. One thing that I noticed though, is how similar the trumpet forums are to photography forums. Brands, models, and the minutia of the instruments are heavily discussed and debated. I could replace trumpet with "camera" and mouthpieces with "lens" and most of the conversations would be transposable between both hobbies.

My wife does some cross-stitching and she says that some of the cross-stitching forums are similar.

I believe it is an "internet thing" where it is simply easier for most people to discuss material tools than it is to properly describe the ephemerals of "technique". I saw an interview with a Jens Lindemann, formerly of the Canadian Brass group, that called this mindset "Trumpet Purgatory". I suppose many of us enthusiast photographers similarly get trapped in "Camera Purgatory".

By the way, our Christmas concert went quite well.

I've taken to calling this the Writers and Pens Argument (http://philipmorganphotography.com/blog/oh-and-speaking-of-tools/), after the almost identical cliche that writers don't obsess about the ink in their pen, so photographers should also chill out and stop obsessing about their equipment choices.

Really, I think this cliche is rooted in the historical "pure art" bias against photography and other arts "machine arts" that rely on technology moreso than writing, painting, sculpture, or the like do. This bias says that because photographers rely on relatively complex technology--photograms and the like notwithstanding--that the photographers' concern with tool is some sort of a crutch. After all, painters, writers, or dancers are artists too, and their tools are so simple! That must make those art forms more "pure", and their practitioners more skilled than those technology-dependent photographers with their silly equipment debates!

Picks (or lack thereof) are of great importance to the timbre of your guitar, acoustic or electric and they will also influence the way you physically approach the instrument.

Finding the right pick and then finding the right technique to hold and deploy the pick is serious business.

Guitars are kind of the same. I've advocated a Mike-like beginner's program of one Telecaster, one cord, one tube amp for new players to really learn what they can do with their brains, ears and fingers. If you can play it on a Tele, you can play it on anything. Telecasters, the Leica of the electric guitar.

Just try editing with an Eagle/Berol Verithin Carmine Red 745, and you'll wonder why the Faber-Castell col-erase Carmine Red 1277 even exists. The col-erase is so waxy that on smoother paper surfaces it barely even shows up. Berol has since been absorbed by Prismacolor, so I don't know if the new Verithins are as good as the old ones, but for now, I have my stash.

I think it's more accurate to say some guitarists obsess over instruments. Same as some handspinners obsess over spinning wheels or spindles, and some artists obsess over paper, or canvas, or brushes or just the right pencil. It's a style thing, neither wrong nor right.

Others are like my dad, who has owned perhaps 3 guitars over my lifetime. 2 with 6 strings, and 1 12 string, never more than 2 at once. He's got a style, and switching up instruments doesn't really buy him a lot. Even if he were playing as a full time professional, he'd still be a minimalist... tho it's possible that you might convince him that a pair of guitars with mic pickups are worthwhile. Dad's also a one camera guy, and a one drill press guy, and the same for a lot of other tools. Where he can't get by with just one tool, the duplicates are as identical as possible to his ideal model.

I'm more in the middle. I'm not as ruthlessly minimalist as my Dad. I experiment some. And I try to consciously push myself to experiment if I feel I've found "the best" way... chances are I haven't actually. So I can see the appeal of both approaches.

I become very attached to particular brushes, but not to brands. Some of my favorites have been cheap bristle brushes of no pedigree. I've rarely had reason to mention them to anyone. Maybe my friends are atypical, but we don't talk about brushes much. I might comment on something new I've tried, but that's about it.

Then again, I'm not much of a watercolorist. They are the gear freaks of the painting world, with expensive brushes that last for years if cared for properly. They are also very particular about paper.

The old saw is still largely true. Most artists don't fuss over brushes anything like photographers do over cameras. They are just a preference, whatever feels comfortable and gets the job done. Watercolorists excepted, of course.

Reminds me of my long-gone maternal grandfather who was a cabinet maker and quintet band leader of "Joe Walton and the Sparks Band" between the Great Wars. He had hundreds of old, beautiful, polished tools - including several Philly Disston saws dating from the late 1800s (which my Polish father later told me were the best - Philly, not Canadian - you could use), and got excellent use from them in both crafts. He cut lengths of wood with the saws during the day, and played the same saws at weekends with his violin bow in the dance ballroom of the Grand Hotel, Manchester.

This is probably too obvious, given the photo that leads this story, but, maybe folks ought to have a look at Joe's chat with music students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTima9QLKj8&list=UUcCa2gD7AEA-6SVN8nZw_IA&index=8

Were a lot of folks saying this about musicians? I didn't notice that many of them. I wasn't. Im a backroom musician and i know for sure my really good musician friends are over the edge when it comes to equipment, classical or pop, they're all nuts. Especially the drummers, a very tweaky lot. Much worse than any of the photographers I know. Actually, i try to stay away from photographers, they scare me. Lead guitar players, too. Way scarier than photographers.

There is an interesting video in which Joe Bonamassa talks about his watershed moment on gear. Up until then, it had all been about the "magic gear". Then Eric Clapton showed up without the "magic gear":

It's just one of those things. Humans like to argue, back when I was a student architect we still used drawing boards and technical pens. There were lots of choices to be made, and if there were pen & pencil forums you can bet some guys would be on there... Staedtler pens or Rotring sub topic, Rapidograph or Isograph? Clicky pencil or lead holder? Airbrushes were also a mine field of snobbery, from Humbrol to De Vibliss... Think Vivitar to Leica. Finally, Google Karisma colour pencil to see how much love a waxy colouring pencil can get...

S. Chris:

But that statement doesn't actually equate to (the self-evidently false) "equipment doesn't matter"

Well duh...
I would be the last person on earth ( or elsewhere ) to say equipment doesn't matter, after all I'm the guy with 18 or so 50mm lenses, and used to build my own cameras when I used film.

On the other hand, I have made many photographs with no equipment at all, assuming that the sun or a lightbulb is not counted as equipment. Of course, in those cases "equipment" of lack thereof is a pretty big part of the work. On the third hand, I have done series of photographs that where longitudinal chromatic aberrations are the most conspicuous feature.

When you use "crappy equipment", otherwise known as equipment with obvious artifacts , strong personalities or whatever, it is not that "equipment doesn't matter", but that there is no such thing as bad equipment. Ask Nancy Rexroth or outside of photography ask any rock and roller playing a Kay or an Airline guitar.

Inappropriate equipment on the other (fourth for those keeping score at home) hand can be a bad idea although using a Leica S for birthday snapshots* probably will not be a problem.

*but the Argus C3 photos of my third birthday totally blow away the Zeiss Contaflex photos

Best guitar player I ever heard was the late, lamented Bluesman Rory Gallagher (from out of the County Cork delta!) He played this beaten up old Stratocaster, no paint left on it and had to re-tune after every song. But he could make it cry, sing, walk, talk and all points in between. It's really NOT about the gear.
If you should have a chance to listen to his Irish Tour '74 album, don't miss it!

If it has an effect on the output of the process, I suspect people will debate. If it has no effect then they will not. Its why writers don't debate about things like MS Word etc. Is has no effect on the finished piece of writing.

"He played this beaten up old Stratocaster, no paint left on it and had to re-tune after every song. But he could make it cry, sing, walk, talk and all points in between. It's really NOT about the gear."

I'm not sure that's the proper conclusion. Take Rory's favorite guitar (even if beaten up and old) away from him, and see what he would say. I'll bet he would be mighty unhappy. A lot of guitarists play ancient guitars they've had forever, but I'd argue that's because they ARE important to them, not because they aren't...


I wonder if we will ever uncover remains of an early cave dweller beneath a finger daubed hunting scene with a fantailed stick embedded in their eye socket, wouldn't surprise me.

I did once know a fellow who brought 57 hammers with him when he migrated to Australia.
Of course, he was a sheet metal shaper by trade.

Interesting discussion. I think tool choice has to do with the human condition, wants and needs, including; hoarding, appreciation of beauty (tools), efficiency and desirable results. I like a lens that does not flare because if it did it ruins my idea of artistic vision and interferes with my desired results. This should primarily apply only to me but the audience is affected if I did not execute my vision effectively.

I've longed suspected that most practitioners of most any craft have strong personal preferences about their gear. What still seems unique to photography, though, is that so many practitioners have strong personal preferences about my gear (and your gear and Mike's gear). That is; artists might enjoy a favorite brand of brushes or paints and even debate what they like so much about those favorites, but a given photographer might swear up and down that you're a blooming idiot if your favorite isn't the same as his or her favorite.

"Steve, I'm not sure that's the proper conclusion."

Of course, you're spot on. My comment was merely a reaction to the featured photo of the guitar fetishist - although I bet he's brilliant on all five hundred of them!

Do all those amplifiers go up to eleven?

I am merely an amateur photographer but I am a (semi) professional musician. I have more than sixty cameras but only half a dozen guitars.

That must prove some theory but I have forgotten what point I was trying to make now!

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