[Part I is here —Ed.]
We all recognize the signs. Snarkiness, anger, hurt feelings, reactive lashings-out.
All over someone else's opinion about a camera, a format, a style, or—?
As you might imagine, I have some concrete advice. I'll go ahead and use a prescriptive voice and address "you," even though you might not need to hear it. Apologies in advance for that.
But before I hit you with it, let me say I sympathize with insecurity. If you believe in yourself strongly most of the time, then you have, um, an unusually healthy ego. (And if you believe in yourself all the time, then you might have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.) Most of us are more, er, balanced. Some of us suffer unduly from lack of self-belief and from insecurity. I understand that, and I don't mean to throw petrol on the fire by criticizing anyone for it.
However, I believe if you're going to succeed (in any sense of the word) as a photographer, you just have to go ahead and do your own thing and be comfortable with it. And not be threatened or even concerned with whatever anyone else thinks, or their snarkiness or belittlement or apparent or implied disapproval.
What do they know? Nancy Rexroth made herself famous with a book of blurry pictures taken with a toy camera. Howard Bond's camera is an 8x10 and he's an expert in (optical!) unsharp masking (no piece of cake, take my word.) If you like one, does that mean you can't like the other? I hope not, because I appreciate both of them.
Ken Tanaka, in a comment to the previous post, said, among other things, "someone with talent, energy, and vision will ultimately succeed with any camera."
To which I would add "...that they like." I.e., that gives them the results they want and allows them to do what they really want to do. If you hate your camera, you're unlikely to do much work with it at all, much less good work.
Different things "turn us on," for lack of a better phrase. The smooth tonality of large format; grays vs. colors or vice-versa; the grittiness of grain; high contrast, low contrast, just-right contrast (Peter tells me that Voja's first instinct when he looks at a print is to zero in on just what he doesn't like about the print); saturation, or muted colors; the list goes on and on. (And for every property you can name, the opposite can be made to work well too.)
Ian Land put this beautifully (talking about film): "...each format really is its own thing, and has its own distinctive look, capabilities, oddities, d-o-f characteristics, grain structure, and so on. This is why—contra 'Net chatter which says the camera or format doesn't matter—most working photographers have very strong preferences for particular equipment and formats, because they know their choice of equipment does indeed directly affect the results they achieve."
He's right. Most working photographers do have very strong preferences for particular equipment and formats. Ansel Adams had the perfect phrase for it. He said that equipment we like and trust (he was talking specifically about lenses at the time) "nourishes our enthusiasm." The tone of that is just right: accurate, but just a touch stilted and geeky. So "someone with talent, energy, and vision will ultimately succeed with any camera," yes...but it doesn't hurt if it "nourishes their enthusiasm." So go ahead and indulge any "very strong preferences" you might have. It's part of your work.
What we like isn't a contest with others, however. What we own and shoot with isn't a contest with others. Your choices aren't right and those of other people aren't wrong.
One commenter said he feels the need to "pipe up" when someone writes off a camera as something that "can never be a useful tool." (Why? Policing the Internet singlehandedly is a tad quixotic, actually—cf. the famous XKCD cartoon.)
Another commenter wrote, "we need to guard on being elitist about our equipment."
Maybe, but I go further than either. I think we really need—I use the word "need" advisedly—to not consider or even acknowledge comparisons that have their main basis in questions of status. I'm as guilty as anyone of lapsing into that, and I know it's hard not to—I'm not casting aspersions on people who do that, necessarily, because we're all weak and ignorant sometimes and that includes me.
But really, what we need is to be open-minded and accepting of the potential of others. If you aren't, you are really just closing yourself off to potential joys; you'll be "not seeing" what's there to see in other peoples' work, and not enjoying what's there to enjoy, because of limitations that are self-imposed.
The key is to go ahead and enthusiastically and confidently pursue and embrace what works for you and at the same time completely accept that completely different things work for others. Strong opinionation for your own work and open acceptance of other peoples' work are not mutually exclusive. It's not at all inconsistent for a passionate and devoted 8x10 film landscape shooter to be a huge fan of a color Instagram shooter, or vice-versa, or for a Leica fanatic who loves the very latest gear to love work made with a seven-year-old Pentax, or vice-versa. The old shouldn't be dismissive of the young (and vice-versa); the pro shouldn't disregard the amateur (most pros don't, actually—they're secure enough to enjoy lots of things). Great technical experts can accept and appreciate work by people who don't know what an aperture is. And so on.
The criteria should merely be if you think the work's good and whether it works for you, is all. Not any status-bound or status-based litmus test.
And when people conflate the two—as Nicholas Condon put it, "Any claim on the internet of, 'This thing didn't really work for me,' will be read by some small subset of people as, 'This thing doesn't work. And anyone who thinks it does is wrong and stupid'"—they really just need to be ignored.
No 35mm fan should mind even if Ctein hated 35mm work with a passion, which he doesn't, and no one should ever think I'm not open-minded about color work just because I love black-and-white. It's not a status issue. Status is not in operation. Status considerations just get in the way.
To sum up, this is my advice:
—Go ahead and be passionate and committed to your own choices...with zest, verve and élan! You're right because it's you who decides what's best for your own aims.
—Respect that other people can be just as passionate and committed to very different choices without threatening you at all—and that you can still fully immerse yourself in, and enjoy, their work.
—You can't build yourself up by tearing other people down. On the other hand, if you're prickly, defensive and insecure about your own choices, that's on you, not on others. Weather their blasts! Stand proud!
—Stay open—at least open-minded—to all kinds of work, based on nothing but your reactions and responses to it, your feelings about it, and your liking or disliking of it—studiously ignoring and refusing to acknowledge, on principle, status-claims, partisanship, clubbishness, snobbery or anti-snobbery or any other kind of prejudice or fanboyishness or bigotry et cetera.
I keep striving to do this—not always perfectly successfully as I've admitted—and it's mostly kept me happy and feelin' free. I recommend it.
(Thanks to Ken, Ian, Nicholas, and others)
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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Featured Comments from:
Pat: "Years ago while shooting an event I found myself shaking my head at another photographer who was using a lens that I thought was very ill-suited to the situation. Over the next few years my tastes changed, and I now shoot events using the exact lens I'd been laughing at. Never laugh at some one else's gear choices, because you never know what you yourself will be shooting with tomorrow. :-) "