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Friday, 07 September 2018


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Well, duh ...

"Instead of just doing real things for free, you can come pay me to pretend to do them."Instead of doing photography, you can spray and pray and pretend you did it? We'll do the rest with software, workflow, dynamic range, equivalence, pixels, and all that other stuff.


But there are some aspects of advancing camera technology that can free you from it. Let the camera do the technical work and focus on composing a provocative image.

Most of the photographers who drool over the latest increase in resolution also insist on "shooting RAW in manual." I've never understood why. Modern cameras are filled with complex and sophisticated image processing software that in most cases can probably handle the technical tasks better than the photographer, just like Mike's example of cameras that can see what his eye can't. So why not use that tech in all but a few cases, forget about the tech side and focus on seeing and composing a good photograph.

I think this is why some find the latest phone cameras compelling. They pretty much insist on letting them handle the tech and the big screen, which is sort of like having a photograph in your hand, takes you the rest of the way, sort of saying, "Hey, compose a picture, don't just take a photograph."

What if you couldn't transfer the photo files from your camera to a computer? What if you were restricted to directly printing the photos from your camera to a color printer? What if you could only manipulate the colors, brightness and sharpness of the photos with the camera's built-in controls?

I would wager that most people wouldn't go to the excessive level of changes that they do with photo editing software available today.

Awesome comment! This bit; "the solid belief in technical improvement and control as a means to achieve success" is particularly insightful for me.

Art, in my view (and practise), is itself a yearning for control. To either make sense of the things we have such limited or nonexistent control over; or, to express a nascent understanding of the very lack of control that we have.

Awesome comment! This bit; "the solid belief in technical improvement and control as a means to achieve success" is particularly insightful for me.

Art, in my view (and practise), is itself a yearning for control. To either make sense of the things we have such limited or nonexistent control over; or, to express a nascent understanding of the very lack of control that we have.

Has the digital age has given us all the Midas Touch? Every photo we take is gold: perfectly sharp, full dynamic range from total black to total white. A la Malcom Gladwell, in the analog age it took 10,000 hours become a proficient photographer. Now we all are in a minute. But it turns out that wasn't the answer.

I am not sure if this phenomenon is only relevant for photography. I see the same fascination for extra gadgets, tools etc in other arenas; like bicycling, running, and golf. It seems to me it's more about the equipment than the activity ...

The creativity is one factor in the true meaning of a picture. With no creativity the photography is just copying and the camera is a copy machine.

For that reason I try to take pictures "as no one has done before". It is difficult, because everything has been copied already. To make things easier for me, I avoid looking at other peoples pictures. So the method comes: "as no one has done before that I know of". And I try to create something "art like", unique and show something that I want to express. Not just copy a sunset or a flower or a person in the street but create an interpretation of what I see.

I've got a bike that goes nowhere too! You can ride and ride and never move. It's great. Instead of just doing real things for free, you can come pay me to pretend to do them.

Wouldn't it be better to join a co-ed softball league than waste money on season tickets to watch grown-men play a child's game? You may even meet people who speak in complete sentences !

Mastering gear is a fools game. Women understand this and most men don't.

I have a YouTube channel and the videos where I talk about gear always get more views than ones where I talk about photography. Yet people would say they're glad that I make the "inspiring" talks.

The Internet is a sales machine, so the blogs are forced to peddle the camera wares. It's their bread and butter. Wonder how much this influences this need to upgrade.

To me, the photographers are the ones using their gear to make images, projects, stories.

And the hobbyists play with cameras, buy more, experiment, test, and then upgrade, so they can test some more.

If you have something to say, there's no time to get into gear. If you don't, well, hey, what's that coming out next?

Hear, hear!

I have found that I need to think about what I will be shooting and try to set up my camera for that before I start. Once I start shooting, I only want to think about pressing the button at the right time.

I may check and adjust, but technical concerns are not on my mind while shooting. I thought of this as a weakness, but maybe not... there has to be a balance. The tech comes before and after the art.

The REAL problem is that everyone is too competitive. Know enough to get what you want, enjoy yourself, and art may find you.


And don't forget the concept threadmill, every photographic project has to have a concept behind...

thanks very much for this post mike.

on a related and relevant topic ...

i experience an interesting phenomenon when viewing many of brett weston's medium format photographs, and particularly the more abstract ones. the prints have an amazing ability to send a feeling directly to your soul without any need to spend time in your brain doing cognitive processing, analyzing, deconstructing, understanding, etc.. to me this was brett's true mastery, and i have no desire to figure out how he did it because that would require cognitive processing, analyzing, etc. lol!

i find a somewhat related phenomenon exists with films. earlier in the year i watched hitchcock's vertigo and thought that, for me, the film may be more effective in black and white. so i made a black and white version of the film and voilà ... the emotional journeys of both jimmy stewart's and kim novak's characters (the essence of the film) were laid bare for all to see and feel. the quality of the acting and the beauty of robert burks' cinematography were also much more transparent.

i have now converted a few hundred films to black and white and consistently find that the essence of the story and the characters is far more transparent and much easier to feel in the black and white version of the films.

Delete Facebook, ignore Twitter, banish Instagram and shoot film.

My advice to younger photographers is not to be a photographer but to be a human".

Sorry Mike I forgot to add the quote is by the magnificent Anders Petersen.

That's a great Kuspit snag. But here's a little story to go along with it: I studied with Jack Burnham (look him up) at U MD back at the end of the '80's. This was when the first astronomical art prices in the current era were happening at the auction houses, and leading the charge was Van Gogh's Irises (we know much more about the financial background of that sale now, but it's another story). But why Van Gogh?

Well, Burnham posited that Van Gogh's purported craziness was part of the equation. It wasn't just that the painting was a good one (but not one of his best...) or that rare as an art object. It was Van Gogh's craziness itself that was being bought. As an artist, he represented everything that a captain of industry with the money to buy this work could not be---nuts. Thus the work stood as a kind of poker chip, a marker, for this aberrant condition, which the rest of us must actively suppress in our daily lives---yet this suppression itself could tend to sicken the individual. So, enter Van Gogh as a safety valve for suppression. He remains everyone's favorite artist nutjob (he really wasn't insane, btw. More a narcissist and manic-depressive. Much less sexy...).

I would say that photography offers the general public a way to play in the art pool, but not so much the deep end. And that's why with digital photography, which has made it all so much more easy and convenient, these same folks obsess about the least of it, the technical bit. Because otherwise you have to go into the deep end, and the deep end is a lot more scary, because your feet can't touch the bottom.

But there is room for hope. Read Marie Louise Von Franz' "Number and Time". Talk about dense...but in it are interesting stories and asides about famous scientists and mathematicians who had epiphanies that seemed to well up from the unconscious, and led them to great discoveries. She was Jung's secretary, btw, then an analyst and author on her own. Fascinating stuff.

Well, as Cartier-Bresson said, “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept”—or something like that...

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, things that we thought were worth remembering are being replaced by things that aren't; the conscious mind is aware of this, imo, and losing a bit of the thrill. As I approach my late seventies and 50 years of trying to make interesting photos worth keeping, at least that is happening to me.

Amen to the comment.
Amen to Charles Harbutt’s book, Travelog.
And, in the same vein, a heads-up for Burk Uzzle’s book, Landscapes.

There's a cartoon, I think from New Yorker, in which two guys are looking at a stereo setup. One of the guys says, "What attracted me to vinyl is the expense and inconvenience." Also apropos photography equipment-geeking.

I totally agree that technology is becoming a pursuit in itself and is distracting artists from their work in many cases. I'm sure there are people out there with older cameras and minimal funds who feel intense camera envy and may actually be unable to shoot and pursue their art because they feel that their equipment is sub par.

There is another trend that is mitigating this somewhat and bringing back the joy of shooting and that's artificial intelligence. I just got a new phone that has a marvelous 40 megapixel main camera, a smaller telephoto camera, and a black and white camera, all with Leica lenses. The software in the phone's camera app uses AI to knit the three images together to reduce noise and optimize resolution. It also "develops" the image in-camera to give a pleasing jpeg. It has an option to shoot raw as well, but I couldn't beat the in-camera jpeg with my semi-pro editing skills in most situations. The beauty of this phone camera is that you spend most of your time composing your shots without worrying about gear. The results just come out of the camera in a pleasing way.

If you shoot larger format cameras, there is an interesting battle going on in imaging software (a topic that seems to be totally ignored in the photographic press). Lightroom has developed a very nice AI-based auto-develop algorithm that I use extensively as a first approximation for my pro work. I apply auto-development as the first step in my event photography workflow and the results are so good that only a few tweaks are necessary in post-production. It is just a pleasure to open up a 500 shot camera roll and look at it with every photo nearly perfectly exposed, highlights and shadows adjusted and needing only a few exposure/contrast tweaks.

And, there is another company, called Photolemur, that has taken one step further and done away with manual processing and replaced it totally with artificial intelligence-based processing. I've been watching it progress through versions 1 and 2 (not quite ready for prime-time) and look forward to the imminent announcement of version 3. This may be the release that challenges Lightroom.

So, even though the camera manufacturers are making things more and more complex and focusing on sharpness overkill, there is a counter movement to use AI to make things as simple as possible and bring professional-quality editing to the masses. If you are happy with AI-based editing as a first approximation, you can take advantage of it now in Lightroom and Photolemur to get out of the drudgery of post-processing and focus on bringing your imagination to fruition.

Occasionally I read a comment somewhere that I not only wish I had written, but which sums up perfectly what I was thinking.


As a more analytical type, I would have been inclined to phrase it in terms relating to visible vs. measured qualities of an image.

Depending on the output medium and its size, or the nature of the subject, there is only so much detail, colour and contrast we are capable of perceiving, and only so much that is relevant to communication. Any more than that is a superfluous distraction.

Every photographer will have different needs, but how many can objectively align those needs with the capabilities of a modern camera?

Many of us discover the sweet spot by accident (in my case) or necessity (funds, age, etc.). The industry on the other hand is in full gear, laying a minefield of memes, urban myths and marketing hype designed to create a false sense of insecurity.

No wonder the industry is losing customers. I think any younger people have simply given up in the belief that becoming a 'good photographer' (according to the skewed definition of such in the average camera forum) is simply unaffordable.

This is a tragedy for anyone with a genuine interest in photography. There is so much that can be achieved with a second hand mid-range MFT or APSC camera and a basic grasp of exposure and processing.

The hard bit is learning what makes a good image. The gear that produces it is often irrelevant.

As a professional photographer of almost forty years, I have slightly more relax attitude towards over the top, sometimes high minded, opinions on eternal question of art-v- technomania.
I don't see anything wrong with using all means available, as long as it is used to create images. Old friend of mine used to say that 50% of photographers enter photography for the love of equipment, and another 50% for love of photography.
My experience is that somewhere within those two groups there are people who like taking photographs, as well as enjoying the technical side of photography.
So, as long as the equipment is used for taking photographs, no one should not feel uncomfortable with any urge which we might have, to own and use the best equipment available.
I use digital equipment in my job but for my art/hobby work I use old cameras with film , and I don't see anything wrong. I take photographs all the time.

Before digital photography and post imaging software the great film photographers in their time mastered the technology and believed in control. I for one ran endless film processing tests, practiced the Zone System for exposure and development, mixed my own developing solutions, tested just about every film and developer combination. The darkroom was another area for the latest technology and control, so what's the issue with the current status of relying on technical improvements and control?

I recently received my copy of Saul Leiter's In My Room. While happily browsing through it I was thinking thoughts very much along the lines of Comdico's comment. Whence the subconscious gestures?

One can take the word "photography" and its related device names and substitute other technology grounded passions with equal success. It has been said many times with equal validity regarding audio equipment, cars, computers, and probably any device connected to and electrical outlet. I am not convinced of the smothering of the unconscious but I would offer the notion that the drive in medicine for better devices harbors the notion that death can be avoided if the MRI is b better. It is not just improving the quality of life but its length, no matter what the conditions. Remind oneself how many technological advances and deviceS are sold without the buywer really having a problem or project that the device is designed to address. in my long past I remember co-workers using spreadsheet software to write memos because they thought it was easier than Wordperfect; too complicated. So, here we are listening to high def digital music, cameras that record light in the frequencies beyond human vision, cars that go 0 t0 60 in 4 seconds or less, and medical potions formulated looking for a condition to address. But, it is your money.

If you don't want to see the crusty mascara use a camera without IBIS.

Frankly I think it has ever been so, and I go back to the '60's and '70's when in the UK 'pixel peeking' was a regular feature of Amateur Photographer magazine - anyone remember the portholes of HMS Belfast?

I'd rather turn the argument in another direction which is not that 'Photography' is this or that, specifically dependent on technology or whatever. In his https://global.oup.com/academic/product/photography-a-very-short-introduction-9780192801647?type=listing&subjectcode2=1796779%7CAHU00300&subjectcode1=1793239%7CAHU00010&lang=en&cc=gbhis Short History of Photography, Graham Clarke makes the telling comparison with writing. We can only talk about photography in the same way that we talk about writing. Thinking about it like this, the technical side might be relevant to 'some types of photography' but not others. Certainly not an absolute attribute.

Two excellent and insightful statements! Glad my most-used imaging software is still LView Pro v1.d rather than any of the übersoftwares (for which I pay $60 max, so Polarr and PhotoDirector x-2).

Aren't you glad you held up long enough to get such gems in the 270k of technical comments?

Weirdly these exact ideas occurred to me this morning. After working on a photo from my Panasonic GX9, I viewed some old video of Townes Van Zandt, then switched back to my photo and was struck by how technically good the digital image is in comparison to the old video. And was disheartened to see that whatever aesthetic quality the photo has, it is just about overpowered by the technical quality of the digitally made photo.

Yes, I pondered the notion that larger sensors might, paradoxically, actually give digital photos more “natural,” or less perfect, qualities. Of course, the acuity and clarity of my Nikon D750 makes every photo look good, thus initiating a sense of ennui, which in turn ensues the predictable consequence of the “what if...” rabbit hole of gear acquisition syndrome.

Yep, I’m in the process of looking at wide aperture prime lenses for the M4/3 to maybe mitigate the startling “clinical analytical forensic” quality being upchucked by the GX9, a camera that I’ve grown to quite like.

I was just going to say that..........Damn.

The comments your blog gets , and the people that make them are really what makes the place you have created so inviting.
It took a lot of work over a lot of time.
I am certainly grateful

Beautifully said!
At the heart of the struggle.

Thank you for sharing.


“The Fate of Photographic Art” might have been the title of your post. But in the past art has been challenged by many new inventions. The very idea of realistic imagery itself at one time was a huge thing, as was the later development of perspective laws. The appearance of modern paint oil paint in the 1800s changed a lot. Just a few examples.

Throughout history probably most people have been overwhelmed eventually by whatever take most other people have developed with regard to the new. But those whose work has withstood the test of time all seem to have had in common the ability to employ available means, new or old or a combination, to well express the human spirit, which without exception is the subject of art.

I think that insofar as a public is educated in the stuff of humanity it will be safe. Thankfully, enough people always are going to have thoughts and feelings bigger than the day. They will lead the way, and eventually enough of the others will follow until the next big thing arrives.

The blurring of the antecedent, comes with wisdom, er acuity is wasted on youth?
YB Hudson III

I agree with everything you've said in this post, Mike. I recently took a course from well-known photographer Giulio Scorio called "Finding the Photographers Vision", and it had virtually nothing to do with gear.

Along those lines, I recently re-purchased a like new X-Pro1, because there was something quite magical in the image quality from that 1st gen X-trans sensor and image processor. I'm going to use it for personal project work.

Regarding gear: Compared to using my Canon system, where I used a 1D MkII/IIN series body for 11 years, I've been as guilty as the next guy in getting each new Fuji X-T series camera as it came out. But it was for a specific reason: each model represented a significant jump in the action/sports performance of a truly fine mirrorless system, and the important thing about that is it let finally me switch away from the very heavy and bulky Canon pro system for my racing photography work to a system that did not (almost literally) break my back shooting a motor race over three long, hard days in the field.

That being said, I'm standing pat for now. While admittedly mis-understood by a large portion community of X-T series owners and reviewers, the X-H1 is a HELLUVA good camera, more than sufficient to meet my needs for acing photography, and produces the best image quality I've yet seen from an interchangeable lens Fuji X-cam. It's also really well-built: durable, rugged, stiff, and strong, a real professional workhorse. I also have come to prefer the submonitor on the top deck.

So, very likely to the disbelief of the folks who know me, and my self-admitted passion for all things Fuji X, I think I am going to pass on the X-T3, at least for the time being. I've got an X-H1 as my pro body and a gorgeous, lightly used, Graphite Silver X-T2 as a back-up body.

So, I think I'll wait until the X-H2 is released. It'll incorporate all the new sensor, processing engine, AF & Video tech of the X-T3 and more (e.g. IBIS and that sublime shutter). As exemplary as the X-T3 is, and it looks very much like it's going to be another grand slam home run for Fujifilm, my guess is the X-H2 will be INSANE.

This is why for an experienced photographer there's a delight in using a very simple camera.

Much of the best art comes when there's restrictions. Modern cameras are so capable there are few restrictions now.

Perhaps I should spend a day with a prime lens taped up at ten feet, and set the exposure and tape that up too. I'm quite serious.

I don't really know what it all meant but it sounded really cool. Like maybe I shouldn't care so much about my cameras? Right?

Ok, I totally agree in my heart. So now, am I totally screwed because I can't afford a Leica M-D or M10? Let's see, my M4 is around here somewhere.

Brilliant convergence of thought and comment today. 'Guilty, as charged.

Yes, but think of periods and forms of art that were attempting a presentation of real (or imagined) "reality" in painstaking detail and versimilitude. Think of Dutch landsscapes and flower arrangements in the Renaissance, or of "Neue Sachlichkeit" and "f/64" in photography. And just as the former were preoccupied with finding new substsances for grinding their own pigment colors, the latter were fascinated with differences in lenses and developers. So the search for better tools may have reached a plateau, but different artistic purposes may stil vary in their dependence on the quality of their tools.

"Exorcising the unconscious" is not only about technology, it is also reflected by a certain aesthetic. For instance "open" shadows, "clean" frames and compositions, saturated and bright colours. The unconscious, on the other hand, dwells in darkness, in the shadows, in the messy and untidy. Speaking of myself, I wish I would be able to frame less tight, and be more relaxed about the edges of the frame - but it seems that letting these habits go is difficult, and can't be forced.
David's comment will probably make me thinking the next couple of days.

Recently, in the Guardian, Philip Pullman wrote about the tension between imagination and reason- you might readily substitute the unconscious appetite and the slavishly technical- a small bit from the very fine piece-
" David Hume was right: reason is (and should be) the slave of the passions, not their governor. Or as William James put it: “In the metaphysical and religious sphere, articulate reasons are cogent for us only when our inarticulate feelings of reality have already been impressed in favour of the same conclusion.”

While I agree with David Comdico's comment, I’m not so sure about your assertion that:

It used to be that tech and gear geekery was a sort of lighthearted sideline to the main project of photography—something to be indulged in, or "the work behind the work"—but everyone understood that you got it settled and then got past it, and, when faced with photographs of emotion and power, you backed down on questions of mere technical fussiness.

In the days of "used to be" there were thousands of Nikons and Canons (etc.) sold along with countless lenses to people who never created a single memorable photograph. Even then, "Gear Acquisition Syndrome" (GAS) was a well-known phenomenon and many photographers never got much beyond the gear. How many photographers did I know in the 70s and 80s who had gear galore, and loved to talk about it, but had nothing of interest to show photographically? Many! Maybe even most. (OMG, the dreaded "camera club" that had nothing to do with photography and everything to do with cameras.)

 Sure, those people had competent photographs of reliable subjects, competently printed, etc., but there was nothing there in terms of imagination or "unconscious."

The main difference between "then" and "now" as I see it is in the sheer volume of photographs and the ease of presentation on the internet and social media. Back then, we didn’t see people's "competent but boring" photographs because they rarely made it to magazines or galleries. But they were legion. The people who made them kept the photography business afloat.

Now we are overwhelmed with photographs, competent or not, interesting or not. Because of this shift in presentation, there is a corresponding shift in what rises to the surface and what gets lost in the mix. In the old days we had editors and curators separating out the interesting stuff and presenting it, while the drudge piled up in people's drawers and on their lonely basement walls. We only really saw the good stuff.

Now, with self-curating and self-editing (Flickr, Instagram, Facebook, etc.), what rises to the surface are the images that have popular appeal ("Likes!"). Unfortunately, popular appeal is based largely on reinforcing established themes and memes, high technical quality, and so on. The sort of unconsciously-sourced creativity referenced by David Comdico still exists, but it gets no love from the hoi-polloi (i.e., fewer "Likes") because understanding and appreciating that kind of work takes a certain amount of creative/artistic literacy, and that takes time to develop. We are not living in times where the general population takes time to develop such literacy.

So in brief, GAS has always existed. In the past, the people who were LESS creative simply toiled in obscurity because nobody accepted to show their boring work. Now the people who are MORE creative toil in obscurity because their creative work is essentially shouted down by selfies, meme-kickers*, and work that stands out primarily because of high technical quality.

(Of course there are exceptions.)

*Meme-kicker: a photograph that immediately invokes a positive response because it kicks you right in the meme-recognition part of your brain. Essentially, photography's answer to confirmation bias.

Why have we moved from mere digression to obsession? I suspect there is a confluence of factors that make this possible. Allow me to publicly examine myself in search of some possible answers.

First, let me define my obsession with camera equipment. I haven't bought a new piece of camera equipment since maybe some time in 2016. From a technical standpoint I *know* the equipment I have is good enough for my end use, which is why it's so hard for me to spend the money I so badly want to spend on some new camera equipment. I don't *need* it, but new gear is fun. Why is it fun? Because it's a game. Endlessly evaluating possible permutations of future gear setups gives me something to do at night instead of talking to my family or going out and taking photographs. [Sarcasm?] Shopping is an escape, and it's even more of an escape when you do it with your face buried in an ipad instead of walking around a mall with your friends.

Is this a bad thing? I believe we're trained to think of it as a bad thing. Escape is bad, lust is bad, and so on. But let me digress slightly to a point made by Alan Watts when inquiring why we as humans do the things we do, specifically things like making jewelery or making a fancy table setting for dinner. In Watts' words we're "making nice". We're playing with our environment, playing with the very patterns that make up the entirety of the universe. And my take is that camera shopping is fun because we're playing with patterns we find very exciting and fun. Comparing specifications, numbers, pixels, looking at dials, the way things turn and press and flip up and down and go in and out of focus. These types of things appeal to us because of the way we are. I suspect there are many other people in the world who would find time spent ogling camera specs as incredibly boring and foolish.

So, is this endless shopping and comparing and playing foolish? I suppose it's no more or less foolish than setting a dinner table for four with dozens of forks and spoons and knives and plates and bowls, all with designs that we find pleasing, or building a replica train, or whizzing through the woods on a dirt bike, or seeing if you can tightly group ten shots from twenty yards. The gear shopper, the place setter, the car shopper, sharp shooter, the business owner... they're all playing a game that is in some way, conscious or not, satisfying to them. Is it more noble to balance books or harvest fields than it is to make a beautiful necklace or play sudoku?

No matter how old we are we still want to play. Our society tells us to feel guilty about playing – we’re supposed to be working and achieving - so we disguise our play as very Serious and Important matters of day to day life. Camera shopping is not, however, easy to disguise as Serious or Important, so we feel a bit guilty that we do so obsessively. It’s the reason we have discussions such as the one we’re having here.

The second point I’d like to make concerns my relationship with photographs themselves. When I began photographing seriously about a decade ago I dove into photography headlong. I learned the technical basics, and enrolled in a continuing education photography program at the Rhode Island School of Design that took me four years to complete. I read Szarkowski, Adams and others, and did so with the furrowed brow and intensity of a man who didn’t want to miss a beat. I bought the classics by Adams and Friedlander and Mann and Winogrand and Frank and Strand and Shore and Eggleston and Evans and on and on, and sat in my bed at night and studied the photographs. I watched documentaries, followed the visual war reporting from Afghanistan and Syria on various news outlets, reviewed the work of Capa and Cartier-Bresson, and the absolutely horrifying work of James Nachtway. I searched Wikipedia for just about every major and minor world event that came to my attention that occurred between Niepce and Obama – I wanted to see it all. In order to make these things real I had to LOOK at them. The photographs could show me things words never could, convince me of things I’d long known to be real but never truly felt.

During my time at RISD I photographed incessantly, both for the classes I enrolled in and for myself. I carried a camera almost everywhere, from a trip to the drug store to the top of a mountain. I didn’t want to miss anything. During this time I was proud of my work, felt I’d achieved something, contributed something photographically that, if unimportant to the world at large was at least important to me. Then in 2015 I finished the program.

I’ve found it increasingly difficult to photograph with any enthusiasm since then. Sometimes I feel like I’ve seen all the photographs, and if I haven’t taken all the shots then someone else has. I understand that this falls apart under closer examination. I also find that I frequently wish to be a participant in my life instead of an observer; I frequently pick up the camera to document something only to immediately put it down. It’s in the way.

What am I supposed to do with my camera now? I can’t figure that out. For three years I’ve been lost, getting the occasional burst of energy to shoot like a madman for an hour before losing my way again. James Nachtwey’s book is under the seat in my car – I keep meaning to donate it to the local library. My website is offline. I don’t want to give up on something that’s meant so much to me over the past decade, so I surf the message boards and review sites in hope that maybe someone will invent a new camera that’ll inspire me to get off my ass and shoot. It serves as minimal nourishment during this period, one last tether keeping me from permanently floating away from something I care(d?) so much about until I hopefully come around again.

So in short, why did I move from digression to obsession with camera gear? Because cameras are fun, and I can’t figure out what to use them for anymore.

Is this why movies these days are so uninteresting? It seems like much more attention is being paid to special effects than telling a good tale. Btw, if you appreciate writers (a.k.a., wranglers of the unconscious) and haven't seen Deadpool, watch the opening credits for a laugh.

That comment has a nasty undertone to it, that perhaps is only immediately recognisable to a scientist. Stating that our world is somehow "scientifically managed" and that this is the antithesis of the more superior unconscious mind and art.

At its heart science comes from a sense of wonder at the universe and an honest desire to find out how it really works: not through making up stories but by interpreting valid evidence. I need to stress: valid evidence. And the basis of science is that it's always ready to be proved wrong and change its view (Popper's falsifiability). It's a theme across the world today, to paint science as cold and somehow not as worthy as your gut feelings or beliefs. "You can prove anything with your facts". Look where that's left us:

Alternative facts; 'Truth is not truth'; climate change denial; crystal healing; withholding vaccinations from children; a 6000 year old earth; etc.

If anything, science is only just starting to show us about the brain and the mind. You would only claim this 'discredits and devalues the unconscious' if you fear that reality disturbs your own belief system and world view.

If I were to be kind, I'd say that quote was from someone who doesn't really understand science, and is probably railing against the political and social world rather than the scientific one.

Each year technology makes producing good photographs easier while great photographs remain as elusive as ever.

I once wrote a non-fiction art book about an artist named John Stuart Ingle who painted in an uber-realistic style (with watercolor, yet.) He painted his still-life subjects larger than life after looking at them very carefully for days. The point of his pictures, he said, was to take fairly ordinary things and by enlarging them, make people see what they'd never seen before. The idea of a photo so good that it reveals the crusty mascara is interesting, because it reveals the artifice; you might not want to see it, but then again, you might. The excellence of photographic machinery is neither here nor there. Above a certain level, it's neither required nor is it to be despised. The problem comes with the expectation that the machinery will do the photographer's job.

David's comment is very challenging and your comments regarding camera's "seeing" better than your own eyes can is also profound. Yet I can not agree that tech improvements, per se, are barriers to the human process of "making original or authentic work". There was a time BEFORE cameras of any type existed, then suddenly we have them. Why is it that the primitive ones were more capable of "authentic work" and not one of the latest mirrorless cameras? That is what I infer David and you are saying, but maybe I don't get something here.

I was a "real" darkroom technician for over 20 years, slaving away just inches from gallons of dangerous smelly chemicals and always attempting to master and "improve" upon Cibachrome chemistries. I consider the computer based "developers & fixers" of the world (Photoshop & Lightroom) to be presents from heaven compared to what I had to cope with earlier. Using my Fuji X-Pro 1 is as easy as my film camera was 40 years before. I'm sure a new Nikon mirrorless will continue that trend.

So, for at least little 'ol me, I am delighted with the new technology but I will admit I could be very happy to have nothing better than my current 16MP Fuji, which is capable of doing its part toward "making original or authentic work".

What a great and, to me, important post. In it, a lot ot of things are said very clearly that I seem to have felt for some time now in a foggy way but wasn't quite sure of. Also, it seemed a lonely track I was getting on (not always bad thing, but still). A helpful piece indeed. Thanks!

I disagree, kind of. Photography is such a big tent that Comdico's comment applies to different genres in different measures.

Sports and action most definitely benefit from improvements in AF, low-light performance, and camera speed. Likewise, wildlife, astrophotography, and macrophotography benefit from technology. I'd consider those genres more dependent upon craft and technology than other genres.

In other genres - art, portraiture, street, etc... - the power of the subconscious separates the good from the truly great and those pursuing technology to it's own end are not seeing the forest for the trees. In these genres, I agree with Comdico wholeheartedly.

We've become like carpenters who have fallen in love with their hammers and in the process forgotten what its for ... a tool to achieve a purpose; not the purpose itself.

I used to be a deeply commited gearhead and pursued that path as far as I could (anyone need a spetrophotometer?). But one day, while looking a old pictures, it occured to me that all my favorite (by me or others) where far from being technically perfect. What distinguished them, I think, was their evocative power and good/great composition. I have to admit, it was pretty liberaring. I moved back to APS-C and got just 2 lenses that cover my typical focal range (xt2 and a couple of the fujicrons). I am having a blast.

I find myself free of GAS, which after the recent slew of new camera announcements, feels weird and good.

Pourvu que ça dure

This post was the perfect, if not wee bit ironic, segue from 'Fuji X-T3 Available For Order' ;) It is all spot on, however.

I'm a old film guy, now attempting life in the digital world. Maybe I'm just old. While I do get and (albeit hard to admit) love technology, it seemed considerably simpler back in the film days. My fading recollection is that choosing the right film for the job, getting the composition and lighting correct, timing, decisive moment, correct aperture and shutter speed - were all more important than how the very few buttons & dials on old film cameras worked.

I read your site almost daily for a lot of reasons, but for one very important reason - it's not just about gear, buttons, dials, knobs and menu systems or the latest number of autofocus points available.

Internet 'Photography' sites these days seem to focus almost exclusively on gear. How the new gear works. What's better, faster, quicker, more powerful than the last version. Which menu systems are better or worse than the others.

Sadly, very few sites focus on the art of photography, the composition, lighting, creating emotion, printing.

Keep up the good work and great site.

When I do upgrade to the next latest, greatest (which surely I will), I will click through from your site :)

All the best!

A great comment, and one which resonates with me but which also highlights a choice we are all faced with.

It’s not just cameras but processing and I’d argue that the problem really isn’t with the gear giving us more detail but in our processing choices. I actually think it’s good—or at least not bad—that the gear is providing more detail in our files, and that processing software is also improving and giving us the capability to render more of that detail in our images but we have the choice of how much detail we bring out in the image. Looking at a lot of the images I see on the web or in publications I see a tendency to make the most of that detail, to raise the shadows and to boost saturation, and that delivers images which tend to grab our attention but over time I’ve found myself going the opposite way. I find myself processing so that shadows often show less detail than I have available, and also doing things like desaturating shadows slightly so that darker tones don’t “pop” as much. If I don’t remember noticing detail in certain areas of a scene, I tend to not bring out detail in those areas.

I also do “crazy” things at times. I’ll apply a graduated filter that does things like reducing sharpness, clarity and saturation to elements in the image as their distance from the camera increases, or that increases noise reduction as distance increases, so that detail reduces with distance. It can be surprising at times how much that can increase the sense of depth in an image and enhances perspective. I’m learning how to work with luminance masks in Lightroom’s local adjustments so that I can do that kind of thing more effectively in darker areas without affecting areas of the scene which were more brightly lit. I find myself consciously choosing to enhance mood rather than to reveal detail in certain images.

I think it’s great to be able to bring out detail when I want to do that, but I want to have an image-related reason to do that and I don’t think that always trying to bring out everything that’s available in the file to the maximum is an image-related reason. That’s simply thinking that I have to make the most of everything that the camera is capable of capturing and that often isn’t related to what it was in the scene which attracted me to press the shutter. Even back in pre-digital days great photographers deliberately chose to burn in certain parts of an image in order to reduce or hide detail and that option is still available to us. It’s never possible to bring out detail that isn’t present in the file or negative but we always have the choice of how much detail we bring out in different parts of the image.

I’m glad that technology is giving us more detail to work with but we have the choice of how we work with that detail and we don’t have to highlight it, we can reduce or even eliminate it entirely if we choose and our processing tools are improving technologically as well and that gives us more effective ways of reducing or eliminating detail when and where we want to. Big sensors, fast lenses, and maximal bokeh aren’t the only relief we have from CAF (love that term), our processing choices are also a relief and I believe are a far more effective relief artistically. We just have to choose to say “I don’t want that much detail there” and process accordingly. In fact decreasing sharpness and increasing noise reduction selectively in parts of an image often looks better than bokeh and reduced depth of field in my opinion.

It’s great to have the technology to capture more and more detail in our files, and it’s great to have the technology to choose how much of that detail we’re going to reveal in the final image. We just have to choose how much detail we want in the image and where we want it. Getting the most out of what the camera captures doesn’t mean we have to show everything that the camera captures to the maximum extent that we can show it but that’s not what we’re usually encouraged to do.

Mike, you wrote: "It used to be that tech and gear geekery was a sort of lighthearted sideline to the main project of photography—something to be indulged in, or "the work behind the work"—but everyone understood that you got it settled and then got past it, and, when faced with photographs of emotion and power, you backed down on questions of mere technical fussiness."

Well that's exactly how I still feel to this day. You work hard at mastering the technical side so that it all becomes unconscious and finger memory. You lift the camera to your eye and you see the emotion and the power in the light and the framing and the movement, and your fingers are working on a completely separate level taking care of the shutter speed, aperture, ISO.

I think it must be how a good pianist reaches a point where the music on the page goes directly through the fingers into the keyboard and the mind is free to interpret the emotion and power.

The technical is supposed to become transparent.

Mike, can you explain to me the difference between Featured Comments and the other class of comment that follows below them?

Stateroom and steerage, obviously, but how come?


[Rob, the "Featured" comments added to the body of the post itself are just representative comments for the benefit of people who don't want to (or don't have time to) read ALL the comments. Sort of a digest version if you will. They don't necessarily include the "best" comments, just a sampling of typical or interesting ones. And they don't necessarily agree with the post or with my viewpoint...which I try to point out on a regular basis by posting Featured Comments that express opposite opinions.

I do have a tendency to feature comments that a.) make me laugh, b.) that I want to reply to, or c.) that include book links. But not always.

I should also admit that I used to work obsessively on the comments, sometimes working ten hours a day and more, seven days a week. As I've grown older I find I simply don't have the energy...I work more slowly now and I get tired more easily. So I don't do as good a job as I used to. On the other hand, I have a lot of experience, so that partially makes up for it. --Mike]

It's not just photography, the management consultants have convinced everybody that we must inexorably pursue improvement and efficiency. The problem being that this has lead to the original purpose being forgotten in the quest to reduce any enterprise to a mechanical process.

I work in IT - in a city where the work is dominated by government projects - and the number of 'managers' and assorted hangers-on dwarfs the people who actually know how to do anything. Since these people don't know how to do anything they have to pursue abstract goals like efficiency and productivity whilst having the opposite effect.

This is brilliantly stated, and articulates perfectly what I've long felt and intuited about digital photography. The art, if you want to call it that, has been utterly subsumed by the technology. Very few people, it seems, care about the content of an image in any non-mechanical way.

There are so many advantages to having better and better technology in enabling us to create images that were previously not possible or very difficult to make. At the same time, it's very easy to overdo things: it's no longer sufficient to have detail in shadows, they must be lifted to show what's there and highlights tamed, saturation increased, everything made sharp; everything must be shown. Not everyone is happy with this; some use film, others use weird lenses and others just do their own thing like before.

There's also the other thing, namely that amateurs are themselves gatekeepers of each other's work, meaning that in this day and age of very easy publication, the Internet is flooded of photos that adhere to certain cliches and presentation. Likely the same kinds of images would have been common before had there been such an easy way to distribute them.

Those who became part of the Romantic movement probably had similar sentiments about the challenges posed by the Enlightenment.

I don’t agree with the central idea by Kuspit, but your analysis of the state of current photography as ‘CAF’ rather than powerful and emotional, is very true. Mostly I think because very few people have more than a very basic grasp of art. (I don’t mind if someone wants to include me in that, but at least I’m trying!) The drive to ever greater levels of technical acuity will stop when no one, or very few are still interested, and they will stop being interested when no further status value is possible. It’s coming, but we’re not quite there yet.

A good analogy is hi-fi: Over the 20th century the audio quality of recorded sound went from very bad and expensive to very good and inexpensive, while at any given time, the best available was only available to the wealthy. I remember when I might be invited round by someone to listen, not to a recent recording of a Beethoven quartet, for example, but to a new (and of course very expensive) preamplifier! Eventually however, anouncing that you had a new preamp would only get you condescending looks as no one bought into the idea that it made any difference to their experience of listening. So now we can go back to listening to the music and not the equipment.

Something similar is in process of happening in photography. Image quality used to be hard to get and required skill or money (mostly money). But, when everyone regardless of income level can show pictures on whatever they show them on, that are indistinguishable from any one else’s, then using a big ass camera for the same result will only make you look silly. After that it will again become a case of choosing whatever tools best express the art you want to complete, and like oil painting, it will be a very minority type of pastime.

>>I'm sure it's why people have become so passionate about big sensors, fast lenses and maximal bokeh—that's the only relief permissible from the relentless CAF.<<

Yes, yes, yes -- it's also why many of us still shoot film, and why there is a resurgence of interest in analog photography. We certainly notice that here in San Francisco, where you often see young members of the technocracy carrying old film cameras. If you doubt it, I will loan you my 1959 Rollei to carry for a day. If you don't get at least two "nice camera" comments over a four-hour period, I will let your keep the camera. A sign of hope, at least to me.

I agree, and this is why I am tempted to shoot only JPGs. I know that I can pull out more amazing detail and tones in Lightroom or Silver Efex Pro, but then the results don't look natural to my eyes.

I've said this before in other contexts, and I think it bears repeating: digital photography is a new technology in much the same way photography itself was new technology in the 1840's and 1850s. Constant improvements in equipment and light sensitive materials proceeded one another in a headlong race that makes ours today seem tame. And then as now there were those who focussed - obsessed? - on the technology rather than on the end product of that technology.

In the first several decades after Daguerre and Fox-Talbot, photography advanced rapidly chemically, optically, and - increasingly in later years - mechanically. From Daguerreotypes to Ambrotypes to Tintypes; from Calotypes and paper negatives to albumen on glass, then wet collodion negatives; from salted paper prints to albumen prints; from cumbersome processes that required taking the darkroom into the field and coating the plates immediately prior to exposure, then developing them before they dried, to dry plates and roll film that could be exposed, then developed later.

All of these (and countless more subtle refinements) took place in the nearly half century between 1839 and the late 1880s, when the first dry plate negatives and pre-sensitized printing papers were introduced, thus ushering in the modern age of photography that has ended so recently.

This digital revolution we are all a part of is almost exactly the same as those first heady decades: the infancy of a whole new means of human expression and endeavor, with the same sorts of challenges that faced Fox-Talbot and Daguerre, Roger Fenton, Frances Frith, and all the other early masters.

They didn't complain about how slow their collodion on glass negatives were, or how inadequate their bulky cameras and crude lenses were; they worked to improve them, and more important, learned to make great photographs despite (or perhaps because of) the limitations under which they were forced to work.

That we are currently obsessing over technical advances is not surprising in such a rapidly evolving new technology. Obsession with technical advances is natural in a time of a technology's early evolution. Yet serious photographers have always taken the technology in stride to make workman-like (and even transcendent) images. In the early years (both then and now) they simply adapted to the equipment and processes available at the time. Creativity is always at work in creative people.

I love digital photography, and I come from a long career as a film photographer and Cibachrome printer. I love it because it largely frees me from the technology itself. And if I sometimes have to struggle to keep up with the latest equipment and software, I know that I am simply walking hand-in-hand with Mathew Brady and Julia Margaret Cameron, to say nothing of Walker Evans and Sebastiao Salgado, and all the others who brought photography into being.

Photography ain't rocket-science. Nothing to master, you just compose the shot and push the button 8-) The hardest thing about any art is that you need to have something compelling to say.

My experience is that making Comdico's point, or at least something akin to it, typically bounces off a wall and then wobbles on the floor like a dying spinning disc until inert.

I concede that a lot of this discussion is way above my pay grade! However, in a coincidental turn of events, I recently purchased a Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR Lens to use with my D810 because I was traveling to the coast of Oregon and wanted to try my hand as some birds in flight (BIF) photography. This 70-300 zoom lens was an affordable "entry level" price of admission whereas most of the pro Nikkor longer tele lenses are not.

I've been rather amazed at how many incredible BIF and other wildlife photos are being posted to the internet these days, and I knew I would never try fast moving wildlife at great distances with the manual lenses I customarily use for landscape and portraiture.

I also had never owned any lens with OIS or any camera with IBIS (not even a new smartphone with IBIS). I never had a 300 mm lens or greater, and I'd never needed it before. Maybe I didn't need it now, but as I considered BIF as the subject matter I figured all of this newer tech was going to help "the project". To my surprise, the new gear opened this subject matter up to me in a revelatory way. It made it easily accessible to me, i.e., it helped compensate for someone who has never attempted to acquire a more studied hand-eye coordination necessary for photographing fast moving objects in earlier days of photography. I quickly assessed what I instinctively had always anticipated, namely, that the new technologies can compensate for lack of inherent human skill. Newer technology can render challenging tasks we wish to perform such that they become more accessible to us mere mortals .

Bring it on. It's not just a "grass is greener" issue with the latest photo gadgets. The newer camera systems can enable us to photograph images we just wouldn't have attempted or might have attempted and failed miserably at in an earlier era of our photographic craft. I'm Ok with that and don't need to overthink it!

Maybe this is an argument for analog photography, particularly black and white? Cameras that can last 50 years+, enlargers that last 50+, prints that don't have that clinical, hyper-sharp aesthetic. Think I'll fire up the LPL this weekend and make some satisfying prints...


I studied with Charles Harbutt for a week when I was 20 years old. Some of the lessons from that time have stuck with me for the 42 years of photography since... I bought, enjoyed, and still have his book. I never knew that it was a 'subversive underground masterpiece' until now, though you may very well be right about that.

Interesting timing again, re the great stairmaster joke; I just yesterday posted this:

Everybody is buying pre-worn and pre-torn jeans, but nobody would imagine getting there by wearing them.
Everybody is using the gym, but nobody is taking the stairs to the gym.
Everybody is paying for tanning salons and using sun cream in the summer.

Eolake on Facebook. (Join me.)

Also I better say this: Yes, I *really* struggle between the desire for expression and the desire for perfection. It is insane, but apparently int goes really deep.
(I’d have used intuition instead of subconscious, but heck.)


It was this exact thought that prompted my "YAWN" comment the other day on some camera or another announcement - I don't remember which.

I'm so tired of announcements of technological wizardry - in spite of the fact that I have made a living off it for 50+ years - that they simply turn me off - CLICK!

I recently reset the resolution on my Internet connected TV back to pre HD days because my Internet bandwidth sucks. No 4K, 1180P or 780P for me - I've regressed decades. But you know, the picture seems just as good - even better on those old black and white movies we love to watch.

Mike, one aspect of TOP that may not be highlighted enough is your subtle and erudite History of Photography class you often slip in your writing. Many of the articles you’ve written have expanded my knowledge and appreciation of photography. Thanks!

By the way, Charles Harbutt’s book is a treasure in my photo book library, which has also grown courtesy of your excellent suggestions. You might consider a project where readers take a photo of the photo books on their shelves. Or their most treasured/favorite books.

Hey, why not let AI do it for you? Who needs any real ability?

Most people I've encountered think psychoanalysis is about as valid as astrology, but Jacques Lacan has a particularly useful concept called objet petit a, which I think is reflected a lot in what you, David, and Donald Kuspit are saying here. (Literally, it's translated as "little-a object," but the explanation of why he chose that term is more complicated than just calling it the objet petit a.) It's the nagging feeling that everybody else has something that you don't have; it's the concept that underlies statements like, "Everybody else [makes lots of money/takes good pictures/is attractive to the opposite sex/etc.]; what do they have that I don't?" The objet petit a is the thing that you decide you lack and thus pursue in order to be like everybody else. But Lacan says that even if we end up, say, buying a fancy new lens, we still won't be entirely satisfied with our photographs, and we'll just come up with new things that we think will fill the gap between ourselves and others: a new camera, new lighting gear, more Instagram followers, etc. To be sure, it's not a very pleasant thing to think about (and Lacan's only solution is to go into analysis for years and years) but it's something I try to keep in mind when I get caught in spirals of "if-but-for" thoughts.

"Culturally, we do seem to be involved in a project—the project of asserting that there's actually some sort of pot of gold at the end of the "technical image quality" rainbow."

Thought experiment: You are a painter, perhaps one of those we now call Old Masters. Someone comes to you with a new pigment. You try it. Wow! You can now create that elusive color you've been unsuccessfully working on for years!

You buy it, and make a painting that's been in your mind, but that you couldn't make before.

Later, working on another painting, you discover this pigment, perhaps reacting with another color, perhaps in a new binder, does something on canvas that you had never before imagined, and which takes you to a new creative result.

The movie Tim's Vermeer makes a good case for the idea that Vermeer's unique paintings were in large part the result of technological innovation, not technique superior to his peers.

That's my angle on the tech changes - improvements of the digital era. There are many kinds of photographs that I wished to make, going back to the '60s, but could not. Quite a number of them are now possible.

It works the other way, too. I've been working to create looks that are far from the kind of super IQ you talk about. Some quite specific in my mind, at least to start with. But they tend to slither along the way.

A '60s Canon 58/1.2, some other pre computer design lenses and the Nikon Soft filters I was unaware of when they first came out have gone a long way toward my goal.

Then, on the new tech side, a digital FF camera and contemporary image editing software have made the process of trial and error seemingly infinitely quicker and cheaper and allowed effects impossible before.

The point is, one may look at technological change as driving the artist away from the point of art, as you posit above. Or as providing new tools that allow the creation of otherwise impossible art, or that may lead to the new and previously unimagined.

The creative aspect of the unconscious is not always, perhaps seldom, permanently subverted by the preoccupations of the conscious intellect. You have your own idea of what our subconscious(es) should be creating. It/they may disagree.

Coincidentally Mike, I read yesterday, a very similar sentiment as expressed by Jack White and relayed to the blogosphere by Leicaphilia.


I suspect very few of us can manage to keep away from the latest glittery thing. Instead we will die looking for the even better version that is just coming over the horiz...

I think in this context of the unconscious versus the managed action in digital photography, the words 'scientific' and 'technological' should not be used interchangeably. While indeed in a technologically managed world the unconscious is disapproved, in science, at least in its act of discovery, the intuitive and the unconscious are generally not underrated. The process of a discovery or the approach to a scientific problem, like Archimedes's bath or Kekule's ring or Watson's double helix, could be as intuitively creative as a Derrière la Gare Saint-Lazare.

I love this comment, and your writing about it as well.

Hard as it is to admit, art, and photography as art, is also somewhat "competitive". And, I hope, that my photographs will stand out, just because I'm not wasting time thinking or testing gear :) :) :)

Don't get me wrong, I use a pretty good camera (50mpx!!!!) But I treat it just like the old 13mpx model, and my film cameras as well... and, I don't press the shutter button all that often either. Looking is far more time consuming than "shooting".

A few days ago I received “Invasion 68” by Josef Koudelka. The book contains very powerful and moving images: they really make you feel what happened there, when one morning people woke up with Soviet tanks in their roads.
As I looked at the images I was thinking that for today standards the images contain really few details: some are even blurred by movement, focus is sometimes approximate.
Such a welcome difference from what you call CAF!

I would really appreciate it if you could please write a post on your thoughts on why Charles Harbutt's travelog is a subversive masterpiece. I always learn so much from your insights on photography.
This blog post is a perfect example why even though I have absolutely no interest gear related posts I know you will eventually write something which always will suit my tastes. That's why I'm round here everyday.

Thanks for the explanation, Mike.

I suppose I wondered why they seemed to arrive prior to the rest of them. At least, that's how it struck me.

Don't mention age-related enthusiasm/energy levels: mine seem to diminish by the week!


“Sharpness is a bourgeois concept”, said H C-B.

For my mothjer´s funeral, she died at 96, I scanned a small, 2"x3" and unsharp picture of her, taken when she was 28. I made a 5x7 inch print and it was wonderful. No details but a fine scale of tones.

And you know something is happening
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Ballad of a thin man, Bob Dylan.

Thanks for this. Any chance to get a source on the Donald Kuspit quote?

The unconscious the very source of creativity itself? Help! Where did the unconscious bring Rembrandt when he was painting his portrait of Jan Six? Wasn’t it about putting the man in the right light, mixing the right pigments, using the right brushes, using his skills and above all close looking? A very rational process if you ask me.
As designer I often had this discussion, in particular with people from the beta sciences who tend to claim ‘la raison’ and think that making art is mainly based upon intuition. No it is not. During the creative process you have to work systematically, have to rationalize things and cannot permit yourselves any wrong choices. Art is about solving problems. Here is in short a chain of activities you have to run through:

problem > analysis > research > criteria > ideas > sketching > developing > testing > realization

In reality the chain can be much longer. With every step you need to check if the results correspond with the defined criteria. Typical for gear-heads that they usually start at the wrong end of the chain. They start with realization without having any idea, let alone any problem they are going to solve.

I am wondering if photography has been hijacked by costs.

In film days, pressing the shutter comes with a cost.

With today's digital imaging, press the shutter all you like and trash what you don't like.

The issue of cost is a subconscious driving force.

A really nice post and comment. The idea that a spasm of tech advancement can “take away” is probably true but it’s not a requirement. It’s more a fad. It just that we find ourselves in a time of abundance and rapid advancement and our techie nature just can’t help itself. It’s not required to be swept up in every twist and turn but it can be fun at times…to the detriment of the work. We can certainly choose to use tech in a routine way that eases traditional technical burdens and for the average person, cell phones and processed OOC JPEG’s are all that’s needed. For the average person, a 21st century Fotomat is preferred and tech is the answer.

Technical ability is a part of any art form and while it’s true that digital photography has more than its share of tech, in the end it’s up to the photographer to determine how big a part it will play. I think that’s true for all aspects of our new digital lives. We need to determine how much is too much. To remain aware of the enormous scale of the digital world and that our tendencies remain. The fact that photo tech is ever changing just highlights the reality that digital photography is in its infancy compared to film and the joint’s jumpin. It’s easy to get swept up or distracted in times like these.

The idea of tech killing or ostracizing the unconscious strikes me as a very painterly perspective. The process of creating a painting with brush, canvas, pigment, and imagination is about as pure as it gets and I can see how the painter might be wary of an art form involving tech or any complicating factor. Of course painting has its own technical requirements but again, it’s up to the artist to determine how much is too much. It’s up to the artist to decide how much detail is needed and when to lay down the brush.

By the way, thanks for moderating those 270,000 comments. I’m sure at times it must feel like thankless work but it really is appreciated. Your efforts have created an oasis for Internet travelers the world over where we can come to be refreshed with intelligent discussion and amusing fart jokes. Thanks, man. :-)

Fortunately, this obsession with technical perfection is a bourgeoisie concept as HCB well pointed out; photographic "art" will continue to be made by those who understand when to embrace or simply ignore technology's relentless grind.

Speaking of creativity, I guess that most of all photos taken and published in the Internet are selfies of people with a idiotic smile...

If one's strategy for standing out is to be technically ahead of your peers, then the work to do that is indeed daunting. You see the same thing in scientific fields of study. A new celebrated advance becomes standard practice a decade later, and those who would be leaders in the field must innovate, either in the subject matter to which they apply the technique or by improving or replacing the technique itself.

But I don't think technological improvement, itself, is the problem. It is now relatively "easy" to take what would have been a technically excellent photograph in the past. Focus accuracy, exposure, optical aberrations/distortion, shutter response, what-you-see-is-what-you-get viewfinders, etc... all improve with each generation. Photo software today is a similar story, the essential functions are easy to use and getting easier all the time... many functions are even available on your phone with a few clicks.

In a mature field, like photography, I think that any strategy that one uses to stand out from the crowd and create something 'new' will require a lot of work. If you want to be on the leading edge of technical excellence, it is very expensive and time consuming to learn to exploit the tremendous capability available. If you want to stand out by finding new subject matter, examined in interesting ways, I imagine it requires a similar commitment, but just in a different direction. The coolest photos I've seen in recent years leverage the technical advances to 'discover' new subject matter and really work on both edges of the new. But I have to say, as an amateur, that the vast majority of the photos I enjoy looking at are not on either leading edge: they are just lovely compositions, have beautiful light, capture a special moment, or do all of these things.

Mike, you and David Comdico and Donald Kuspit are exactly on target about overly sharp photos from the obsessively sharp lenses that are the techno-fashion these days. You sum it up neatly in your paragraph here that starts,

"What's the point of more detail in photographs when we already have too much detail?..."

and ends,

"I'm sure it's why people have become so passionate about big sensors, fast lenses and maximal bokeh—that's the only relief permissible from the relentless CAF [your coinage "clinical analytical forensic"]."

That's the look of our era, clinical, analytical and forensic - and the problem is it is everywhere and we need to break out of the limitations that look imposes. How to get past it?

The alternative I found is using fine old classic lenses from the film era on modern digital cameras with adapters. I favor Pentaxes for the camera end of this key equation, because they are best for this and have in-body shake reduction, too, which turns silky smooth old Takumar lenses, or Carl Zeiss lenses with their not so smooth, higher energy bokeh into something else entirely, helping us soar past the old 1 over the focal length limit on hand-held photography, greatly expanding the usefulness and effective speed of old lenses (by four or five stops that is).

In any case, reaching back for classic lenses is a way out of that wrong turn of hyper-sharpness in every shot.

With respect, Mike, you in past writings here have not been very interested in the classic lens plus adapter plus digital camera sub-culture. Could it be time for you as a writer to think aloud a little bit about that and perhaps modify your views just a tad?

Not sure how to take the next step, which is for our great lens making companies to revive some crucial aspects of the practices of the past, almost like going back to the wet-plate, darkroom in a van picture-taking techniques from the era of Timothy O'Sullivan and Carleton Watkins. If not being too sharp everywhere becomes one of the leading desiderata of lens design, great new designers will emerge with better lenses along those lines, without discarding the benefits of modern tools in making them.

But certainly, this points to the value of staying connected to that rich world, that century and a half of non-digital photography. We need a bit of wet darkroom muscle memory to stay connected that way. Our photographic pedagogy benefits mightily from it. You can help that along by giving thought to how best to advance that still-living stream in photography - how to help a new era of film and darkroom technology emerge that applies research and development thinking of the 21st century to the challenges O'Sullivan and Watkins coped fairly well with back in the day. The development of a new dual-emulsion film by the French company Bergger - their Pancro 400 film with its bromide and iodide combo is a great example.

Go for it Mike! Use your bully pulpit to help the photographic world stay at least a little bit in touch with its past as it moves gracefully into a better photographic future. With a bit of sharpness to be sure, but also many other things in a photo besides that.

Jeff Clevenger

Best use of technology in photography: Earthrise by Bill Anders

I bought one of those "game changer" D3's in 2007. I ordered early and waited. It did truly open things up for me for the way I shot/shoot. I have decades of low light love and hi ASA" film. Now the D3 was keeping up with me. Are my images better? Well yes as now my images are possible. Live music in a NY club, ISO 10,000, 1/60th at 1.4. Pretty bloody dark and a place no film would be worth taking but a D3 can go there. So in this day and age I'm still a 12 meg camera guy. I accept noise/grain and work with it.
Last week I stumbled on to a Nikon Z7 demo. When I told the rep I had no need for 45 Megs and that it was OK with me that at ISO 3200 it didn't look like K64 he was shocked. He said "but you can crop". I said but I don't crop, well extremely seldom. Who needs these new resolutions to look at images on screen? Do people really print large enough to need 45megs? The race for more is I hope slowing down. I think my next camera will just be a D4S, like my D3 in many ways but with advancements where I need them AND I don't have to quadruple my hard drive space.

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