« The Jeff and Michael Show (And There's More) | Main | Photoshop Excess »

Thursday, 02 August 2007


Craft and Art are related, but not the same. Lower the amount of craft needed to make images and you raise the number of people interested in making photographic art. Some of these new people will be good. The easier it becomes to capture light well the better it is for photography.

I think you're probably right. Additionally, there's the simple fact that everyone these days has a camera -- and therefore, everyone is a photographer. The same insecurity you're talking about then leads to people wanting to put a *lot* of very clear distance between what they're doing and someone taking pictures with a cell phone.

This is another facet of the tribal nature of human beings. We love to associate ourselves with a particular groups, or a principle, an absolute through which we can hone our ‘vision’.

This habit is rife on forums. The proud toy-camerist/Leicaphile/Mfer/Lfer/Limiteds only/Lens-babyist/Zorki-worrier declares that his new found love of the simple mechanical device brings him closer to the essence of photography. He says that the rest of the world may continue to play with its plastic automatons of Satan, but he will see the world as only one pure in mind and body can. He makes photos while us mere mortals merely take them.

One flaw in the whingers’ argument comes with the line that you quoted when they assert that "the camera does all work". My response would be this: if modern cameras do it all, where are the millions upon millions of utterly rubbish photographs coming from? The accessibility of photography has meant that more and more people are becoming skilled with a camera (you only need to browse Flickr to see that there are thousands of amazing photographers out there who you’ve never heard of and will probably never hear of again) but at the same time, no amount of technology replaces the skills required to produce results that can described as anything better than “adequate”.

Well put, Ctein.


I agree totally with what Ctein said about painters. I have an art degree from Indiana University and the painters I met there, both professors and students, were very passionate about materials and tools. Many of them wouldn't use anything but linen canvas, which they insisted that they had to stretch themselves instead of buying the pre-made canvases. They used rabbit-skin glue gesso coated with real lead white base paint, not modern Acrylic gesso. They used paint brands that amatuer painters have never heard of and probably can't afford. Most amatuers use paints like Grumbacher and Winsor-Newton. Both are good paints, but the professionals tended to go for Old-Holland, Sennelier, Gamblin, and Schminke.

Everytime I hear some photo-forum idiot declare that equipment doesn't matter to photographers because "painters don't worry about what kind of brushes they use" I have to laugh. Equipment DOES matter..to photographers as well as painters. I personally don't use autofocus or auto-exposure. I can operate my OM-4T bodies on manual and get more consistantly perfect exposures than I can using my D-70 on all auto. I prefer the D-70 on manual too but a more old-fashioned camera is easier for me to get good results from. I'm not an old grey-hair....I'm 31!

I roughly count some 27 or so knobs and dials on the backside and top of an EOS Mark something body. It's like that old Woody Allen joke: the food may not be so great, but we want the portions to be as big as possible.

... withal it is so simple: Technology does not matter, technique is the point.

Technologically there's only one correct exposure for any given lighting, cameras allow us to use several [well: 2] factors to get this right, aperture and shutter speed. This allows us a little bit of headroom to either go for more DOP or action-freeze. this then accounts for a technically perfect photo.

Who cares? Intentional exposure is of interest, incorrect exposure [of at least some parts of the picture] is needed.

Exposure is just an example, luckily an easy one; composition, colour and effects can be treated equally but most people would start a fight over the comparability of composition rules [or 'guidelines', usually seen as taste dependent, hence soft] to exposure laws [as chemo-physical entities, hence natural laws, hence hard].

Yes, a great artist will not need the newest and most sophisticated to create her work - but it helps a lot.

I favour tools that give me control. That's achieved more by good design than auto-technology. Technology can help, or it can get in the way. Again, it's a matter of design.

Ctein, somewhat understandable, but strange, since the camera doesn't provide a photographer with vision.

This reminds me of David Crosby gloating about how CS&N could reproduce their performances in someone's living room, implying that their music is a product of prodigious talent and not electronic legerdemain.

I read Goya's correspondence a few years back, and I remember distictly all he really worried about was how to get hold of some pigments and how to pay for them. But I can't imagine him saying that only painters who used the same tools could be taken seriously. That's the big difference.
Can't understand why human beings tend to build religions and tribal affinities on purely irrelevant matters or seek certainties and establish rules for what essentially is a fuzzy world. There is no such a thing as a "correct exposure", film doesn't have a "sensibility index", etc. you just juggle with a given number of variables to obtain a particular picture that satisfies you. Photography has a "magic" side that lends itself particularly well to that.

The recent discussion on zooms falls into exactly the same category.

a real photographer uses a handheld meter, theres no argument there ... ;-)

I would think that 90% of those who still use old tech do not get involved in these pointless debates. It also seems apparent that not all "progress" is. Sometimes the feature set looks more like "gee whiz, look what we can stuff into the onboard computer on this thing." My choice to stick with my 30 year old SLRs to make my boring pictures is not a comment on or judgment of anyone's selection of up to date equipment. Professionals who have to pay the rent by taking pictures don't usually give a rats hind end about this debate.

"The recent discussion on zooms falls into exactly the same category."

I *strenuously* disagree. Some things are fetishes, some things are teaching tools. Shooting with one prime for a while will teach you a lot if you've never tried it before. Try it--you'll see. You can always go back to your zoom.


"a real photographer uses a handheld meter, theres no argument there ... ;-)"

Nope, a real photographer uses no meter:


C'mon! The prime lens stuff is just as fetish. All the "fetishes" mentioned are powerful teaching tools if you use them that way, including the 6 shots on the 4x5. Who isn't going to learn a lot from taking out a 4x5 with just 6 exposures to cover an event? An excellent exercise. Guess the exposure for a week without a meter? I'm all for it. Unmount the zoom for a week and strap on a prime? Done it. Love it. But let's not pretend that any of these are different. The zoom stuff is exactly the same. Generally photographers wanting to separate themselves from the masses who don't have the option of a fixed lens on their digital pocket camera. "Zoom" can be replaced with any of the above affectations, and the argument is still consistent.

Lazy Aussie,
Is being a photographer itself an affectation?

I just disagree 180 degrees. Useful exercises are not fetishes. Finding the right way to work is, for each artist, CRITICAL. It's not trivial at all.

I suppose one test might be if you are doing any of these things for public consumption--"in the view of others, for their regard"--or just for yourself. How we want to work is our own business. Whether we want credit for it is part of what makes it into a fetish.

What you might claim that I'd agree with is that every technical choice is, for everyone, different. One guy who does much better work with one prime lens is right for himself; it just doesn't mean that he's right for everyone else too. Maybe someone else will be "freed" by a zoom and do better work with it. It doesn't mean either of them are "right." But each of those choices might be very important for each of those individuals.

My perspective has always been one of helping people find the ways to do the work they're capable of. When Frederick H. Evans gave up photography during the first world war because he could no longer get platinum paper, it was nowhere close to a fetish--it was a crucial artistic event for him. He needed that paper to do his work. Being deprived of it was a personal earthquake. It's also very far from saying "everyone should use platinum paper because only platinum prints are real photographs."

Ctein himself MORTGAGED HIS HOUSE to buy dye transfer materials, so we're certainly not talking about a guy to whom technical issues are a breezy triviality. I think it's safe to say he's only arguing against fetishes AS fetishes, although he can speak for himself.


Hi mate. From this last I'm not sure exactly what you're disagreeing with. When you say "My perspective has always been one of helping people find the ways to do the work they're capable of." I cannot agree more. That's why I love the blog. My feeling of disappointment when I get up in the morning to find no new TOP post is extreme. But I don't see how this relates to my belief that the zoom versus prime argument is the same argument as "you should only use a 4x5" or should not use a camera meter etc. I'm saying all these are the same argument. All have the possibility of affectation or great teaching. What it all comes down to is that limitation drives innovation, No matter WHAT that limitation is, whether it's using one type of lens, camera, film or whatever. Maybe my original post has been misunderstood. I was certainly not claiming anyone's technical issues are trivialities. I adore the technical issues. 11 words and I am suddenly criticising Ctein AND god forbid FH Evans? My original post is still correct.

Part of the problem with technical discussions versus discussions of artistry, or craft versus art, is that technical discussions are by default easier.

I think a lot of people want to discuss ephemeral, social qualities and "Art", but because it's so subjective and there's so much history, there's more danger of being misunderstood and argued with, especially on the internet let alone in a gallery, and so the lowest common denominator language between photographers (or painters) is the technical. Soft corners? Underexposure? Local contrast? Rule of thirds? Testing, testing, testing with quantifiable results... this is a safe discourse for many people who want to be involved in photography discourse with strangers, but who have inhibitions, for whatever reasons, about explaining their own ideas of aesthetics.

And that's the prevalent discourse. Some of the best sites on the net eschew the technical so that they discourage people who've never heard of Clem Greenberg, but they're still rare. Finding the right balance is hard, because we all want to encourage learning but we also don't want to stifle good conversation possibilities with overly objective technical tangents. As geeky fun as they are.

"there's only one correct exposure for any given lighting"


Lots of my favourite work is well away from the 'technically correct' meter reading...

Driving manual is more difficult then automatic but when you learn to "automate" this skill it is more fun.

Going manual-focus-no-meter-no-scale-no-ground-glass requires some automated skills and certainly is more fun.. for those who like it. De discussion in fact is not about being real-unreal photographer but about the ways of enjoying the process (not even the result!). Apparently at some point the misconception occurred and those who enjoy the hardship more had proclaimed themselves to be 'real'. Logically this is wrong but those unreal ones were put in position to protect themselves and never had chance to settle on terminology of the argument.
As the most of 'unreal' ones I enjoy the results, not the process ;-)

Well, I've given up caring about what others think. I just shoot what I like and make it look the way I want it to look. I use digital, and I'm playing with LF and MF loaded with black and white film as a complement to digital SLRs. It's what I want, not what's "best."

Dear folks,

OK, there seems to be a persistent misunderstanding of what I was writing about.

I am not taking a stand against 'fetishes.' I don't care if someone is wedded to their technique. I am taking a stand against those who declare that OTHERS who don't follow their particular way of executing photographic technique are doing it wrong. That's not fetish, that's prescription. Saying "I personally only do Y (or hate Y)" is not the same as saying "It's wrong for you to do Y (or must do Y)." The former's your choice. I oppose the latter.

To make it concrete, my dye transfer practices are completely irrelevant. If I say "dye transfer is the best printing process on the planet," that's one thing. If I say "You're not do SERIOUS photography unless you make dye transfer prints," that's another! It's not about what you're doing or advocating, it's about slamming those who don't follow The Cause.

Also, I am not taking a stand against technical discussions. Reread, more carefully, and you'll see I was putting down those who disparage folks who engage in technical discussions.

This is not about Art vs Technique, this is not about Old vs New. This is about folks who declare they're on the *One True Path* of photography and that other are heretics.

pax / Ctein

Dear John,

"I would think that 90% of those who still use old tech do not get involved in these pointless debates. ..."

90% of all photographers don't get involved in these pointless debates. Thank the gods.

But amongst the ones who do... the fights historically have more often of the form of someone who's using the 'old tech' railing against some new innovation that will supposedly ruin the art. Whether it's manual exposure folks saying that autoexposure will make photographers lazy or silver halide printers saying that digital printing isn't real craft because the computer does all the work (yes, there was a letter to that effect published within the last year in a major photo mag!), it's the same stupid syndrome. Regardless of who starts it.

pax / Ctein

It has a lot to do with snobbism to me. The two groups I dislike most:
1) Rangefinder Snobs.
2) Prime Lens Snobs.

Very interesting article, it has opened my eyes a bit. Unfortunately, it was obviously written by somebody who shoots digital, so it should be completely and immediately ignored.

Personally, I divide photographers into 3 categories, no... make that 5.

1. Photographers that think that they know the one right way that things should be done (by everybody).
2. Photographers who have discovered what works for them but don't suggest that everybody should do it their way.
3. Photographers who don't really know what to do or how/why to do it. This category is a very uncomfortable place to be and I think is why so many turn to category #1 asap.
And of course #4 and #5 are photographers who lump people into categories, and photographers who don't.
My 2 cents, which of course should be everybody's 2 cents.

Posted by: Ctein | Friday, 03 August 2007 at 01:17 PM
"It has a lot to do with snobbism to me. The two groups I dislike most:
1) Rangefinder Snobs.
2) Prime Lens Snobs."

Whew. I'm glad I'm not alone in criticising Cartier-Bresson. In his own way, he, too, claimed a territorial exclusivity (and superiority) as to who are—and aren't—"real photographers".

To paraphrase his quote (about West Coast photographers, obstensibly said during the war), "I don't understand those guys—photographing rocks and trees as the world falls apart".

Apparently, to him, only photography with humans as subject matter was valid. To me, this sort of mentality is far worse than that of photographers who judge other photographers simply on the basis of their equipment, techniques or technology!

The comments to this entry are closed.