It’s been a while since I’ve had a good, proper, rant. Part of that has been the adventure of this year; i think it’s softened me and given me more patience, made me a little more graceful. Another part of it, probably closer to the heart of the matter is that I’ve been busy doing other things and a good rant takes time to incubate.
Well if there is one thing I have had lately it’s time. And somewhere in all that time a rant’s been building. Actually a couple rants have been building, two of which may never see the light of day because when I finally release them to the wild it’ll be me that has to pick up the pieces. One of those rants is about HDR. I’ve finally snapped on that issue and if I hear one more supposed teacher post a ludicrously over-processed HDR image and tell the world it’s closer to what the eye sees things I might re-consider my reluctance to rant about it. Over-processed HDR robs us of shadows which we require to interpret the real world, which is why subtle use of HDR effects can be amazing and over-use sucks. If you teach photography and you tell me that HDR is closer to how the eye sees then it damn better be an image that looks even vaguely realistic, and it sure as hell better be a decent image to begin with. Layering 9 weak photographs together doesn’t make the original weak photograph better, it makes for a bucket filled with 9 layers of suck.
Dammit, I said I wasn’t going to go there.
The second rant has to do with finding a happy place in between the two toxic poles of mediocrity and snobbery. In the last couple years I attended a photography conference that I ended up referring to as a celebration of mediocrity. Presided over by so-called leaders and teachers and Explorers of Light, etc, I was astonished and disappointed that the bar was set so low. So, so, low. I would never advocate exclusivism nor snobbery. Never. I am the first to acknowledge that we all learn at different paces and in different ways and that art, such as it is, is meant to be about expression and that gives us enormous latitude. However, it’s time we all focused more on growing as artists and less on our egos. When we get serious about our art we’ll start looking for critics, not fans, and right now too many people are Without using the strong language I’d like to, it’s really, really, really, overdue for us to stop the lunacy about gear. Choose your tools, enjoy them, then make something amazing. We need to stop the feeding frenzy. We need to stop patting people on the back for derivative, repetitive, imitative work and lovingly encourage them to move forward. We need to lovingly tell people – and give the same people permission to tell us – when we’re stuck, lazy, or boring. We all do this for different reasons, so not for a moment am I suggesting we become a group of photographic vigilantes. I’m suggesting we ourselves settle less, over the long term, with work that is less than what it could be. But I don’t want to rant about that.
Shoot, I did it again.
The third rant, the one I very much want to give in to, is probably not much more than a re-rant. But Oh Lord am I tired of the discussions about going back to film because it’s better. Finally transitioning to digital or medium format because it’s better. Using wide angle lenses because, “they’re better.” And when one photographer knows his 35mm camera is better and one knows his DLSR is better and they get to squabbling, well, just shoot me now. There is no better. In fact, you know what’s better? Art. Expression. Forgive me but the rest of it is merely a photographic wank; a substitute for actual photography. The best camera is the one you enjoy using. Right now I’m using my iPhone and loving it and straining at the bit to get the Fuji x100 that I’ve ordered to use while I recover. I’ve got 3 DSLRs, a 35mm Pentax, and a Hasselblad 500C/M. I love them all and use them for different things. Is one better than another? What does better even mean?
Might it not be time to stop worrying about the meaningless and overly-vague questions of which cameras, lenses, formats, computers, even photographers, are better, and return to the ongoing attempt simply to make photographs that are better and better at expressing ourselves and moving other people? That’s the only better that matters.
I know it’s all been said. But I don’t write my blog to disseminate new information but to hash it through for the sake of my own brain. Where this all – and by all I mean the last rant, not the first two, which, as I told you, I refuse to discuss – touches me is in the need to embrace more widely the photographic world, to try new techniques, new formats, to change my preferred lens or aspect ratio once in a while in search not of better gear but a better process that leads me to stronger work.
** Ooops. I just got back from lunch with my father to find this had been published. Dang. I was going to sit on it a couple days, maybe do a re-write. Should probably learn to avoid hitting that publish button. Anyways, I’ll leave it sit as it is. But please know these are unedited thoughts. Might need to interact a little more in the comments to clarify things…