I often discuss photo topics with Pascal, and when he says “great subject for a post, but I don’t know that I could write it. You, on the other hand…”, I know I should proceed with great care. But vanity and pride being what they are, I usually disregard his warning-in-disguise and start writing. And a couple of months later, the unsused, unfit-for-DS-consumption draft gets deleted in disgust. Let’s see if this one is any better.
The differences between Pascal and I are a subject of endless fascination for me. Not the fact that he is better at photography, that was established long ago, and both of us are at peace with that. or at least I am. He on the other hand is really uncomfortable with praise, which is why I praise him unmercifully…:-)
After much observation, it is my opinion (with which he strongly disagrees) that Pascal aims to be a master of photography, whereas I aim (in my dreams) to produce a masterpiece (as long as it is a pipe dream, I can afford to say masterpieces). And that is not the same.
A master of a craft must meet multiple criteria. Here is my definition (YMMV). 4 criteria. To make the impossible (for the common folk) possible. To do it with an air of great ease, so that it seems within the possibilities of each of us. To do it with a distinct “signature” which differentiates it from anyone else’s work. To enjoy doing it.
In other words, being a master is “who one is”, above and beyond what one does. It is a manner of being, an identity.
Whereas a masterpiece is just that. Something someone has generated, produced, designed, delivered, whatever… But not only masters can generate masterpieces. And masters do not generate masterpieces each and every time.
Now to Pascal. Why is he a master? Simply, he meets the criteria. Photography for him is a craft that hones the craftsman, an art that refines the artist. Like a master swordsman, archer, calligrapher (note the very Japanese influence, as per his last post). Hence his desire to explore (and master) all confines of this trade/art/craft, all types of gear (film, which he has done plenty of, to digital M4/3, which he has done already to MF which he lusts for, be it a Hassy X1-D or an Alpa), and now printing. And when he gets into printing, let me tell you, it is nothing less than a quest. Who are the best out there? The best processes, the best printers. He spends hours looking at references and great masters before him. He was generous enough to let me have his first print from his trip to Japan, and it is gorgeous.
This why he is so infuriated with certain aspects fo his Sony camera. Basically, when it gets in his way, when it does not let him be the master he wants to be. Arrrrghhhh!
Now to masterpieces. They are not necessarily the product of masters. Sometimes chance, or happenstance. Sometimes people have just one great book in them, and then no more. Sometimes they have a one-track access to masterpieces and make the same one over and over. Photography is not technically difficult, it does not require tremendous technique that can only be acquired by many years of multiple-hour daily practice, like opera singing or ballet dancing. Being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing is technically easy, it can be beginner’s luck.
That is my goal, and it is a lot less demanding than mastery. To that end, my gear is “only” part and parcel of the process. To a point, it is not my gear that might get in my way, but I who might get in my gear’s way…:-). And while I have upgraded it over the years, when it gets in my way, it is my fault, because I know it is easily good enough to produce masterpieces.
Which is why I am essentially happy with my gear. Typically, I bought the same, now superseded, camera again, and my only lens is “inferior” to the mighty ones I used before. Are my shots inferior? Probably, but on a level far beyond what my ability can unleash. On the other hand, because it is so much lighter, I use it more often and with greater ease, which probably improves the weakest link in the chain…. me.
This leads me to think that Pascal is, to some extent serving a life sentence of -relative- unhappiness with himself and his gear, because a master endlessly strives to better himself. And I am graced with a life sentence of -relative- happiness because I live the dream that one day, some day, things will click to perfection, and I will produce my masterpiece. Like Captain Ahab, who was no longer interested in filling the hull of his Pequod with vauable whale oil, but in his one crowning achievement, the killing of Moby Dick… Then I can happily call it a day, and glow in the thought of “been there, done that, got the mug and the T-shirt”.
Come to think of it, I am not in such a hurry to produce that masterpiece after all….:-) It is such fun to be Don Quixote to Pascal’s Don Giovanni….
PS: these shots are the first posted that were shot with my A7RII (a.k.a. Pequomodo). Are they any better than with my venerable NEX 7? Does the fact that I am using “only” a Zeiss Loxia 25 show compared to my earlier gear bag, with Otus? Would I get any closer to a photographic masterpiece with a masterpiece of photo gear, like a Hasselblad X1-D?
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