Gear Acquisition Syndrome is one of those things we like to poo poo in public, arguing it’s all about the photographer, and dive back into with gay abandon once safely back in our private quarters. Thing is, criticising GAS is as wrong as giving in to it for the wrong reasons. Often, it is all about better gear!
Think Pillars of Creation. That stunning photograph would never have existed with an Earth-based telescope. It took the stability of an atmosphere-free line of sight to achieve this level of resolution. It took extreme pointing accuracy and smoothness. It took a large mirror and ultra sensitive cameras. Yes, it took a bit of programming and some post-processing, but the major achievement in this photo is the rig itself.
This is not written in jest. You could argue Pillars of Creation is a purely scientific photograph, which doesn’t apply to our amateur field of feet-on-the-ground photography. And that sCMOS and EMCCD images that allow us to get better views of neurons and cellular spectroscopy fall in the same category.
I disagree. And while the Space Telescope wasn’t designed and financed for artistic purposes, Pillars of Creation was not only an artistic interlude in NASA’s research, but is also a very beautiful and epochal photograph. Definitely one of the most influencial photographs ever made by man. It’s message is not just about the physics of the universe but, mostly, about mankind being able to image its origins. It’s an artistic photograph with the deepest of meanings, which is why it captured the imagination of the whole planet. And it’s all about the gear.
Closer to home, the work of David Maisel, Ed Burtynksy or Hans Strand, also relies strongly on gear. Namely super high quality medium format cameras and airplanes. And, yes, there is a environmental message underlying the work of all three photographers, but the way they choose to express that message is through a very elaborate setup.
Still not convinced?
Sally Mann to the rescue (she and David Maisel are two of my favourite photographers ever). No one could argue she is an artist in the deepest acceptance of the word. Nevertheless, her work hinges around hauling a large format camera, wet plates she coats herself and a large SUV transformed into a field darkroom to be able to process the fresh plates securely. While Sally Mann’s work has a very deep meaning, the way it is achieved is all about gear. Ditto all the legendary street togs and their rangefinder cameras, albeit in a different direction.
I want to fight this misconception that GAS is inherently wrong. As I have written previously, gear takes us in aesthetic and ergonomic directions that are impossible to steer away from, once we start using it, and our job as photographers is to choose the gear that takes us in the direction we want to go. It is our fun and our duty to build a system and processes that lead us to the sort of photographs we most enjoy making.
If that sounds nebulous, think about the difference between a Jupiter lens and a Hasselblad lens. If you use the former, good luck producing neutral photographs with perfect frame homogeneity that convey a clear statement, free of system signature. If you use the latter, good luck producing the swirly bokeh and atmosphere that convey mood and are quite impossible to recreate in PP. GAS is the way to go, when guided by a clear purpose.
What is wrong is GAS fueled only by technical specifications and other considerations that serve only the manufacturer’s interests.
Technical specifications are the worst trick pulled by an industry that equated digitalisation to quantification, with a severe deficiency in management foresight and courage. The greatest sin of all has been the do-it-all camera. That bastard child of quantitative thinking, Schumpeterian commoditisation of creativity and dadaist ergonomics was designed as The One Ring to rule them all. We all know how that ends …
It pains me no end that Japan, of all countries, is largely responsible for this. Here is a country with a diversity of crafts, an art scene and a focus on qualitative value that puts the rest of the known universe to shame. A country which I love so dearly. A country with a high-end watch industry that combines the very best of human skill, philosophy, innovative thinking and machining, making most European brands look like dinosaurs. And yet, a country that has done its very best to cripple an artistic pursuit into a cookie-cutter quantitative-range logic of the lowest ethical type: “the more money you have, the more features we give you”. Utterly distasteful and bafflingly stupid.
The collapse of this model is sad but inevitable and will, I hope lead to a new market in which visionnaries finally topple data analysts, and which eventually proves much more worthy of our attention and GAS fits 😉 After my Tolkien reference, let me slip in some Dan Simmons. I can’t help seeing parallels between almost every aspect of our current life and the brilliant Hyperion saga. What we need, in photography is an Ouster resurgence 😉
There’s this lingering Internet guru claim that “give a great photographer a toy camera and she’ll make great photographs”.
Give Sally Mann a toy camera and she’ll be sent to jail for photographing nude children, as all the intention of her exquisite photographs will be lost in translation. Give NASA a toy camera and, not only will we still believe the Earth is flat, but the Pillars of the Earth masterpiece will just be a smudge. And not a pretty one.
Gear matters. Gear gives us confidence. Gear completes our vision and our workflow. Gear, by its price, complexity and long-term commitment, forces us to think deeply about what it is we seek to achieve. Most importantly, there is always, in the work of great photographers, a very tight bond between the message and the gear used to convey it.
What is it you want to achieve? And what gear would best serve that dream?
Seeing someone who’s not interested in changing their gear is just seeing someone who has thought this through, has made the right choice and is enjoying it for years and years and years. Isn’t that the best argument in favour of GAS? 🙂 🙂 🙂
Most of us are spending a lot more time at home than usual. Some of us are worried for their well-being or those of their friends and relatives. All of us are photographers.
Let me remind you of the ongoing (con)fine art challenge, kindly proposed by Pascal Ollier to keep up our practice and lift our spirits 🙂
What impact is lockdown having on your photography? Besides the frustration, are you seeing new things in your home? Or old things in a new light? Are you having more time to post process your photographs or make them in a different way? How do you view the outdoors, now that it’s not as easy to get to? How can you show that in your photographs? How can you have fun in a new way? The pic above is a reflection of the sun on a magasine that was lying on a table next to a wall. I’ve been paying more attention to those, lately 😉 What about you?
As usual, please send your photographs to me (pascal dot jappy at gmail dot com) in an email with the challenge name in the title and in jpg format (long side between 1000 and 2000 pix). I’ll publish them before we get back on track with Adrian’s Bayhem Challenge 🙂
DearSusan is very poorly referenced on Google because we do not stuff our titles with keywords, we do not buy links or engage in the sort of intense SEO magic organisations are expected to perform these days, rather than write interesting content.
And, now, just for added fun, gmail has placed many DS messages in the spam folder. I stopped receiving my own messages (because, yes, Google, I’m THAT stupid that I send myself spam) and several readers have now reported the same issue.
So, you can help, if you want DS to survive this. And I’m not using the word survive in vain :
Not to be a Cassandra, but there’s nothing I can do on my end. And if you don’t act, this site will disappear into the ether fast (weeks or months) thanks to our good friends at “Don’t be evil” company.
It’s 100% in your hands. Thanks for your help.
UK newspaper the Guardian recently published this about Kenny Rogers: ‘Remarkably talented’: the epic photography of Kenny Rogers.
I had no idea. Talented doesn’t begin to cover it. Was Kenny Rogers a singer who could photograph or a photographer who could sing?
I should have known, as he publised several books. But I didn’t. The few photographs presented on the pages below are remarkable. Here are more:
It seems almost unfair to be able to excel at portrait photography, nature photography, travel photography, landscape photography seemingly at will, while also being a world-class artist in another type of art. I mean c’mon …
Thank you, Mr Rogers
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