#983. Often, it is all about better gear

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Mar 25

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 πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ˜‰

 
 

There’s this lingering Internet guru claim that “give a great photographer a toy camera and she’ll make great photographs”.

Yeah, right!

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? πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

 
 

Reminder: ongoing “(Con)fine Art Challenge”

 

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 πŸ™‚

 
White sky
 

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 πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ™‚

 
Crumpled light
 
 

Thank you Google. Help badly needed!

 

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 :

  • You can go to your spam folder, find and select DS messages and click the NOT SPAM button at top left (see below).
  • You can share posts on whatever social media or forum you like. This sends Google a powerful message that readers enjoy the content.

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.

 
 

Remembering Kenny Rogers

 

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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  • philberphoto says:

    What a post!! Entertaining, daring, inspiring, thought-provoking, and a few other “ing”s!! And some of the pics belong on walls. Even those walls that prolonged confinement forces us to look at much more/longer than we would otherwise. White light and crumpled light are my faves. Wow!!!

  • jean pierre guaron says:

    So – you want to be remembered as an agent provocateur! – stirring up storm clouds of dust, generating controversy in both directions! Bravo! But I’m with Ansel Adams – it doesn’t matter what the gear is, it’s the person holding it who takes the photograph.

    And as Philippe will tell you, not all gear is elaborate or expensive – it’s a matter of having the stuff that’s necessary for the job in hand. If you have a client who wants aerial photos, of COURSE you’ll have a Mavic with a Hassy on board. Street? – something discrete, that you can slip into your pocket – preferably with a pancake 35mm w/angle, if it’s FF. Birding? – NOW you’re talking – my D500 with a rather more powerful lens than my 70-200! Macro? – a Jonathan! – and now we’re really getting into gear, because macro leads on to heavy tripods, ‘interesting’ studio lighting, stack shots, ect ect

    When your tastes are eclectic and you do the lot – landscape and astro and pano and all, as well – then you really DO get GAS. Because there’s no ‘one size fits all’ – and compromise ends up being neither fish nor fowl.

    But there’s one more thing – you have to get on top of it all. No earthly use buying heaps of gear, and not knowing how to use it properly. And that puts the brakes on. My last major re-equip replaced practically everything with a yin/yang pair of semi- professional cams from Nikon. And roughly 5,000 pages of manuals and text books. Before even thinking about the lenses and the rest of the gear!

    So I’m afraid you need to tell this story to someone else, Pascal. I have neither the time nor the money to junk what I have and flick to the Z range, not even if it makes a cappuccino for you while you take your shots. I have to live with the fact that what I have is pretty much all I will ever get. And sit out each and every dance that takes place before my eyes, with others from the DS tribe, who are fortunate enough to have gear that I can only lust after. I look to them, one and all, to share their photos on DS so that I can derive vicarious second hand pleasure from gazing wistfully at all of their photos, here.

    I might add – and I’ll probably say more on that post, when I get around to it – that I was highly impressed with Bob’s shots in Pamlico. Looking through those photos, there really didn’t seem to be a great deal to see, down there. No Eiffel Tower – no Golden Gate Bridge – no Sydney Opera House. And at the time when he took all those photos, NOTHING like the cameras most of us have today. Yet despite all of that, he’s shared a selection of 20 photos he took there, all those years ago, which are quite frankly outstanding.

    OMG – I had one of my really evil thoughts just then. I won’t put it here – you’ll find it in your email boz, Pascal, within a day or so!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ha ha, Pete,

      not sure Adams is the best example. He may have said that, but he hauled a huge view camera and glass plates everywhere he went. A case of “Do as I say, not as I do”? πŸ˜‰

      This post doesn’t advocate expensive gear. Only gear that’s best suited to your personal project and world view. And, maybe a few % of photographers have the deliberate approach to make them really good at what they do. So, two fields, or 3? I don’t buy that. Someone who wants to do macro and astro and street isn’t serious about any of those. Astrophotography makes Picasso collecting seem cheap. More than that, it takes a terrible toll on your sleep rhythm, it then kills your day with incredibly painstaking post processing (does it transpire how envious I am? πŸ˜‰ ) Anyone mad enough to embark on that won’t want to play around at street or macro or anything else.

      Bob’s shot and mini stories are indeed superb. They allow us to dive deep into that community and feel like we know parts of it quite intimately. I believe that’s the hallmark of a very good photographer and storyteller. As you say, nothing spectacular was there to photograph. In fact, I would argue that nothing spectacular was there to divert Bob from his true purpose πŸ™‚

      Cheers and thanks for the interesting thoughts, as usual πŸ™‚

  • miguel says:

    Great Pictures.

  • Bob Kruger says:

    Kenny Rogers was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum, which is located on the second floor of a nondescript building in St. Louis MO, which I once visited by accident a few years ago.

  • Jean-Claude Louis says:

    Great post ! ‘Crumpled Light’ is precious.

    I cannot agree more on how you feel about gear. And you express your viewpoint so well. There is little argument that gear matters for photographers. For most, gear serves as a production tool, to get an imprint of a scene on film or sensor, to help addressing technical issues, to open creative possibilities, etc…For some, cameras and lenses can also be an object of desire, a beautiful piece of engineering, an addition to a collection, not unlike cars or watches – nobody should be shamed for that.

    We’re fortunate to have an abundance of tools at our disposal to express our vision(s), available at a broad price range. I’ve used many of them over a few decades – film and digital SLRs, medium format, large format, polaroids, toy cameras, smartphones, even cameras and lenses I’ve built myself for specific purposes. I thoroughly enjoyed using each one of them and, still, don’t feel that my body of work is scattershot. I can identify a common thread in it; I suppose it is what I see, the way I see it and how I convey that vision through my images, irrespective of the tool I’m using.

    Thank you for taking my thoughts away from the surrounding gloom πŸ™‚

  • Patrick says:

    Great photos for sharing and inspiration. Thanks!
    Also, thank you for the tips to check “spam”. I have since retrieved 2 DearSusan postings therein…incredible!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Patrick. That helps a lot. I hope no one thinks DS is spam … I can’t see why Google would think so, unless someone reported us as such.
      Have a great day.

  • jean pierre guaron says:

    Well – I hadn’t come across an article promoting the idea of GAS, before. Interesting perspective – so many people these days are vomiting their “opinions” all over the rest of the population, that it’s becoming rarer for people to flip a subject over, and try to examine it from another point of view – the opposite point of view, perhaps, as indeed many philosophers do when they examine something.

    I think that – for me at least – GAS comes in two forms.

    One is the idea of endlessly turning over what gear we have, and always rocking up to buy “the latest & greatest”. Which I would see as rather sad. That’s how the car industry behaves. The most absurd example of it was the way the Americans used to replace last year’s model 12 months later with modifications that were purely cosmetic.

    The best instance of that, that I ever came across, was the “over-rider on the bumper bars” affair – to make the idiots in the consumer market think that the latest model was easier to drive, more comfortable, less unreliable** etc than last year’s model, at one stage they started putting over-riders on the bumper bars. No functional effect whatosoever – a complete waste of money!
    **[the idea of selling your product by suggesting to your market that an item as expensive as a car would become “less reliable” in a time frame as short as 12 months strikes me as being one of the world’s worst ever marketing sales pitches – but WTF would I know, I’ve never lived in Detroit?]

    Next iteration of the over-rider was the “bosom on the bumper bar”. The authors of this idea created an over-rider pretty much in the shape of a nordic helmet – suggestive of the shape of a bosom, without being too specifically like one – which was intended to reassure purchasers, by soothing them the same way being held to their mother’s bosom had, in their early childhood. But then the fashion changed – over-riders had to have a lump of rubber on the front of them, to protect them from knocks or scratches. So the next model came out and the front of the bosom had been cut off and replaced with a black rubber section, still following the same curves to the point at the front. All of a sudden, it wasn’t just “vaguely reassuring” – it looked like a chrome plated bosom with a black rubber nipple at the front – as indeed it was!

    An even sillier way of stimulating sales growth, than telling your customers their cars start becoming less reliable after 12 months!

    The other is more practical. When I started out, it wasn’t that expensive to swap around in the second hand cameras – I must have had at least 6 different ones, before I finally settled on my beloved Zeiss Contarex and kitted it out as fully as I needed to. But once I had the Contarex, I kept it for half a century and took something approaching 20,000 photos with it. During that period, I also experimented with other gear – a Linhof Technica 4×5″ studio camera, a Zenza Bronica (the poor man’s Hassleblad 6x6cm) and a Pentax – but the love of my life was the Contarex. And I was well into the digital era before I parted with it.

    And in the digital era, I’ve only gone with two brands, before settling on my present cameras. What I HAVE done, which some people might consider to be GAS, is kit out my choice of cameras – buy the range of “toys” I use to take my photos. But I wouldn’t have thought that really qualifies for the term GAS – any more than your decision to put Sony behind you and switch to the Hassy.

    It’s more in the nature of finding the right tripod first up, or buying a range of lenses to cover your different interests in photography. Of course some people seem to buy half a dozen different tripods before seeking some other outlet for their GAS attack, and that’s sad.

  • Paul B says:

    Pascal

    This is an interesting point of view.

    I have certainly been a victim of GAS over my lifetime. There is always the allure of the concept of β€œGood, Better, Best,” and chasing each level in our pursuit of what is driving us at the time. I have done this with audio and photography equipment, and so have my friends. It is interesting to note, if you pay attention, this affliction seems to infect men much more than women.

    On the other hand there have been times when I have resisted the temptation. Looking back it it is interesting to me that I stayed with film for the early years of digital; the D800 was the first digital camera to get me to think that jumping on the constant upgrade bandwagon might be worthwhile. Though, it was mirrorless and the promise (delusion) that I could use my existing M lenses that finally pushed me over the edge.

    Today I divide my time between looking for old jewels that I can’t live without and obsessing over any perceived differences between options for a high resolution camera body. Should I pay the cost of the new Leica SL2 (or M10 Mono) or switch platforms entirely? Which leads to paralysis by analysis, since Leica prices open doors to a lot of possible options.

    Fortunately there is a treatment for this. Grab a camera and go make images. When I am using a camera I usually just think about what is in front of me.

    Unfortunately there are two things working against us, time and technology. Things wear out over time and become unavailable, like batteries and printer components. Plus, technology moves forward and leaves us behind. We may be able to sit on the sidelines for a while to watch the show, but these things have a habit of reaching out to us forcing an upgrade.

    Some of things I have experienced in the past two weeks are:
    My new tax software just informed me that my computer’s operating system (OS) is too old to operate it.
    Apple informed me that the version of the OS I need is not not available and my computer is too old for the current OS.
    Amazon informed me that my laser printer toner cartridge was discontinued by the manufacturer.
    My computer informs me that my laser printer is not connected when I have a remanufactured toner cartridge installed.

    Thus, an upgrade cycle begins

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