#1237. Creation = stress?

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Oct 21

This stress is one of many options to explain (male) photographer’s constant GAS πŸ˜‰

Cassis beach, after Luigi Ghirri

Another quick post, to examine a thought that arose after listening to a HiFi dealer interview. My dealer.

He explains that one of his customers, an orchestra conductor, owns an old and quite poor audio system. That man reconstructs the music in his head, rather than listen to it passively. And likewise, most professional musicians seem disinterested in utmost quality in audio reproduction gear. There appears to be a spectrum of relationship to music ranging from active (composers, artists) to passive (consumer, audiophile) which parallels an increasing hifi investment spectrum. Those willing to spend more seem to enjoy sound more than music. Those focused solely on music are unwilling to spend more than necessary to convey the vital information to their mind (although there are, of course, exceptions).

And we’ve all heard similar – though not identical -comments in the photo arena: “Gear doesn’t matter. Great photographers will shoot great images whatever the gear. Gear is no substitute for talent.” And so on.

Cassis lighthouse

While there may be some underlying truth in those broad remarks, they feel like a judgemental over-simplification to me.

I can think of other differences between audio and photography. Maybe sound is a more right-brained sense than sight, for instance. But mainly, one is about creation, the other about consumption.

Creating an image puts the pressure on the author. Consuming a musical reproduction puts the pressure on the artists, the recording and on the playback gear. That introduces a major difference in stress and in the role of gear in both hobbies.

Cassis palm

The audiophile takes the approach of a collector, gradually building a system that suits his/her ear and listening preferences, as well as personal philosophy and relationship to music. It takes skill and patience.

Gear, for the photographer, cannot as easily provide the same level of passive enjoyment. Yes, it’s possible for photographers with the financial means to acquire cameras and lenses well above their shooting skills. But that soons feels hollow and unsatisfactory. Like the audiophile, the photographer requires gear that matches his/her relationship with image making.

When it comes to sound, you are either trained musically, and tend not to fuss about reproduction quality all that much, or are trained in understanding gear technicalities and their impact on sound, with little need for overlap between the two approaches (and no exclusion either, some people enjoy both sides of the coin).

Cassis restaurant

But when it comes to images, we are making them, not consuming them, through our gear. And the training has to be in image-making, in order to prove satisfactory. There is very little to learn about the impact of gear on aesthetics, particularly today (though understanding how to use it is a necessary step).

This puts pressure on us as creators, in the same way as audiophiles feel the pressure of creating a great system. And photographers tend to flock towards pressure-relieving gear. Cameras that see in the dark. Lenses that focus instantly. Systems so fast and sharp no image is ever lost. But I don’t think that helps alleviate the stress. In fact, the new rise to power of film photography proves otherwise (Kodak, in spite of every attempt to overprice itself into a corner, cannot follow demand for its filmstock. For now).

As with enjoyment of music, I believe that the secret in enjoying photography is taking an active role, whatever the gear we use. Music lovers enjoy the active process of recreating a piece in their mind. Audiophiles enjoy the active process of building a system that mirrors who they are. Taking pleasure in photography probably requires us to take an active role in image creation, rather than delegating our tastes to social media and our technique to machines πŸ˜‰

Cassis chillin’

Having myself recently stumbled in HiFi, I realise what a process of self-discovery the audiophile journey can be. Just like photography. I realise my understanding of my true needs in HiFi are nowhere near as mature as in photography, in which the (gear-centric) marketing of manufacturers rolls off me like ethics on a politician.

Whether we will find joy in a rangefinder, a medium format film camera, a 30fps super mirrorless or anything else available depends largely on how involved we want to be in the creation process, and the aesthetics of the results we strive for. And, to answer the titular question: yes, creation = stress, and photographers must embrace the stress of creation, in order to enjoy photography.

The interesting thing is this. In photography, you cannot be the music lover or the audiophile. You must be both. Fluent in crafting, and fluent in tech. One more reason to love our hobby πŸ™‚

Recently, time has been too scarce at Casa DS to work on a week links post. So let me just leave you with a few random links – not necessarily very recent – that I feel are worth a bit of your time πŸ™‚

Happy reading πŸ™‚


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  • Leonard Norwitz says:

    Yo, Pascal, I guess you knew I couldn’t resist a rejoinder or two, so here goes:

    By “music” in the context of your essay, we assume you refer to “recorded music” rather than the live concert experience. In this respect, the point of a recorded music library and the gear with which to listen to it is either [a] to enjoy a particular signature that the playback system offers or [b] to enjoy an imagined performance. Though most audio consumers think their system can or should do both, it can’t. Nor should it. [see: “Are You on the Road to Audio Hell”]

    Photography, unlike audio reproduction, is an art, not a science, and means to suggest an emotional/cognitive experience in the viewer — not of the the thing photographed necessarily, but of the photographer’s feeling about it. In this respect, photography is more like [a] than [b] above, where a speaker or amplifier manufacturer wants to create a certain sonic filter through which the recorded performance is channeled. Unhappily, this results in a kind of sameness from recording to recording, leading the consumer to make “improvements” which, in turn, lead them into “audio hell.”

    And this is where a photograph is unlike the playback of a recorded performance. In [b] the objective of the manufacturer is to discriminate as much as possible between recordings and in this way hope to arrive at the performance itself, uncolored by their components’ signature. A [fine art] photograph does not strive for accuracy, as is the case with [b], but rather an impression in 2-dimensional, graphic terms suggested by the thing photographed.

    As for your story and hypothesis that “There appears to be a spectrum of relationship to music ranging from active (composers, artists) to passive (consumer, audiophile) which parallels an increasing hifi investment spectrum. Those willing to spend more seem to enjoy sound more than music. Those focused solely on music are unwilling to spend more than necessary to convey the vital information to their mind . . .” I can concur. I think there are two reasons for this: the first is that these musicians would rather experience the real thing — and have the ready means to do so — and, finding themselves on the slippery slope into consumer Audio Hell and not knowing that [b] exists, they give up the pursuit.

    There is a converse analog to photography here, namely the pursuit of an imagined excellence of gear that will make us better photographers, as if greater accuracy is readily translated to art. It isn’t. A proper [b] audio system will reveal the recorded performance, regardless of how or when it was recorded. Since an accurate rendering of the subject is not the intention of photography then we consumers should concentrate our efforts to translating what we feel into images rather than the mechanism by which we can do it.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      “I can concur. I think there are two reasons for this: the first is that these musicians would rather experience the real thing β€” and have the ready means to do so β€” and, finding themselves on the slippery slope into consumer Audio Hell and not knowing that [b] exists, they give up the pursuit.”

      Not quite – for a student of music, like me, recorded music provides a treasure trove of other performances, spanning something over a hundred years now, and very accessible – through records, CDs, YouTube, other streaming services, etc. What’s important isn’t “fidelity” – it’s accessing the performance, to assess, appraise, analyse & learn. Fidelity remains important – but as a muso, I cannot regarded these electronic substitutes for reality as capable of equalling a live performance. Even WITH the shuffling, coughs etc of the less “engaged” members of the audience!

      “A proper [b] audio system will reveal the recorded performance, regardless of how or when it was recorded.”

      OK – sort of – partially, anyway. For the same reasons. Which was the basis of my response to my stupid brother on this topic. His passion for vinyl & turntables etc, while laudable, was ill-conceived. Because, as I pointed out to him, both his system and my CD-based one are merely electronic substitutes for reality. They both suffer – they just suffer in different ways.

      • pascaljappy says:

        The funny thing about audio, your last sentence points to it, is that ultra high-end should get close to realism. It doesn’t. The higher up the ladder you go, the more obvious the sound signature of the creator of the gear πŸ˜‰

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Leonard. Interesting distinction between reproduction of musical piece ans sound signature. Few understand it. And I agree with your analysis of the musician’s approach to it.

      It’s funny because, in photography, it’s the signature that makes the artist, and gear should contribute to that, but most amateurs strive for gear that “measures best”. There’s not enough trust in our own tastes and too much reliance on “objective” measurement.


  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Enter my dumb-ass brother, who knows absolutely everything about everything, and in fact knows little or nothing. Ego swamped his learning curve, at least as far back as his teenage years.

    You compare the pursuit of GAS with its nonsensical achievements, to the FiFi junky whose knowledge of “music” would fill one side of a postage stamp.

    The return of the Jedda! My brother ticks both boxes!

    By now you’ve probably managed to work out that we don’t get along with each other.


    Example. He bought a Leica as soon as he possibly could. When I chose a top-of-the-range Zeiss Contarex, with interchangeable magazine backs so I could select which film I wanted to shoot with in a matter of seconds, and the world famous Zeiss Planar lens that was scaled up & stuck on a Hassy, to become the first lens ever to land on the moon, he told me it was junk and I should have bought a Leica. No doubt – if I asked – he’d say the same about my Canon, or my Nikon D850 or D500.

    Example no. 2 – when he learned that I’d given up on 12 inch vinyl and gone with CDs, he nearly had a cardiac infarct! Raved about the lack of fidelity. I told him I was fed up with “snap, crackle, pop”, as dust ALWAYS collects on vinyl, and I was sick to death with having to stop in the middle of listening to a single side of a record, to clean it again and clean the needle. Instead, I could sit back and listen to a 3 hour performance, and only have to get up twice, at one hour intervals, to change to the next CD.

    In short – he was chasing daisies and I was “listening to the music”. But of course he only started taking an interest in classical music in his late teens, and his ONLY means of participating was his record player/HiFi set up. I’d been playing the piano since the age of 10, spent years at the Conservatorium, and – 70 years later – STILL play the piano, every day!

    He was quite correct about one technical issue – even though he chose to ignore the rest. The band-width is narrower on CDs, or at least it was at the start – I’ve no idea whether it still is and don’t even care! He described CDs as – “therefore” – producing a “dryer” sound than vinyl.

    So what? He never even bother to ask “what” I listen to – or “why” I choose to listen to a recording, instead of going to a live performance. OF COURSE I know it’s not the same! How stupid could he get? BOTH VINYL & CDs PRODUCE AN ELECTRONIC SUBSTITUTE FOR A LIVE PERFORMANCE. Tne End!

    Anyway, as a student of music (rather than just a passive member of the audience), I am likely to find something I like – and then listen to as many different performances as I can. Stopping the “replay”, and going over & over the same section, myriad times, analysing it in my head. Who cares what the recording medium is? That’s not why I’m sitting here!

    The big laugh came when the HiFi store I use suggested I might need “better speakers”. So with great ill-grace, I pulled my system down and took the whole lot to their store. We set it up. We compared it with everything they could throw at it. My memory of it is a bit hazy, but I think they told me one setup they compared it with cost over AUD$80,000 (USD$50,000 or EUR -roughly – 50,000)

    They gave up. In the end they told me they couldn’t outperform my setup. My speakers were, they told me, better than theirs. And none of the rest of their gear was any better than mine. So I packed it all up, took it home, and still use it. The speakers are now 40 years old, and most of the rest of it is 30 years old. My budget for GAS after that has been spent on recordings.

    I’ll leave the stage now, so someone else can say it all, on the subject of photographic gear.

    • Leonard Norwitz says:



    • pascaljappy says:

      Maybe your brother only goes to Rice Krispies concerts, if he thinks vinyl provides a faithful reproduction? πŸ˜‰ It’s true the two are different. Each has its qualities that will appeal to different types of listeners. But neither comes close to the live venue.

      Your description of your listening sessions matches my dealer’s, when he describe his muscian customers. They want their systems to convey the information that lets them understand how the piece is composed and played. The rest seems irrelevant.

      What are those speakers, you mention?

      I built 3 of my last 4 pairs of speakers. The 4th is an Anthony Gallo speaker that received rave reviews and is nowhere near as good as the last pair I built from a kit. The Gallo is much smaller, much more elegant, mind you. But I never listen to it anymore and it is up for sale. There is so much going on in the world of speakers that baffles me (no pun πŸ˜‰ ) when simple recipes just work so well.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        They’re Celef speakers – ancient, now, like their owner. No idea which model they are/were, and unlikely to be in production after all these decades. They were also used at one of London’s main concert halls, in those days – for people who arrived late, to listen to the concert in the waiting areas, until an intermission allowed them to gain entry to the concert.

        They’re compact – convenient – heavy as a ton of bricks! Which is about what you want with a speaker.

        “Technical excellence” isn’t the same as “aurally satisfying”. That’s where bro’ and I came to the parting of the ways.

        But I listen to music for quite different reasons from the HiFi buffs. Music was my first step forward in acquiring “culture” – by the time I was 3, I was obsessed with classical piano – by the age of 5 I was being obnoxious, fighting for the chance to learn – by 15 I had switched to the Conservatorium, and stayed there with the same teacher for 5 years. HiFi is an “add-on” – a means to an end, not an end in itself.

        • pascaljappy says:

          Ah, Celestion Twetter, Kef boomer, the prodigy ancestor of Proac πŸ™‚ Lovely ! My speakers are voiced similarly to Proacs, we must share a taste in natural sounding gear.
          HiFi as a means to an end, so true. Though I understand the desire to build an audio system for the system itself, that’s no longer where I want to be today. A means to a musical end, most definitely.


  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    PS – the guy who wrote “The Instagram capital of the world is a terrible place to be” is suffering from manic depression and seriously needs help. He is another poster-boy for the argument between two guys over whether their glasses were half full, or half empty – only to be trumped by a woman who overheard their argument and said “I don’t care which one of you is right or wrong – I just one another glass full, thanks”.

    AI photographs? What – not even an iPhone “camera” any more? Not even a Box Brownie?

    Hollywood’s been doing things like that for decades. “Tara”, Scarlet’s home in “Gone with the Wind”, was simply painted on a large piece of canvas. Cartoons – special effects – monsters – all “created”, not “filmed”.

    Love the “streets” photos, BTW. Who says you can’t take a shot that no-one else has ever taken?

    • pascaljappy says:

      “Love the β€œstreets” photos, BTW. Who says you can’t take a shot that no-one else has ever taken?” Exactly.

      I think some people have the knack for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Positano can be super super busy and unpleasant. But then, why go at high season, and specifically at the most touristy spots ?

      My first visit to Tokyo was a shock to the system. Everyone, every book, every magazine article had warned us about the noise, the hectic pace, the stress. And I honestly struggle to find a more peaceful place in my memory. Cars make no noise. Our hotel was next to a building sight. That was limited to 70dB, there were sonometers everywhere on the fence to monitor it. People respect the rules and others, so everything flows. Of course, you can *choose* to be in a train at rush hour in the busiest station on the planet, and be squeezed like a sardine. But that’s personal choice, and criticising Tokyo based on bad choices is very similar to that post on Positano.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Do they still use “crushers”, to cram more people into underground carriages in Tokyo during rush hour? About the only way of doing “street” inside one of those trains would be with some kind of periscope arrangement, to get the front of the lens at least above the heads of the passengers!
        And yet. The japanese seem to be the gentlest, quietest, most polite of people.

        Getting back to cameras. My brother managed to convince himself that his camera was absolutely perfect, nothing could possibly be as good (let alone better!) and I’d been an idiot to go with Zeiss – about which, he knew precisely nothing at all. Fine – he was happy – I could have been too, if only he could have shut up about his blasted Leica – about which I want to know precisely nothing at all.

        The essential reasons for our difference were twofold.

        One – on his side only – was propaganda. He’d grown up surrounded by eulogies about Leica, the god of cameras. It would be blasphemous to suggest there was even a distant rival. Such is the world of dreamers – I much prefer the advertising slogan of Australia’s Northern Territory, coined from the expression “the Never Never”, used to describe a vast area of the Australian Outback. Their slogan is “You’ll never never know, if you never never go”.

        Neither of us tried each other’s camera – neither of us had any desire to.

        My choice was based on years of experience of Zeiss lenses, Zeiss cameras, leading up to the final purchase of their camera masterpiece – the Contarex. I’d already owned and used the “junior version” for years, knew what it could do, and it suited me just fine. With some provisos – but the Contarex dealt with those.

        There were things that I needed, for my photography, which the Contarex could do in a flash – but a Leica simply couldn’t do at all (unless you wanted to have three of them hanging around your neck, all day long!).

        Then there was the fact the Leica was a rangefinder camera (not an SLR), so the viewfinder image wasn’t adequate for my purposes. And the closer you get, the more awkward parallax error becomes.

        Lens quality? Well they didn’t use a Leica lens on the Hassy that went to the moon, to take the first eve shots on our asteroid, did they?

        Bottom line was simple. I could do things with my Zeiss Contarex that still to this day are impossible with any single Leica unit in the world, ever. And they were things I did with my 35 mm work, from my early teens, till I was in my 40s and found you could also do it with a couple of 6cm square cameras, and bought myself one of those.

        So it’s not always ALL about the “quality” of the camera. True I wanted that as well – and I do believe Zeiss gave it to me. But it’s about being able to take the photos you want to take – the WAY you want to take them.

        Today, I have a different version. I LOVE my Nikon D850 – especially with the [Zeiss!] Otus 55mm lens on the front. But I don’t use it for pet photography, normally. Instead, I use my Nikon D500 – with one of several different zooms, usually.

        And now I’ve fooling around with Nikon’s retro Zfc, which is also a great camera.

        All the while, I’ve also been using a Canon PowerShot a great deal of the time. I suppose it’s my equivalent of someone else’s cellphone “camera” – lightweight, easy to use, convenient, takes good shots. Not up to the same standard as the rest of the junk – but you don’t always NEED the same thing.

        It’s late, and I’m too tired to think what parallels might exist between this and the various methods of reproducing music through different HiFi systems and other gear. But I’m sure there are some. I’d rather leave it to Pascal – I’m no expert here, just an end user, a muso who needs some means of getting Beethoven and Mendelssohn and all the rest of them into this room, without too much overcrowding.

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Hi Pascal,

    I just upgraded my computer browser from 4K to the new 100K compatible version.

    I never realised how pixelated, grainy, and crappy all the images on this blog site are.

    I am out of here in search of a gigapixel blogsite.

    It has been nice knowing you all


    Ian πŸ˜‰ πŸ™‚

  • Mer says:

    A hifi stumble – hope it wasn’t too expensive. My CD player gave up a while ago and the amplifier soon followed; maybe in sympathy or maybe because the cat like to sleep on top of it. After 20 years, they don’t owe me anything and I’ve started looking. The other half has registered my opening gambits and responded with ‘the house needs a new roof’. She’s right, dammit.

    A bit of a hifi parallel. It’s often said that hifi opens up after running for about a month, though I suspect that’s more a case of the listener’s brain tuning in. It won’t work if your setup is bright and you really dislike harsh treble, but hopefully you would have picked that up at audition. Other stuff can be tricky; a set of speakers that sounds fantastic, but will be always come with a tinge of irritation because they annoy you aesthetically.

    Anyway, the parallel bit – my Sony A7 iii just opened up. A couple of days ago, I realised that I was tuning in and enjoying the process, just as I was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen. The camera hasn’t changed so it must be my squidgy grey matter accepting that this is the way it’s going to be and it may as well just learn to like it.

    When it comes to viewing my photos, it works in reverse. Images that I’m initially fond of usually turn into images that I don’t especially enjoy. Trying to create with the aim of enjoyment longevity is, it turns out, difficult. Maybe hifi and photography can prove tricky to nail down because they’re both hostage to the whims of our subconscious.


    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Mer,

      My stumble was with Naim gear. They have a cult following, and my system did sound good, but not as good as my expectations, the pundit raves or the financial outlay suggested. I did my best to love it, for a year, but just couldn’t. It’s a matter of taste and Naim just doesn’t suit mine.

      HiFi has become very analytical and a little soulless. And while Naim is less so (far less) than other brands, it still sounded boring compared to live music. So I sold my gear. Luckily, Naim stuff holds its value brilliantly, so it cost me about 10%.

      You make a very interesting point about opening up. I don’t *think* it’s in the listener’s head. Naim gear certainly evolves over time. But, even more so, sounds very different when warm compared to cold (the brand recommends you never switch it off). I’m not sure anyone understands why this is, but my guess is the flow of electrons has some sort of effect on the signal path??? A bit like water cleaning a dusty pipe???

      So the interesting question is: can this happen to a camera as well? Well, my guess is the impact is greater on big components, which have a physical mass, and organic substances, such as transformers, capacitors … But, it would surprise me a lot if a camera had zero break in. Maybe not enough to notice, but it would be great to try making the same photos over and over again to test πŸ˜‰

      I think great photos are those that hold our attention for a long time, over and over again. The spectacular ones that draw us in immediately grab us first, but do not have a lasting effect. But those we took for a more subtle reason, and which we might not quite recall at the time of PP, have a way of creeping back into our attention when our mind “gets” it again. Those are probably more evocative photographs, with an open “message” that let us see something different at every passage ?


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