photography and photographs understood

Tools

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: Jul 2013; revised: Oct 2017; readers past month: 498

When I was a boy, I was fascinated by tools. If I went into a hardware store, I would look for a long time at the tools that were for sale and wanted them. I had no money to buy them and no reason for needing them: I was only eight years old when that fascination started to manifest itself. For me, tools were things that my father and grandfather used to make things: I would stand next to them in their sheds watching them work with tools. I wanted to be like them. It was a manly (as opposed to a boyish) thing to build and fix things with tools. The act of using tools and even possessing tools seemed to bring me closer to them. I still have tools, but over time I lost interest in possessing them. I have them now only to the extent that I need them.

Related to photography equipment, I sense feelings similar to those I once had for tools. When I was a boy, the adults had cameras. When the printed photos arrived a few days after a trip or an event, adults held them and they would look at them with great interest. Photos were the focal point of discussions during those moments. I would hear comments from the adults like, “That’s a nice picture you took” and “When I took this photo, I was trying [to do something or other]”. Making photos was what grown-ups did and admired. Now that I’m an adult, or rather now that I perceive myself as one, I should have a camera. If I want to perceive myself to be better than other adults, I should have a better camera—that seems logical. I know that many of us were taught as children that no one is better than anyone else. However, some people are better (e.g., smarter, stronger, prettier, etc.), and many of us want to be one of the better ones.

I’m speculating that what I have sought to achieve by getting a good camera is a sense of satisfaction, a feeling that I am an adult and I am better than others by having a better camera. However, the thing itself will not achieve the happiness I want, at least not for long. So I sometimes would think that I will find sustainable happiness with a better camera than the one I have, with more cameras and more lenses. To that end, I have bought more and more, better and better equipment. You can see this obsession in the photo, which was taken in December 2008 of my equipment closet. At one point I had thirteen cameras and seven lenses. I had more money in photography equipment than the cost of a nice new car, but had no car. And yet, I was no happier and no better as a result of possessing them.

Equipment Closet

These things alone won’t do it, they won’t achieve sustainable happiness, as I realized a few years ago. The satisfaction that I seek has to develop within me.

I work in the computer business. I’ve worked as a programmer and done other such work, and now I write about computer software. But I am not fascinated by computers—not even a little—perhaps because adults did not have them when I was a boy. I’m interested only in what a computer can do for me. I’m not interested in the thing itself. For me, a computer is just a tool—in a true utilitarian sense, not like they were for me when I was a boy.

To enjoy truly cameras and related photography equipment, I believe, you have to be interested only in what they can do for you. To the extent that a camera you do not own will allow you to do what you cannot do with the one that you do own, you might shift from one to the other. For instance, if you own a Leica M8 camera, you might sell it and buy a Leica M9 to get a full-frame sensor to produce higher quality digital images. But there’s generally little need to keep the M8 when you buy the M9. To the extent that you do not have time or energy for every form of photography possible, you might let go of certain forms and concentrate on that which gives you the most pleasure. For instance, you might have a minor interest in macro photography and photographing birds, but prefer street photography much more. In which case, you may do better not to spend time on macro or wildlife photography, and you therefore probably don’t need macro lenses or large zoom lenses.

Based on my realization mentioned earlier of developing satisfaction within me, and assessments like in the previous paragraph, over a year ago I began a retraction, consolidation, migration plan. I sold all of the cameras and lenses I didn’t want or need. I put most of the money from the sales into my home, buying furniture and household items I needed and that would be of use to me and any woman who might live with me. I did buy some new photography items with some of the money, but I ended with less equipment overall. The one new camera I bought was a digital rangefinder to replace the digital aspect of the SLR camera I sold. Now, I have only two cameras (a Zeiss Ikon and a Leica M8.2) and three m-mount lenses that work with both cameras.

As result of the implementation of this plan, I feel better and I’m concentrating on how to use my cameras and lenses better, how to get them to do what I want them to do. By focusing on what I can do with my camera, and not focusing on the camera itself, I think I’m becoming a better photographer. I think that that’s making me more of an adult and helping me to be a better person in a truer sense and in more ways than one.