THE CAMERA - TOOL, FRIEND or BOTH?
10th August 2019
I was asked to write an article for the December 2018 issue of Medium Format Magazine (http://mediumformat.com). It is a subscription based magazine which I can highly recommend not only to those that use MF cameras but, given the contributors and content, to all those with an interest in the art of photography. The article below titled "The Camera - Tool, Friend or Both" was my submission; hope you enjoy it and, as always, comments welcome.
"The landscape is my studio.
Wherever I am in the world, either by request or on a personal project, my studio presents an unpredictable environment.
Temperatures can vary from minus 40 to plus 40 degrees. Atmosphere varies from air so dry it hurts to take a breath to humidity that is off the scale and covers everything in moisture. Weather that can change in an instant and create what we would describe in the U.K. as four seasons in a day. Winds that can vary from dead calm to gale force.
And, arguably, the most important of all, light that varies from beautiful to non-existent.
This is my studio, and it represents nature at its worst and at its best. It’s uncontrollable and unpredictable which makes it both exciting and challenging.
In this environment, my camera is no more than a tool that needs to deliver. Rooted to a sturdy tripod or hand held in a helicopter, it is an expensive paint brush that must respond to, and endure, the prevailing conditions and also provide the means to realise my vision.
But it’s more than that.
Whilst my wife and I represent Hocking Photographic and travel together, more often than not, when I’m behind the camera, I’m alone in my own world.
At this point the camera is more than an expensive paint brush. More than a tool. It is a companion, a friend, the best friend I have at that moment given my objective for being there. Like all friends, it needs to be dependable and reliable, to inspire confidence and to deliver on its promises of image quality, ease of use and durability.
Did I have these thoughts or expectations of a camera when I started in digital photography? Absolutely not.
When I decided to relieve myself of the corporate overcoat that was hanging heavy on my shoulders, my wife decided that new challenges were required to keep me from interfering with her day. She bought me a Canon 20D and a few Canon “L” lenses. This was my introduction to digital photography. A system purchased by my wife, a desire to take photographs in the landscape and no idea what the future might hold.
I had no idea what I was doing, but I found the ignorance to be refreshing. I approached the process of learning both the camera features and functions and the art of photography as a game, uninhibited and unencumbered by convention. Over time, the game became a serious challenge to push both the camera and myself.
With more knowledge, I became more familiar. With greater familiarity, I became more demanding and those demands required greater knowledge. The virtuous circle was complete but, throughout the process, which endures to this day, my excitement and enthusiasm for more is only matched by the desire to remain free to do my own thing.
Of course, over the years there have been many photographers, much better than me, who have influenced, advised and guided me on my journey. I remain eternally grateful for their support and the fact that all of them encouraged me to remain a free spirit.
Therefore, unlike some of my contemporaries, I don’t “make images”!
I "take photographs" and when I’m investing in a camera I’m looking for a “system” that offers optimum quality when working in “my studio”, without breaking either the bank or my back as I haul it through the landscape.
A “system” includes native lenses which satisfy my style of photography; I don’t subscribe to attaching third party lenses via an adaptor, especially if the camera manufacturer has a reputation for creating superb glass. In my opinion, integrated, end-to-end design will always outdo a system stuck together with so-called best of class components.
The “systems” that have supported my journey and my increasing demands in digital photography over the last 10 or so years can be represented in terms of the raw file acronyms of the cameras I have purchased i.e. CR2, 3FR, IIQ, NEF, ARW and, currently RAF with the Fujifilm GFX50S.
Did the changes in “systems” make me a better photographer? Absolutely not. However, it did give me a better appreciation of the good, the bad and the ugly of expensive paint brushes in the context of my “studio”.
The observant will notice from the acronyms that I have dabbled in the past with medium format with both Hasselblad and Phase One. Both produced amazing image quality but, at the time, neither could provide the reliance and reliability I was looking for. Neither became the friend that I needed to inspire me and support my vision.
Sometimes serendipity plays an important part in life’s choices and so it was with my return to MF. A friend was interested in the Fujifilm GFX50S. I arranged a trial via another friend. I bought. He didn’t.
Optimum image quality delivered at a price and weight which broke neither the bank nor my back.
However, the Fujifilm GFX50S has not only delivered the image quality, it has also become my best friend in the field. The one I have dreamt about for many years.
It inspires the confidence I need for me to realise my vision. It supports my creativity by being familiar in my hand and, therefore, familiar in my head.
My thoughts can be focused directly on what’s in front of me and not how I’m holding the paint brush or applying the paint.
But, like all friends, the Fujifilm GFX50S can’t be taken for granted; the 50 plus megapixels and medium format is prone to bite those who either don’t respect it, take it for granted or are sloppy in their interaction.
This is one of those times when familiarity does not breed contempt, but rather enables me to be a more relaxed and thoughtful photographer who just wants to pick up the camera and take photographs.
I believe there is an adventure lurking around all the unexplored nooks and crannies on our planet and in our gear. I never know what the adventure might be or how it will unfold, but I know that by keeping an open mind and remaining optimistic, it will be good to great, be amazing fun and inform the photographs I take now and in the future.
This positive attitude enables me to more easily accept the conditions as presented to me, to be excited with what is in front of me and, in accepting my lot and working with what I have, to capture the emotion I feel at the time.
My wife, Fre, has a saying, “if you don’t feel it, don’t shoot it”. I agree, up to a point.
Often, I will be on location, anticipating or hoping that something will happen but unable to describe, either emotionally or figuratively, what it will be. At these moments, I find it useful to practice what I preach to other photographers who say they are lost for ideas. Close your eyes and then describe what you see. I know this sounds stupid, but the very act of eliminating the most basic sense in photography, your vision, causes all the other senses to go into overdrive.
The noise, the temperature, the smells, the breath of wind on the face, all inform the “blind” photographer and help to establish not only the emotional connection with the landscape and nature around, but also the focus of any subsequent photograph as the eyes open and add light to the picture.
But the translation of these senses into a photograph cannot be rushed. In my mind and my style of photography, nature tends to move slowly, even in the middle of a storm. My rhythm needs to match it to produce the best results.
In everyday life, patience is an attribute that has passed me by. However, behind the camera I’m transformed into a model of patience as I give myself time to absorb and interpret the landscape and then wait for the picture to come to me.
Sometimes the magic happens and sometimes it doesn’t. The difference between the days of the Canon 20D to the current day Fujifilm GFX50S is that I no longer beat myself up when the magic doesn’t happen. It just means that the current adventure is not complete.
When the planets align and the magic happens, the process of taking the picture might be complete, but the process of creating a piece of art isn’t. In my workflow, creative post-processing is something that I start at the point of capture as I compose, expose and focus in consideration of my vision for the final output. The camera, with its strengths and weaknesses, is an integral enabler for that vision.
I will continue to demand more of myself and my camera system whilst remaining true to my vision.
I will continue to be a free spirit, searching for new experiences and adventures.
I will continue to do things in my way, unencumbered by convention.
I will continue to be eternally grateful for the support and advice received from others which informs my photography and, in return, will try to inspire others.
But, most of all, I will continue to be excited by, and have fun with, my familiar friend, my expensive paintbrush, my Fujifilm GFX50S".