Monday, June 22, 2015

Photography of the Gods?

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Mark Twain once wrote, “Faith is believing something you know ain't true."

Faith, of course, is having trust, hopes and beliefs in someone or something. Faith often requires believing in someone or something which may or may not have any real, tangible, or scientific proof to back up those beliefs. Yet, even when faith has little to no corroborating evidence to substantiate its lofty claims, faith remains one of the most powerful human forces on the planet!

Some say you can move mountains with faith. I've yet to see anyone actually do that (except with a whole lot of earth moving equipment and lots of time to do so) but truth, no matter how allegorical or far-fetched, never seems to get in faith's way or in people's abilities and willingness to have faith in things that are, for the most part, impossible or highly improbable.

Remember the children's book, “The Little Engine That Could?” It's all about faith. It's a simple book designed to teach kids the value of  mountain-moving faith, leastwise mountain-climbing faith. In other words, faith in themselves and believing in their abilities and potentials. I 100% endorse teaching kids to believe in themselves and in what they might accomplish.  But that sort of belief goes beyond simple faith.

Mark Twain, as you likely already know, wasn't speaking about photography with his observation about faith – I'm pretty sure he was talking about things like politics and religion – but his words ring true even if you apply them to photography, certainly to photography gear.

These days, perhaps more so than at any time in the history of photography, many photographers seem to have incredibly deep faith in the belief that the best or the priciest or most popular gear, be it the latest cameras, glass, lights, or the newest software, will somehow make them better photographers, automatically yielding better pictures. Personally, I believe that requires a whole lot of faith in tools and machines and, often, at the expense of faith in one's self.

Obviously, there are cameras and lenses and more which help photographers deliver technically superior photographs. But, as famed photographer Andreas Feininger once noted, "Technically perfect photographs can be the world’s most boring pictures."

I'm not saying gear can't be a terrific help in our quests to produce better, make that more technically perfect photos. It certainly can be. (If that's what you're after.) Instead, I'm saying that overly relying on gear and software and expecting those tools to automatically make us better photographers and produce more memorable photographs simply ain't going to happen, I don't care how much faith you have in your gear.

Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer, wrote, “Faith is an oasis in the heart which can never be reached by the caravan of thinking.” It seems to me many photographers have that sort of faith when it comes to new and more technologically advanced gear. If they did not, so many of them wouldn't be lined up like caravans to purchase the latest in cameras, lights, computers and software, and gadgets and gizmos which promise to fulfill some carefully and intentionally marketed faith in said gear.

There are many apostles of gear and they are, of course, the manufacturers and marketing and sales people who hope to sell you all those faith-inspiring cameras and lenses and lights and digital
effects software and more. The apostles of gear often go to extraordinary lengths to foster and promote your faith in the gear they're touting. They do so with varying degrees of actual proof to back their claims, sometimes attempting it with little more than their word for it or the words of paid shills, I mean compensated apostles. You know,  famous or well-known photographers vouching for the products they're paid to tout, providing testimonials, honest or otherwise, to those products' divine powers by showing you photos snapped with the gear they're touting, photos that you or I may never be able to shoot for a variety of reasons which have nothing to do with the gear those apostles were using.

If photography had its own bible, it would include the Books of Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, and more. And like the actual bible, it would hope to convince you that the path to photo heaven lies in embracing, revering, believing-in and worshiping their divine products. "Put no camera before me." ~Canon or Nikon apostle. They, the apostles, would each tell you they are revealing “the truth,” even though that truth, according to each book, is comprised of worshiping and having faith in a different manufacturer or product. That truth, of course, is according to themselves and presented in ways that sets their words, and the use of their gear, as gospel.

Unfortunately for most photographers -- and fortunately for most manufacturers of photo products --   faith in gear isn't all that hard of a sell. The apostles of gear are well aware the masses of photographers yearn for this sort of faith. So many of the world's photographers, certainly those with less experience, hope their prayers for better and more god-like gear and tools will be answered and,  by embracing those god-like tools, they will be spirited ever closer to photo-heaven, a place where every photographer shoots nothing but awesome pics. The believers seek the light, the metaphorical light, of photo-Nirvana which that light symbolizes per the words of the photo-gear apostles and the gear they evangelize.

All this gear-evangelizing is likely the reason so many believers, i.e., so many of the faithful, continue to make offerings to the photo-gods by purchasing the many products the photo-gods send from photo-heaven. Many mere mortal photographers, certainly those amongst the faithful, tend to worship those products as gifts from the photo-gods' bounties. The faithful often come to believe that they, being the worthiest of aspiring photographers, have been personally chosen and invited to sit and partake of the photo-gods' bountiful tables.

Far be it for me to commit heresy and blaspheme or question the wisdom of the photo-gods and their apostles of faith-in-gear, but it seems to me the one true god of photography abides, if it abides at all, within you and not in your gear.

Temet Nosce.

That's Latin for "Know Thyself." I invoke the language of my ancestors, me being of Italian heritage and all, because I firmly believe that in ourselves, not our gear, our best work resides.

Speaking of gods, the pretty girl at the top, Ms. Tera Patrick, is a model who has been dubbed the Goddess of Glam by photographers and others... photographers and others other than myself, that is. But I totally agree with the moniker. If you're a glamour photographer, you'll have a hard time finding a glamour model who better fits that holy handle. 

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