Musings on Photography

Camera Collector/Photographer/Both?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul Butzi on August 13, 2009

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Prompted by the comments this post over on Colin Jago’s Photostream blog, along with my recent purchase of two lenses, I’ve been pondering a bit about how people become photographers.

Some folks are drawn to photography because they want to make photographs. They never get too caught up in the camera or other gear itself. The camera is just a tool, like a hammer.

Other folks are drawn to photography because, well, they like cameras. Cameras are fascinating objects. These folks are really camera collectors – they spend their time acquiring cameras, looking with and fiddling with the cameras they own, looking for cameras and other gear to fill gaps in their collection. They learn the stories behind the cameras, worry about the nicknames of the designers, and so on. It’s just like stamp collecting, or coin collecting, or whatever – it’s just that the thing they collect is cameras. And, because there’s this weird social pressure to, you know, use cameras to make photographs, often these camera collectors take out the cameras and make photos with them.

In reality, of course, things are not quite so divided, and probably everyone at some point falls somewhere on the spectrum between pure photographer and pure camera collector. People’s position on the spectrum often changes over time; I was once a pretty avid gearhead camera collector guy, but lately it seems that mostly I’m interested in making photos. I might drift back – who knows?

There’s another spectrum – maybe a different, orthogonal axis – that runs from people who make photos to be making photos, and meanders along to people who make photos because they like fiddling with cameras and the photographic process. That might have been true more in the past, when there where a lot of amateur photographers who weren’t all that enthused about the making exposures bit but really enjoyed the whole process of developing film, making prints, and so on. Again, people probably change their motivations as time passes and they get more experience or get older, or whatever.

I don’t see any downside to any point in this vast space – camera collectors, photographers, people who love the photos, people in love with the process. One of the wonderful things about photography is that different folks come to it for different reasons, stay active in it with different motivations, and both bring different things to it and take different things away. The community of photographers is gloriously diverse.

This lends the entire enterprise of photography a sort of whimsical quality I find appealing. No matter what you’re up to photographically, your activity is going to appear to be quaintly eccentric to a vast majority of photographers. If you’re making photographs between your front door and your mailbox, that will appear insightful to the folks who are busily photographing between their garage and the wellhouse, and will probably get called ‘charmingly harmless’ by the people who are frantically trying to find a 1952 series 7 to 39mm filter adapter so that they can fit their recently purchased 1940 era Wratten 25 filter to their Soviet knockoff of a collapsible Summicron. And vice versa, of course.

Modern technology adds to the mix. It used to be that if you were interested in making photographs of Matchbox cars using a Leica M4 fitted with a Visoflex, not only would no one ever look at your photos but you’re never connect with the six other humans on the planet who shared your interest. Now, on the web, they can find you and you can find them. Beyond this being a lot of fun, I like to think it promotes world peace, if for no other reason that you’re less likely to call up your elected representative and urge him/her to drop a bomb on lower upper eastern west Hoofooistan if you know that one of the four people on the entire planet who, like you, are fond of photographing chocolates with SX-70 cameras happens to live in Hoofooistan.

And isn’t it nice to think that although we might be divided by politics and religion and ideology and a host of other big issues, we might ultimately be united because we share these eccentric interests with other people all over the planet?

5 Responses

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  1. Andrew said, on August 13, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    So true. Interestingly, I did not care a hoot about cameras until I became serious about photography. Then, like a craftsperson with their tools, I began to learn that each is unique in its purpose and design. I have several cameras now and for the most part they don’t overlap much. I appreciate what they each bring to the process and the end product. But the trouble is, there are times when I can’t decide which one to use. Then I begin to wish for the simplicity of a single hammer. But always, in the end, it’s about the picture.

  2. Martin Doonan said, on August 14, 2009 at 1:38 am

    Can I be a collector of photographic techniques and the results thereof, please? I have a bunch of cameras, I take a bunch of photos. But I like to have the cameras for the way they enable me to achieve certain results and I enjoy the act of producing a variety of photographs. Not so much one or the other but the convolution of the two.
    In some ways it’s a lot like the way I use laguage: English has all these great words and gammatic forms and it’s fun using them in all their variety to suit different situations.

  3. Stephen said, on August 14, 2009 at 4:03 am

    I think there’s also a 3rd category that may be infered in your post and that’s the ‘photo science buff’ who dearly loves the technology of methodology of photography as a discipline. Sensors, FPS, ISO, WB, light and it’s wonderous calculations coupled with the study of the theory of composition and ‘technically’ correct photography.

    While I think everyone should get to grips with the basics of the science and method of photography, it’s clear from a cursory browse around the main photo hosting sites, that some of the best shots (from my humble perspective) are those taken by someone with an deep appreciation for their own ocular ability. If you can frame a shot in your minds eye, many of the other ‘vices’ become redundant.

    In summary though, I think that really accomplished photographers should aspire to have elements of all of these personas.

  4. Adam Maas said, on August 14, 2009 at 7:15 am

    I’ve found that I’m sort of an odd mix of both. My primary interest is in the photography itself, but I have a strong interest in the gear side of things as well. This is something that has followed me through all of my hobbies (I’m a passable Bike Mechanic with extensive knowledge of bicycle design and tech from the past 20 years due to my interest in riding, I can discuss airgun design quite knowledgeably after playing paintball for 6 years, etc). I’d suspect that this is simply a result of my engineering background. I feel the need to understand how things work and have good knowledge of a given system, but my primary focus is and always will be the photography that results from it.

  5. Oren Grad said, on August 14, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    I love my cameras as cleverly designed and sometimes beautifully crafted objects. I love to fiddle and tinker and play with them. I love to make pictures with my cameras and see how the pictures come out, and to make pictures with my different cameras and see how they come out differently. I love to see what the world looks like when photographed. I love to go for a long walk, looking at things and seeing things and making pictures and then not making pictures and then making pictures again. I love to look through pictures that I made yesterday and six months ago and twenty years ago, and to remember what the things and people and places in my pictures were like then and what it felt like to see them and use my cameras to make pictures of them.

    I love the whole mess and can’t get enough of it.


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