simple living: advertising consumerism David Bailey photography
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The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and that applies to freedom from consumerism too. I came close to being had by the old serpent of gadgetitis lately, and it was the good old 30-day rule for new purchases that saved me from an unthinking purchase suckered by marketing. I might even make the purchase after 30 days, but I’ll make it for my own reasons.
I was looking at Everyday Minimalist’s pictures from China which are quite striking. I’ve never been to China so of course it will be striking because it’s new to me, but I was struck by gadgetitis was when she said
I took each and every shot with my amazing Canon G12 camera.
I will go as far as to say it is the best camera for a tourist because of it relatively light body compared to its packed features, the easy exposure dial on the left to adjust each shot, the amazing flip screen and overall awesomeness.
BF was cursing his heavy “professional” camera the entire 5 weeks, although he loved his wide lens option. He wished he had brought his Canon G11 as well, for quick (amazing) shots like mine.
I know how he feels – I have a couple of SLRs and if you’re going to shoot pictures that will be used in print or of anything that moves then it’s the only way to go – the larger sensor and the fact that the picture gets taken when you press the shutter button rather than some random but noticeable period of time afterwards means a digital SLR is the only way to go – for A4 size and up you need the quality, which is different from pixel resolution, and to capture the decisive moment you need the speed.
But they’re a bear to cart around, and don’t go in your pocket. Plus for some types of photography like street photography you change the action with a big SLR so you need something smaller, like EM’s Canon G12. Or in my case, my Canon Ixus 950
Pocket digicams don’t last forever with me, whereas my SLRs are still going, even my film ones, ‘cos they are in a bag when not actively used. I don’t know how people manage to keep their digicams in the sort of condition where they can sell them, perhaps they don’t take them out with them. I can see how girls have a chance keeping them in a handbag, but as a guy I stick the damn thing in a pocket. The trouble is that if you stick a pocket camera in you pocket, it gets to look like this. After a while, dust works its way into the lens mechanism and you get the dreaded E18 lens error. I’ve already had to dismantle this, taking out a bazillion tiny screws to get dust out of the lens mechanism. The only way I could do this was with compressed air, after which some of the dust lodged in the sensor cell so I get dark spots in the sky on bright days.
I use this one if I expect low light and the aperture wide open, and a secondhand Nikon coolpix 4500 for daytime digicam shots. And in general, the photos I took with those a couple of years ago, or their predecessors five years ago, are better than what I shoot now.
It’s not the camera that takes the picture, it’s you
I’ve read a fair few photography magazines in my time, and the spiel is always the same in both editorial and the ads, if you want to take great pictures, get a better camera. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? This advertising was imbibed over many years, all B.F. (before frugality). It still lies there in a corner of my mind, and rises like a snake-charmer’s cobra when I think of wanting to take better pictures.
It’s utter bollocks. The message is always something like:
Psst – wanna take pictures like David Bailey? Use the same camera as he does and you’re away!
For most consumer products, it’s true, because they are consumed passively – if you want to get the same features on your phone as David Bailey then use the same phone as him. If you want to look like Kate Middleton then wearing the same dress as her gets you some of the way there if you’re young enough and of her general physique. Unfortunately if you want to take the same sort of pictures as David Bailey then you really do need to be him. You need to go where he goes, have his contacts, and his vision. Even if I use the very same Olympus Trip as he did, his photos will be better than mine.
At least there is something noble about aspiring to be like a well-known photographer if you want to take pictures, even if it isn’t your camera that will make your pictures great. I detect the strong whiff of decadence in Nikon’s adoption of a well-known generic celebrity to market their current camera line. I had to look him up, because my first reaction was who the heck is Ashton Kutcher, I’d never heard of him? As soon as I saw a picture of him I knew he wasn’t a photographer. Real photographers usually look grizzled and weatherbeaten, rather than some Hollywood pretty boy. Let’s just say that when you Google Ashton Kutcher photography you get a load of pictures of him rather than by him.
I’ve got nothing against the guy, and good luck to him for earning a few more dollars. It’s more the social science of it. Either the ad company was lazy, and generalized the usual ‘if you want to get her look, wear her dress’ ad campaign. I hope so, because otherwise we’re all getting simple, and merely aspire to be minor celebrities by using the same Stuff.
So why are my pictures getting worse then?
It’s not that my camera is knackered. It’s what’s behind the viewfinder that is at fault. I am jaded, I am not living my values. Saving money means I haven’t been anywhere different on vacation for a while, apart from the odd work trip. What you put in front of your camera is half the work of making decent photographs, however, I live in a beautiful county of England and occasionally travel to London for work.
Let’s face it, tourists from other countries come to the UK for its sights and history, so it would be rude to use that as an excuse. And I’ve taken enough magazine features even in the last couple of years, so 40 years of experience is still working for me, I can get the light right and depth of field and all that jazz, and basic composition.
So I thought I’d go out into the pleasant Suffolk countryside and shoot some pictures with my old Nikon Coolpix (it was bright enough the Ixus will have spots in the sky from the dust).
I ran into this red-spotted moth, it’s a workmanlike record shot of what is probably a five-spot burnet. Or maybe a six. Something bored me about this so I figured I could try a bit better, the bugger’s trying to get out of the frame so it was time to see if I could nail him in context.
It’s better. It’s not a great picture, but it’s a step in the right direction, the moth should be pointing up a bit and shame about the moth antenna in line with the thistle spike. I wasn’t able to see subtleties like that on the screen in daylight.
Further on the light interplayed with the water-starved grain which is a sort of greeny-yellow compared to what I think it usually looks like.
All-in-all the trip served me well. it reminded me that it’s not my camera I need to fix, it’s me. That’s not to say I won’t get the G12, but it’ll be for the right reasons. Not because it will make my pictures better, because only I can do that. But because I’m tired of spotting the dust specks out of the sky with the Ixus in Photoshop, and because the flip out screen will enable me to shoot from lower down or higher up than the usual eye level. Perspective is another key aspect of getting better pictures, and eye level isn’t always the best vantage point for a lot of things – like the moth for instance.
Or I might wait, because the greatest weakness in my image taking system is my own inspiration, which is unlikely to be fixed for a year and a bit. I’m not David Bailey, the fire of photographic creativity doesn’t blaze from my very pores, it burns low at the moment. That’s the trouble with anything in the artistic line, it’s moody, and sometimes creativity just goes AWOL. And I learned the memes of advertising sleep for a long time just below consciousness. That is scary…