Let me start off by saying this: I’m usually not the type of guy to follow trendy self-help gurus or guides. I couldn’t be less interested in what people like Tony Robbins, Dale Carnegie or Deepak Chopra have to say about anything. More power to you if they or their books improved your life, but for me, they’re only a few steps ahead and one generation behind Instagram influencers and a few generations ahead of carpetbaggers and snake oil salesmen.
But, and I say this begrudgingly, there are a few interesting ideas out there. Which is how we come to Marie Kondo — the one self-help guru that has taught me a valuable lesson.
If you haven’t heard of Kondo before, she is the author of four books and the creator of the KonMari Method, which stresses the power of “tidying up” to achieve inner peace. Kondo and her method have exploded in popularity after she got her own Netflix show.
If you want the “tl;dr” on her system, it’s that you should hold all your stuff in your hands and see whether it sparks in you a sense of joy. If it does, you keep the object. If it doesn’t, it gets chucked. I like the approach for its simplicity. It doesn’t require that you define that joy, or give it a value judgement. Joy equals good in this case, which makes decision-making much easier.
I don’t think Marie Kondo’s method could be considered one of minimalism. In theory, all of your stuff could spark joy and you wouldn’t get rid of anything. But, in most cases, applying her rules almost inevitably results in a reduction of belongings. There’s only so much joy to go around and often way too many material objects.
Minimalism and the people that live a minimal lifestyle are endlessly fascinating to me. I totally agree with the mentality and believe it’s positive for mental health. I love tiny houses, sparse decoration, and the idea of only owning three shirts. The thought of living in a van for a few years is exhilarating to me.
Having said that, I was dealt a genetically bad hand when it comes to being a minimalist. There’s something in my blood that makes me enjoy being a collector of things. I have dozens of highway maps, I always buy certain records when I find them in vinyl shops, and I have a pull box at my local comic book store. My brain would likely be much more calm without these things, but I just can’t quit them.
It’s a lot like how I completely believe that a vegetarian or pescatarian diet washed down with water is the most healthy way to eat, but I also really love pork, Doritos and Coors Original.
So when I started shooting film again, a whole new world of collectable things opened up before my eyes. A world with brands that no longer existed, but who spent decades creating lenses, cameras and accessories that (at the time) could be snatched up and collected for pennies on the dollar. Laid out before me within the digital bazaar were camera bodies, lenses, flashes, light meters, straps made during a half dozen presidential administrations, junk, gems, and knick knacks galore. I plowed ahead, and over the next five years amassed a not insignificant collection of camera gear. I was limited only by my bank account and a very small number of tiny dusts. (That’s a Japanese eBay seller joke, in case you need it explained.)
Laid out across the digital bazaar were camera bodies, lenses, flashes, light meters, straps made during a half dozen presidential administrations, junk, gems, and knick knacks galore. I was limited only by my bank account and a very small number of tiny dusts.
For a long time I focused on acquiring, and relied on every trope photographers use to convince themselves to spend their hard-earned money. “This lens will take me to the next level.” “Maybe a different film format will spark some creativity.” “You can’t take money with you when your dead.” “Life is entropy, cameras are salvation.” The justifications were endless.
Fortunately, so were the opportunities to travel and make use of all this stuff. I’m going to Lisbon this weekend? What a great time to break in that new Minolta! A week in Krakow? Saddle up, pierogi, and pack the Rolleicord!
Then the pandemic hit and things like travel, motivation and focus started to shrivel up like prunes on a porch.
A few weeks ago, while spending the weekend in my apartment, doing the same vegetative dance that I’ve performed every five days for five months, I finally got sick of looking at all the camera stuff. What was once a reminder of questionable purchasing decisions was now a reminder of having photographed nothing of merit in nearly six months.
Then there’s the question of stewardship. How many of these cameras could find a new home and help someone else discover or develop a passion for photography? And on the reverse side, is there someone out there struggling because of a lack of gear that would otherwise thrive if they had my unused equipment. In truth, I was feeling more like a hoarder and less of a photographer (also, I realized long ago that I don’t really jive with the concept of collecting camera gear in the first place). The one thing that was clear was that I needed to make a change.
So I started pulling stuff out, picking it up and doing my best Howard Hughes impression as I asked myself, “Does this bring me joy?” (So far the lockdowns have not driven me to madness, or repeatedly asking to see the blueprints. But it’s not far off.)
Some answers came quickly, both in the affirmative and the negative. But many were more difficult to pin down, falling somewhere in the middle. So I thought I would share my thought process on what’s staying with me, and what will soon find a new home.
Out with a working Nikon, in with a broken one
Here we have a perfectly capable camera – one of the best that Nikon ever made, according to some. It’s capable of doing just about anything, and more than 90 percent of what the F6 can do at a fraction of the cost. The F100 was my companion on one of the best photo road trips I’ve ever taken, and gave me some of my favorite images. So I was surprised to pick it up and feel a noticeable lack of joy coursing through my veins. The chances are high that this one comes back to bite me, but for now it’s adios amigo!
But I have two much invested in Nikon glass to walk away willy nilly. Which is what I think as my gaze moves over to my F4. Two years ago while flying 40,000 feet above the north Atlantic, the AA batteries in my F4 started to leak. A few days later when I finally discovered the damage, it was beyond repair. Since then it’s sat collecting dust in a cabinet. You could (though I doubt successfully) make the argument that the F100 is the better camera. It’s certainly more modern. But only a few seconds after picking up the F4, there was no doubt I would be keeping the inoperable F4 and selling the near-mint F100. There’s something about the design of the camera, its impeccable lens compatibility and absolute unit ruggedness that made me choose it over the newer F100. The F4 is my ride or die for life.
Is two broken TLRs better than none? No.
Two cameras sit on my bookshelf as decorative fixtures, showing everyone who sees them that I’m not just a photographer, but a quirky photographer. They’re both twin-lens reflex cameras, one German and one Russian, and neither functions in any respectable way.
The first is a Rolleicord, the Jeremy to the Rolleiflex’s Jason Giambi. It’s a beautiful camera that’s roughly 90 years old. It was my first experience with a TLR and also quite brief. Midway through the second roll of film, the focusing knobs somehow were disconnected and the camera is no longer able to focus. The second is a Lubitel, made by LOMO in the former Soviet Union. Either the translation from Russian to English wasn’t accurate in the camera’s online listing or I’m unable to read. Either way, the camera arrived with a non-functioning shutter.
One of these might be worth fixing, and both are interesting pieces of home decor. But neither will be staying rent-free in my apartment for much longer.
I’m (finally) done with point and shoots
In the last year I bought an Olympus mju II and a Minolta Hi-Matic AF2. It was the second time I bought each camera, and I paid much more for both the second time around. Both were companions on my first European vacation and I think my brain mistakenly attributed the overall awesomeness of that trip with each and every camera I packed. (You would be shocked how many I actually carried on that trip.)
The mju II I bought more practically to be an everyday carry. I got it for a good price, or rather a good price for the mju II market. It’s truly the most portable 35mm camera I’ve ever used, but I’m simply not blown away by the results. That has been a recurring experience that sounds like the old definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. When I sit and hold these two in my hands, it’s not joy I feel, but buyer’s remorse.
The only slam dunk was the stuff with “the bad reputation”
I don’t think most people would assume that the part of my collection most obviously untouchable for resale was the stuff made in a Socialist country with a shaky reputation for quality. Well let me tell you something, comrade, there wasn’t a second’s hesitation when it came to the Pentacon Six and the four Carl Zeiss Jena lenses that go with it. Because it’s a key part of the big photo project I’ve worked on over the last three years, I use the Pentacon more than any other camera I own. I’ve come to understand it – its quirks and personality traits. I’ve invested in it, having the lenses professionally serviced and investing in accessories that heightened the experience of using this medium format system. What about all the criticisms of the camera’s reliability? They have proven to be as realistic as the goals of East Germany’s five-year economic plans.
Why do I keep buying zooms?
Zooms suck. I suck. You think that’s enough overlap to make this relationship work out. Look, it’s time for some real talk. It’s time to come to Jesus, y’all.
Old zooms suck. They just do. Yeah, there are plenty of you out there that have or will choke (or at least guffaw) from reading this. That’s okay. There are always naysayers when The Truth comes down off the mountain. They’re soft, they’re slow, they vignette like the fade at the end of a Buster Keaton movie. And even if you’re shooting new ones, they’re heavy and cumbersome.
Alright, there’s a small amount of hyperbole going on here. Zoom’s aren’t universally awful (as James has previously written.) I actually think Canon’s current 24-70mm f/2.8 is one of the best multipurpose lenses ever made, and I say that as someone that doesn’t care much for Canon. But lenses just don’t gel for me. I think the many advantages of prime lenses when it comes to image quality far outweigh the convenience of a zoom lens. So why do I own three zoom lenses? The three whose fate lies before me, Nikon’s AF 35-70mm f/2.8, 80-200mm f/4.5 AI-S and Minolta’s Rokkor 35-70mm f/3.5 are each well-reputed lenses and were class leaders when they debuted. I’ve even previously verified the sleeper hype of the Nikon mid-range zoom.
They’re all probably fine lenses, but I never find myself picking them up and giving them some exercise. It’s time to let someone else give these lenses some love. I’ve come around to the peace of mind that comes with accepting who you are as a person. I am but a simple prime lens shooter. Thus, the zooms must go.
Some accessories, but mostly not
I’ve found that accessories are a mixed bag, and I’ve given some advice on good accessory buying. But I’m not beyond making mistakes. That thought hits hard as I exhale, stare, and wonder why I own three Minolta battery grips and even more old Minolta flashes. Then there’s the pile of cheap filters that’s not even worth the time I would spend writing about them, let alone photographing and listing for sale.
Most of this stuff needs to go, either into the trash or online if it’s worth it. Old flashes don’t fetch much and old battery grips vary in price. It could be that, like me when I bought them, some poor soul is laying on the couch, romanticizing the concept of completionism and will spend actual money on this stuff. And maybe unlike me, they’ll actually put it to good use.
There is a purpose and place in your storage for accessories. I’ve found things like good straps, extra viewfinders and film holders are excellent at making life easier. But immediately after setting aside this surplus of junk, I already feel lighter, less weighed down, and my feeling of regret at buying them in the first place is slowly evaporating.
One man’s trash can also be his treasure
I will end on a weird note. Despite the aforementioned slander against point and shoot cameras, there is one that will always have real estate in my heart: the Nikon L35AF. My love for this camera damn-near entered cliche territory when I wrote about it in 2019, so I won’t wax poetic over it again. This temperamental old timer might have seen its last rolls, as the last three I have put through it were wound completely to the end by the camera’s motor. Every time I close the back door and push the shutter button to advance, it just winds and winds until the batteries or my ability to withstand misery are expended.
So it would be easy to think that this gets tossed on the “sell” pile. But I’ll be holding onto it. One reason is that it’s worth almost nothing the way it’s currently (mal)functioning. I just don’t have the heart to put this stud out to pasture with a “FOR PARTS” branding on its backside. But I’m not purely driven by economics, there’s a substantial amount of joy I get while holding my L35AF. (Broken, malfunctioning, infuriating, are also emotions that come to mind.)
It’s further proof that I will never be a true minimalist, but the camera still gives me joy and I agree with Marie, that joy should have a firm place in our lives (and camera kits.)
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