People sometimes ask me what I do for work. Good question. What is my job at Casual Photophile. Author, editor, founder, photographer; these apply, sure. But let’s be honest. It’s more accurate when I attach my name to the job title that I invented when I started this site. If I’m anything at all, I’m a Professional Camera Liker.
But now and then I get the impression that, for some people, this isn’t enough. You see it in the comments here on occasion. But the tension between “craft” and “collecting” is most apparent in the wider online world, on places like Instagram and YouTube, where it’s easy to stumble into arguments between those who identify as photo-centric and those who identify as camera-centric within the hobby/profession of photography.
The whole conflict is kind of pointless, but it’s also prevalent enough that, here I am, writing an article about it.
To start, let me state my position: I like cameras more than I like photos. I can hear the collective gasp!
But I’m not alone. Plenty of my readers simply love playing with cameras. We love the feel of them, the noises they make, the history of the machines and the people who made them. We stare into the crystal depths of the 55mm F/1.2 Nikkor, lost in the dusky innards of the optical assembly which we know, because we care about things like that, is a double Gauss design comprised of seven elements in five groups.
We also know, incidentally, that ninety-nine out of a hundred photos we take with the thing will be shot with a wide open aperture and that all but three of them will be, inevitably, out of focus.
But we don’t care. We simply don’t. Because we have the camera, we have the lens. The “excellent photo” is one that we enjoy as a bonus. We take those with the others, the perfect three out of a technically terrible hundred. And that’s enough.
That’s not to say that we don’t love the act of photography. We love shooting the camera. We carry it and use it to make a lifetime of family photos. We revel in the haptics of it, at the mechanics and electronics and ithe object’s ability to make a photograph. But in the end, it’s the camera that matters, an obvious truth when you realize that we’re always ready and willing to chat the ear off of any poor passerby who happens to innocently remark, “I like your camera.”
“Oh, you like it? Did you know that the guy who designed it studied automotive engineering at Waseda University in Japan, and that at age twenty, before even graduating, he’d already designed his first camera? And did you know that it was originally called the M1, but then they had to change the name? Do you know why they had to change the name? Do you? Of course you do, we all do. **knowing eye-roll** Leica.”
Yeah, for many of use (though we don’t all admit it) the thing itself is the most important thing. The photo is secondary.
But for other (very vocal) people, this perspective is bonkers. It’s anathema to the whole damn thing. For these types, the photo is paramount. It is, in fact, the only thing that matters. And they seem to take it personal when others don’t agree. Other people putting the camera first betrays the hobby and the art and the science of photography, with a capital P, to which they’ve pledged their lives.
Don’t ask these people what camera or lens they used to take a given photo. They don’t like that. You’ll find yourself a ghost, floating above your corpse, looking down from heaven as they hold your detached head aloft and scream to the sky, “Would you dare ask DaVinci which brush he used?!”
I’ve not encountered anyone who recognizes this phenomenon (and shines a light on it) so well as my friend, Matt Wright. Matt runs a site called Leica Lenses For Normal People, and his articles often touch on the push and pull between photography and camera-liking. He calls cameras “Legos” and calls collecting them “playing at cameras.”
His lens reviews are (extremely) pragmatic. They scythe mercilessly at the marketing buzzwords and lay bare the reality, the pulpy root that bokeh is over-rated and that sharpness is a moot point if the photo is a good one. His opinions are the opposite of those of the tone bros and influencers of the film and digital photography blogs and YouTube channels. While reading his work I can almost see his wry smirk. He really gets it. That it’s fine to love photography, and it’s fine to love cameras, and everyone should know who they are, accept who they are while understanding that it’s okay to think the other way, and that all of us should just get along.
I can’t recommend his writing enough. Read his site for a month. You may never stress about chromatic aberration again, and it may change your idea of what it means to engage with the hobby photography.
To be perfectly fair, I don’t exactly know the purpose of this article that I’ve written and that you’ve now read. I was simply holding my beloved Nikon SP mere moments ago and noticed that my brain went, “I haven’t taken a picture with this in about three months.”
I felt a sudden rush of something like anxiety – Why do I have this camera if I’m not taking pictures with it? Have I ever taken a good picture with this four-thousand-dollar camera? Have I ever taken a good picture, period? (Or I guess, question mark).
And then I thought, “Wait, do I give a damn?”
Well, I don’t. And just because other people might, that doesn’t change the number, nor the intensity, of the damns I give. It’s still zero.
Thus, this article has landed. And if this article is anything at all, it’s perhaps nothing more than a knowing nod, a hand rested lightly on the shoulder (or raised exubirantly in high five) to you, a fellow camera liker.
If you’ve ever felt like a fraud, that your pictures aren’t good enough to justify the time, energy, and expense of this hobby, don’t worry about it. You’re not alone. Enjoy yourself and enjoy your cameras. Read about them here and on the other great websites which share your perspective. Ignore the faux-high-minded criticisms of others.
Buy some cameras and lenses. And in the meantime, use the ones you’ve got. Shoot some shots. Enjoy the rare good ones. As the expression goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.
And if you’re of the type who values the photo over the camera, and can’t understand those of us who simply love cameras, just relax. Enjoy your hobby and I’ll enjoy mine.
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