Sweet weeping Christ…. The climate of the photography world has turned grim with forecast winds likely whipping even more torturous in the coming months. Unless you’ve been living under a fairly girthy rock, and lets face it you’d still have your phone, you’ve likely noticed the complete saturation of your news feed with the latest announcements from Nikon and Canon. Yes, the two shoulder rubbing camera giants have entered the full-frame mirrorless camera ring.
Sony has enjoyed a solid dominance of the full-frame mirrorless nook ever since the release of the A7 series five years ago. Sitting back and watching gear dramas such as these unfold tells us more about ourselves as photographers than it does about the advancement of photography as a medium.
Bigger and better, or in this case, smaller and sexier, has been the low hummed mantra of the digital camera cult and my God the tune is growing louder and louder. As a flag-waving convert to full-frame Sony…I ponder these things. Why the complete fascination with the flash and glamour of the new? Is it that we need to hold the absolute latest model of everything regardless of the apparent regurgitation of warmed over features? Perhaps an even more likely machination is this: a carefully guarded portion of our own professional and creative psyche conceals a secret terror, one of perpetual inadequacy that we hope to fill with the promise of a messianic camera body.
Granted, there have been cameras which changed the entire field of photography; the Leica I, the Nikon F3, the estimable Kodak Brownie, Canon’s 5D MKII…these were pulled off the top of my greasy mind and of course there are more. The point is, while each of these cameras ultimately revolutionized both professional and hobby picture work there was consistently one thing that remained constant. A camera is a camera is camera…so at some point, a button must be pushed. This facility is manifested by the oft trembling finger of the photographer. The “when” the “what” and the “why” can never be decided by the camera autonomously and ultimately the tool is capable only of contributing the “how”. It is with this filter(picture jokes) that we must view any new advancement in photographic technology no matter how real or concocted it’s usefulness.
Let’s get back on track…or at least steer ourselves to a possible catharsis. This is not a call to arms for an open-season shakedown of photography marketership. From it’s earliest beginnings picture-making has been both an art and a business with one seeming to be constantly gaining ground on the other. This is the way of things. Yet it feels, at least to me, that the photographic arms race has shifted from one of legitimate competition to one of tired repetition.
Each successive “generation” of digital camera(with some exceptions) seem to be cut from the same iconographic cookie cutter with no true innovation coming from the fabled “big guys” of the camera industry for some time; the few true advancements reaching us through slow drips from the innovation faucet. This screams loud the simple truth we face but at times don’t care to accept: our faculties as photo makers has never been measured in megapixels or grains of silver. We become photographers when we are able to move people with our images. With no words an image on print or screen creates something inside of the viewer that was not there prior. While a new camera can indeed bring out new flavors in our work they have never, will never and should not EVER be placed on a shelf higher than the one occupied by our need to be expressors of self. No less than murder occurs when the caliber of the tool becomes more dear to the craftsman than the craft itself. There will be no new sunlight and the love of making pictures will quietly drain from us, if it was ever truly there in the beginning.
Photomaker, author, adventurer, educator, and self-professed bacon addict. You can usually find me on some distant trail making photographs or at my computer writing about all the elegant madness that is photography. Pick up a copy of my new photo book of wild pony portraits, Faces of Grayson.