“It’s not the camera that makes the photograph, it’s the photographer” – or is it?
I recently read an article in The British Journal of Photography… it was an interview with Magnum photojournalist, Raymond Depardon. The veteran French photographer – now in his early 70s – was asked, “What are your fears now?” His answer surprised me, considering he is rated as an A-lister in the world of photography… but, at the same time, I totally related to it.
“As an older man, death, of course, but that’s not in my control, so what I really worry about is thinking about what camera to use on my new work. Should it be shot in colour or black and white, and what format?”
I totally get that, the bit about death, obviously… however, at 45 years-old I’m hoping that the Grim Reaper is quite a way off yet. But the other bit about equipment probably resonates with a lot of photographers. I’m not a ‘gear freak’ – I’m interested in cameras for what they do, not for what they look like or what name they have etched across the front of them. I’ve owned and used a lot of different cameras… I think the key word there is ‘used’ – I’m not a camera collector, I buy equipment to use, to experiment with, sometimes I’ll buy a camera or a lens for one specific job or project. If I’m not using any one piece of hardware, I’ll sell it.
But Depardon’s anxiety rings true. In September I’m heading down to France for a few months to shoot a project, documenting the lives of migrant surfers, and already I’m wracked with worry about equipment – What cameras shall I take? 35mm and medium format? Do I take digital too, or will this make me lazy and I’ll end-up not shooting any film? Is the Fuji GW690 film camera actually suitable for this project? Am I even going to be able to shoot the whole project on film anyway?! All of these decisions will, ultimately, dictate how the final body of work ‘looks’ (and sells…)
So, back to the original point… I’m afraid that to a certain extent, it is the camera – or more accurately – the lens of the film or even the digital editing software that ‘makes’ the photo. If you want that creamy, out of focus background in a portrait, or the frame-filling impact of a lion eating a gazelle, then you’re going to need to invest in some very expensive glass… you aren’t going to achieve it with a Sony Alpha and kit lens or an iPhone. And if you want your images to look like they’ve been shot on film, then you’re going to have to buy an analogue camera and a few rolls of film. Sorry…