“It’s not the camera…”

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“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…DSC_8083

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17 comments

  1. Successful photographers know that photography is a very technical art form and the best understand that choice in equipment, software, film, chemistry and other factors is very important to the finished product or the artists’ vision. Talent is important but so is practice and patience.

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  2. I think it is the vision of the photographers that dictates the final output. This includes the choice of the tools you use to get the result you want. Sometimes you may have to settle for a compromise as you can not always take (or afford) all of your available equipment or know in advance what you will find out there in the world. Making the most with what you have at any given moment is an art in itself.

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  3. Definitely agree that the gear can make a difference. For me it’s which lens to use. I’m a freelens photographer, and so the right lens can make all the difference in what I’m trying to portray. I have found a go-to lens which is my 40mm macro. It works great for both close-ups and distances when freelensing.

    I use film as well, but I have used rolls building up. I was hoping to start working with caffenol this month but money has left me waiting for another month or two. I need to buy a few tools before I can officially start developing. Once I’m at that point, I really want to try out my Pentax K1000, but it needs a lens. My poor Canonet broke during it’s second or third roll of film.

    Aside from gear/media, it’s definitely the photographer who gets it all started. We see the image before we press the shutter, and know what we want to see on the negative (or the computer). I mean, we can’t blame paintbrushes for the Mona Lisa, right? But I’m pretty sure Leonardo da Vinci knew which ones to use😉

    Interesting article!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When I was young and starting out, I heard that all the time from more experienced photographers… it’s not the camera. But then learned that each camera, the lens, and the film had their own character, and once I got intimate with the camera, I could get the most out of it if I went with the camera and didn’t force it. Some shots are only possible with certain equipment.

    Liked by 1 person

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