Be An Artist (Not A Technician)

It astounds me how much many photographers obsess about technology: the devices they use, the medium, the sensors, noise, lenses, resolution, color depth, even the tripod! I get into this stuff whenever I’m in the market for a new camera or lens – but once I’ve made a decision and purchase, I couldn’t care less.

And yet, people continuously add hashtags to their photos shared online that identify their camera brand, lens, filter, and so on. I admit that I briefly did that myself at some point – but quickly found that I don’t want to belong to a certain clique, based on the camera that I use (“#nikonshooters” for example). For the same reason, I’m using a third party camera strap (I find the Nikon yellow-on-black simply horrible). I don’t want to be identified as a “<brand> shooter”. Not online, and not in real life. It’s just not important.

I can see that exposure data can be interesting. I can learn something from looking at a photo and seeing what aperture was used, and what exposure time – but knowing that a photo was made with a Nikon camera? It doesn’t teach me anything.

It appears to me that this is a search for validation among peers (but what for?), and perhaps also showing off a certain status (“look, I can afford the latest and greatest”), or maybe chasing the pipe dream of garnering the attention of a brand representative, hoping to get a sponsorship. Considering the sheer number of people who are doing this now it’s probably more likely to be struck by lightning – but until it happens, “lets give their marketing department a hand!”

This also begs the question: why stop there? Why not continue and also add hashtags for the brand of computer, the display, the hard drive, the card reader? Somebody already went there of course, albeit not a photographer: on every Tom Harrison map, you’ll find “Created on Macintosh” somewhere at the edge of the map. How does that make the map any better?

I’ve been told that food bloggers actually have a similar habit: they mention the brand of pots and pans and knifes and kitchen utensils they’re using. How does that matter to the outcome of a recipe? “This onion was proudly chopped with a <brand> ceramic knife on a <brand> bamboo cutting board” …and it’s still just a chopped onion. And does lasagna taste better when it’s baked in a conventional or in a convection oven? Transferred to the world of photography, there would undoubtedly be a camp that would hashtag their lasagna recipes: #BelieveInConventional – which is not meant to be a judgment of course, it’s solely so that conventional oven lovers can find and follow each other, I know, I know…

Painters will probably tell you which paint and medium they used (“acrylic on canvas”), but do they mention the brand and type of brush they used? Perhaps some have already reached that low, and for the same reason that photographers and food bloggers do it but thankfully, I have yet to see it.

Art and composition are subjective and can hardly be measured or defined. These uncertainties of art itself lead to insecurity, and artists are insecure creatures – so I wonder: do cameras and sensors, film and lenses, and their measurable properties and qualities provide some sort of validation? Lines per inch, pixel density, frame rate, dynamic range, color depth, maximum aperture?

By contrast, you can’t measure creative expression rationally, you can’t quantify composition, you can’t put a direct value on aesthetics. These are, and will probably forever remain, the great unknowns of art.

If we’re talking about photography as a means to personal expression, and the joy of preserving and/or interpreting one’s own experience of the world, then all you need to do is be yourself, express yourself. Be an artist, not a technician. You don’t need anyone else to truly validate the art you create – only you can do that…


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14 thoughts on “Be An Artist (Not A Technician)”

  1. Well said Alex! I think a big part of this hashtag culture is down to the social media platforms (looking at you Instagram). Photography as a medium was democratised at the same time that social media exploded, and this is the net result.

    Oh, incidentally, one of the first things I did when I bought my 6D was to replace the strap with a no-brand plan black one. I remember hating at the time how Canon was identifying even the model on the strap. Made it all so “look at me!” I just couldn’t stand it.

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  2. Oh yes. I couldn’t agree more. I pay no attention to gear bs – good work stands on it’s own. Poor work will sooner or later sink into the oblivion it so richly deserves, and neither is a matter of brand of gear.

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  3. I totally agree with what you have said here, especially since I use a camera that’s not in the “popular” ones. LOL The one place where the type might matter is the “Convection or conventional oven”. It might indeed affect it because one cooks faster than the other and depending what the directions are for could be burned or under-cooked. :-) Anyway, great article. I think if you have some artistic ability you can do well with any kind of gear.

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  4. Hear hear! I dropped out of a camera club because I was the only one with a mirrorless camera and I was looked down upon. Well, obviously I wouldn’t have gotten much out of that experience anyway, if that’s the mindset. Seattle can be overly techie-centered for obvious reasons. I’m sorry to say it but overemphasis of competitive techtalk does tend to be more of a guy thing. And who wants to advertise for these big companies by using their name-emblazoned straps?
    But here’s what’s more important – that gorgeous photo you posted! I’ve never heard of a Chamise tree…I had to look it up. This is one beautiful composition. I love the sprawling, crooked branches, the detail and the colors.

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    • Oh, it is absolutely a guy thing, there’s no need to say sorry! You know that our brain halves aren’t as well connected as the girls’ and many of us aren’t operating on the same plane when it comes to artistry, I’d say (we have a couple of other deficiencies too;-). I’m happy to hear that you like the photo! The Chamise may look like a tree in it, but it’s really a shrub here in the chaparral. I need to get its portrait done! :)

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      • Well. everyone has deficiencies and strengths, right? But I appreciate your graciousness. Shrubs and trees…sometimes the distinction can be hard to see. I remember when I googled the Chamise, most of the images were shrubbier than these, which must be pretty mature. I like the way you turned a chaos of branches into a flowing composition.
        One “bible” for PNW plants is Pojar & Mackinnon’s Plants of Coastal British Columbia (it includes parts of OR, WA and AK). They say “shrubs are woody plants less than 10m tall when mature and usually multi-stemmed.” Vine maple, Douglas maple & Beaked hazelnut all land in there and by most people they would be called trees. I get that they’re smaller and often don’t have jut one trunk. Willows, too. What gets me crazy is having the little Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) in there with the “trees.” :-)

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        • This one is certainly more mature, indeed. It’s a nice and big one. If I were to name the difference between a tree and a shrub, it would be that a tree has a bare stem (as long or short as it may be) before it branches into one way or another of a crown, whereas a shrub is “crown all the way”, if that makes any sense… :)

          Reply

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