During artwalk at the studio I had a conversation with a couple of young military people about my work. They were initially taken by some of larger prints and the question that bristles most photographers comes up, “What kind of camera do you use?” I usually hesitate a moment to decide how to answer and ask if they are familiar with full frame dslrs. If so then we can have a more technical conversation about gear, something photographers seem to enjoy. But if not, it gets a little trickier. After a brief explanation regarding sensor sizes I tell them I shoot a Canon 5D. One of them pulls out their phone and does a search, I smile and say “They don’t give them away do they.”
This is a delicate point because there is a palatable interest in the art form of photography. I don’t want to dissuade any aspirations they may have because of the price tag of a particular piece of equipment. At this point I usually repeat something that I heard Chase Jarvis say, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” I honestly believe this to be true and I tell them it really doesn’t matter what kind of camera you use in as much that you have a camera with you and you can make it bend to your artistic will.
I view cameras as simply a lightproof box and go from there. I’m thankful for auto focus as my eyesight continues to age without grace but after that a reliable shutter and some fast glass is all I require, I will take care of the rest. I tell them I chose that particular camera and lenses because they can keep up with me. I ask a lot from my gear and the environments I use them in.
I point to a framed photo that I took with my iPhone and then to the Graflex Speed Graphic 4x5 camera that I cut my sheet film teeth on nearly 25 years ago. And without having to say it, they start to understand that it doesn’t have anything to do with what kind of camera is used.
As a photographer we are light writers, literally. The magic is how we see and collect light and put it in our little dark boxes. Whether it’s a scribble or a well thought out essay, our light writing is our craft, our art.
So as we get past that hurdle we start talking about how to make a good photograph (lot’s of practice) and the importance of doing contiguous projects and creating a body of work. I am at a point that I consider myself doing well if I can make a dozen exceptional images a year. I try to demystify the process and tell them to go shoot what they love, and keep at it. And at some point, after keeping at it there will an image that stands above and goes further than the rest. It’ll be an image that they will almost not believe that they made. But that’s the image they need to chase, to feel. That will be an image that has something to say and that it will be your voice speaking through it that you hear, and others will hear your voice through it as well.
At this point one of them is deeply inspired and realizes that there is nothing standing between her and her role as a creator. I smile and tell her everything she needs is available in the phone she is holding in the palm of her hand.
Buoyed, they leave my little studio, full of energy and inspiration. My heart swells knowing that another light writer just found their feet. Soon they will be collecting their own light in their own little dark box so they can write to the world their very own magnum opus!