A week ago today, one of the people I follow on Twitter — Tom McLaughlan (@daruma) — caught my eye with these 76 characters, quoting someone else to be mentioned below: “I wonder how many writers get together to compare the pencils they use…?”
I should say, as only a bit of an aside, that the aforementioned Mr. McLaughlan is a superb photographer. You can see his “ministracts,” a concatenation of “minimalism” and “abstraction” of his own coinage, on his eponymous website and as daruma* on Flickr, which is where I first found his work several years ago. If you have glanced at the first two bullets on my About page, you will understand why his user name and his “wallgazing” set, respectively, got my attention.
As for writers comparing their pencils, my immediate reaction was, well, pens maybe. (I have been a fountain pen devotee for decades.) But absent any real context, which is a rare luxury on Twitter, I clicked through to the “great read” that was promised. The destination turned out to be another photographer’s website, FlixelPix | Photographic Reportage. And in the subsidiary blog, the author David (@flixelpix) had written about “a fundamental mistake,” his slow drift from “studying the craft of photography [to] studying the equipment and technology” — compellingly captured in the title: “My photography would be so much better if I just had…”
If the previous paragraph isn’t enough to convey the essence of his argument, then you have probably never been distracted by a focus, fantasy, fixation, or fetish involving a technology-mediated pursuit. It’s not that the technology is unimportant — the right camera lens or musical instrument or tablet computer or fly rod or fountain pen can be crucial — but that the tool can slowly take primacy over the pursuit it is meant to enable. Or, if you do recognize the argument immediately, but have (never had to) put those compulsions behind you, then congratulations on being a remarkably sane and centered person or on overcoming your neuroses and character flaws through much hard work and therapy. For the rest of us, including presumably the vast majority of the 3,000 people who read David’s post in the first 24 hours (per a subsequent tweet expressing his astonishment at the amount of traffic), his experience was familiar, reminiscent of a hard-won success or an on-going struggle.
For myself, here’s what I offered as a Comment at the bottom of the page:
For the past year, I have assumed that my infrared photos would be much better with a modified, mid-level DSLR. Of course that led to pondering which camera, which lenses, especially which filter, which conversion service, and on and on. Thank you so much for reminding me that my Olympus C-2100UZ with its 1999-vintage Sony 2.11 MP CCD — the “legendary” one with fantastic, if inadvertent, IR sensitivity — is just perfect. Yes, a lot more pixels would be great, but the quasi-B&W of IR really holds up pretty well at that low resolution. As everyone else has said above, it’s much more about who is pointing the camera and how, and much less about which camera is being pointed.
Actually, David inspired me beyond that realization. With Flickr as a perfunctory outlet for my photos, I had never thought about systematically presenting any of them here, but his website showed me how wonderful the integration could be. Not that I think I am remotely at his level of skill and accomplishment. But I have now added a Galleries page to the header, with subordinate pages for some of my favorites in both infrared and visible light. Make that Infrared and In Visible. After all, this blog is still of words and about words.