Zen and the art of equipment selection?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by David R Munson, Feb 8, 2004.

  1. David R Munson

    David R Munson Member

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    The Test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn't any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it's right. If it disturbs you it's wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed. The test of the machine's always your own mind. There isn't any other test.

    -Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    ==========

    I've got my dog-eared copy of Pirsig's ZAMM in front of me. Last night I came across the above passage, which when reading I had marked in the margin with the words "view cameras." It again strikes me that this sort of thing has a lot to do with why we choose the particular tools we choose for the creation of our images. How many of us stick with equipment that we dislike any longer than we have to? I would venture to say that, if we have the means to adopt change, most of us are likely to ultimately use the tools that we are most comfortable with.

    As Pirsig says, whether or not a tool (or machine, as he puts it) is good is the result of whether or not it fits us. If it doesn't, it will never be comfortable until either it or ourselves are changed. If something fits us, it's good, if not then not.

    Of course, we have a lot of different reasons for choosing the equipment that we use, but what else but this is the ultimate deciding factor in why we prefer particular cameras, lenses, films, etc over others?

    Thoughts?
     
  2. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Dave, I think this is right to a certain extent. However to be comfortable with, say a view camera it often takes discipline to get to where it is the right tool.

    If a person wishes to take, I'll use the word, "superior" picture quatilty (I'm talking technical not impact) he has to have a larger negative. Hence the view camera. He/she has to take a lot of time to get comfortable with this equipment to perhaps get to the "zen" level. I'm not sure if many people think this camera "fits" early on. As for satisfaction, sometimes this particular tool can be quite frustrating.

    But given time, I think most photographers get very comfortable and "zen like" with their equipment.

    Much the same as a Harley can take some time to get used to.


    Michael MCBlane
     
  3. victor

    victor Member

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    blansky..

    about the superiority of the format... there are thousends ways to classify prints. one of the ways in my opinion is... prints that tend towards contact prints and prints that tend to look like enlarged ones. i dont say which one is better of course cause i dont have the answer for that. i can say that my preferance goes to the enlarged ones. as view camera i use 69 format, not only because of the roll film etc (i love to treat the negatives superetly) but because of the magnification ratios. the 45 looses the apearance on 20/24" enlargement as enlarged one. im not talking here about the "impact", but about the relationship of one to the negative and its textures. for me it is very important that the texture of my negative will be viewable.
    for me, the texture of the negative is like the brush strocks of Gogen or the hand motion of vangouh - this is my concept towards the negative, i look at it as something of its own and very important in creating a photo, and not only as a medium between the reality and the paper.
     
  4. victor

    victor Member

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    dave, first of all i defenetly agree with u.. by the way a great book a masterpiece.
    but, there is some interesting point...
    u talk as if u know the final outcome (what is the best for u). but "what fits u" is something that comes with the development in practice. once i worked with the slr's both on 35mm and medium. during my development as a photographer i felt that i "couldnt breath" with them, though they were a very good stuff. the 35mm became rangefinder and the mdium became a view camera. after some time, every thing that i wanted from those systems worked. things that i was imagining i would do with the newer stuff looked beyound what i could imagine first. it also opened a new fields to me in terms of creativity etc. now i know that my dicissions were critically good for me, bit i know it as a result of my development while that equipment took a very serious place in the development and "fitting" itself.
     
  5. David R Munson

    David R Munson Member

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    There is, of course, a learning cuve, but I think early in the learning process when you're getting used to a new piece of equipment, there are often signs that tell you a fair amount about how you'll get along with it in the long run. For example, even with all sorts of initial dificulties, I took to large format from the start. Meanwhile, some of my classmates at OU couldn't stand to be in the same room with a view camera after three years of shooting with one. They hated it at the start, hate it now.

    And of course when you're starting out in photography in general, its harder to know what works for you because you're still learning the technical aspects of everything. I guess I'm thinking more in terms of the things we choose to work with once we've gotten fairly well established in our work, technique, etc.
     
  6. victor

    victor Member

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    i guees u rite dave.
    i will put it like this...
    u have to be in a mutual relations with your stuff. that means.. when u visualize something, "the camera is able to produce it" and when u see something, "u see it through the eyes of your camera.
    well, the same can apply with choosing the lense.
     
  7. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    There's a lot to be said for the instant, intuitive connection, but there's also something to the process of adapting yourself to a new piece of equipment.

    8x10" had an immediate appeal for me in a way that 4x5" didn't, but after shooting 8x10" for a few years, I got a 4x5" camera for when I want to be more quick and flexible and I really enjoy using it. Nothing beats a large contact print, but on the other hand, my 4x5" Technika is the most versatile camera I have.
     
  8. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I think that a great deal of what you are addressing here has to do with the temperament of the individual. If one is of a more spontaneous temperament then the view camera will not easily become an extension of themselves. I think that if at the outset a person would inventory their preferences insofar as a deliberation/spontaneity index then a better choice could be made.

    There is also another factor that I have observed in individuals. They want the better resolution and tonal scale of the larger negative but become intimidated/frightened by the view camera movements...they would like the results if only someone else did the adjusting of the camera for them. For these individuals, if they are easily frustrated, often return to a camera without movements.

    To learn to see what the lens sees (without setting up the camera) took me many years. I have gotten the 210, 120, and 90 down well in 4X5. I have the 210 and 450 down pretty well in 8X10, though not as well as my 4X5 lenses. I am still working on the 450 on the 12X20 although it closely resembles the 210 in 8X10.

    I think that when we are able to say to ourselves "this is what this will look like with this lens" without setting up the camera and not have to move the camera a dozen feet when we set up then we come closer to the "zen like" act of photographing.
     
  9. David R Munson

    David R Munson Member

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    Well, the way I see it, temperament of the individual is half of why some equipment "fits" us better than other equipment. There's got to be something on both sides of the equation. If you're of a particular temperament, one piece of equipment might never fit you, but it might fit someone else perfectly. I see it as being a balance of temperament of the individual and characteristics of the tools. If one is off, it doesn't work.
     
  10. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I think that is what I said. Are you agreeing with what I originally stated...or are you saying there is another factor that I failed to identify to your ability to understand? Or are you saying there is another factor entirely? If so please identify what that is and how it differs from my original post.
     
  11. victor

    victor Member

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    don...
    at the bigginig of my photography years aho, i had only normal lense on my pentax mx (i was still teen and had no money). i have learned to visualize on it and more than that i have learned to express with one lense. than i had the tlr (rolleiflex) which i loved very much. again with only one normal lense i understand even deeper how well i can work with only one lense. on the contax slr i had few lenses, but i found it so difficult to make serious works on it, and always when i was pushed to do serious work among all the lenses the plannar 50mm was the chooice. not that i have made bad pics with 28 or 85, but i felt much better when working with the plannar.
    since then i have developed. i use lots of lenses. the choice of the lense for the job is upon my mood. for example.. if i am on the street and observe the street from the "outside = not really involoved" than i take a normal lenses. if i feel more involved i just go very close and i use a realy wide one. i dont really change during the picture taking. i just feel what i feel when i take photos and that way i choose the lense. the same i can say for everything, including studio works, nude, portraits etc.
     
  12. victor

    victor Member

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    about the visualization with the lenses...
    basically there are two important points here and one more point deals with the concept behind using different lenses....
    one is the field of view, and the second is the optical/geometrical effects.
    our eyes has a very wide field of view, but not everything from this field comes to our intentionality. when we see something we are concentrated on some area in the field of our view. besically there is a concentration on the specific object, or a sensation of the space. if u have the technica than take the viewfinder and start experimanting with it and u will see how well it works. just change the focal lenghts and view through it. do it for fun (not in photo session). what i say is that if one is conscious enough of this mental process, he will know intuitively what lense will make this work.
    but here is the second thing... the optical geometrical aspects of the lenses. here it is u who have to learn the view point of the lense cause it is defferent from our yeys. of course sometimes u have to make compromisses, for example when i stand very very close to what i want to photograph and want to give a real sesnse of space but because of the natural arangement of what i see i want to avoid some optical geometrical effects of very wide lense. it is more critical when u use rangefinder or any other camera without movements.
    finally, this is not all about technical approach of what lense to choose etc. choosing those lenses etc has their outcome (on the print), and that what really counts at the end.
     
  13. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Some random thoughts on this thread,

    It is all about the attitude of the craftsman. There are always those who will use equipment as an excuse. They don't have good enough lenses, or the view camera doesn't have the right movements, or if only they had a Leica instead of an SLR they could get better shots.

    It has always been a curious thing I notice with woodworking hobbyists. They fall into 2 camps. One group expects the machines to do the work and only if they had the next better planer or jointer, this saw or that they could really make some nice pieces. the other camp is the guys (or gals) who are using the same machines for 30 years or do a lot of the work by hand. They produce beuatiful pieces of furniture and art. What they have is knowledge and patience and their emphasis is on the work and not the tools.

    A great number of people who call themselves photographers concern themselves far to much with the acquiring of gear to get the perfect "rig" instead of making photographs.

    Anyone who is serious about phtography should be required to choose one camera, one lens, one film, one developer and one paper and have to use them exclusively for one year. I can almost gaurantee you that you will have one of 2 outcomes. One will be someone who is serious about photography and has become comfortable with his gear. Why? Because he realized that the image is what is important. learning to see is what is important and knowing your materials so well that you can see a final print when the exposure is made is important.

    The other outcome is someone who quickly becomes bored and gives it up because he is more about the gear. That does not mean that he cannot over time make great photographs, but in searching for the most comfortable gear he cheats himself out of the time it takes to get there.
     
  14. victor

    victor Member

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    jim...
    in my view there are two camps of picture making process. one is to capture the moment that tells us visual story, and the other is to create a story.
    u can do both on the pentax mx with 50mm lense. the most important, the prime etc developments of mine were made on this camera. those images of past are still an inspiration to me. i see there the naive teen, and he makes me to think a lot. but then i had some money so why not to go on the ziess lenses. belive me - the quality speacks for itself. when u plus it to that teen who used pentax it looks much better. then i understoond that point of picture taking - to capture or to create. it was evident to me. the rf gave me that freedom to see. i see through it as i see with the naked eye. when i print it it looks like that. the viewcamera... how can u compare creating vissual story with camera with movements with the camera without even if it is with zeiss glasses.
    take a leica for one year with two sumicrons 35 and 50, and very soon u will get how different this lenses are - they let u react in other way, and u study to use them. i rarely change lenses during photographing, i choose them cause i feel some way or another. i see on the print what i feel.
    about c.h.bresson... he is one of the kings of photo for me... but u know, we have to study, always love and repect him, and go on for new images.

    sorry, but if u want to go to the higest levels u can u have to realize that there are good reasons why to use thios or that. u know, sprinter cannot be a very good long distance runner and diffender in soccer cannot really be a striker. i think u take a bit wrong the use of different equipment, but it is very romantic.
     
  15. David R Munson

    David R Munson Member

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    Well, maybe I mis-read your original post a little. I think we're essentially going after the same thing, though. I was mainly trying to get at that both sides of the equation are equally important.

    Jim-

    I quite agree about having to shoot with one camera, one lens, one film for one year. Honestly, I've never done this in any official way, but it's always how things have worked out. Back when I was still shooting 35mm, I had two Nikon bodies and six really nice primes. But what happened? I shot at least 95% of my stuff with the F4 body and a 50mm lens and Tri-X rated at 200. The other 5 lenses just acted as ballast in the bag. At this point I don't shoot 35 any more, but the preference for sticking to one lens and one film is still there. Working that way has, I think, taught me a hell of a lot more about photography and my vision than you could get if constantly switching lenses, films, camera bodies, etc.
     
  16. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Victor,


    There is nothing wrong with buying better equipment to improve ones craft or to be able to better present ones vision. I just think it makes more sense to know what one is about as a photographer instead of hoping the gear will do it for you. When you went to a Leica I imagine that you were well on your way to a personal style and vision. As you pointed out, the RF just further supports your way of seeing.
     
  17. victor

    victor Member

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    jim.. ok
    i thought u presented a person of that kind that buys a collection of ferraris mclarens and aten martins and thinks that by putting it in his garage he will be schumacher.
    well, im not rich enough to buy cameras and lenses for fun or just to try if it works and if not than put it on the shelf. most of my prints i dont even sell cause i dont want. many of them are personal to me and many of them are too personal for people i photograph (i thank those people that let me permission to exhebit it). im not really in comercial as well. fully art and joy, that why i use mechanical cameras and i breath al those bromophens fixers and seleniums.
    i have love affairs with my equipment and materials cause together we create. those things are not an items with logos and names.
    the agfa apx speaks in its languge to my eyes, the ilford plus in its own. rodinal has its voice, and the id11 and the pyro its own voices. we are emotional people. i associate my emotions with apx or ilford etc. same i can say with the lenses.
    what i photograph depends on the objects and space there, but how i do it depends on my emotional or rational relation to it. there (in how i do it) comes the body (rf or view camera) lense combination, film and paper etc.
     
  18. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Victor,

    You won't find many "gadgetophiles" here - they're all out shooting their new d*g*t*l SLR's. I believe that most of us here realise that the latest, newest technology isn't going to help us make better pictures. But we may be less certain about the effect of a 100year old, extra large and heavy camera with a lens of the same vintage...
     
  19. victor

    victor Member

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    i dont really understand what u r up ole
     
  20. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Victor,

    I hve been home watching the kids today and editied my last post probably before you posted. So that may seem confusing.

    I hope you don't think I am one of the Porsche, Ferrari, Mercedes garage storing types with camera gear. I am so cheap that I build my own LF cameras. That way I can afford film and paper and chemistry. But I know of some poeple like that. They would rather talk about the equipment they just bought then show any work that they have done.

    I like your characterization of materials. They all seem to take on special personal qualities for me to. And it is true that sometimes we can become smitten with somethng new and exotic, that entices us away from what has become common place. I guess sometimes you devlop a harem, sometimes you just leave the old girl behind and sometimes you return to your original love, wiser and more appreciative. (these comments in no way relate to my personal life!).
     
  21. victor

    victor Member

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    jim,,,
    i thought at the biggining that u characterize me as one who colectes leicas and linhofs, i have only two cameras now which are workhourses.
    u know my cameras are not popular at all here in israel, and many doesnt even realize that i hold in my hand stuff which is more expenssive than nikon f5 or hasselblad h1, and im very happy with it cause i have no intantion to impress ppl with my staff but with what i creat with it.
    the "true love" not always belongs to your past list or the harem. sometimes it comes somewhere in the duration of life and u go on living with it.
    by the way, i apriciate very much building your own cameras etc. ive done it with the pinhole and that was a true joy and a great photos as well.
     
  22. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Victor,


    sorry about the mis-communication. I did not mean to give the impression I was being critical of you. You obviously have a passion for the art and craft of photography and choose your equipment based on persuing your vision not on what is the current trend or what others think of you.

    And I agree with a previous post about Leicas. I have had the opportunity to use them from time to time and there is nothng quite like what you get with that Zeiss glass.
     
  23. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Victor, that's what I meant by "gadgetophiles". And I think the photo-equivalents are busy amassing digital cameras:wink:

    Of course it's quite possible that I misunderstood completely. For some reason I find your posts extremely difficult to read...
     
  24. victor

    victor Member

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    oh , ole im sorry, with my writting. when i write philosophy, and that is what i do this days, even very familiar ppl find dificult to get me. the mind is somehow thinks in "different way". my excuses for the way i express myself, i will try to be clearer.

    jim. ya, leica glasses and rodenstoks are the best. it would be shame not to make good stuff with them. if one doesnt make with this stuff good things then all the excuses should be found for the $$$ spent on it... lol
     
  25. mark

    mark Member

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    Give Leonardo a crappy Walmart brush, and a card board box to paint on and I have no doubt he would have continued to paint. I am also sure these machines would have felt wrong. It is not the machine that is important, it is the image. But we have our preferences. We like this lens, and that camera but should we limit ourselves and our vision to those machines that "fit us"? Since we are waxing philiosophicaly here I would rewrite the words to mean if it does not fit or is "wrong" it is up to us to make it fit to create and fulfill the need inside us to make an image.. Consistancy is the hobgoblin of little minds(emerson). There are many photogrpahers who shoot with only one lens.

    There are many reasons for this but all say they are familiar with the way it feels, they are comfortable, or this is how I started. They have become a slave to that piece of glass, or that camera body. They no longer think abut what might be or what about this lens or how about this format.

    Of course new is good and digital has it's place, maybe even in my bag someday, but this means we define new as the latest and most advanced when new means what you have never used. I looked at the image on my 5x7 2D GG for the first time last night and it is by no means new, nor is the lens I mounted. It was almost over whelming, but it sparked something. Not just the end of a four and a half year rebuild but it was like I wanted to see with it. I wanted to make it fit. The learning curve is a necessary thing and maybe the reason something just does not fit is our resistance to something different.

    My 2 cents