Dobry Den Pratele...
Last week I visited the Josef Koudelka Exhibit at the National Gallery here in Prague...for the fifth time. It is clearly the largest retrospective display of this photographers work to date. Many of the prints that are displayed are original prints made for the original exhibits...some of them almost 40 years old. Images like the series from the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion, his early work with the Roma (Gypsies) in Slovakia, Romania, and Albania, and his theatre and stage work were all made with (What we would call) inferior Eastern European cameras and lenses, similarly inferior East German film, and printed on graded Czech and East German paper, also what we in the west would not consider quality materials. The images are no less powerful or of no less quality...
I made this last visit with my friend Zedenek (who printed the contemporary portion of the exhibit) and a group of talented Czech Photographers I hang out with...afterwards in the pub, I didnt here any disussion about the lack of tonal range, obtrusive grain, low D-Max, lack of shadow detail, what kind of paper, developer,Enlarging head was used etc. We discussed the images their impact...how we felt about the work. It just makes me think that, these days, there seems to be a certain preocupation amongst many of us with technological mumbo jumbo....Many of my Czech colleagues think we (Americans/Canadians etc) are obsessive compulsive techno-junkies and actually feel sorry for us rather than envy us. They think we spend so much time on websites, reading magazines and taking workshops that its a wonder we ever time to take photographs. Zdenek thinks all the monkying around we do, trying and BUYING every conceivable equipment combination and darkroom formula to make us into photographers is quite amusing . I'm not, and I'm sure he is not saying that we should'nt strive for excellence and new ways of working and achieving results that are pleasing, but after spending time on the net over the past month or so and reading and participating in quite a number of discussions, I have to somewhat agree with my esteemed colleague's opinions....especially that our beer sucks.
Prague, Czech Republic
</span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (LD Horricks @ Dec 10 2002, 09:18 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>....Many of my Czech colleagues think we (Americans/Canadians etc) are obsessive compulsive techno-junkies and actually feel sorry for us rather than envy us. ....especially that our beer sucks.
Prague, Czech Republic</td></tr></table><span id='postcolor'>
I think this is partly the result of too much choice. If you're only choice is a Flexaret you take the best possible pictures with that camera. You don't sit around worrying if you'd be better off with a different camera.
Love fresh pilsener urquell-) Too bad it doesn't travel well.
In the US there is so much disposable income and as Robert said "choice" that it is easy to fall into the trap of always upgrading equipment. For many people who use cameras it is all about status, they are going to buy the next greatest thing even though my 6yr old daughter can probably produce better images with an old 35mm Pentax K.
There is also the idea that technology can somehow make up for a lack of creativity or initiative to learn how to make photographs. One reason why someone will pay thousands of $ for a camera that is fully computerized and automated but will still take mediocre pictures.
Another issue is laziness. Quite a few photographers who invest in gear and a darkroom do not take the time to learn how to test and evaluate materials and chemistry. They bounce from one film, paper, and developer to another depending on the latest trend or magazine article, never getting the results the experts get. Experimentation is great, I do it quite a bit, but I have my tried and true combinations that I have fine tuned over the years that I can use as a baseline for evaluation of new materials.
If you look at the almost any great photographer past or present, their gear, materials and technique are usually fairly simple and consistent. Even Adams who used a variety of materials and cameras based his decisions based on past experience and knowledge gained through testing .
Just got a call from my friend Zedenek...he cursed me up and down for showing him this and a few other websites especially this time of year when its dark by 4:pm and not light until 8:00am...says he's afraid he would become addicted to forum discussion...says he does appreciate the idea sharing concept...but still hasnt changed his opinion, especially about the beer...in fact think I'll head across the road for a wee pint meeself.
Prague, Czech Republic
I think too much time is spent on equipment. Many of the old Soviet Bloc nations were so "choice poor" that equipment issues never really came up. You bought XXXXXX camera and used XXXXX film.
Meanwhile in the west, everyone is getting bombarded with ads and opinions. Ads are the worst since they tend to center around themes like "Only a REAL photographer would use our gear" or "We SWEAR this camera will improve ALL your pictures".
And we fall for it. http://apug.org/forum/html/emoticons/sad.gif
Being on a tight budget, I quickly learned myself that gear is less important than what you do with it. Perhaps I have a "Prague Mentality". I hope I do! I buy most of my stuff used and several years out of date. Instead of spending a fortune on the latest Zeiss glass, I buy older MC lenses for my Bronica. Do I need a Leica? No, my old FT2 does me just fine.
Most of my stuff is decades out of date but then people haven't been updated in that period either-)
On the issue of it's the photographer and not the lens. I think it's broader then that. Awhile ago during a discussion of old lens on the large format forum of that other place somebody suggested people should state how they use the lens. For some reason I don't understand people got all in a huff about this simple statement.
Isn't even something simple like coverage related to how you use the lens? If you do nothing but contact prints are the standards for coverage similar to somebody that needs to enlarge the negative?
The quick fix idea isn't just limited to photography. Spend a bit of time in any of the big hardware stores on a Saturday and watch people buying tools. Often not to get a job done but because they think it will make them better at something they already have too many tools for.
Inarguably having the right tool for the job makes ones life easier, but it is not absolutley necessary to make a superb image. In my case I had the intention to move to Mexico and bought the equipment with that goal in mind, I bought the best I could afford and all of the things I thought I would need. OTOH I have never replaced a lens, I dont feel the need to change lenses as new ones come out, if I was able to take a fine pic with my nikkor 210, do I really need a Super Symmar 210 XL with humongous coverage? no..not really. I think this is what LD is talking about. Somehow the mentality in the US is that "newer" is better....when many times is not the case specially in LF. Of course we also have to think that this "consumerism" is one of the strenghts of America. You have no idea how lucky you are to be able to just make a call or get online and get what you want, I have found this the hard way here in Mexico and it is very frustrating, perhaps this frustration and lack of materials is what makes photographers in other countriies more careful about their craft.
Many on this thread have touched on the same feelings I have, I never changed films, I stuck with one and worked with it until I was able to master it. Althoigh I do admit I went through my "film test" phase where I thought I was going to find the magic bullet, in the end I ended up where I started and confirmed my gut feeling that I had been a fool by trying all those film/developer combinations, I learned a lot, but the effort was not worth the results.
HAving said all this I find the comment about being sorry for americans kind of elitist and maybe born out of a little bit of jealousy. Lets remember that is this kind of availability and convenience that provide people with the tools to make truly wonderful images. HOw many have heard of a exceptional Russian photographer, or for that matter a Checkoslovakian one? I am sure there are many but exposure is also based on consumerism, if the population is capable of paying hundreds of dollars for a print then there is a greater chance a photographer will dedicate his life to make images, but if you only get 10 dollars for an image, well....kind of hard to become a master when all you can do is take pics on the weekend.
Also if I had to choose between two images one technically perfect with great content and one with great content but so so on the technical part, I would go for the former one, why settle for less? It is this kind of "anal" perfection attitude american photographers have that has raised the level of expertise and beauty in photography. It is easy to say "a well this is good enough with the materials I have", but I bet Weston or Adams or Caponigro never felt this way.
So although I understand LD's comment I have to disagree with his distpatch, never the less a very interesting one and I am glad it was discussed here.
A few more ramblings on this topic:
What if suddenly there was only Tri-X, D76, Dektol and one kind of paper. Those who are more wedded to the craft will struggle, bitch and moan and blame the lack of choice for their inability to make great photographs.
Those who are more concerned about creating art will learn to use the materials to their full extent and keep on presenting new images and ideas.
I tell people interested in starting in B&W to use the above materials exclusively for at least one year and ideally two. Use it in all situations, test thouroughly and after that time they will be able to determine exposure without a light meter and fine tune development for every sheet or roll. They will know pretty well how any scene will print and know from looking at the negative the required print exposure and any dodging and buring that will be required. After this time they can begin to experiment with other materials.
The more time I spend photographing the more I discover that simplicity is really the best route, that 30 yr old cameras and lenses produce as good an image as modern gear for most applications.
After owning various zooms and lenses for 35mm i have discovered that I personally could photograph the whole world with 3 prime lenses- 28, 90 and 135mm. Of course not to argue gear but I would perfer a Leica.
Believe me I went through a long period of reinventing the wheel, and I definately am an advocate of testing in order to learn for oneself what is best for his or her needs. I also agree that my Czech friends are a little bit militant in their views (we've had some very lively discussions in this realm), but I do think there is something endemic in modern western society that makes us want to take short cuts...to be on some sort of fast track to mastery, and that if we pay the bucks for this enlarger or that workshop, that it will be the answer to all of our problems...its not just a photography issue...my last visit to a supermarket in Canada had me so wide-eyed I didnt make it past the ice-cream aisle. Supply tells us that there is real demand out there for someone or something to show us the way and make our dreams come true. I also firmly believe that in order to be free creativley we must have a solid technical base, and diligent, consistant work procedures...I'm sure my Czech friends would agree completley on this. I myself have worked long and hard on my procedures and its paid off. I certainly have no arguement with the value of forums like this and other methods (workshops included) of sharing our experience and discoveries...its why I'm taking the time to be a part of it. I used be in a tailspin over this paper/dev combo or that film/dev combo...cold light vs. condenser...the list goes on. I really found myself obsessing over all the possibilities and if they might not be better than what I was using or doing. Maybe it was a good exercise that I went through all these permiatations, but oddly enough, apart from a few changes I went back to what I had always done. I really do believe many of us do get brainwashed or at least persuaded by what manufacturers or even what fellow photographers are telling us about what our images should be, so we then go on a mad search for products or gurus that will ensure this result.
Maybe I shouldnt have had those two pints before responding...maybe I should've had a Tall decaf,half-calf, no foam latte.
Goodnight from Prague.
On a simple level, certain equipment is needed to achieve the style you desire. Part of photography is developing a unique style of your own, and in most cases the equipment plays a major part of this. I want 8x10 razor sharp contact prints, etc. I'm not going to get that with a Holga. OTOH if I wanted a more soft and dreamy abstract look I might demand a Holga. I base equipment purchases on the look and style I want to achieve, but I can see how some people purchase equipment hoping they'll get 'this' or 'that' kind of style out of it. That's probably when they get into trouble and loose their way.