Photography and Art

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New York

I was in New York last week for a fantastic couple of days. I'd been invited to sing in the chorus of Scotland the Brave, a terrific musical show put on by Sean O'Boyle and Andrew McKinnon featuring pipers, drummers, dancers with full orchestra and chorus. We sang in Avery Fisher Hall in the Lincoln Centre - quite a thrill!

While I was in New York, I took some time to photograph the city. I'd purchased a very good book called The 50 Greatest Photo Opportunities in New York City by Amadou Diallo. 50 photo ops was a bit ambitious for two days in the Big Apple, so I decided to focus on a couple of photogenic sites: the little red lighthouse under the great gray bridge (made famous by this children's book) and 5Pointz, a factory in Long Island City, owned by artist Meres One, that's world-famous for its graffiti. 

Here's my take on the lighthouse:

And here's my favourite artwork from 5pointz:

I was also very lucky to catch a heron in flight early in the morning in Central Park:

All in all, I had a very good time travelling around the city taking snaps. I've been travelling to New York for many years (starting in the 70's) and I've experienced the city at its worst, with vandalism and graffiti everywhere and neighbourhoods too scary to walk in. I saw some photos being sold in a park last week that illustrated the subway system in the 80's with cars sprayed with paint inside and out and homeless people everywhere. I'm happy to report that this is all in the past and the subway system in New York ranks right up there as the cleanest and safest in the world. It was a pleasure to ride the Metro all over the city and very economical. For $7.50, you can ride the system all day and I was able to travel up as far as west 180th street and as far east as Long Island City quickly and easily.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Equipment versus Ability

Many people have written about whether it's the camera equipment that matters or the photographer. Here are two articles on the subject: Your Camera Doesn't Matter by Ken Rockwell and Your Camera Does Matter by Michael Reichmann. I'm somewhat conflicted on the subject. Clearly, having a camera is important. You can't take pictures without one. But, how good does the camera really have to be and how technically proficient does the photographer have to be? These are very different questions.

What got me thinking about this was an article by Mark Dubovoy on the Alpa medium format camera. Embedded in the article is a picture of Full Moon Dome in Zion National Park. Mark's quote on this photo (not apparent in the jpeg) is "the quality of the file is simply stunning" While the quality of the file might be simply stunning, I find that the quality of this particular composition is simply boring. I don't want to dump on Mark - he is capable of outstanding work. I'm just making the point that a preoccupation with image quality can cause an artist to lose focus on the artistic side of photography. What's important is not the resolving power of the lens, but the image that it captures.

For example, Galen Rowell used a 35mm camera exclusively. He did this because he often hiked miles to get a photograph and didn't want to be encumbered with a large camera or even a tripod. Yet, he took stunning images that can be blown up into very large prints. 

I'm always amazed at the number of magazine articles and web posts that are devoted to camera announcements and reviews and how little press is devoted to the artistic side of photography. My contention is that you quickly run into the law of diminishing returns once you've acquired a camera of good quality. These days, good quality probably means a Canon Rebel or a Nikon D70. Anything else is probably overkill and will give you a hernia or slipped disk.

Technical proficiency is also a focus of many workshops, tutorials and classes. I find that a bit of a red herring as well. Photographers tend to come at their passion from one of two ends. On one side, we have artists who gravitate to photography because they love the medium. On the other side, you have technologists who start with the love of the gizmos and then gravitate to the artistic side once they realize that money can't buy you good images (unless you buy someone else's). My intuition would be that artists learn only enough technology to get the job done and then stop because they are passionate about the art and want to spend all their time creating images. Technologists are at a disadvantage because they are insatiably curious about the technology and spend too much time fiddling with new cameras and software and not enough time practising the craft of producing good images. I know because I'm a geek and love all that stuff. 

The moral of the story? Find a good camera system that works for you and stop reading equipment reviews. Spend all your time taking photos and printing them out. Nurture your talent, find your voice.