In Honor of
Henri Cartier-Bresson & W. Eugene Smith
What is the best camera in the world? Well, the short answer is…it is the one you have with you!
Cameras are tools for freezing time. As such, there can be no one best tool, as many jobs require different tools. This is like saying a screwdriver for heavy machinery repair is also the best tool for a watchmaker needing a screwdriver.
But the camera fondlers are always on a constant search for owning The BEST! Since they can’t produce the best photos, what else is there to give them satisfaction?
The photo above was done with an 6MP Epson RD-1…that is 6MP!! A camera fondling, pixel peeper would never go for a lousy 6 MP…would they? I shot it by chance while wondering around on lunch break. It is in a number of museums and public collections. None of the institutions asked what MP cam I used.
As I will tell you time and again…it is the photographer and not the camera! Over close to 5 decades of shooting, I’ve used many, many types of cameras and have put pix from most of them into many museum and curated collections worldwide.
The next 4 photos were were done with a little 20MP Sony P&S. I keep it on the dummy setting. As an old film photog I am used to manual controls, I don’t know how to adjust these damn things.
The 6 photos below were done with a 12 mp Oly M43. Same thing, I keep it on the dummy setting. I can’t figure them out. The camera fondling engineers ruined these cams for on-the-fly adjustments. The new models have touch screens…great work camera fondling engineers…now the settings get screwed up if you blow on it.
I cover camera fondlers in detail here…
The 2 below were shot with a 6MP Pentax *istD …in JPEG. When I was making the move from film to digital I didn’t know anything about RAW. What is the credo camera fondlers…it is the photographer and not the camera!
The next photo was done with a $75 Kodak 6MP P&S from Wal-Mart. It was all I had with me and I made due.
The next shot was done with a infrared Pentax K-01. Not the best choice by any means for this shot. Again, if it is all one has, you do the best you can.
Although, if your shooting at night and want to be invisible, the infrared flash and camera make it possible. This just underscores what I said at the beginning with the screwdriver analogy. The worst camera for one job may be the best camera for another job. The next 10 shots are from my artists’ book Piercing Darkness.
When I shot the next 3 pix the circular fisheye was what was on the cam, so I made due.
Sure, some cameras offer special benefits. The Sony P&S I used for the above photos does not work well in low light AF situations. So no use beating a dead horse if light is bad. But, if all things are equal, you can shoot good photography with most any cam out their nowadays.
I read that in 2016 it is estimated that there will be 2 billion cell phone cams worldwide. I don’t use a cell phone cam. I got nothing against them, they seem to be capable of producing decent quality work. It is just that I don’t own a smart phone – otherwise sure, I’d use it for taking pix.
Whether cell phone, Nikon, Pentax, Fuji, Canon, Leica, Olympus or Sony…they all can produce. You will always have fan boys for their respective camera. I’ve used many brands of cameras over the years and have produced museum quality work with them all. They are all just tools that produce photographs for me…it is the photographer and not the camera.
Although, I don’t think a cell phone cam could have shot this…well as of yet anyway!
The next 10 photos were shot with a Nikon F.
The 12 photos below were shot with a Leica M3 and M4. I could have used a Nikon, Canon, Pentax or Minolta and got the same thing….it is the photographer and not the camera.
The next photo was an early one of mine. I shot it with a Kodak Retina I bought when I was 13 in a pawn shop for $10. The neg was lost in a flood. This is a scan from a work print.
If you like square pictures shoot 6×6. Sure, pick the best tool for the job. The Hasselblad SWC was one of my favorites. If I didn’t need a superwide, any 6×6 or 6×7 would have produced…Rollei, Yashica, Kiev, Pentax, Bronica, Minolta, Kowa, Mamiya, Pentacon or Hassy….it is the photographer and not the camera!
I did some 4 x 5 work for a couple of years in the 1970’s. The 4 photos below were done with a Toyo View 4 x 5. Out of all the cams out there, the view camera is the worst choice for my type of photography.
I eventually gave up on 4 x 5 as it was not conducive to my style of shooting. The day I stopped forcing things was a day of enlightenment for me. Some photogs may have had to take their delusion to 11 x 14 wet plates before they figured it out. Others may have saved a lot of time and never had to feed their ego with large format. All sort of egos out there.
I’ve been lucky to be around large format guys for years, so I was able to study their personalities. Large format appeals to the egomaniac, the anal, the perfectionist, control freak and Ansel groupie.
I think Dan Winters shot this…
Whomever shot it, what does it smack of…the anal studio photog.
Here is a pix of Gregory Heisler, a perfectionist and view cam devotee. One of his subjects said of him – when he shoots a subject you don’t use a clock to measure time, you use a calendar. (paraphrased)
If you contrast the large format mindset to the street / documentary photographer mindset, you will find them on opposite extremes…even in their portraits. Here is a photo of Cartier-Bresson.
If you ever get a chance to see some of Ansel Adams ‘street photography’ you will see what I am talking about here…nothing special. Many LF devotees can only produce masterpieces if it is under their anal, methodical control. This just underscores the fact that because one is a master in one genre, it does not guarantee mastery in another area.
The reason I’m going into all this detail is this. Don’t waste your photographic career doing something that your not good at. Find out that your great at…and do it! Out of all the cams I discuss here, view cam photogs have to be on a different wavelength than the rest of us. It is important for the photog to have an acceptance, as well as a realistic understanding in their head, of what they are good at.
Winogrand used to hate being labeled a street photog. Well too GD bad, that was what he was. He was no great studio photog, nor was he even a great street photog.
I’m proud to be labeled a social documentary / street photog. I don’t have any pretentious hang-ups like Winogrand to confuse me. Having a label reminds me what my specialty is. Now, I do shoot product shots every once in a while, but I don’t want to be thought of as a studio photog, as it is not what I’m good at.
Here is an example of my ‘studio work’ from my De Wallen: Amsterdam’s Red Light District artists’ book.
How did I shoot it? On-the-fly, like any of my other street and documentary shots. I pulled a flashlight out of my pocket for light, hand held my Fuji X-E1…boom there it is! Being an ADD’er, that is the anal limits of my studio work.
How would the anal, studio photog shoot it?
That is all they know. Just as all I know is on-the-fly work. Sometimes you will come across a master that can do it all…studio and fast shooting as well. Those are the ones you can be jealous of.
With street / documentary photography if you come back with 70% to 80% of what you were after, you can still have a winner. That fits my non-perfectionist personality fine. The anal studio / large format photog has to have it 99% perfect. Cartier-Bresson’s Rue Mouffetard Paris 1954 is a good example of the principle of imperfect perfection.
Can you imagine Heisler shooting Rue Mouffetard Paris 1954? He’d shit his pants if he had to sign his name to it. But to a street / documentary photog – it is iconic. While there are rules to composition in photography…rules were made to be broken.
Here is my homage to Cartier-Bresson and the ‘cutoff foot syndrome.’ I shot it with a 12MP Oly M43.
Princess of Ross County in the style of Rue Mouffetard Paris 1954
Large format devotees are akin to some of the pixel peepers we have nowadays. Both camps are always looking for the biggest and best. As soon as a 100 MP cam comes out they are asking for 200MP. If the large format guys are shooting 5 x 7 it has to go to 8 x 10. When 8 x 10 does not satisfy their ego, they are out shopping for a banquet cam. They are never satisfied with what they have, they are always looking forward and can’t produce anything worthwhile until they get their ego fueled ‘big enough’ dream cam.
Flatbed scanned 35mm color neg film is equal to about 4MP shot with a P&S cam. Isn’t that something that so many iconic photos were produced with such a low res media?
At the time I am writing this Adobe just came out with Lightroom 6. What are the camera fondlers discussing on the forums? What do you want in Lightroom 7. Lightroom 6 is just being shipped. I am still using Lightroom 3, 4 and 5. There is a tremendous satisfaction if you can get settled with your gear and just concentrate on producing great photography. Now, if you can’t produce, then you must look elsewhere to occupy your mind…aka camera fondling.
Really, Lightroom 3 does all I need.
Some of the large format devotees seem to forget about all the missed photos their ego blocks them from capturing. They wont accept anything less than big, beautiful, sharp, boring photos of nothing. I suffered from that sickness when I was in my teens. I call it my ‘Edward Weston period.’ I put my pride in sharpness…and boring photos.
When I was a kid I had wanted to be a fashion / studio photog. It took many years to accept the fact that I didn’t have any talent in those areas. All my talent was in documentary photography. Once I accepted that I flourished and never looked back.
Below are samples from my artists’ book De Wallen: Amsterdam’s: Red Light District. They are all 100% candid shots. Photography is banned in the Red Light District. If your caught taking photos you can run into physical harm or at least lose your cam or memory card. Of course, dealing with all these problems IS the specialty of the expert documentary photographer whose job it is to bring home the best possible images under adverse conditions.
I used the Fuji X-E1 for the photos. If I shot the Fuji like a Fuji I would have got nothing. I shot the Fuji like a Leica…then it produced. This is where my 47 years of experience paid off. The Fuji was designed by a bunch of camera fondling engineers. Terrible design for hardcore street / doc work.
My full review is here:
Now, I’m not saying large format is bad for everyone. Some large format people produce fantastic work. But a lot of the large format work I see on the net is nothing special. I do like the work of Ansel, Linda Connors, Emmet Gowin, Irving Penn, Dan Winters, Sally Mann, Shelby Lee Adams, O. Winston Link, Gregory Heisler and others like lesser known Gandolfi and Ed Ross.
Looking back on my body of work, I did take a photo or two where I wish I would have been a little more anal when I shot it…
But in the big picture, walking down the street carrying all that crap, lenses, film holders, in a giant aluminum box with a heavy tripod, and getting under the dark cloth in skid row alleys was a terrible idea. I lost a lot of time and photos feeding my ego with large format.
Here is a masterpiece from O.Winston Link.
Here is O. Winston Link…a good photo for illustrating the anal personality of the large format photog.
But, the grand prize for ‘analness’, when it comes to freezing time, has to go to Ron Fricke. When he shot his movie Samsara, the small crew had to lug around 70 pieces of cargo…to 26 countries.
If your still not sure if you fit into the anal large format crowd, get a copy of Shelby Lee Adams DVD The True Meaning of Pictures. Do you identify with his anal nature? Would you go back and keep re-shooting a shot for years until you feel you have perfected it? If so, by all means go large format…your anal!
But before you make the move to large format, see some footage of Cartier-Bresson in action. Now you have been exposed to the alpha and the omega and you can better see what may be your direction.
View camera or not…I don’t want to be like this guy even with 35mm…
THIS…is how I roll…
For me perfection happens in a fraction of second and is only marginally perfect. By the time the large format photog takes off his lens cap and farts, I’ve created an iconic photo. That is the essence of street and documentary photography.
This shot was gone in two blinks of the eye!
Deer Still Life copyright 2014 Daniel D. Teoli Jr. – taken with Fuji X-E1
Photogs are a pretentious bunch…aren’t we. Everyone has strong opinions one way or another. Photogs have to have a certain amount of ego, esp street photogs. You have to be a little ‘off your rocker’ anyway to be a good street photog. Even landscapers have to be decisive and not wishy-washy. We are all cut from the same cloth…we have to decide when to push the button. We are all sisters and brothers of one family…we freeze time.
Ego is a problem when it hurts your ability to freeze time in the best way possible. I don’t care what cam is used, color / BW, film or digital. Whatever does justice to a subject best. Just don’t let ego ruin a photo.
Ernst Hass on the subject…
“There are black and white snobs, as well as colour snobs. Because of their inability to use both well, they act on the defensive and create camps. We should never judge a photographer by what film he uses- only by how he uses it.”
Personally I have always loved Leica, Nikon F and Hasselblad film cams as my first choice. But as time marches on you have to keep up with it or be left in the dust.
Here are a couple from the Leica Monochrom…
Candid photo taken with Leica on Staten Island Ferry
from The Americans…60 years after Frank artist’s book by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
…I used up my full anal limits of waiting 5 minutes for someone to walk by. (The more anal street ‘shadow specialist’ will wait 30 or 40 minutes for a person to walk into or out of a shadow.)
Anyway, enuf talk. If I do any more writing I may catch a case of Sontagitis! You can read this if you want to hear more about photographers and their ‘opinions.’
Cameras are tools for freezing time. Some tools are better than others for the job. No one will argue against that. But, unless you have some specialized project that requires a zillion MP so you can make wall size photos of your smoky water with the obligatory dock and sunset or burning steel wool photo – one cam is as good as the next if they both have the ability to do the job.
Camera fondlers, fan boys and anal pixel peepers…all things being equal…it is the photographer and not the camera!
Stop looking for excuses outside of yourself as to why you produce nothing worthwhile…look within.