Has it been only a week? It feels like ages since we touched through that glass window, since our smiles melted your fellow passengers' hearts, and since the liquids we carried in our eyes went unnoticed by the security personnel at the airport. I can close my eyes and still see you disappear in the surge of people rushing to get comfortable on an overcrowded claustrophobic jet. I go home and I have another bag of memories to unload in Lightroom. And on my desk I put the big flower that you left behind - like all the others before it - on my desk, so that when I do that pose of thoughtful scrutiny of the crossing down the street, I can see the oxymoronic wave of red and green. This flower oscillates between the moods: if it were white, it would've been necrophilic; if it were yellow, it would've been jovial; if it were red, it would've been infernal; and if it were purple, it would've been regal. But it is none of those - it defies all the rules of light and optics mixing red and green, between a tumbling foamy wave and a rustling velvet cape. And although it has been more than a week since it has been plugged from its nurturing surrounding, it stays shiny in its vase like a rocket set for launch - with a clear destination - as if it knows that you and I are once again a thousand kilometers apart.
Year after year, new cameras get released to the market. Wait - what am I saying - week after week, new cameras are released on the market (whether the market needs them or not). And photographers sometimes shrug non-commitally and sometimes obsessed unjustifiably. And I am not the first to write about the pitfalls of gear addiction.
The first stage in any purification process is admitting that there is something wrong with you - well, I probably am not a typical example of a gear-acquisition-syndrom-patient compared to what others I've read about own (that Leica collection of William Eggleston?), I recently felt overwhelmed by the choice I had and needed to make each morning when going out of the door - a choice between digital and analogue, between focal length and size, between speed and contemplation.
In between the multitude of pocket cameras (I was browsing through the photo section of a local electronics store), there rarely appear to be any surprising models. Perhaps it is the simple consumer approach (commoditization) or the simple lack of R&D resources or simply the lack of focus (pun intended), but it strikes me as quite odd that putting most pocket cameras next to each other, one will hardly notice a difference in anything but their brand-name, and perhaps their external design. Granted design (i.e. ergonomics) is important but we are talking about operations which are in any case going through menus and drill-downs. Some people focus a lot on the operations aspect of a camera when they make the choice. I believe I don't put as much attention as that per se although it figures into my perception of how the camera feels. The Pro-grade cameras all feel powerful in the hand - heavy, solid, and most of them quite refined. They still may have tons of buttons and dials, of which I am not the biggest fan, but the M8 and M9 have really spoiled me in terms of expectations. The ease with which I can maneuver with the M system has become a breeze.
Out of curiocity, I have been taking a look sideways to the M. I am familiar with the operations of the Canon Pro-level cameras, having used a 5D II, 1Ds, and 1Ds II and one easily transitions from one to the other. I imagine it is similar with the Nikon gear although I've never shot with a Nikon (now that the DF is out, I am contemplating having a run with it or perhaps with an older D700). But when one comes to the pocket cameras or the micro-four-thirds, one finds great variety of systems. Over the past 1 year, I've tried a bunch of them (Olympus E-P2, and OM-D5) and will probably be continuing with that experimentation.
One of the cameras that grabbed my attention is the Ricoh GR Digital IV mostly because of the praise it received in the context of street photography (ironically, I didn't get to use it in the context of street photography). One of the major advantages it brings is speed in focusing (thanks to a dual-AF-focus system), small sensor (i.e. large depth of field), ruggid construction (metal housing), wide-angle without bells and whistles (28mm equivalent - oh, and fast at f1.9), and (probably not for street) macro mode (going down to a couple of cm from the front element). All of this added together, and this has been a good camera (no experience yet with the new Ricoh GR with the APS-C sensor which may have its advantages).
I spent few weeks with it trying to wrap my head around looking at a screen to compose and taking a picture with a shutter which felt decidedly different from my M9. And I couldn't. Menu functionality, again, felt much more complicated than the M9 but still not too complicated or unknowable. The image quality is what made me keep the camera for quite some time. Pocket cameras have rarely blown me away (with the exception of the iPhone camera which is miraculous being much much tinier). But it was not destined to be a long-lasting relationship and this little baby went to ebay.
Then there was (still is) the film phase - going through old Leica Ms, exploring for the first time the nostalgia of the vintage film Nikon classics and even small point-and-shoots (like the Leica Minilux and Rollei 35). Venturing into medium-format too (Rolleiflex, Mamiya 645 and Pentax 67).
It is not that I kept all of these options available at all times - it was not a hoarding, it was an exchange - a camera fund that gets rotated again and again (that's the beauty of buying second-hand - value doesn't depreciate that quickly). I doubt that this will stop. But I know that I want to be able to use this exercise as an opportunity to learn plasticity - to be able to shift between media and formats with the goal of retaining a signature that has nothing to do with the equipment or the tool but with the way it is being used. To this end, it doesn't matter if the camera is a fancy Leica M (typ 240) or if it is a cheap plastic point-and-shoot film camera. I am far from having accomplished this language fluency but I am glad that I ventured on this path - because every day is a more interesting day!
In 2014, I will be continuing my experimentations for sure. But I am also now a happy owner of the next M series camera - the Leica rangefinder has turned out to be the system that comes closest to home. And for 2014, I have decided to do one of those "regular interval" projects - a-photo-a-"period" and I've decided to do it on a weekly basis with a fixed kit: the Leica M (typ 240) equipped with Leica Summilux 50 ASPH. And weekly, a picture will be posted here with a short story. 52 pictures - 52 stories, 52 dreams and 52 moments, 52 surprises and 52 predictions.
The very first idea of this post came to me many months ago - I was reviewing my app-use trying to see if I could clean up a little bit my iPhone from apps that I don't use and camera apps take the largest share of apps for me. This leads to a struggle every time I want to take a picture - which app to use? Luckily most apps offer the option to import a picture from the camera roll so I can simply use the regular camera app that Apple includes. But Hipstamatic is an exception and as one of the very few exceptions (there was also Lomora 2 some time ago but a big update last year made it possible to import photos) of apps that simply take a picture not allowing you to import or to export original file. And that appears to be something they are adamant not to change. And I think this idea is a revelation in today's photographic sphere where multiple edits and painting over pictures diminishes the spontaneous nature of preserving a memory. When one spends too much time thinking of how a picture should look like, it is no longer a collection of an emotion but a polished work of art - and that's quite alright, too. But I take the picture not because I want to make art for someone else but to preserve a memory for myself.
There is something scary about standing in front of a finished piece of art - it is there, it carries its own value and it is immutable. It is not encouraging the question "what will happen if ..." but it asks the question "what made it happen". These are two distinct world-views - the exploratory and the questioning, the courageous and the accommodating, the acting and the observing, the emotional and the objective.
The finished work of art (the one that is thought through and designed by nature) is not welcoming; it is only existing out there, occupying space and time - demonstrating the great power of the human mind to design. The unpolished work on the other hand (the one with imperfections) is a charmer; it starts its existance challenging its own existance - it takes up no space and no time - and yet it is there demonstrating the great power of the human ego to feel.
And it is this questionning power and self-effacing evaluation in today's ego-, head-, and objectivity-centered society that make us add those imperfections and the unplanned to our pictures - consciously or not. And I am guilty as charged to extole and abuse them to my own catharctic advantage.
It is said to be the biggest (i.e. longest at 12 km) march of shooters in Germany (anywhere), it still leaves me wondering about it - where are the shooters? But it is a colorful parade of sorts with tons of micro-groups each representing their historic heritage. I observe the groups, trying to guess the participants' age and their relation. Most are old, some are children. None are there in between (apart from the occasional one who appears to be a biological copy of one of the older ones). What is the purpose of this entertainment? Sorry - not the "purpose" (which is entertainment to the masses) but the "function" (and that's since 1955). As a photographer, one simply needs to look at it as a display of mastery - the Schützenkönig beats the rest but they are all part of the justification of this gathering. More pictures HERE.
The sun shines over the laighter (and the screams). People wear colours (they are colours with strange body paint and weekend chinos). They always choose the less scary roller coaster first. First, they go on the Ferris wheel - to get used to the height. Then they move on - to the next stand where they are turned upside down (and you rush to collect the coins falling off their pockets). There is food on every second stand: chinese, german, sweets, chinese, german, sweets, chinese, german, sweets ... And you feel full from the thick smell alone; your hands get sticky from the sweet sugar vapours.
I walk through the crowds - no one else has their headphones on, no one else walks alone, no one else is there to observe the people, no one else is there to photograph the people, no one is there looking for the questions (nor for the anwers). They are there for the adrenaline rush - the one that tilts the scales towards "yes" when one doubts one's emotional state. They are there for the glucose rush - the one that makes them alert to nothing but their senses to perceive the colours of the festival through an ever more acid curtain. They are there for the plain human need - to love and to belong (because their other Maslowian needs have been covered already on the stand before).