Monday, 26 December 2016

The Stove might be Terrific but it won't deliver Fantastic Pictures.

There is a famous anecdote about understanding creativity that still does the rounds in photography circles. The story is usually attributed to Sam Haskins of Cowboy Kate fame; being greeted by his host who is a great fan of his work and it's told like this.. "A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures - they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’ He said nothing until dinner was finished, then on leaving said to the host ‘That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove." Continues after illustration.
Photograph of a photo of coffee pots on a stove with a coffee pot - illustration for the article, The Stove might be Terrific but it won't deliver Fantastic Pictures.
Now there is nothing new about the flawed logic that it is the camera that makes the picture, even though the camera itself is an inanimate object with no mind of its own.. And that is as true of today's highly programmed digital cameras as it was of whatever film camera Sam may have chosen to create his iconic pictures with. I think we can all agree it's the chef that makes the meal, not the stove after all and the same goes for the camera; it's the photographer that makes the pictures.

So what caused this old photography anecdote to pop back into my mind? On the one hand I have been reading a fascinating book about how our brain really works, how we think & how we perceive the outside world. In a nutshell we all see a lot less than we assume and the brain is very very good at filling in the gaps.. And then there is the growth of online web sites for booking photography services; with the one I came across most recently referring to itself as the UBER of Photography. This site also prominently featured the stoves, I mean the cameras the photographer will make your pictures with. And I reckon brains are busy filling in some very large gaps.

On the surface these online photography booking systems seem attractive because they attempt to make photography into a fixed commodity, like a car trip from A to B or buying a new stove. Simplistic price points and deliverables give an illusion of choice and control. A final focus on the camera (just one part of a photographer's tool kit) is an easy layman's; no really it's an amateurs most obvious point of photographic reference, much easier than understanding the nature of photography itself. "What camera do you use?" Nikon or Canon.. Not that it probably matters anyway. All in all you have something that feels like it should be all you need to take control of your marketing, and at a price point you can choose for yourself.

Which brings me back to how our brains work. Now I am no neuroscientist, nor am I psychologist with a degree in marketing. I can however tell you that when I go to a life drawing group and put pencil to paper, my eyes and brain tell me I am doing well; until I need to join the last lines together; then unless I have been practising regularly I find out I am not so good a judge of what I saw and put down on paper after all.

My brain fills in gaps, but in the end, I have a gap I cannot fill. This is why I practice my photography every day. If not on commercial jobs, then on personal projects or just photographing things that interest me. This is also why I went to art school and assisted photographers - back in the day - who were much better than me. So I could learn to see what was really there, to reduce the brain fill gaps with what is really there, to learn to see creatively and develop a vision for my craft.

While cameras may be a commodity; photography never will be. There are just too many variables. And as the saying goes, "if you are not sure where you are going, you might end up somewhere else". Thrill of the unknown journey aside.. when it comes to choosing a photographer, take a good look at their portfolio or website; keep an eye out for consistency; if you don't know what you are looking at, or for, enlist specialised help - editors or designers. When you find a photographer with the photographic vision that suits you. Give them a call or send them an email, I can assure you, they will be very happy to hear from you; and you will be making the best decision you can to get the most Fantastic Pictures possible!

Kent Johnson,
Sydney, Australia.

0433 796 863