On Photography: Fame, Shame, Money and Cameras

November 12, 2007

Digital cameras snap, shoot and process some 15 billion pictures a year. Most likely, only a few hundred of those will survive the lapse of time. The rest will quietly retire to the big photo paradise in the sky. What’s the difference between those long forgotten pictures resting in the sky and those few that live on to tell the story of our times?

Digital cameras sell at a rate of about 100 million a year. Cell phone cameras may sell at 5 times that amount. Say a combined total of 600 million per year. Say the average camera has a life cycle of three-four years, indicating there are maybe 2 billioSebastian Salgado - Slave labor in L. American Minen cameras in use world wide. Say the average owner snaps 5-10 pictures a year. That’s about 15 billion photos created a year, give or take a few billions.

Incidentally, isn’t it nice to know that the suicidal driver next to you on the road may not only have a head wrapped around a cell phone but could also capture the last earthly moments of either of you in panoramic, full color, no red eye high resolution jpegs automatically uploaded to YouTube, MeTube and ThemTube? Admired by millions before you even cool down? Ah well, that would never happen to me but it might happen to you.

Out of those billions of pixs, most won’t stand a chance to make it through history or even the day as your spouse/significant other/what-ever might gleefully point out. They’ll be lucky to survive a 1 second glance (the pictures, not the spouse etc.). Let’s be eternally grateful for that. The great big photo place in the sky is awaiting those hoped-for but not achieved master pieces.

Also disappearing are some $20 billion out of your and my pockets. I don’t know about you but after the first few billions, I hardly notice anymore.

Sebastio Salgados - Latin American MinePerhaps a success rate of a few hundred winners out of scores of billions seems pretty miserable, especially considering the enormous cost in $. But the flip side is that these few winners may provide a distant future with understanding and perhaps admiration of today’s world and its terrific photographers. Not a bad thing for a lucky photographer.

So it is good that most everyone in the developed and soon the entire world owns a camera, similar to possessing a phone, TV, dog, iPods, fresh socks or perhaps a card board box for a new roof. Any camera may produce the treasure picture. Some professionals may own several quite expensive cameras with lots of accessories. Others don’t.

Many of us discovered that some like to own the cameras we own. Thus, the rip-off business is very much alive, keeping eBay profitable. No one ever stole my socks but my cameras is a different story. Attach thou self to thy art, not the cameras. In this case, it is good to know it is the artist (owner), not the camera, that makes the great pictures.

The moral is that photography is big business, both to businesses and to individuals. It’s so common that perhaps we do not appreciate the miracle that actually creates a photo from some scattered, distorted and unruly light. Maybe it’s even harder to realize the magic that creates a good photo. This post serves to look at that issue.

Good photography has nothing to do with money spent on equipment. Your social standing, fame or skin Henri Cartier-Bresson - Kids in Ruinscolor matters little. A $40,000 Hasselblad or the all-plastic #20 Holga both can make art. Democrat, KKK member, Silent Majority, Maoist, Country Singer – who cares – art is for everyone. In many cases, the more money spent, the less the value of the photos – the focus is on the wrong thing.

You can make a great camera out of a shoe box using a little 5c needle. There are many great photos coming out of that shoe string operation. You don’t even need film or digital backs – the image can be viewed at the back of the shoe box as a plain projection. Scaling up, one can view such an image on a wall. No $3,000 F.5 lens required.

Fame and Money

Owning an expensive car does not make anyone a good driver. A big house does not make us better neighbors. Our ever bigger pay check does not produce a better society. Photoshop won’t create Joe Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima photo. Smart bombs do not create peace nor will the $2 trillion cost of the Iraq war. The corner office does not cure divorce, heartache or cancer. Microsoft Word Sebastian Salgado - Water Sources in the Desertdoesn’t make you Shakespeare. The biggest industrial base in the world doesn’t create the biggest land of happiness but the largest source of pollution.

Selling 85 million albums didn’t do Britney Spears much good. Michael Jackson apparently hides in a desert somewhere. Tom Delay, Richard Nixon, Bernard Ebbers and Ken Lay are just examples of the mighty taking hard falls.

W. A. Mozart was never rich – he fought poverty most of his life by spending every schilling he made. So did Rembrandt. Robert Capa mysteriously lost his Leica whenever he was broke which most of the time was the case. Haydn was a poor and humble court servant much of his life. So was Bach. Beethoven didn’t do much better. van Gogh and Monet never reaped to riches their works demand today. Mother Theresa didn’t lunch in Beverly Hills. My art teacher didn’t hop to London on the Concorde. Untold artists never made or make a decent living. Yet they have in common a collection of art unmatched by anything in the world of, say, Karl Rove, Ann Coulter, Bill Clinton, the Bush Clan or Alberto Gonzales.

LDesign.com - By the Cold StorageMy main “On Photography essay” mentions the artists belonging to what’s called “Outside Artists (or Art)”. These artists never achieved recognition in their life time. Most spent their lives in mental institutions. Some were homeless. They never had exhibitions reviewed by New York Times. The Art Institute of Chicago did not pay attention. Of course, neither one of these two fine institutions is at fault for this, they claim. Today, several of the Outside Artists are exhibited world wide. “Outsider Art” now is a money machine, catching new interest from dealers and curators.

None of this is new, of course. Artists always were poor, misunderstood and treated unfairly. No doubt that was true of the cave artists of the Chauvet Cave in Southern France 20-35,000 years ago. Yet their art is about all that remains from those very distant Ice Age days. This is precisely the way it is supposed to be! Art has this stubborn, wonderful ability to survive even the harshest challenges such as Ice Ages, the Religious Right, Rudy Guiliano and his various wives, police chiefs and investment buddies.

Let’s poll!!

We have, of course, always been fascinated (envious? disgusted?) with famous persons. Any numbers of businesses know that and exploit it to their little merry, greedy hearts. But what exactly is “fame”. For LDesign.com - Protesterswhom, or what, will it last beyond the next blockbuster of whatever medium?

Here’s the deal: a little poll Choose no more than four of the names, things, events below. Two of the items are your selections of the two least likely to be famous in 100 years. The other two are the ones you believe will at least retain most of their current fame. It’s a simple choice – those without lasting fame, those with lasting fame. For the heck of it, I added extra categories to the names: Foods, Events and Stuff. Select your choices from any category.

In the low tech spirit of this post, here is how: use the comment box at the bottom of this post to submit your vote in any fashion that communicates your choice. Here and below are links to that spot There is another link returning you to the beginning. I’ll do my best to keep up with your busy and eager responses. After all, on normal day, well over a thousand of you deeply honored readers pass through these pages. Bless you all.

Here are the names, in seven favorite groups – Politics, Arts, Entertainment, Misc. and to change the pace a bit Events, Food and Stuff ” – America’s Fastest Growing Poll:

  • Politics: George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Tom DeLay, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, J. F. Kennedy, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, Boris Yeltsin, Barney the Scottish Terrier, Bob Packwood, Kim Jong-Il, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan & sister Bay, Sonny & Mary Bono.
  • Arts: George Gershwin, Andy Warhol, Louis Armstrong, Lenny Bruce, Leonard Bernstein, John Lennon, Susan Sontag, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Igor Stravinsky, Bill Haley, Norman Mailer, Luciano Paverotti, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Cage, The Beach Boys, Liberace, Woody Allen, Doonesbury.
  • Entertainment: Tom Cruise, J. K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Britney Spears, Adam Sandler, Judy Garland, Jimmy Steward, Madonna, Donald Duck, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Howard Stern, Snowwhite, Paris Hilton, Laurence Olivier, Conan O’Brien, Batman, Greta Garbo, Bruce Lee, ABBA.
  • Misc: Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, King-Kong, Ken Lay, Marie Curie, David Beckham, Albert Einstein, Martha Steward, Muhammad Ali, Princess Diana, Osama bin Laden, Al Gore, Billy Graham, Mike Tyson, Karl Marx, Bill Maher, Groucho Marx, Snoop Dogg, Riverdance, Superman, Marge Simpson, PacMan.
  • Events: 9/11 2001, O. J. Simpson Trials, Global Warming, Exxon Valdez, Hurricane Katrina, Bill Clinton Impeachment, The A-Bombing of Hiroshima, The Internet, AIDS, The Moon Landings, Watergate, Tom Cruise@Oprah, iPods Releases, Playboy debut, Janet Jackson@Superbowl XXXVIII, Yahoo birth.
  • Food: French Fries, Brains and Eggs, Steak Tartare, Beluga Caviar, Macaroni & Cheese, Big Macs, Surf & Turf, Onion Rings, Caesar Salad, Puffer Fish, Béarnaise Sauce, Lutefisk, Broccoli, Sushi, Snails, Liver & Onions, Veggie Burgers, Smorgasbord, Liverwurst, Fishsticks, Coleslaw, Kobe Beef, Kippers, Herring.
  • Stuff: Chevrolet Corvette, YouTube, Cell phone Ring tones, Microsoft Word, GPS-In-Your-Car, TiVo, The American Express Platinum Card, Boeing B52, Alien I, II, III, Soprano Reruns, The Strategic Defense Initiative, aka Reagan’s Star War, NASA, Hum-Ve, Cocaine, i-Anything, e-ThisAndThat, Maze.

Enter your choices by using the comment box at the end of this post. Hit the “Poll” button to get there quickly. Then return here using the “Return” button. And – hey – if you don’t like my choices, make up your own.

Poll

High Tech Anxiety

If being rich and powerful does not guarantee great photos any more then using an expensive lens – what would? Surely the fantastic new wonders in our ultra technology world is an answer. Take groundbreaking technologies such as DIGIT III, USM, FlexiZone, AiAF, iSAPS, SELPHY, VariAngle, TriCod, Elph, CyberShot, Super HAD, EXILIM, Genie, DA C, DNG, IAA, Phocus, GIL, IPTC Core and XMP Plus. These allegedly major advances come from current catalogs of Canon, Sony and Hasselblad. You have no idea what this stuff stands for? Me neither and I’d like to keep it that way. If you think TriCod is the way to go, by all means spend the dough. It’ll match your BetaMax collection and that ABS training system you purchased a while ago.LDesign.com - Wasteland

High Tech creatures as we may be, utter madness is a healthy part of life. We are living in the utopia of intelligent garbage compactors, mood sensitive lighting, paperless (and people less?) offices, secure and safe computing, no-spam email, painless surgery, eHarmonized spouses, nuclear umbrellas, terrorism cured climate controlled eHouses. Well, the truth is – none of these much talked-about technologies are real. All of them have or will join the failures of Microsoft Bob, Ford’s Edsel, Dubya’s War on Terror, Apple’s Pippin, and the Tacoma Bridge, Alberto Gonzales’ war on US Attorneys, the Maginot Line, the Dean Scream, FEMA, the Domino Theory, Homeland Security, New Coke, G. H. W. Bush’s tax policy, Hillary Clinton’s Health Care Plans and just about everything ever touched on by G. W. Bush & Entourage. Or,

  • As H. M. Warner, founder of the famous studio put it in 1927: Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? Or as Ajhan Chah mentioned: Looking for peace is like looking for a turtle with a mustache: You won’t be able to find it.
  • To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality; to assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality. The more you talk and think about it, the further astray you wander from the truth. Stop talking and thinking and there is nothing you will not be able to know. Hsin Hsin Ming

Of course not everything is a failure, fake or fraud – it’s just a matter of perspective. Michael Brown did a heck-of-a job in New Orleans. George W. successfully was landed on an aircraft carrier and declared his job was done. Ken Lay never went to prison. Reagan felled the Berlin Wall but never heard of Nicaragua. Record companies successfully dragged grandmothers and underage kids into court. Oil Pollutionand Tobacco companies survived the adversity of various overeager zealots. Global Warming is kept an obscure, unproven and invisible rumor by George W. and other visionaries – just a part of the George W. Bush War on Science. Genocide here, famine there, nukes spreading like wildfire and Guantanamo’s popping up around the world: all are made subjects unworthy of attentions.

Drug companies enjoy fair and well earned profits from Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro, Esipram, Effexor, Cymbalta, Avanza, Zispin, Remeron, Esronax, Wellbutrin, Zyban, Emsam, Manerix, Tryptan, Buspar, Seroquel, Klonopin, Rivotril, Zyprexa, Risperdal, Adderall, Ritalin, Lithium, Tegretol, Epilim and Lamictal. That’s just to mention a few of the mind altering drugs on the market. It used to be that booze and opium did the job but no more of that.

Meanwhile, there are few drugs available to African AIDS victims. Countries such as the US dispose of their mentally ill by putting them on the streets as police gun practice targets. Polar bears and Arctic seals, krill, cod, lemmings, foxes, reindeer and walruses are obsolete and of no consequence. So are textile workers, aluminum workers, telecom workers, steel workers, cab drivers, sex workers, whaterveryourindustryis workers – depending on where you live and rare fortunes.

So what?

So life is tough. Artists starve. Sickos die. Bad products flop. Fortunes flip. Jobs go elsewhere. High Tech fails. Bears perish. Pills keep you happy. Pills make you sleep. Pills wake you up. Pension funds robbed. Coral reefs bleached. Bush remains President. Spouses fight, kids disappear, dogs panic. On it goes.

Remember the Chauvet Cave artists? Come on – it was just a couple of paragraphs ago. Pay attention. I mentioned them for a reason. Art survives. Almost all that is known about prehistoric human conditions comes from the art of a few cave artists in Southern France. Everything else is dead and long forgotten. We don’t know the ancient status of Gay Rights, Equal Employment Opportunities, Balanced Budgets, Wars on Terror, Evolution, Abortion and so on. We do know just how important animals were to those people. Just look at the art. Cave Art - Bisons

Art survives. Species go extinct. Jobs are gone. Gods, no gods, one, several, none. Chemistry here, pollution there. No morals, too much morals. Evolution, yes, no, maybe. Holocaust, starvation, killing fields. Clausewitz, Mao, Sun Tzu, Mickey Mouse. Abortion, yes, no. Bombs – nuclear, smart, dumb, too big, too small, stealth, B-52s, vested, worn, exploded by females, students, kids and Generals. Unfairness, violations, crime, corruption and high fever. Ice Ages come and go as do Global Warmings. Art survives it all. Eventually the rest dies. Art survives. The cave artists are still with us. Their contemporaries are not. Art is about us, by us, for us and will eventually be all that is left.Cave Art - More Bisons

Cave Drawings are Art. Photography is art. Lenses are not art, neither are brand names, pixels or ISOs, ASAs, DINs and UFOs. Canon, Nikon, Hasselblad, Leica or Kodak do not make art, they make stuff. Art is people, at least in the case of a selected few. Photographers create the art – some to be immortal, others very much mortal. The few, the proud, the artists. The survivors.

Less is More

Now, let’s consider the Leica M3 rangefinder camera. It was introduced in the early 1950s and remained in production till about 1968, succeeded by a few very similar models. No batteries, exposure meters or gadgetry. Three lenses did the job. Possibly a flash but usually not. Today, these cameras catch top dollars. So do the lenses and the few accessories.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Ralph Gibson, Alfred Eisenstadt, André Kertész, Yousuf Karsh, Fred Maroon, Jim Marshall, Joe Marvullo, LDesign.com - Musician Sebastiao Saldago and Robert Frank were or are more or less exclusive Leica shooters. These guys produced masterpieces that will be famous as long as there is a human race.

They did it without the help of electricity, buzzwords or mindblowing features such as White Balance: Auto, Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Underwater), Custom and Scene Modes: Portrait, Landscape, Special Scene (Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Night Scene, Aquarium, Underwater, Indoor, ISO 3200), Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, Stitch Assist (From the specs of Canon’s PowerShot A650).

As far as I know, they did it without the assistance of Prozac or Wellbutrin. I’m not sure about opium and booze but I’ve never heard about anyone needing Zoloft to operate an M3. In photography, less tends to be more.

Light in the Camera

A camera is a pretty simple mechanical object. It consists of a lens, a shutter system and a back end device such as a digital chip or a film. The back end catches the light remaining after passing through the lens and the shutter system. Then the back end stores a representation of the light by chemically altering the loaded film or by writing to file a digital representation of the energy hitting the sensor chip. That’s about it. Of course there are additional elements supporting the three basic ones – light meters, flashes, digital software and much else for the gadget happy photographer. As you might have noticed, my advice is to stick with the basics as we will in this essay.

Expensive Lenses or Not

A lens is just a few pieces of glass or, occasionally, plastic mounted in a tube. It gathers light to be recorded by the back end of the camera. Engineers discovered, over the last 150 years or so, that it is not possible to build an accurate lens. Today’s lenses are incredibly complex in pursuit of the fewest inaccuracies and/or the most pleasing distortions. Even so, a lens does not pass on what it sees but its distorted version of what is in front of it. Each brand with its focal length, f-values, focusing system and Diane Arbus Lady with Curlerseven individual lenses of a particular specification/brand have different and, to some extent, measurable characteristics.

Hence, no matter what you pay, lenses are not perfect from a scientific point of view – the light coming through the lens is reduced in intensity and the light beams hitting the back end are distorted due to the optical imperfections of any lens. There is no way around that. Most of these distortions are correctable, either in a darkroom or in Photoshop (or similar software).

Here are just a few of the possible imperfections: pincushion or barrel distortion, image corners out of focus, image corner light falloff, vignetting, ghost images, flares or the curvilinear effect from fisheye lenses. More generally: there are out of focus optical distortions (monochromatic aberration) such as tilt (perspective changes), defocus (sensitivity to focus changes – related to depth of field and focal length), spherical (imperfect refraction resulting in “circular” blurs of light points), coma (off-axis points are rendered wedge-shaped), astigmatism (certain images KGLPhoto Seattle Demonstrator appear doubled) and field curvature (this stands for barrel and pincushion distortion). Then, there are the optical lens color shifts (chromatic aberrations) that may be axial or lateral. Finally, we have lens stabilizers – a fairly new feature that Robert Capa and everyone else managed without until marketing geniuses decided otherwise..

The wise photographer learns to live with and benefit from the characteristics of a set of favorite lenses. Realizing the full benefits of a lens consists of long and intensive use in typical shooting situations. Some photographers claim the only way to understand the strength and weakness of a lens is to exclusively use it for a year.

Aesthetically, what is pleasing given the distortions to one photographer is deplorable to another. Lens snobs (connoisseurs) often concentrate their attention on the “bokeh” of the lens – how the out of focus parts of the image are rendered. Bokeh is generally not measurable but subjective. In a digital world, bokeh of a lens is easily manipulated in Photoshop.

Adding to the imperfections of the lens are the human errors – using the wrong lens and the wrong settings. Then the problem of low light and handheld shooting often results in handshake blur, in some cases reduced by built in image stabilizers. What about a mind stabilizer?

The Mechanical Wonders of Shutters

Then we have the shutter system. Better yet, we might include the aperture device and call it the light control system. While we are at it, let’s add the light meter present in most cameras. There are endless engineering variations of these systems. All of them share one characteristic. KGLPhoto Lady BartenderThey are inaccurate.

Accuracy is a relative concept. The shutter and the light system may actually be quite accurate except it is not doing what you tell it to do. Say that you set a shutter speed of 1/500 second. The shutter will actually give you 1/400 (say). Typically, every time you set 1/500, you will consistently get 1/400. Shutters will most likely not randomly jump around from 1/250 to 1/700 and everything in between. Likewise, the light system may consistently set you up for 1 stop overexposure. These issues are not fatal as long as you calibrate the camera or at least identify the issues. This is not very hard to do.

Potentially a much worse issue is that of relying on automation – auto exposure, auto focus and in digital cameras, auto white point. Both work efficiently only in trivial shooting situations and actually encourage bad or at least boring compositions. Consider auto focus which requires you to point the camera at the subject and then expose. That composition is not likely to be very exciting. Of course, you can point the camera at the subject, lock the focus KGLPhoto A Customerand recompose. But if so, why not manually focus which is faster, easier and more accurate?

A few cameras allow you to use off center focus points. My Canon has that ability and that works quite well although even the nine or so focusing points are not enough in my case. How about a continuously adjustable focus point? Is that too much to ask for?

Then, there is auto exposure which works great if you shoot even surfaces of 18% grey. If not, trouble soon pops up. Try this on: grab your camera, go out on a dark night to a nearby well trafficked road, making sure you don’t get run over. Try to take a picture using auto exposure of the oncoming traffic. First, point the camera in the vicinity of the headlight coming towards you and expose. Next, place the headlights off center and expose. The first image will be way underexposed while the second will be overexposed. The correct exposure is somewhere in the middle and only some intelligent guess work will save the night.

To help exposure issues, many cameras can bracket the shots automatically, up and down a few stops. That is quite helpful but won’t work in the roadside example – that variation in exposure far exceeds the typical bracketing settings.

Back ends – Film or Silicon

In a film camera, you load a particular film. That film possess unique features: brand, batch, age, overall sensitivity (ASA or DIN) and the more precise spectral sensitivity over wave lengths all the way down to the individual roll and how it was handled and stored Cindy Sherman Untitledfrom manufacturing and on. Many photographers overlook the importance of handling and storing film correctly and are punished by color casts and other unexpected issues. High temperatures and any kind of radiation make bad news. Film may be over or underexposed, either by mistake or by purpose, in which case the film is pushed or pulled, which, then, is compensated for in development.

In a digital camera, the back end consists of a chip, onboard memory and software. The chip possesses various unique characteristics ranging from resolution and sensitivity to size. The onboard software takes the raw input from the chip, massages it and converts it into an image file of some standard format, usually JPEG. RAW images may – or not – bypass the onboard software to produce an “accurate” image. Some digital cameras allow you to modify the onboard software for white balance, shooting what the manufacturer considers typical situations (”Hawaiian Sunsets”, “Cathedrals” etc.) and much else. Removing “red eyes” has become quite an industry because most camera manufacturers knowingly put the flash in the wrong place.

Of course, the image produced by the back end – film or digital – is not accurate at all. Consider the journey of light from the sun towards earth, bent and hammered as it flies along. Then the atmosphere with reflections, refractions, collisions and Annie Leibowitz Three Girlslots more does its trick or treat act. The treacherous lens adds to the wounds, the shutter and light system adds to the insult and the back end lets everyone down. Then add this little element to the pot:

If you are a Photoshop affectionate, you may have played – or even used – some of the fancy plug-ins that attempt to change the characteristics of various back ends. There are plug ins that “compensate” for or “emulate” all kinds of film brands. You can make your digital photo look like it was shot with HP 400 black and white film. Or Velvia color film. Or anything else you may fancy. There are other plug-ins making your film images look like they were digitally shot. Other filters make your image look like it was shot in 1853. Of course, all you do is to add more distortions to your image.

The Ultimate Camera

All we can expect of a camera is for it to give us images we like. Or images we can Leni Riefenthal Nuba Male“improve” using various tools. We must have sufficient control over the shooting session. We can’t get bogged down in technical gadgetry. We can deal with the distortions produced by the camera. Just accept the unavoidable fact that the camera gives you a highly distorted view of the light from the subject you’re shooting. Then keep shooting.

The Ultimate Camera is the one you are happy with and gives you images you like without too much fuss. It may play nasty tricks on you once in a while but that’s life. Do be aware that automations and gimmicks will generally make your life harder. Keep it simple and shoot as much as you can afford. Equipment prices have little to do with this – $20 Holga cameras have quite a following and artistic acceptance because of the extreme amount of distortions produced. They aren’t as great if you want to be a basket ball sports photographer.

This post surfaced a lot of issues about cameras and photography – sources of untold inaccuracies, distortions and fallacies in almost every step on the road. Some Arnold Newman Alfred Krupp Portraitmay think that digital technology will make all that hassle go away. The answer is no. The reason for that is that most of the issues have nothing to do with photography. The behavior of light and how our brains process color information are items completely outside our control and do not change no matter what the camera is doing or if it is digital or film based.

The few remaining professional film cameras are marvelous technical machines, built from 60-80 years of crucifying development. They survived anything from nuclear blasts to World Wars to landing on the moon. They even survived Uncle Ben and the punch bowl. They have been used to punch out muggers, stop bullets and to drive down nails. They are stolen, fenced and stolen again. They remain faithfully capable of taking great photos as long as there is film to load and a live finger to press that shutter release.

Professional digital cameras build on that tradition but have not quite been through the hazing of their film brothers. Yet they are the result of terrific technology advances that won’t stop for a long Robert Doisneau Two Prostitutestime. But no matter how big a sensor or how smart the auto focus, physical laws do not change. Digital technology faces exactly the same issues as does film technology but is nowhere closer to overcome such issues. That is because these issues go beyond cameras. A $40,000 digital Hasselblad system does not reduce pollution in Shanghai. Nor does it correct for ice cave blues. It can’t cure color blindness. Compositions with the Hasselblad are no better than those from my father’s old mechanical monster.

Cameras give us an image frozen in time. You press the shutter button. The shutter fires for a given period of time. The back end records the light received in that period of time. The raw image is done and reflects only that slice in time. This leads us to the next subject and two very different devices – our eyes that record images in an analog manner and our brain that processes those analog images in real time. This is way more complex and sophisticated than that camera. But first: some words from the wise.

Quotes from the Wise

  • I like to watch the person viewing my photographs to see if their eyes twinkle or cloud with tears. Does the smile sneak out when they were not expecting it to? Then I know I have captured emotion that can be shared. -Marsha Cairo
  • A big shot is a little shot that kept shooting. -Amanda Caldwell; The mystery isn’t in the technique, it’s in each of us. -Harry Callahan; If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. -Robert Capa; Rules aren’t any good if they don’t work! The only real rules are the laws of physics and optics. -Dean Collins
  • Images at their passionate and truthful best are as powerful as words can ever be. If they alone cannot bring change, they can at least provide an understanding mirror of man’s actions, thereby sharpening human awareness and awakening conscience. -Cornell Capa
  • (Professional) photographers are like hookers: at first we started doing it because we liked it and it David Bailey Portrait Femalefelt good, then we kept doing it but only for our friends, and NOW we’re still doing it but are charging money for doing it! -Dean Collins
  • Pictures, regardless of how they are created and recreated, are intended to be looked at. This brings to the forefront not the technology of imaging, which of course is important, but rather what we might call the eyenology (seeing). -Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing. Success depends on the extent of one’s general culture, one’s set of values, one’s clarity of mind and one’s vivacity. The thing to be feared most is the artificially contrived, the contrary to life. -Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Our eye must constantly measure, evaluate. We alter our perspective by a slight bending of the knees; we convey the chance meeting of lines by a simple shifting of our heads a thousandth of an inch…. We compose almost at the same time we press the shutter, and in placing the camera closer or farther from the subject, we shape the details – taming or being tamed by them. -Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • ..throughout the history of art it has been art itself – in all its forms – that has inspired art… today’s photographs are so geared to life that one can learn more from them than from life itself. -Van Deren Coke
  • The camera is a killing chamber, which speeds up the time it claims to be conserving. Like coffins exhumed and pried open, the photographs put on show what we were and what we will be again. -Peter Conrad
  • Photography is like fishing. You go out in the morning with no idea of what the trip will bring. Sometimes luck is on your side and all your crab pots are full of prime Lobsters. Other times you get nothing. -Bob Croxford
  • …There are too many people studying it [photography] now who are never going to make it. You can’t give them a formula for making it. You have to have it in you first, you don’t learn it. The seeing eye is the important thing. -Imogen Cunningham.

The Poll – Repeat from Above

Here’s the deal. Choose no more than four of the names/things/events below. Two of the items are your selections of the two least likely to be famous in 100 years. The other two are the ones you believe will at least retain most of their current fame. Simple choice – those without lasting fame, those with lasting fame. For the heck of it, I added extra categories to the names: Foods, Events and Stuff. Select your choices from any category.

In the low tech spirit of this post, here is how: use the comment box at the bottom of this post to submit your vote in any fashion that communicates your choice. Here and below are links to that spot There is another link returning you to the beginning. I’ll do my best to keep up with your busy and eager responses. After all, on normal day, well over a thousand of you deeply honored readers pass these pages. Bless you all.

Here are the names, in seven favorite groups – Politics, Arts, Entertainment, Misc. and to change the pace a bit Events, Food and Stuff ” – America’s Fastest Growing Poll:

  • Politics: George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Tom DeLay, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, J. F. Kennedy, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, Boris Yeltsin, Barney the Scottish Terrier, Bob Packwood, Kim Jong-Il, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan & sister Bay, Sonny & Mary Bono.
  • Arts: George Gershwin, Andy Warhol, Louis Armstrong, Lenny Bruce, Leonard Bernstein, John Lennon, Susan Sontag, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Igor Stravinsky, Bill Haley, Norman Mailer, Luciano Paverotti, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Cage, The Beach Boys, Liberace, Woody Allen, Doonesbury.
  • Entertainment: Tom Cruise, J. K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Britney Spears, Adam Sandler, Judy Garland, Jimmy Steward, Madonna, Donald Duck, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Howard Stern, Snowwhite, Paris Hilton, Laurence Olivier, Conan O’Brien, Batman, Greta Garbo, Bruce Lee, ABBA.
  • Misc: Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, King-Kong, Ken Lay, Marie Curie, David Beckham, Albert Einstein, Martha Steward, Muhammad Ali, Princess Diana, Osama bin Laden, Al Gore, Billy Graham, Mike Tyson, Karl Marx, Bill Maher, Groucho Marx, Snoop Dogg, Riverdance, Superman, Marge Simpson, PacMan.
  • Events: 9/11 2001, O. J. Simpson Trials, Global Warming, Exxon Valdez, Hurricane Katrina, Bill Clinton Impeachment, The A-Bombing of Hiroshima, The Internet, AIDS, The Moon Landings, Watergate, Tom Cruise@Oprah, iPods Releases, Playboy debut, Janet Jackson@Superbowl XXXVIII, Yahoo birth.
  • Food: French Fries, Brains and Eggs, Steak Tartare, Beluga Caviar, Macaroni & Cheese, Big Macs, Surf & Turf, Onion Rings, Caesar Salad, Puffer Fish, Bernaise Sauce, Lutefisk, Broccoli, Sushi, Snails, Liver & Onions, Veggie Burgers, Smorgasbord, Liverwurst, Fish sticks, Coleslaw, Kobe Beef, Kippers, Herring.
  • Stuff: Chevrolet Corvette, YouTube, Microsoft Word, GPS-In-Your-Car, TiVo, The American Express Platinum Card, Boeing B52, Alien I-III, Soprano Reruns, Cell phone Ring tones, Maze, The Strategic Defense Initiative, aka Reagan’s Star War, Cocaine, i-Anything, e-ThisAndThat, NASA, Hum-Ve.

Enter your choices by using the comment box below. Then return to the top of the post using the “Return” button. And – hey – if you don’t like my choices, enter your own.

Return

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3 Responses to “On Photography: Fame, Shame, Money and Cameras”

  1. barbara said

    Stay Famous
    Hitler, Mandela
    Luciano Paverrretti, Louie Armstrong
    JK Rowling Batman
    Albert Einstein Bill Gates
    9-11, A Bombing
    sushi, broccoli
    cocaine, NASA

    The other category was too depressing to think about.

    Thanks for the mind-stirring musings in your post. Perhaps we should not be so caught up in fame and take our photos because shooting them and the results of a few great ones is enough. Although I agree, a little money for a decent living would be nice for the true art makers(not me);-0 Art will be given equal recognition to corvettes or the New York Yankees after hell freezes over. Long, long after.

  2. The helpful information sea is simple, has learnt a lot of the new. Thanks you for an excellent blog

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