The Photographer Without A Camera

For many years, I have not owned a decent camera. This is particularly galling for many reasons, not the least of which is I have a BFA degree in Photography. I have always owned great camera equipment, at various times I’ve owned top-end cameras like the Canon F1 and Hasselblad 500 C/M, I worked hard to afford these expensive toys, only to fall on harder economic times and be forced to sell them. Now I only have a used Canon AE1 and it is a piece of crap. This is a camera that’s been bought and resold over and over at the local camera store, I bet it was owned by a dozen different Photo 101 students before I bought it for $50. I took some test shots and it’s just inaccurate enough to be completely worthless for serious photography, so I never use it. I had better results from disposable cameras.

Photographers tend to be obsessive about equipment, especially cameras. It’s one of the worst faults of photographers and photography as a medium, they tend to become obsessed with technical aspects of the process, to the detriment of their aesthetics. That’s one reason why I mostly gave up photography and focused on painting, to focus on a message and a meaning in imagery, and not on the process. But I have continuously done photo printing for many years. I have a huge darkroom rig but no cameras to make films to print in the darkroom. So I use non-camera processes, like photograms, contact printing, etc. My photography professor always said that a great photographer should be able to make great prints, even with a pinhole camera. I tried to go one step better, I can make great photographs without any camera. My approach to photography is more like printmaking than camerawork.

These non-camera methods only go so far, especially with someone who can work a camera like I can. But I’ve agonized for years about what camera to buy, nothing I’ve seen (or can afford) has the features I like. I considered digital, but it was too expensive for a decent resolution camera. A pro digital camera could cost the same as 3 or 4 good film cameras. I even considered old classic medium format cameras, and I came really close to buying a Graflex Speed Graphic 4×5 and even a Rollei 2 1/4″ twin lens reflex. If I can’t get along with the new computerized cameras, I can still do wonders with medium format film. But I could not decide what to get.

But now my agony is over, I just received a wonderful birthday present, a new Canon Powershot S50. 5 megapixels is just about bare minimum resolution for what I need, and overkill for some work. There are digicams with slightly better lenses, but not this small and pocketable. It’s about the top of the line for current prosumer digicams, and it looks like it will be a good value for many years. I bought a 1Gb CF memory card for $180 after rebate at Amazon, but it still hasn’t arrived yet, so I can’t really use the camera yet. I can only fit about 5 pictures on the free 32Mb CF card that came with the camera.

The S50 has so many cool features that I’ve resumed work on some old photo projects that were too unwieldy to do on film, as well as some new ideas. They’re too complex to describe, and what would be the point of describing a photographic idea anyway? The proof is in the work. I’ll just have to make some images and prove my ideas.

Now I have no excuses, I finally have the tools I need to do some great work. I always tell people that digital tools for the arts are so good these days, that if your artwork sucks, it’s not because the equipment or software sucks, it’s because you suck.

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