Gear Doesn’t Matter- Or Does It?

Readers of this blog know that I am a acolyte to photographers such as David duChemin and Cole Thompson. These artists emphasize the need for vision and emotion in photographs, not pixel peeping and technical virtuosity. Cole has a delightful quote on his website right now that nails it:

“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:
‘That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific Stove.'” Sam Haskins

Curiously though, I just got back from two trips to Europe in the past month. Those trips added up to 15 days of photography. On both of these trips I brought my Canon G12. Now the G12 is a compact camera, but it comes with a great lens, a good sensor, and full manual controls. It’s perfectly capable of taking great photos. I’ve always seen it as a substitute SLR for those times when I don’t want to carry an SLR. And yet…

For 13 of those 15 days I felt like I was taking snapshots and not making art. I carried a mini-tripod and used it only once, when there were countless times it would have been a good idea. I carried a polarizing filter and only used it twice- again, it would have made many of my pictures better. Instead, it was click-click-done. Just get the shot and move on. I found it incredibly hard to get into the art-making mindset. I wasn’t thinking of ways to make the picture better. I wasn’t trying different angles or focal lengths (zoom levels in this case). I wasn’t thinking about the thought I was trying to convey. I wasn’t even thinking about how I would use post-processing to change the final look. Thinking back to my desert backpack in Joshua Tree last Spring, I felt the same way. It seems like if I don’t have my “art camera,” I don’t make art, even if technically there’s no reason why I shouldn’t.

Definitely something I’ll think about the next time I have to choose which camera to bring. Maybe I’m in an artistic rut, or maybe gear does matter- for overcoming mental barriers.