It turns out that having a broken camera has its pluses. For one thing I have received some especially kind offers where a number of people have offered me their spare cameras to replace mine. Without exception, these offers have come from people I have never met and who only know me through the virtual interaction we have on the Internet. That is quite something and I am touched by this generosity.
However I haven’t taken anyone up on their kind offers. One reason for this is that I am interested in observing how not having a camera affects me. Yes, I am a little weird that way but let’s move on.
I have already learned that a camera is much more than a mere device with which to make photographs. My phone camera does that to my satisfaction in terms of photographic output but as I have discovered recently, it totally fails to provide that essential je ne sais quoi—that indescribable, indefinable ‘something’—which ignites the creativity in me. It is almost as if the camera, the right camera, provides an emotional bridge between me and the final photograph. A tenuous link as essential to the photographic equation as the light which paints the picture.
And let me just say that a phone camera doesn’t quite fit into that equation. At least not for me.
In other words, I am discovering that gear is important after all. Who would have thought right? Of course I don’t mean in terms of pixels and sharpness and low-light sensitivity and all that somewhat boring stuff but purely and simply in terms of feel. Physical feel; the camera in the hand as an extension of me. The balance, the handling, the texture, the weight, the click of the dials, the push of the buttons, all of these things are important, vital even, if creativity’s current is going to flow unhindered from eyes, to heart, to hand, to camera. Of course, I’ve known this for a long time but this is perhaps the first time I have actually felt it. Felt it with my heart rather than known it with my brain.
But don’t get me wrong. I am not wanting to get all mushy and esoteric or anything like that. I do not see this as some kind of spiritual connection between me and a camera. This is little more than a case of conditioned stimulus. I hold a camera and I feel creative, just as Pavlov’s dog would drool upon hearing a bell ring. It’s not magic. It does appear, however, to be dependent on the gear. I say “appear” because I am well aware that I could be reading way too much into this. I’ve been told I have a tendency to do that.
Anyway, a couple of days ago, on my way to work at around 7AM, I was taking a long way to work along one of our prettier streets—lined with restaurants and cafes on one side and a park on the other—when I noticed a group of people enjoying breakfast. There were eight of them chatting and eating and in-between the plates of fried eggs and French toast there was a bunch of cameras. The discussion was about cameras of course but the little I overheard immediately piqued my interest so I stopped and invited myself to join the conversation.
This group of photographers meet up once a month for an early morning photo-walk. They pick a place to meet, walk around taking pictures and finish up at a café before they each head off to work. A fairly typical photo-walk group. Except for one thing. Every now and then, including this particular morning, they would all swap cameras for the entire outing. They would each use their own SD card but in someone else’s camera. Then, over breakfast, they would discuss how the cameras felt to use. I gathered that they were all passionate amateurs rather than hard-core photography nerds and met like this once a month more for the social interaction than in the hope of capturing that elusive once-in-a-lifetime shot. The conversation never got more technical than the shape of the thumb rest on the back of one of the cameras. What a couple of them did say though was along the lines of “I like the way it did this-or-that but it never felt quite right in the hand”. On the other hand, one woman said that as soon as she picked up the camera she had been given, she felt right at home with it; more so than her own camera. She said, “It felt instantly fun and cheerful.” From the short time I spent with this group I got the impression that she might have been describing herself. And maybe that is part of it, the right camera, the one that feels right, is the one that matches our nature or our temperament. Which might explain why one photographer might rave about a particular camera while another shoots it down. They may well talk about the technical aspects to prove their respective points but in reality it may just be about how the camera feels to them, or should I say, how the camera makes them feel.
Of course, cameras that don’t initially feel right might still end up feeling right given enough time (my currently broken camera is one such camera) but I have owned cameras that I could never get used to and never truly enjoy. And I’ve also owned cameras that felt just perfect from the moment I held them, so here’s hoping that my next camera will be just such a camera.
Before I go, allow me to offer my heartfelt thanks to those who so kindly offered me their cameras.
Thank you. Very much.