Sunday, July 19, 2015

Writing About Gear

Another winning essay from Kirk Tuck right here.

He's making the well known point that writing about camera gear is way more widely read than writing about pictures or about Art. This is a depressing reality, especially for those of us who find gear talk boring, and who decline to write about gear.

Many self-styled photographers are in fact camera enthusiasts, as I have noted ad nauseum and, in the way that audiophiles listen to their gear with your music, the pictures they make are mainly about showing off the capabilities of their gear, and their mastery of it. Macro photographs of bugs, endless pictures of ospreys, and so on. As a dabbler in the piano, I am loathe to condemn these folks too loudly.

But there is more. Gear can be quantified. Experiences with gear can be discussed without getting abstract. "My big hands have trouble with the tiny buttons" and so on. These are easily relatable statements. You can argue about specifications. You can discuss future features, and so on. There's simply a lot to be said here, most of which is accessible, most of which doesn't require firmly held ideas about abstractions to absorb and enjoy, or to disagree with.

Art, and pictures in general apart from the quantifiable, the measurable, that's a lot harder to talk about. It's all abstract and kind of vague. It's pretty hard to talk about without first clearing away some intellectual underbrush. One cannot, for example, talk meaningfully about the artistic merit of a photo without having some idea about what Art is, and what Artistic Merit might be. You needn't necessarily settle on some universally agreed upon definitions, but you've got to sort them out to a useful degree for the purposes of a single discussion.

Your choices are to either spend time and words clearing away this sort of underbrush, which is pretty dry stuff, or you can assume that everyone's already on the same page regarding the underbrush and launch into the discussion you want to have. In the latter case, you're essentially launching the layperson onto an sea of words without a chart. It's meaningless blather. Worse, it appears to have meaning, but since the layperson probably means something different than you do when they say "Art" the apparent meaning seems all wrong, incoherent, disconnected.

At book length, you can do the underbrush work, and then have some space to talk. On a blog, all is pretty much lost. Short form, low-context blather, the stuff the web thrives on, flatly cannot support any meaningful discussion of Art and related ideas.

Finally, most intellectual discussion of any depth whatsoever requires that you state some definitions up front, to set the context of the discussion. "For our purposes, let's consider Art to mean blah blah blah". The vast majority of people seem unable to permit this basic first step. You will bog down inevitably in arguments about definitions, which will mostly be idiots posturing to try to look clever. Of course, people will tend to do the same thing for lens resolution and so on, but in those areas there are well-defined, universally agreed-upon definitions and ideas. The posturing is a lot easier to put a stop to in technical domains.

Pretty quickly, people learn that discussions about things other than gear, picture sharpness, white balance, rule of thirds, where the lights are put, and a few other easily measurable things are off-limits and snowball into flamewars and furious ranting. So, efforts to start such things up die away pretty fast, and we're back to gear.

With the notable exception, obviously, of this blog. Where I moderate the comments, and have essentially no readers!

(That's tongue in cheek, I know a couple blogs that get a bit more traffic than this one that talk about Art and stuff, see my Other Blogs and Things page)

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