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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Context Matters

Recently both Nikon and Canon released new camera lines. Nikon released two cameras, small and large, and Canon released one camera, a medium. The Canon model fits both in terms of specifications and price squarely between the two Nikons. Otherwise the cameras are all essentially identical. Yes, Canon uses 10% more nickle in the carburettor spigotry leading to theoretically superior electropassivity in the encabulator, but otherwise they're pretty much the same.

What is interesting here is that the zeitgeist on this Nikons is "utter shit, unacceptable, FAIL" and the zeitgeist on the Canon is "not bad, not bad." The difference appears to be that Nikon launched one afternoon in a warehouse in NYC, whereas Canon flew a crapload of pundits to Hawaii where they wined and dined them, and let them talk at length to experts, etcetera and so forth.

Now, there are certainly grifters out there blowing in the wind on youtube. But, honest reviewers are also in play here. The fact is, they liked the Canon better, for real. But not because the camera is much different. They liked the context. It was warm, they had a belly full of beer, and there were glib experts drinking colored water and persuading them gently that all the design decisions which were so wrong for Nikon were ever so right for Canon.

Context matters.

At this very moment, my name has been cited in vain on some internet forum, and fans of Ming Thein are hate-reading my posts from a few years ago skewering their god.

Among other things, they don't like my pictures. Interestingly enough, people who like me often find my pictures engaging and interesting.

Again, these are basically honest opinions. With a belly full of rage, it's hard to like a fellow's pictures, and the opposite. Context, in short, matters.

The common thread here is that none of these opinions stand up under genuine self-examination. I don't claim to be perfect at this myself, but I am certainly better at it than the average schmoe on the internet. I examine myself, and my prejudices, and my motivations. I try, with some success, to peel those layers of context away to get at what's really there. While I have a great deal of distaste for Ming, I have successfully found things to like in his output which I take as evidence that I am doing the job properly to some degree.

The critic, the reviewer, sits in a different notional locale than the user, the reader, the viewer.

As a regular schmoe, one simply reacts. If it's warm and sunny, and you're slightly drunk, you're likely to be fonder of things than if otherwise. That context shapes your reaction. This is neither good nor bad, it's simply reality. If I am launching a camera line, or promoting a book, I should be mindful of these facts and attempt to get people slightly drunk before I show them my whatever-it-is. And, more seriously, I should manage context. Get the cover of the book right, get the venue for the launch right, get the colors in the gallery right.

If on the other hand I am a critic or a reviewer, I need to realize that the context in which I am consuming whatever-it-is may not be the context in which you do. It is my obligation to mentally subtract the context and examine the whatever-it-is on its own terms. I must examine myself, my own reactions, and strive to parse apart the bits that are simply me being a little drunk, and the bits that I would feel the same about regardless of context.

The point of this here is to find the parts that remain the same regardless of context, to find the parts that might be same for you in your context as they are for me in my context.

Of course, product reviewers have a more complex relationship to work with. If they fail to deliver more or less positive reviews, if they are too diligent in their job as a Reviewer, they will quickly lose access, and thence lose the ability to even do their job. And to some extent likewise critics.

Both reviewer and critic normally belong to an ecosystem, wherein things are in balance, and everyone is obligated to everyone else, making the job of self-examination that much harder.

Except, of course, me. As far as I am concerned, camera makers, art galleries, and book publishers can all go to hell.


  1. I'm sitting alone in my drab little office. The dog is flashing perturbed looks at me because I seem more interested in reading something on the internet than going outside to chase skunks. I am applauding a beautifully done synopsis on the state of camera reviews in the modern world. Beautiful. Where's my bottle of cheap red wine? I want to re-context myself.

  2. Nicely put.
    I assume that you do realise that it is, quite literally, a waste of time trying to force people to see reality ? The vast majority are more comfortable filtering reality through their perceptual filters and prejudices.

  3. Kudos. marketing drives the bus on launching products.
    "Follow the money" will in most cases lead you to the underlying agenda of most commentary/criticism. I used to be more of a moorhead than I am now.Mostly because I cam to realize that the content was being paid for by the ad dollars, so no one is gonna bite the hand that feed 'em.
    A good read: http://a.co/d/1pG7PyT