The Tools We Use

There is a question often asked of photographers which is why do they spend so much time looking at, comparing and then buying the latest camera or lens when virtually no other artist indulges in such pursuits but instead focuses on the art itself. After all, painters do not spend hours scouring brochures looking at the latest paintbrush or easel? They might regularly buy new brushes but they are a mere tool, to be discarded once the artwork is created and the brush is worn out. Don McCullin, the social documentary and war photographer, famously said in his book The Destruction Business:

“I only use a camera like I use a toothbrush. It does the job.”

which nicely places the camera where it should be, as a tool to get the job done. The sad fact is, if you like buying shiny new gadgets that is, whether they be cameras, laptops or even the latest silver Mont Blanc pen (or “writing instrument” as they prefer it to be known), there is no correlation between creativity and equipment cost or quantity. As Hugh MacLeod says in his book Ignore Everybody,

“A fancy tool just gives the second-rater one more pillar to hide behind.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson used a battered old Leica (see below) to create most of his iconic images whilst Ernest Hemingway used an old Corona No. 3 portable typewriter to write his novels.

Henri Cartier Bresson’s Leica. Photo by Markus Biedermann

As Steve Jobs once said “real artists ship”. They do this using tools but are not slaves to them. The success of any artist means recognising the pillars that Hugh MacLeod mentions and getting rid of them in favour of delivering what they need to. To quote MacLeod again:

“Good pillar management is one of the most valuable talents you have on the planet. All we can do is keep asking the question, “Is this a pillar?” about every aspect of our business, our craft our reason for being alive, and go on from there.”

People that read this blog may think I harp on about the technology aspect of photography a little too much. Make no mistake, I think the potential of the micro four thirds, mirrorless system cameras is amazing in terms of what photographers can now do with small, light cameras. However whilst photographers must know how to use their equipment, to make the best use of it, they should not be beholden to, or in awe of it, at the expense of their art.

One Reply to “The Tools We Use”

  1. […] of the crop of current digital cameras armed with the latest super-sharp lenses? I think not. If the tools we use do ultimately “shape us” (as suggested by John Culkin, friend and student of the great […]

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