Tuesday, July 6, 2010

It's What We Do With It.

At the Beach - 118 , 2010

I spent an hour down on the beach this past Saturday morning working on a new series of pictures. I was only there for an hour because the local holiday parking restrictions were in effect for the entire July 4th holiday weekend. This means there’s no free parking near the oceanfront unless you’re a resort area resident or a hotel guest. Given that the city-owned parking lots raise their rates to $10 on such occasions, I found a parking meter on the street and stuffed six quarters into it, which buys you an hour.

The hour thing wasn’t really a problem because the project I’m working on involves taking a lot of pictures quickly. In that one hour I took almost two hundred pictures. Most will be discarded. But I still have to go through them to cull them down to the ones worth working with. So two hundred shots can keep me busy for a couple of days.

While I was wandered along the surf’s edge, I started noticing how many people had cameras in their hands. It’s possible some of these people had never been to the ocean before. Most, though, were probably just gathering pictures and video to play with on their computers, send to relatives and maybe make a few prints.

About five years ago I tried to sell the people who manage the resort area summer entertainment programs on the idea of bringing in a bunch of college journalism and multimedia students, arming each of them with a digital camera and sending them out each day to see what they’d come up with. The beachfront is full of stories in the summertime. The idea was that they’d come back each afternoon, throw out the images that were real duds and then project the rest outdoors on the sides of motels along the boardwalk at night so that tourists could see themselves at play. The students would get a lot of practice taking and editing pictures. The tourists would get a kick out of seeing themselves. It seemed like a win-win idea, especially for a sponsor like Nikon, Sony or Canon or even Best Buy or Coca Cola. But no one seemed interested in the idea, so it’s still out there if you want to steal it.

I recalled all this as I watched all those people on the beach Saturday. I was thinking that I’d love to see all the things these people photographed. Most of the cameras looked like pretty simple point-and-click models. But every now and then you’d see someone with a hunky Nikon or Canon loaded with an equally hunky pile of glass hanging off the front. I especially wanted to see what they were shooting.

I come across people all the time who’ve invested in a serious digital camera, expecting that their photographs will improve instantly, but who are disappointed when their photographs really aren’t much better. Some are better just because of the improved metering technology of modern digital cameras. But they’re still mindless photographs, proving once again that it’s not the camera that determines the outcome.

My friend Ron, for example, makes fascinating images with what I believe is still a fairly simple point-and-click digital camera. Serious art collectors in the United States and Europe collect his work. I’m pretty sure, though, that none of them have ever asked Ron, “What kind of camera were you using?” They’re far more interested in the net impression of the final work.

Maybe people do ask Ron what camera he uses. I don’t know. But if they do, I’ll bet his answer is, like mine, “It’s not the camera. It’s what you do with it.”


  1. I of course totally agree.
    "But every now and then you’d see someone with a hunky Nikon or Canon loaded with an equally hunky pile of glass hanging off the front. I especially wanted to see what they were shooting."
    I don't mean to sound jaded, but I think what you would see is more family photos. I have seen this at Monticello, while I was shooting for an assignment with yes my point and shoot ( at the time). Sometimes it's just good ole conspicuous consumption, and American's need to have the latest and most high-grade toys, especially of the tech type.

    I think your student-journalism-photo idea is a great one. Would love to see it happen.
    And I simply love the photo above...

  2. Love this photo! This series is wonderful. I also think your idea is fabulous--there was some city somewhere that put huge photos of people on a backdrop in the middle of an urban setting--I forget--Minneapolis?--with fountains there, too--and it was marvelous. I think your notion would be a wonderful attraction. What's wrong with people? Don't they know a good idea when they hear it? That would be awesome!

  3. ps
    I think it's Crown Fountain in Chicago is what I was thinking about!

  4. The photo project sounds like a great idea to me as well. I actually lived in Virginia Beach most of my life but moved to the Blue Ridge 6 years back. The shutter bug bit me hard last year so if you had been down at the Oceanfront in mid-June I would have been one of those with a hunky Canon and the pile of glass up front.,,,and I'm learning that it's not the equipment as much as it is luck and the eye behind the viewfinder.

  5. Regarding the "what kind of a camera do you use" question, I remember something Tommy Emmanuel said at his concert the other night. His fans often ask him what's the best guitar, or, what's his favorite guitar. His answer? "The one you can't put down." Simple. Brilliant. And true.

    Keep up your excellent work, Chris... I love your idea. "Release the journalist hounds!"

  6. Agree that, it’s not the camera that determines the outcome but it helps. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse...