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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Dodging The Magic Bullet


It's not the number of megapixels in your camera, it's what you do with them

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Photo Traveler - Dodging The Magic Bullet
Locals prepare to march in the July 14th Bastille Day Parade in Vaitape, Bora Bora, French Polynesia. Bastille Day is celebrated as part of the Heiva Festival, which is local in origin and occurs through the month of July on all the islands of French Polynesia
But once you see their photography, it becomes evident that while they may be technical experts, that's as far as it goes. Much of the arcane hairsplitting that goes on these days is the digital age's equivalent of medieval theologians who hotly debated the question, "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" By and large, nobody but them cares, and the net effect in the "real world" is zero. A boring picture, no matter how technically expert, is still a boring picture!

The flip side of this technical hairsplitting was recently brought home to me in a very direct way. My wife Peggy and I, through a charitable family foundation we set up in memory of our youngest son Jonathan, helped to sponsor an exhibit of photographs in a local gallery by children who live in the impoverished areas of north Philadelphia, commonly referred to as "the Badlands." A nonprofit organization, The Goodlands thought it would help children to value their lives and their neighborhood more if they could document it with donated digital cameras, mostly point-and-shoots.

The kids, aged 8 through 14, produced an amazing body of work—incredibly insightful, fresh and original looks at neighborhoods that most of us are too ready to write off. At the opening, the young photographers roamed about, clearly jazzed about seeing their work displayed, admired and purchased by onlookers. Of course, the kids were shooting the event with their cameras, some of which were old and simple digital point-and-shoots that most of us wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. Yet somehow these kids managed to make much stronger and intimate photographs than I've seen by many an expert, myself included.

I managed to find a few of the young shooters whose work I particularly admired to ask them about their pictures. Here's the beautiful part—they talked at length about the people and places in their photographs, the feelings they had about their subjects, what they were trying to show about them, and how taking photographs helped them appreciate their homes and families, but not once did they talk about their cameras, software or hardware. For them, it was all about the work! And lucky for me, I have a few of those pieces now hanging on my wall at home.
Finally, I thought, I was ready to start thinking about making pictures again and not always buying new cameras.

Does this mean I'm through with upgrades and buying new gear? Not a chance—it's still important to stay current with our craft's technology. What it does mean, though, is that I'm going to try to heed the wisdom from the mouths of babes and remember that it's always about the photograph, not the camera. I want to relearn what the greats like Eisenstaedt gleaned from experience and the kids from North Philly knew instinctively. There is no magic bullet.

For a schedule of Bob Krist's workshops and seminars, check his website, www.bobkrist.com, under the "Teach and Talk" heading.

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