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…and became an artist.

Not the world’s greatest artist, but artist enough for me.

No ‘ah-ha’ moment. Just a gradual realisation that the ephemera of photography, stuff like lenses, cameras, resolution and sharpness and a thousand other technical details, didn’t really interest me any more.

For that’s what held me back. Concentrating on the tools and not on the result of using those tools. Following, almost slavishly, photography websites like DPReview, Digital Photography School, and The Digital Picture. Don’t get me wrong, these are good sites full of information, advice and active comment forums, yet they concentrate on the minutiae of photography. The nitty gritty. Technical details down to pixel level.

Clearly, if you look at the comments and follow any of the forum threads, information like that is enough for a lot of people. More than enough, judging from the sometimes heated discussions comparing this vs. that.

But it’s all noise in the end. Distracting noise. It removed me from the true point of being a photographer, that is to produce an artistically satisfying image.

I can’t deny that going back to shooting film helped enormously with this change in attitude. It’s been a full year now since I took up a 35mm film camera and I’m on average shooting 2 rolls of 36 exposure 35mm film and 1/2 a roll of 120 film a week. More images, usually, than I capture using my digital cameras.

Going back to film moved me back to yesterday’s cameras. There was nothing to keep up with any more.

Those photography sites I listed above very occasionally contained an article or comment about film photography, but with the emphasis on it being a niche interest utilized by few and abandoned – happily – by most. Yesterday’s technology. Quaint, nostalgic, the province of the eccentric or the backward. Once in a while, an enlightened author would attempt to highlight the history of photography and try to place today’s digital obsession into some sort of context, but, judging from many comments, such an attempt at perspective flew over most people’s heads. They just weren’t interested.

That’s fine. You don’t have to be a film photographer to be a great photographer. But, to be a great photographer, you need to be a great artist.

So away from the latest and greatest I moved. Not a moment too soon really. It costs money to keep up with all this progress. I spent far more than I needed to. None of it made me a better photographer. A better collector of camera stuff maybe. Perhaps that was once the point, yes, for the urge to collect and complete is pretty strong within me. Not any more though. On the one hand I can look at my collection of lenses and say – “Wow, what a comprehensive set I have. I can cover any photographic eventuality!” On the other, I can look at that collection and see them sitting there, often unused, just things to have. Paradoxically, a mark of inertia. Not artistically helpful at all.

Obviously, that’s not quite the whole story. I can make good use of any one of those lenses. When I do, I feel pleased. But each is simply a tool, a conduit of process. What matters is the result. Today, I deliberate restrict myself to a single or limited repertoire of lenses. Currently with my 35mm shooting I’m using the second lens I ever bought. A cheap consumer grade lens, the Canon EF 28-105mm 3.5-4.5mm II if you really want to know. Discontinued and superseded. But using it is giving me a lot of pleasure. Both in the using and in the result.  

Photograph Egret seen through a bush by Richard Keeling on 500px

Egret seen through a bush by Richard Keeling on 500px

I also believe it is making me a better photographer. Or, at the very least, a more thoughtful photographer.