It’s a little ironic – I suppose I might say more than a little – that, as I survey a basement filled with cameras and lenses, I have finally begun to embrace imperfection as an underlying aesthetic rather than as an annoyance to be actively squelched.
I spent a lot of time and a lot of money collecting the most technically perfect equipment only to find that the technically perfect results I obtained were of almost completely devoid of artistry.
Why did I waste so much time and effort on this?
Partly it’s the fault of the photographic community. Far too many photographers are technicians and not artists. As a beginner, you don’t really grasp this. You in thrall of those who spout the jargon and use the most impressive (as in lauded) equipment. You look at your little consumer camera with its kit lens and feel quite inadequate. You feel that way because you’ve already fallen into the biggest trap of all, the technology trap. The technology trap exists solely to promote camera equipment sales and as such it is relentlessly encouraged. You learn that so-called ‘professionals’ use expensive equipment, for that is what a professional is supposed to use. Never mind that the improvements offered by a $2000 lens over a $200 lens will be invisible to most eyes, the fact that a pixel-peeper magnifying his or her screen to 100% can see better sharpness right in the corner of a frame (where no one looks anyway) is used as a weird justification for such upgrades.
It’s pathetic really. None of this has anything to do with art – and by that I mean real art, not the ‘fine art’ garbage promulgated by the technicians as some sort of pinnacle of achievement. The sort of crap that dominates popular photography sites but would never be seen in an art museum or gallery because it really is empty of any meaning or soul whatsoever.
I really feel in a way for the technician photographer. Take them to an art museum and they are the type that sneer at modern art – ‘could be done by a child’, ‘this is worth that much?’ – I’ve heard this and worse over and over again. It’s a emptiness of imagination, a rigidity of thought, and an outlook of frightening blindness.
I can’t stand these people – as photographers that is, in other respects they can be lovely people. They represent a dead end. Fortunately, there’s no law saying I have to associate with them. Give me a child with a cheap cell phone and you’ll get more interesting pictures than any number of technicians with their supermegapixel sized sensors and their lenses with their near perfect MTF (modulation transfer function) graphs.
So back to imperfection. Such as in these two black and white photographs from Henry, Illinois, on a foggy night just before Thanksgiving. Photographs taken with a very old (1959 vintage) manual focus lens. Complete with flare and ghosting, on an obsolete medium (film) pushed to its limit by overdeveloping. Full of grain and optical flaws, but, to me, totally lovely in their moodiness. To get this in digital would take hours of Photoshop tweaking or using as shortcut some film emulation routine. And even then it would not be the same, and all the time you’d be rebelling against the imperfection because you’ve been trained to think that imperfection is bad. Brainwashed really.
Breaking free of this has been the greatest and most important shift in my photographic outlook since I began. It’s not a guarantee of better photographs, but it’s a damn certain guarantee of more interesting ones.