It’s a well worn story arc. Early on, the main character pines for deeper meaning, adventure, confirmation that there simply has to be more to life than just this. It’s somewhere over the rainbow where all this lies and more. Perhaps the purest depiction of this is the in character and story most of us have deeply etched into our memories: Dorothy Gayle of The Wizard of Oz. There’s the beautiful song, and title of this post, that serves as the soundtrack for this sentiment, for Dorthy and for any of us who have ever felt the metaphorical equivalent of being trapped on a Kansas farm, pinned down to a black and white backdrop that never changes, and helpless to do anything at all about it.
Pardon the melodrama, but the metaphor holds: this has been my photographic tale. And I’m far from alone.
Most established industries make use of clever marketing strategies to increase sales, to optimize revenues. This may include creating legions of sponsored (i.e., compensated) users of their product who will tout its benefits. In the modern era, there can be a difficult-to-see paper thin line between those who offer content which truly provides helpful information versus that which is a merely a disguised infomercial. Consumers take in this type of content and sometimes all-to-easily fall into the trap of believing that bigger, faster, shiner… is actually in truth… better. This is quite true in the photography business. As the story goes, new features, whiz-bangery, refined capabilities can all conspire to make you a better artist. And that’s what we all want, right? That’s what lies just over the rainbow.
The connecting line between product acquisition and artistry is drawn out for us in endless blog posts, in high production value videos and in podcasts that increasingly make the listener feel as though they have to continually check to see if their wallet is still safe and secure and on their person.
Bigger sensors, loss of an anti-aliasing filter, time-lapse and 4k video, more megapixels, less noisy megapixels, smaller and lighter camera bodies, weather-sealing, in camera renderings and filters… whew. In considering all of these features, I have at times felt as though I was Dorothy peering out from a black and white canvas and into the colorful realm of Oz. I was drawn forward, pulled out into it. It was exciting and I spent a lot of money in the process. Along the way, I proved all the marketers right. The infomercials worked. How do they know it’s so? I was Exhibit A.
But then there is the actual evidence: the images in my catalogue. Despite decades of such adventure and pursuit… the lingering question remained: was I a better artist than back when I held a simple film rangefinder in my hands, shooting a fixed focal length lens onto Tri-X black and white film which I could develop myself in a makeshift basement darkroom?
I was not.
So I have taken to shooting with a simple rangefinder, an X-Pro2, with one focal length lens. I create black and white JPEG files using the capable Acros film simulation on the Fujifilm sensor, and I don’t worry about gimmicks, tricks, short-cuts or technical wizardry. I look out through the viewfinder and into my subject’s eyes, across an unfolding scene and through the movement taking place before me. I anticipate, I slow down, I go back to basics. It’s all like a step back in time. And there’s no place like home…