The spellbinding power of doubt

This is a before and after shot of Theoden from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. More on him in a minute.

I write this as though it’s all behind me now.

Some would say that the time-honored craft of marketing is designed to prompt the target audience to want. Far more important than need, want is the fuel that powers all economic engines. This point of view suggests that the best and most useful job of the marketer is to ignite a spark from within, a small flame that will advance toward action, toward purchase. Look at how awesome this new car is. Wouldn’t you like one too? Yeah, they gotcha.

An academician might suggest that marketing is more objective than all that. It’s about understanding a market, knowing what motivates it, what it needs… yes, and wants… and then helps a company to design and distribute products and services to systematically scratch those itches. This is done with maps and math, science and surveys. You need a masters degree to engage in it. A doctorate to do it right.

But I’ve been thinking about the power of sowing the seeds of doubt into someone. This is what, I think, the photographic industry does so very well. It’s effective, it’s clever, it’s insidious. And it can fall upon you like a spell. Like a thick, mesmerizing spell.

When new cameras are announced, countless writers, reporters, bloggers, and youtubers are offered a chance to test out the new cameras. They are flown to nice locations, given beautiful models to shoot in well lit environments, wined and dined and given unfettered access to experts, teachers, and industry rockstars and then told to go off and communicate about their experiences. Many of them are sponsored (i.e., offered compensation in the form of gear, trips, information). In the old days, we called them salespeople.

Follow these influencers on a regular basis and you’ll see that they deliver an endless stream of content designed to get you wanting whatever is next. Better pixel density, better low light performance, greater resolving power (whatever that means)… better, more, faster, lighter, awesomer…

And more often than not, they will say something like: “I’m sponsored by Camera Maker X, but even if I wasn’t, I would still use Camera Maker X.” Or… “I’m sponsored by Y, but that doesn’t mean I’m not completely honest with you about what I think about Y.” Yeah, okay…

But instead of touting only how great the new new thing is, much of the conversation revolves around you doubting what you currently have. After all, wouldn’t your image be better if it had less shadow noise, more resolution, less chromatic aberration, an absence of distortion, reduced defraction, etc. For all these nagging doubts, there is a technological answer. And that’s the new new thing.

After awhile, these doubts take hold, as did the evil spell on Theoden. Theoden could be manipulated, forced to make bad decisions, and narrowly focus on whatever the spellholder wanted. It took a breaking of that spell on him to return to his former great kingly self.

Breaking the camera buying spell probably entails consuming less of a diet of the consumeristic and marketing driven drivel, sure. But I think it also comes in the form of focusing on all the things for which there is no technological answer. Those include elements of the art form: composition, balance, color, exposure… you know, art. The camera companies won’t fly people to the Nevada desert to talk about complementary colors or leading lines. Nobody picks up the bar bill to get someone to sell the idea of mastering your current equipment.

I have something like 60,000 images in my photo library and a few are decent. I’m culling through them, organizing them and developing a new portfolio site – see here.

I’m not there yet, but I can feel a haze lifting.

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