When I’m out shooting, people will ask- what are you doing, who are you doing that for, or what’s your favorite thing to shoot, or what do you like about photography?
These multiple questions, I find, are invariably all inquiring about the same thing, which is, why do I chose to spend my time practicing this arcane art?
For the truth be told, pretty much all serious still photography- by which I mean photography not taken by a mobile phone, or with a selfie stick; or by someone who actually knows and cares about such terms as composition, tone and lighting- is by common consensus, in 2017, arcane.
The truth of this sweeping statement is in the bottom line- consider this excerpt from a recent article by Peta Pixel:
Nikon dropped a couple of very troubling bombshells today. The first was a “Recognition of Extraordinary Loss” due to company-wide restructuring; the second was the cancellation of the much-delayed series of Nikon DL compact cameras announced in February of 2016.
The news is basically all bad for Nikon fans today, but even if you ignore the business side, it’s never a good sign when a company gives up on a camera series they already announced—and then delayed… and delayed… and delayed again. The DL series was supposed to be Nikon’s answer to popular premium point-and-shoots like Sony’s RX100 and RX10 series, and now it is officially cancelled.
Such problems exist industry wide and are not limited to Nikon. Such news, of course, also begs any number or other potential arguments- which I’m just going to sidestep here.
Rather, I will simply answer the question. If DSLR’s are passe because there are better solutions, why do I still carry two heavy cameras and a heavy set of lenses- long after newspapers have taken back their photographers professional DSLR’s, riffed them, and passed out cell phones to reporters ?
I still carry DSLR’s because they do make a difference and because that difference is still appreciated. How do I know this? Can I prove this point scientifically? Probably, if I cared enough to do so; which I don’t.
cell phone cameras are not better- although they are, invariably easier to carry and use. I fully cede the point that we are becoming a cheaper and lazier country by the moment. Yet, as far as I am concerned, DSLR’s are better and worth the hassle for a couple of simple reasons.
First, I need the exercise. I will not for love or money get on a treadmill. I will carry heavy camera gear for long distances.
Secondly, if photography with real cameras, have been surpassed in ease and quality by point and shoot models and or cell phones; people would not continue to request or appreciate the images generated by SLR cameras, over point and shoot and cell phone images.
If I show up at local concert or even, for instance, there’s a reason the owner of the venue, or the tour manager, will let me into the event- and give me great seats or premium access- without paying the same twenty thirty or fifty dollar, or one hundred dollar admission fee she’s charging everyone else. And even if you do get in, it’s unlikely you’re going to get the kind of access needed to get shots like this.
Third, my most persuasive remaining arguments for practicing this dark art are, and have always been, selfish. DSLR’s serve my own selfish ends.
Why do I shoot? What do I like to shoot, why bother hauling this stuff around?
My answer goes back to a drunken night in college. I was on the front porch of our collegiant home with my close friend Bruce. We were having a long existential conversation- which we were want to do when we were in our cups.
Cutting to the chase I asked Bruce point black, “What do you want out of life?”
“Man,” he said,” I just want to do everything once.”
This response seemed to me so worthy and wise, that I adopted his goal as mine. Not only did I adopt that goal, I have kept that goal.
It’s a goal I’ve gleefully pursued for nearly thirty years now. It is not, mind you, an easy, or entirely happy, voyage. Such a quest invariably involves, as the great troubadour Alejandro Escavedo has noted, more miles than money, and sometimes heartbreak.
Such a journey is also logistically difficult as there are- for instance- many places for which one either lacks a plausible reason for being in that place; or, sometimes, one is barred from exploring various places because the proprietors of those places simply, and reasonably in many cases, do not want strangers snooping around.
However, if one is careful to learn a dark art, or two, many of those doors swing open. Two of those arts are photography and writing. The tools, the arts, of story telling.
People love stories; and, more importantly, people love being the center of a good story. At the end of the day, almost all people like to hear about themselves. Thus, if you are willing and capable of, telling stories, many of those doors will open.
This is why invariably tell people that I write (another dying art) and shoot because all too often my magical camera will change from a camera into a key or invitation. Many times a good camera and a set of proven skills with grant you entree into a place even when money will not.
And do DSLR’s tell better stories? Yes, but the argument doesn’t really even matter. The important thing is that most people believe as such.
It’s a bitter sweet truth that life is too short to allow me to reach my goal of doing everything once; but that doesn’t mean trying to reach that goal is mostly bittersweet or melancholy existence.
Quite the contrary.
In the last 8 weeks, I photographed the 37th annual Veteran’s Annual Paraplegic Games, specifically the Wheelchair Rugby Championships and Closing Ceremonies. The large ballroom shots above are from the Closing Ceremonies.
There were thousands of vets from across the country who attended. To qualify for the games you have to have been rendered a quadriplegic while in service of your country. These folks have every reason in the world to feel sorry for themselves, but instead they strap themselves into modified wheelchairs and act as if they are part of a human demolition derby. I played twenty years of rugby and am qualified to say, these guys are studs.
So the next time you hear some fool, in Washington, crapping out his or her mouth about who is a hero, you might want to spend some time with these men and women. I was truly honored to be able to do this shoot.
Sometimes, the best shoots, like the Para Games, provide serious personal and real world perspective.
I also attended a seminar about humane killing practices of animals. You can read about that almost life changing experience here.
I also covered, for about the sixth time, the Northside 4th of July Parade– which had implications, for me, far beyond a simple communal expression of patriotism.
I was also fortunate to cover the opening of the Herzog Music Store, at 811 Race Street in Cincinnati. This store, will will serve to aid the reclamation of historic Herzog Studios – which is located on the floor above, as well as sponsoring other events key to the retelling of Cincinnati’s great musical history.
I attended three concerts, including seeing friends in Pike 27 and also seeing a pretty inspirational show by Steve Earle. Being able to cover a show like Earle’s in a beautiful theater is like taking a master’s class in performance and storytelling.
I also documented a recent road trip to the very heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as a trip to nearby Grayson Highland’s State Park in Virginia.
I love the Opera. The Cincinnati Opera is a very kid and professional organization, This is the third time they have allowed me to shoot the dress rehearsal, which means, in essence, that except for thirty to fifty other people- we are provided the run of the house and are free to shoot, at will, from anywhere in the house. It’s always a special experience and not one that can be bought at any price. If you haven’t seen it before, here is a collaborative piece I did with my brother in art, Matt Steffen, about the Opera’s performance last year of Tosca.
The photographs in this essay are from the last eight weeks and are colorful examples of how my camera has taken me into diverse and sundry worlds and experiences, I might have never seen, save for my practice of these dark arts.
Thus the dream still lives and the dream justifies all. Thanks Bruce.