From Whence the Guilt?
Old habits die hard, of that there is no doubt. For most of the 20th century, we photographers knew there was an immutable relationship between the size of our camera and the technical excellence of our photographs. A handheld 35mm camera was fine for certain kinds of work, but the more serious photographer used medium format; a really serious photographer used 4x5, but every 4x5 photographer knew that even more magic lay two formats up in the 8 x 10. An 11 x 14 camera was the measure of ultimate fastidiousness, almost the top of the mountain. There was, of course, the Polaroid 20 x 24 camera which was a form of photographic knighthood reserved to the elite of the elite. That's the way it was, that's the way it had always been, and there was no reason to think that it was ever going to change.
Except for the fact that it did. I need not waste any words here on the debate between digital and analog photography because they are not necessary — and it is not my main point. Instead, I find myself wondering about this tangible feeling of guilt about my "toy" cameras — currently the Panasonic G2 — guilt that I cannot seem to shake.
From time to time I feel an irresistible urge to trade up to a more serious camera. For inexplicable reasons, I start lusting after a Canon 5D Mark III, or in rare moments of madness, a Leica S2. I'll even go so far as to watch (in horror) as my fingers type in www.dpreview.com while I stand by powerless to resist the siren call. Guilt is a powerful force.
Perhaps my guilt is rooted in the idea that a more serious camera will make me a more serious photographer — or at least perceived as a more serious photographer. Perhaps it's even deeper than that — that I will feel like a more serious photographer.
Of course, all of this is in my mind rather than in my photographs, which is the only and one defense against the guilt — the brute force of the simple question "Do I really need a new camera?" The irresistible urge is then defeated in the face of one simple fact: I am not dissatisfied with the results produced by my toy cameras. That is to say, in the folios, chapbooks, PDFs, and even individual prints that I produce with these cameras I simply cannot find any technical flaws that would be resolved by a new machine. None. Indeed, the only thing that would be resolved is my sense of guilt — which leaves me only the rationale that perhaps the new camera would be less expensive than psychotherapy. Hmmm. . .
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