Gear for Convenience or for Emphasis

I’ve always tended to choose gear for convenience. Small, light cameras. Easy to carry. I’ve had a few back issues over the years so it makes sense to carry as little as possible.


But there is another approach, especially for project work, and that is to choose a format and equipment that you can use to emphasize the nature of your project.


Look at the recent work from Tomas Van Houtryve (https://tomasvh.com) with Catchlight. He’s using drones to make documentary images along the current USA-Mexico border (from the Mexican side, if you’re wondering about permissions) and making wet plate collodion portraits along the line of the border as it was when photography was first invented. The mediums suite the type of images, but also tell a little more of the story of the historical changes that Tomas is exploring in the project.


Others photographers use different printing techniques to explore the ideas of memory and impermanence, how our memories are incomplete and fade over time.


There’s also the impact that the gear has on the process of making the images. Joel Meyerowitz has talked about how using a large format camera helped in taking portraits of strangers. It’s a curiosity for people. It’s also a slow process and an ‘event’ - something different to the norm. Even just setting up a tripod for portraits gives a very different impression to people, that it’s a very intentional and planned project.


I think there’s a risk too, that the images become more about the technique than the content. Similar to excessive post-processing, it can distract and become the subject of an image (which is fine of course if that’s your intention). But I do think it should be a consideration, a question at the start of a project. Is there another tool that I can access that might enhance this work, better tell the story or create more unique or impactful images. Even if it does mean carrying more gear around for a change.




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Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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