Temptation

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It’s the first really chilly morning of the autumn. I’m sitting in bed bundled up. It’s perfectly quiet and still outside. I was reading from The Daybooks of Edward Weston a little earlier – yes, you may have noticed that I’ve called the blog “DayBooks”, partly in his honor, but really more because it’s such a perfect name, and - given my tendencies to pretension - perfect for me... 

Weston’s Daybooks are essentially journals, with an emphasis on the jour part of the word. I guess “daybook” is a very literal translation from the French. I’m struck by the earnestness and lack of cynicism –  not that he wasn’t cynical or laceratingly critical of much the same things that we still harp on about: materialism, displacement of the old and worthy by the cheap and new, etc etc. But his accounts of conversations with contemporaries (Alfred Steiglitz in particular) are steeped in a sort of master/acolyte formalism that feels stilted and contrived from a current perspective.

What’s really fascinating to me though is the intensity of their formal approach, and the depth to which philosophical underpinnings seemed important to them. Spirited discussions of what the Meaning of photography is, and whether it’s fair to use technique to reflect one’s mood (eg soft focus) when photography is, in fact “an objective means to an end”? “If you wish to ‘interpret’ why not use a medium better suited to interpretation or subjective expression - or - let someone else do it”. 

When I think of photography right now, more than anything I have the sense of a field (art? discipline?) that is blown wide open in terms of possibilities and media, and in which those possibilities are increasing at an accelerating speed. The tools are incredibly powerful, exciting and accessible. Because I’m an enthusiast I tend to look at the higher end of the market, and the innovations are spilling out on a weekly - if not daily - basis.

Take the past week, for example. The DSLR arms race between Canon and Nikon revved up yet again, with Canon’s announcement of the 5D Series 2, a phenomenally impressive 21 megapixel full-frame camera that can shoot extended periods of HD 1020 video. This on the heels of Nikon’s announcement, a scant month ago, of the first HD video capability in a lower-end camera. But wait... Jim Jannard, the iconoclastic guy who started Red, an upstart video camera company that is taking the world of high-end video by storm, just proclaimed that THEY will be entering the DSLR market, and taking a different approach, and giving Canon and Nikon a run for their money. 

And so it goes. I personally find myself constantly stimulated and also frequently paralyzed. The idea of really hunkering down and honing a particular technique feels like a luxury in the face of all the possibilities, and sometimes I’ll look at a picture and envision it 10 different ways - and I’m not talking minor nuances, I’m talking 10 totally different depictions. In that sense, Edward Weston and his contemporaries had it good - theirs was a pretty finite, well-defined world (in terms of equipment and materials), and innovation was (as I understand it) incremental, not explosive. That made it possible to hone their craft without having to resist a million tempting distractions. With women, he was another story...