Sunset over Holmes Lake in Lincoln, NE. Click
image to enlarge. (Photo by Lesley Jackson Scher)
Luckily, I actually did know something about photography.
But not as much as Lesley, apparently. In spite of the fact that technically I know more than she about rules of thirds and golden means and horizon placement and F-stops and reciprocity and the like, she can take (a real photographer would say "make") better photos than I. Consistently. And she can do it with a three-year-old Android smart phone camera, even when I'm using the fancy Olympus digital with the awesome zoom lens and the dozens of nifty attachments that I just had to have.
Actually, I should have known that the technology doesn't make the photographer. When Ansel Adams taught classes, he often had his students peering through cardboard paper towel rolls for days before he allowed them to use real cameras. It was a low-tech approach, but what he was doing was teaching them to really see what they were looking at. And when my students would ask if they should get motor drives (sigh… it's a film-camera thing; you young people wouldn't understand), I knew what they really wanted. They wanted to be able to go home and tell Mom and Dad that Mr. Scher had said that they should run out and get motor drives for class. (They made a slick, ratchet-y, whirring sound that today's cameras approximate electronically. All the cool people had motor drives.) But I didn't tell them that. I told them that they didn't need motor drives. I told them that if they were taking bad photos, a motor drive would simply allow them to take bad photos much more quickly. And I was right.
But now, I have digital cameras. And they do indeed allow me to take bad photos much more quickly than before. Why, even with a motor drive, I could never have taken bad photos this quickly! It's a miracle of modern technology!! Digital cameras have made mediocrity attainable, and much more easily than ever before. This is a great thing for those of us striving for mediocrity.
TANGENT WARNING: By the way, I really miss darkrooms. The slightly musty, humid air. The smell of fixer and stop-bath. Strips of negatives wiped down with Photo-Flo and hung with clothespins on a wire strung across the (always too-small) space. Trays and test strips, filters and squeegees. The orange or red bulb casting a dim light. The paper safe with the door that always jammed. Enlargers with motorized heads—not that I could ever have afforded one of the motorized monsters. When we moved to Lincoln in 1992, one of the first things I did was . . . Well, I was going to say that I built a darkroom, but what I really did was cause a darkroom to be built. By a very intimidating fellow whose first comment when looking at the framing I'd done so far was, "So, hey… OK if I tear all of this crap out?" So my contribution was limited to writing a check. Actually, I probably didn't even do that; most likely, Lesley wrote the check. (Lesley is not only a better photographer than I, she is also much better with money.)
So, go figure . . . Apparently the technology isn't what makes a good photographer. Or programmer. Or mechanic or teacher or cook or writer. And I guess that's worth keeping in mind.