Separating the Art from the Marketing

Separating the Art from the Marketing

Art is not about the tools, whatever marketers have to say about it. Look at it from the perspective of a writer and you’ll see what I mean.

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I know this is something that I bring up often, how it’s not the gear that makes the art, but the photographer. But you know what? This issue is one that can lead to a lot of trouble, so it’s something that I believe bears repeating. And, too, I think it’s important to examine the issue from different perspectives, the same as it is important to try new perspectives when out in the field taking photographs.

The truth is, photographers can devastate themselves financially in a “keeping up with the Jones” kind of race in which they feel it necessary to buy all the best equipment possible. Really, though, it just isn’t needed. So much of this desire to buy new things? It’s just marketing hype. The companies making all of this gear want you to spend your money on it because that’s how they make money, so they perpetuate this belief that gear is the thing that makes one a better photographer.

But here’s a simple metaphor to help us all see how it’s not the gear. Imagine a writer, and think about all the different ways a writer can write. Computers are the primary means these days, but many still enjoy using typewriters despite the fact that typewriters are less efficient at the task. Pencil and paper is a possibility, too—and some writers prefer to write by hand.

Ultimately, the tools don’t make the writing any more or less good. It’s not the computer that gives the writer command of nouns and verbs. The writer still knows how to structure a sentence, structure a story, develop a character—you name it. Whether the writer uses a computer or a pencil, these skills are part of him, not the tools.

So what is the purpose of the gear? Well, it’s easier to use. One can write a whole lot faster with a computer, and word processing software makes editing much easier. But the task is still possible with pencil and paper.

Now let’s apply all of this to photography. Just as is true for writers, all a photographer really needs are the tools to paint with light. Even with an old film camera full of light leaks, a photographer who is an artist at heart will be able to produce a good photograph. Sure, better tools do make photography easier—and there’s nothing wrong with having these things if they are within our means. But no matter the camera, the lenses, and all the rest, a photographer still knows the basics of composition, exposure, color, contrast, and so on. This is knowledge within the photographer, not within the camera. That’s the important takeaway. There is no need to invest lots and lots of money if you can’t or don’t want to. Art can still be made with lesser tools because ultimately, it’s not the tools that make the art, but the mind wielding those tools. The tools only exist to make the act of creating a little bit easier.