All I can say to everyone is, trust me.For the past two or three weeks I have been thinking a lot. Thinking a lot about my photography and about my photos. Basically, I have come to the conclusion that I haven’t really been getting better. Sad, really. I think there are several reasons for this:
First, I have never been able to create a consistent style. I know people will laugh at this but for me, I really don’t feel like there is a consistency to my work. I struggle with it all the time. Whether or not others can see it doesn’t bother me. I am worried about my own eye.Second, I still struggle with cameras. Actually, these two things are linked. While I don’t spend the thousands and thousands of dollars I once did I still use way too many. I really think this is a detriment to my process. I never learn a camera. I never really feel like I ‘own’ one. Of course I own them, but by the time I have learned one I end up using something else. This is a problem of mine. A problem for me. The look of my photos lack consistency to my eye because they are always from different lenses or bodies. Different kinds of film and different developers. I know this isn’t the end all and be all and it shouldn’t really matter but to me it does.
It really does matter.I’ll take you back a couple months or so. I knew I was getting a Fujifilm X100T and was fairly excited about it even though I had used one before. I made a bet with my friend, Matthew (@endlessproof everywhere) that the next of us to buy another camera had to post a George Constanza – esque posed photo on Instagram. Well, needless to say I lost. I lost almost immediately. It is stupid really. I was embarrassed. Embarrassed by my lack of control. The whole situation really got me thinking. I have a problem. I have a problem that is intrinsic to my soul. It is the same with everything. I change everything quickly, not just cameras. The problem is, with cameras, it really does effect the biggest part of my life. Fast forward to last week. I was on the bus. I had a notebook in my bag. I took out the notebook and started to write all the things I like in a camera. The things I ‘need’ and the things I don’t. I wrote down my favorite photos and what camera I used to take them. This is when I started to understand a little bit more about myself. When looking at the list of some of my favorite photos the thing I noticed was they were mostly all taken during times when I had the same camera for a long time. The one thing that I could remember about those situations is that I can’t remember thinking about cameras. I had a Leica M5 for three years and used it nearly all the time. Took almost all my photos in Toronto with it. A lot of my favorite photos from Korea were taken with the Ricoh GR21 during a time when I didn’t have enough money to buy anything else so I used the camera into the ground. The cameras themselves really have very little in common and I don’t think that is the point. It is a matter of philosophy. Now is probably when you will want to tune out if you’re already starting to see where this is going. After looking at the notes I took on the way to Seoul the one thing I decided was that I really, really had to stop. Had to stop getting a new camera every time I feel as though I am in a rut. It is a useless trend and one that very rarely leads to anything positive. So, I looked at the list of things I actually needed in a camera and the list of things I didn’t. I decided then what I needed was..
..wait for it..
another camera.Well, sort of anyway. What I first decided was that I needed to rid myself of all the excess. I had started to horde cameras. Not expensive ones, but cheap ones. I had bought cameras I knew I couldn’t sell or held onto cameras from my past. A sad state of affairs. The first thing I did was get rid of everything. When I say everything, I mean literally everything. I left for Seoul on Wednesday of this week holding literally the only camera in my life, my phone. Now, before you get the wrong idea I am NOT going to spend a year just using my phone, ha. Anyway, I didn’t sell the other cameras I had. I gave them away to people I thought would use them properly and appreciate the gesture. I gave them to people who would have happily paid for them if I’d asked. That wasn’t the point. With part one of my plan finished, the purge as it were, I headed to Seoul in search of the camera I had decided to get. I should say first that a lot of thought went into this. It will sound like the words of an addict, but believe me this is a decision I struggled with quite a bit and the camera I have decided on is far from the ‘best’ at anything. In fact, I would say it is barely better than the phone I was just talking about. Before the big reveal, I know how cliche one camera and one lens for one year sounds. It felt cheesy just to type it. I in fact, typed it once before and got ripped apart by my normal followers as they knew myself better than I apparently did and guessed correctly that I couldn’t live with such a restriction. These self-imposed challenges are stupid at best, but somehow I feel it is necessary to state it as though it were a contract. I was ‘almost’ a real lawyer once 😉 Without anymore stalling, here is the camera and lens I have decided to contract myself to. It is a 6 megapixel digital rangefinder called the Epson R-D1X G from 2009. The lens, is the 28mm Zeiss ZM f2.8 Biogon. I should mention all the photos from this post are taken with this camera and lens.
Why this camera and why this lens?
I shall explain my logic:1. I love film and I hate film
This reason is a kind of complicated one. I love using film rangefinders. I love the feeling of walking around and taking photos with one. I love the film rewind and the way of focusing a rangefinder. I love watching something enter my framelines from outside them. I love that feeling. I am nostalgic to that feeling. I was walking through the rice fields near my house in Iksan recently with an old film Leica. The feeling of that walk just felt so zen. I loved it, the feeling of it. It is beautiful to not thinking about the photos I am taking because I am enjoying the process of doing so.
So, why a digital camera then? Well, let me say that for all that nostalgia film annoys the hell out of me most of the time. Having to travel to Seoul four hours return to drop the film off. Having to spend almost $1 a photo to develop and scan the photos or spend the hours necessary to do it myself. While I am the first to admit I love the zen of the shooting like I said above I do not at all like the process of developing or printing. I am NOT that guy.The Epson, is as close to a film camera as a digital camera gets. Forget modern Leicas with their electronic viewfinders and modern sensors and live view. Sure, there is the Leica without an LCD. It costs as much as a car and the photos to me look as though they came from a DSLR. The R-D1X (and the older versions of it) really feels like a film rangefinder to me. It is basically a Bessa with a sensor and LCD instead of a film back. The camera has a rewind lever to recock the shutter. Sounds cheesy, but I love it. I love the feeling of doing it. It makes a big difference to me as ridiculous as it sounds.I don’t think I have looked again at the LCD since I originally set up the camera. No need to really as all the settings that are necessary are easily accessible on the top of the camera and lens. Shooting with this camera to me, REALLY feels like shooting with a film rangefinder. 2. The film ‘look’ is overrated and annequated
Okay, so this is probably a stretch and slightly hypocritical as I have written the exact opposite in the past. Now, more than ever I think it is possible in digital to get a similar look to film. I searched and searched for all the cameras that sort of fit my parameters and the one I felt like had the best film ‘look’ was the Epson. It is a small CCD. I have always felt like CCD sensors give a much better film look than their newer cousin CMOS sensors. At the same time as I looked at the Epson I looked at the Leica M8. I had an M8 for years and quite liked it. Strangely, I found the photos from both the M8 and M9 to be a lot more digital looking to those from the Epson. Furthermore, I felt like the Epson actually looked better at ISO1600 than either.
On that same note, the ISO dial on the top of the Epson was one of the things that really sold me on it as opposed to other cameras. Much like a film camera, you don’t have to go into the menu to change the ISO. It is just a dial on the top of the camera. There isn’t an auto, but I feel like this would just make the camera feel less ‘right’ for me if there was. I really wanted to do this with a film camera but just couldn’t justify the annoyances of film just for the ‘feeling’ of shooting with one. These things really do make a difference in my brain.
ISO1600 on the Epson is grainy, but so is ISO1600 film. It is as usable as ISO1600 film is to me. People will argue the dynamic range suffers especially on an old sensor. I would argue that if you get the exposure right you don’t need to worry about such things.3. I wanted something for all occasions
The Zeiss lens on the Epson is around 42mm. A strange focal length, I suppose. To be fair I quite like it. During my time with Leica rangefinders the lens I used almost exclusively was the 40mm summicron. I think this focal length really suits my eye. It is just wide enough for street photography but standard enough for people. I love taking photos of the people in my life and those photos are probably those most important to me. I loved the dreamy sort of look from film when taking these in the past. I was a little worried about the Zeiss being ‘too’ sharp as it famously is sharper than the Leica 28mm elmarit. I figured out a way around this as the Epson actually has ‘film’ settings in the menu that allow me to turn the sharpness down a lot on the jpgs. I really loved the look of it even in the shop before i bought it.
On top of that, it is a very handsome camera. Of course, most people will prefer the look of a Leica but when I held the Epson for the first time I couldn’t get over how much I liked the look of it. That was years ago, before all of this. It still felt the same when I picked it up last week. The steampunk gauge on the top just makes it look even better. It certainly gets a lot of attention which I like if I am being honest, ha. I don’t care to be discrete. People almost always notice me anyway.4. Just modern enough
This was one of the things that was on my list from the bus. I wanted whatever camera I got to have some modern capabilities.
First, I wanted it to be at least decent on battery life. The Epson I bought came with three batteries and gets about 350 photos per. Considering I take about 350 photos in four months it will do me just fine. I haven’t charged the first battery yet and I have had it for about a week.
Second, I do most of the little editing I do on my phone so I wanted a camera that would be capable of wifi. Of course, the Epson doesn’t have wifi but my Eye-fi card works perfectly fine with it. It sends the photos as I take them. I know, I know, after all I said about nostalgia of film cameras this seems a bit stupid. In the end, I am lazy and impatient so the least amount of time I can spend on my computer the better.5. Creative constraints and all that non-sense
I would never argue that this Epson camera takes better photos than the Fujifilm X100T I just sold. The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t, at least not technically. I started this article by talking about how I feel like my photos haven’t really gotten better. I think I have become lazy. Most of my favorite photos are film and I think this has very little to do with film itself as opposed to how film forces me to shoot. Film forces me to work within a parameter. It forces me to work within restraints. The Epson as a digital camera does the same thing. It doesn’t allow me to rely on a super computer to take a good photo. I have to zone focus if I am in the street instead of relying on face detection. Okay, I could zone focus with a Fujifilm camera but it really isn’t the same is it? Looking in the LCD with the focus by wire lens feels just wrong. It really doesn’t feel the same. Instead of relying on auto ISO that can reach 6400 I have to think about my exposure. Instead of relying on 16 megapixels to be able to crop I have to get my framing perfect in order to keep the full 6 on the Epson. An interesting sidenote is the Epson saves jpgs at 600 DPI so I am not sure printing as I might do will ever be much of a problem. I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that their sensors were usually used for film scanners.
Either way, working within these restrictions I think will force me to become a more polished photographer. I think this is the biggest and most important reason I am doing this.
Rules (stupid and self imposed)
- While I have endeavored to use just this camera and lens I will not stop using my phone as well. It will be the only other camera I use this year (you can feel free to snicker now).
- I will not cheat. Maybe.
- I will try my best not to cheat.
- I can buy any accessory I like including camera bags, straps, or otherwise. A lens is not an accessory.
- The lens is part of the deal. I will also use only the Zeiss.
- If the camera breaks during the year, I reserve the right (self imposed, ha) to replace it with the same camera or at least one of the Epsons.
- I will update and blog about the progress of this once a week, usually on Sundays.
- I will happily read and reply to all ire in response to this post and future posts on this matter.
- I don’t like the number 8 so I wanted to extend this to 9.
- Might as well round it off to 10.
Okay, now that that is over with a bit of side notes:
For those interested, I recently had a feature at Lensculture and have been given a portfolio there that will be updated from time to time: http://www.lensculture.com/articles/jt-white-neverland-my-korea
I was also a recent guest on The Photography Talkshow that can be found on both iTunes or here http://www.photographytalkshow.com/
For people who are awaiting my Youtube ‘debut’ the first video is finished and will be posted this week 😉 I will link it on my blog when it is posted! If you’re good at googling you might be already able to find it on a Korean site where it was already published, haha.
There will be a photo of me on instagram (@jt_inseoul) posted this week in the pose of George Constanza on a sofa. Google it if that makes no sense to you 😉
Finally, if you are planning to come to Seoul feel free to hit me up. Always like hearing from people or meeting them when they come.
Peace out kids, time to go out and shoot some Myeongdong street craziness.