As a teenager I read The Amateur Photographer at the library. It was a weekly magazine, and I liked going there on Saturday. Meanwhile I was studying photography at school and built a darkroom at home. I didn’t have the money for expensive equipment so used my father’s Zenit camera, bought a cheap Praktica, then saved for an Olympus with Christmas money, birthday money, and part time work. I liked the idea of using only a 50mm lens. I read an article saying additional 35mm and 135mm lenses were a good plan. At that time zoom lenses were very inferior. I dreamed about perfect equipment but couldn’t afford it.
My ideas were partly because of money, but I also liked simplicity and minimalism. I still do. Photography equipment is fetishised but as with jackets, boots, and walking gear, it’s no more than a tool. There is some pleasure using a good tool, which applies with any craft, but I rarely think about the subject and buy even less. The point is the walking, and the photography, not what camera you use or clothes you wear.
There’s a mystique attached to photographic practice based on outdated traditions. Digital technology means there is less need than ever to obsess about equipment, but the culture persists. Minimalist photography avoids weight, bulk, and fuss. You’re only halfway digital if you think you must use a tripod and filters. Watching the light at one location, with that approach, is a ritualised practice and if you are a walker, as much as a photographer, it makes no sense. More than that, it misleads you into thinking old school methods are needed for good results.
Conceptually, there’s some debate about whether photography as such still exists. Most pictures are never printed but stored on phones, cameras, computers and the internet. But it’s philosophically the same, capturing the outdoors and freed from the constraints of thirty years ago. If you use a digital camera there’s no technical difference between filter effects created with optical glass, or those you create with Photoshop. The camera is also a computer, the result is the same, with the same medium of digital pixels.
Filter systems are expensive, fiddly, and annoying as part of a walking day. There are technical situations where you need them but most of the time you don’t, and the same applies with tripods. Work outside with a camera and you’re not walking or enjoying the outdoors. Desktop software at home is like a digital darkroom. Using it doesn’t mean you distort the picture: it means enjoying the outdoors then editing with traditionally based methods. Cameras and lenses are not perfect and shouldn’t be fetishised. All lenses distort, with a technical profile which can be loaded into software for easy correction. A graduated filter effect, commonly used to darken and balance the sky, can be created quickly and easily in Photoshop. It’s a darkroom technique called ‘dodging’ and ‘burning’ as you control the exposure of photographic paper. Some people continue with film methods although when I used a darkroom again, a few years ago, I found it clumsy and unpleasant.
A camera mediates between you and the landscape which means you don’t experience it directly. It’s like looking through a window. Digital technology facilitates a different practice which is efficient and minimalist. It’s not unpleasant using a camera as you walk, but you don’t have to dwell on it. This is my philosophy: an integrated practice of walking, minimalist photography, and landscape.
I write like this is a magazine column. With research, references, and a lot of time. If you like it, perhaps you would support me.