Today was the first one that the Apple iPad was delivered to customers. That was interesting considering there were long lines at every Apple store of people who had pre-ordered an iPad. They could just as well stayed home and their new iPad would have been delivered to them. So why stand in-line? There were also reams of commentary in my news gathering this morning, mostly vacant observations of course. But there was one telling insight of the fact unlike computers which are used to work and create stuff, the iPad is designed as a consumer of stuff. My computers are used mostly to do research, process and edit images and write articles and blogs. But I must admit I just bought another iMac, this time to replace my cable box to download entertainment, and that is consumption.
Of course that does not answer the question although the iPad is another toy. What does answer the question is the purpose to the individual a toy has, how is it used and why. Cameras in this respect are toys and some photographers collect more and more, better toys. Sometimes I see them displayed at greatly known and visited tourist attractions. I seldom visit these congregations of popularism, places like the south rim of the Grand Canyon, but some years ago I did because I had a traveling companion who had never seen the southwest of America. While my guest was enthralled by the view I was captivated by the tourists with 35mm SLR cameras hung around their necks, nearly all festooned with long telephoto zoom lenses. To capture the Grand Canyon on film you need the shortest wide-angle possible to even get part of its expanse on film. I never saw one of those cameras with a large phallus attached lifted and pointed at a subject, so I had to assume the gear was some kind of symbol, a badge of recognition. Look I have a big professional looking camera so name me photographer. Maybe that is a little crass, but I think toys have an identity purpose for many who collect them.
When I was a photo student I had one instructor I took very seriously. His name was Boris Dobro, and he was a European who had escaped the Nazi scourge in the 1930’s. He was highly prized and respected in salon photography exhibitions that were popular in Europe between the Wars. And, was particularly appreciated by many students who wanted to learn the art of printing photographs. But occassionally he would get reflective and take a break to tell stories from his past. The one that stuck with me now for 45 years was about a group of camera clubs that made large salon prints for exhibition and competition. It involved an unusual membership rule that everyone use a Zeis Ikon box camera for all their photographs submitted to the clubs for show and contest. Now the Zeis Ikon box camera was no Baby Brownie camera but had a multi-element lens, and aperture and shutter speed control. But of course the idea was to require a basic camera everyone could afford and that the purpose of the members activity was to create competitive, fine, photographic prints based entirely on the members talent and craftsmanship, and not on whether they could afford the best and most sophisticated equipment.
I am sure the clubs did not survive the Nazi regime as they were just too idealistically egalitarian and democratic.
But the concept and the Zeis Ikon box camera club’s placing value on skill and craftsmanship instead of the idea you need the best equipment remains. And it has been proven to me as I got to know many of the best photographers work over the years including, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Morley Baer, as well as William Mortensen and W. Eugene Smith, to name just a few that used minimal equipment and great creative craftsmanship.