Photography: Art Or Gadget Lifestyle?

Taken with Holga 35mm Pinhole Camera using Tri-X 400 film, self-developed in Rodinal using stand development.

In recent years, photography has changed so much in the world from what it used to be. The advancement in photographic technology, the “super-duper-magical” digital cameras which can shoot at ISO1million (very soon I guess)… , the BOOMING camera-trading industry, the almost complete death of film once (Thank God, it’s very much back alive!), the death of very good professional labs…(they are still not revived yet)… , and the influx of thousands of “professional photographers” who become “professionals” literally overnight by getting themselves a 2000 bucks DSLR.

Recently, we have the PC Fair in Malaysia, and it’s not the first PC Fair to have camera booths selling cameras in it. I thought PC means personal computer? I know me and my wife are backdated… as my wife still asked me, “why are they selling cameras at a PC Fair?”

So many-a-times, I asked myself,” why the hell have I gone digital?”

Because of work, I’ve “gotta” upgrade my digital cameras every few years. (nowadays, the advancement is so fast that it’ll probably be shortened to every one year). Do I really have to upgrade? Even for photo-enthusiasts, they are upgrading, many even quicker than the pros usually. I only know of one wedding photographer around me so far, who upgrades as fast as a rich photo-enthusiast/gearhead, that most of us can’t even keep up to half his speed. LOL… :p

Shot at a wedding, Nikon FM3A, 85mm F1.8, Tri-X 400, self-developed in Rodinal.

What has photography become?

It used to be about mastering the ART of capturing fleeting moments that passes us by too quickly that a paintbrush is hard to describe. Is it still? Oh yes… maybe… and it’s has gone so much easier today with digital cameras isn’t it? Face-detection, smile-detection, what else?

But, why is it that it doesn’t seem any more enjoyable than the old days, when we don’t get to see the results immediately, when we often screw up in our exposures, etc. and etc.. For the new generation, you possibly do not know what I am talking about, then maybe, you should really try getting an old film camera, pop a roll of film in it, and try it out for yourself?

We have heard that Olympus has in her plans, the potential of making cameras that can shoot up to 100 frames per second, like what Casio once did… except that this time, if it’s successful, the images are gonna be stunning. It’s the “motion-jpeg concept” they talked about… when I can imagine future wedding photographers inviting their clients into their posh and cosy lounge, looking at huge screens with a remote control in their hands, viewing “motion-jpegs” or shall we call it video? … and pressing the pause button whenever they see a “moment” to do a screen capture for output as an enlargement print. Oh, not-to-forget some soft background music and two glasses of champagne too… Now, isn’t that lovely?

Will Henri Cartier-Bresson jump out of his grave since he strongly believed in “decisive moment” by the photographer but now, it’s about “decisive pauses” by the audience?

Shot with a camera called the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex Super, made in 1959.

Also shot with the 1959-made Contaflex, using cheap China Lucky Color Film

I am just being emotional again.

Photography is about being emotional. The whole photography process is emotional. By introducing “better” cameras that supposedly make life easier for the photographer to concentrate on ARTS can also at the same time, take away certain pleasures the photographer is enjoying.  I am imagining and asking myself, “if the whole world shoots using the “motion-jpeg/video concept”, will I still be a photographer? ”

I know it’s definitely exciting for technology to advance like this… exciting for the engineers, NOT the artists, not really for me. It’s a cool gadget to have, but not for serious photography I would wanna do.

Photography is such a hybrid. It involves heavily with gears and instruments, and yet you can develop it as ART. So, it’s not surprising that many photographers are more “involved” with changing equipments than actual shooting. You change your camera, you get a different result. Take the camera away from the photographer, and he/she can’t produce pictures anymore. Whereas, a painter can still try painting with his/her fingers. So, it’s definitely highly equipment-dependent.

But how should we develop our artistic vision in the midst of all this technology advancement? Cameras are no different from mobile phones nowadays. The newer and better cameras are always luring us to believe that owning them can make us better photographers, which is TOTALLY UNRELATED to your personal photographic vision!

Taken with Rollei 35, Ilford XP2, part of my personal project "Cari Makan"(earn-a-living).

Also taken with Rollei 35, but on Kodak BW400CN.


I have ever mentioned that the Olympus E-P1 helped me in expanding my photographic vision, unleashed the experimental part of me, and that it is a camera that gives you great JPEGs without much retouching. I used it in automatic mode so I could concentrate on my photographic vision. That’s one way. Get a camera which can produce wonderful images without having to do much post-processing and in-camera settings. Set it to auto and concentrate on your composition.

Shoot film.

Shooting film slows you down. From shooting thousands with my DSLRs, I slowed down to shooting 36 per roll, a few rolls per week. Recently, I shoot just 12 shots a day on my favourite medium format camera for about 3-4 days per week. I am telling you this “slowing” is gonna continue for me. I am currently addicted to seeing as high as 10-11 keeper shots out of 12 per roll. And this feeling definitely beats having 30 keeper shots out of a hundred odd digital snaps.

Photography: ART or Gadget Lifestyle for me?

It’s still partly ART and partly a gadget lifestyle for me since I am often tempted by good old film cameras and sometimes the small digitals. :p But, I’d rather keep to my First Love which is Shooting! I WILL NOT spend more time on the computer than going out there for actual shooting as long as my eyes can still SEE.

Do feel free to share the images you shoot with me by inviting me to your flickr or whatever photo-sharing website you have… I’d love to see them!

I’ve been doing private coaching for quite a while now and I am gonna have a group photography workshop soon, so please email me if you are interested. Thanks!

Related Posts:

1. Why Photo-enthusiasts are cool!

2. Good to stay “innocent”.

3 thoughts

  1. Hi, i must say fantastic website you have, i stumbled across it in Yahoo. I bought myself the lumix tz7 digital camera. Its just a pleasure to use.

  2. Hi, I just found your post while searching for some useful resources. I have to agree with you that with the innovations in cameras nowadays, some of the pleasures of photography are indeed taken away from the photographers. The level of contentment is not the same as when you take the time to do your own prints in a dark room. Good thing I was able to come across your website. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  3. John, Thanks for understanding and sharing my sentiments!