Have you ever heard of the Heliocentric Helios Console? I thought so. Still, from a recent article on Open Culture we can learn that this mixing desk was once used in recording classic rock songs from Stairways to Heaven to After Midnight (and that it is now up for auction in case you still need Christmas gifts). One has to love the name, though, which sounds like an egomaniacal sun. But it maybe gets to your head if all the planets circle around you…
For me this piece of news was a reminder of how strangely the relative obscurity of this device contrasts with the cult of the recording device I perceive in photography.
Imagine, you meet your favorite singer for the first time in person. Would you ask him/her: “I love your songs and by the way on which mixing desk do you record?” Probably not (unless you happen to be a sound engineer); even though mixing desks might have quite a strong influence on the sound quality and the sonic feel (for lack of better words) of a recording you would probably focus on the artistic contribution of the singer.
Now, we photographers do have ourselves quite an obsession with our recording devices; as musicians have with instruments and recording. Too much at times for my taste, I admit, as I’d rather prefer discussing photographs than machines. Still, in a way I understand the need to discuss the tools of the trade as, of course, different cameras are more or less suited for different ways and genres of photographing. As one wouldn’t use a slash-hammer to put a nail into a wall, one wouldn’t use a shoebox-sized view-camera for discreet street photography. But a good camera doesn’t make a great photograph and the Heliocentric Helios didn’t write (or perform) Stairways to Heaven. Still, the most often heard question photographers are asked is ” What camera did you use?”. I know that many of my colleagues take this as a real insult to their (vs the camera’s) contribution to the quality of the result.
I have some time ago decided to take the question simply as interest in my process and as an attempt to keep the conversation going. And keeping the conversation going with me, I concede, is anyhow not an easy task; I rate at over 90% on the introvert scale… So I am grateful if someone engages and we then can have a friendly conversation about workflow.
But on a general level I do sense something like a “cult of the machine” behind this thing-obsession and camera-fixation that both photographers and non-photographers exhibit. I fear that since the rise of consumerism in the 1950’s we have been increasingly successfully made believe that buying things, not learning, is the key to all matters of self-improvement. And there is this almost demonic side to consumerism in that it makes us believe that we need the things we want.
All of this is terribly distracting if one wants to improve a skill like photography or to develop artistic acumen. It is good to remember that many famous photographers did or do flat-out refuse to embrace new technologies or cameras. Instead they focus(ed) on the next picture, not the next tool. And this was for me one of the first learnings in photography: it needs a focused mind. It also needs that focus to turn away from our inner world of wishes and obsessions (e.g. the infatuation with new things) and to actually look at the world around. For me, I admit, this was and still is quite an exercise; the lure of distraction is quite strong. But every time that I do succeed to focus on the world around me – even for a short while – the experience has been immensely satisfying.
I wish you all a festive season that is more about being than about getting and having.