The fundamental disconnect between gear and creativity

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This morning my friend and fellow Unusual Collective member, Mark, made a statement in our group chat that really hit home. The group was having a lively debate about a recent article that had been posted in which there seemed to be a bit of gear snobbery happening. At least some of the members, including myself, kind of felt that way.

That discussion isn’t important here, though. Mark’s comment in response instantly lodged itself in my brain and I just had to work through it a bit with you guys here. With his approval, here is his statement.

Art vs Gear – Mark’s Quote

Until people realize a photo is made between their ears and crafted with the tools in their hands; they will continue to conflate the tool executing the photo with the one that is actually making it. We will continue to elevate and focus on the things and not on the creation of the art. Again mistakenly assigning value to something because of the thing that made it and not the who that made it.

Mark Reierson – canadianportraitist.com

What a statement, huh?

It really is fascinating how it seems that photography is absolutely RAMPANT with this mindset and honestly, it’s a real big problem I think.

Far too often I see photographer after photographer needing to lead any conversation about their work by puffing out their chest to tell you what fancy gear they used to make it. Or how they made this amazing work with “just a cheap lens/camera”.

Worse, I see them looking at someone else’s work and then looking down or speaking down to them because that photographer didn’t use gear that is considered “high end” or meet some fictional standard.

The REAL tools that matter are inside us

The simple truth is that the REAL tools, the ones that really should be the focus when we are both creating our own work and enjoying the work of others, are trying to understand the vision and voice behind the work.

What is the artist trying to communicate in the work, what are YOU trying to communicate in your work? Let the real tools guide you, as Mark said above. Your eyes, your heart, your brain… THOSE are the only actual “tools” that should matter in terms of the value of your work.

I will go out on a limb here and tell you a secret. I NEVER create a photograph in which the message I am trying to convey to someone else is “LOOK AT THIS PHOTO MADE WITH FANCY CAMERA BRAND XYZ THAT I USE”. It just doesn’t happen.

Quite frankly, it’s also a question that NEVER comes from a viewer of your work that is a non- photographer. The only time you hear this nonsense is when it’s one photographer trying to look important, look superior, or other wise measure their manhood against all other photographers that they deem to be somehow “Less Valuable” or of “Lower Quality”.

It’s a problem and it’s sickening.

What can we do about it?

Let’s be honest. If you try telling someone to stop obsessing or attaching unnecessary value to their gear, or that it really doesn’t matter what gear you used because it’s the actual creative vision and content that is important… Well, they will usually get defensive and angry and throw a tantrum.

No one needs or wants that extra drama.

So that leaves but one option. Take it upon yourself to lead by example. When you look at or comment on someone else’s work, take time to look at or understand what the work is saying to you.

If you comment, ask about the thought behind the photograph.

When you share work, let your voice and focus be a guide to what you are trying to say. Do your best not to fall into the trap of gear snobbery. Realize that just because you used some high end camera with a million megapixels, it doesn’t add any actual value to the art you are creating.

Not even a little bit.

In the end, no one cares.

One small caveat

Look, I get it. As photographers we love to talk about the gear we use because sometimes that gear DOES inspire us to want to create. Sometimes a specific camera or lens just FEELS right and makes us feel like we can’t wait to pick it up and make more photographs.

There’s nothing wrong with that at all. Inspiration is a great thing. But there is a big difference, at least to me, in saying that a bit of gear gave you inspiration to go create work and saying that you NEED said gear to create work that holds any value.

If you feel the need to talk about the gear you use, just keep in mind that it’s just a tool to help you express the real important stuff.

It holds no value when compared to the value that YOU and your creative vision bring to your art.

So talk about gear if you want, just remember not to make the gear itself more important than the person making it or than the message the person making it is trying to convey.

How can you bridge the disconnect between gear and creativity?

That disconnect, the confusion really, is like an epidemic. An epidemic that with a focused shift of mindset is easily repaired.

When we make the tool, the gear, more important than the art and creativity of the person making the art, we’ve completely lost our way.

Enjoy it, of course. Talk about it, sure. But, don’t put your gear on a pedestal of higher importance than the amazing tool between your ears.

Work to be an example of putting the artists and creatives up on that pedestal, give the creative voice the importance it deserves, and remember that the gear is just a tool… nothing more, nothing less.

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