A Fallen Photographer Confronts Simplicity

Window Crank

Simplicity.  An alluring concept — easy to grasp, easy to understand, yet as difficult to achieve as your ideal waist size, an undeviating heart-friendly diet, or world peace. If Thoreau thought simplicity difficult to achieve in the 19th century when he took to the woods in a log cabin at Walden Pond, how can any of us achieve simplicity while being bombarded by one hundred trillion cell phone emissions per minute? Besides, after two years of chopping wood, snorting nature, and filling several notebooks with philosophical scrivenings, Thoreau chucked it and moved back to town.

When I was young, with a mind as pliable as potter’s clay, I thought Thoreau was onto something. Doesn’t everyone wish life were a little simpler? Simple as in less complex, not simple as in the mindedness of the Republican election platform.

Take photography for instance. Why do enthusiastic photographers acquire so much gear? The other day I went on a photo walk with just my Canon S3 IS digicam, a lightweight point-and-shoot with a lens range equivalent to 36-432mm — what is sometimes referred to as a superzoom model, as opposed to all the other models which the manufacturers assure us are all super, at least until they are replaced by newer, superer ones.

In addition to its zoom versatility, the S3 has good macro capabilities, and a surprisingly good movie mode that, I must confess, I usually forget is there. I’ll not be providing competition to Michael Moore any time soon. The S3 is a comfortable camera, so I ask myself why do I bother with bulkier, heavier SLR and DSLR cameras with their various lenses when I could shoot 90% or more of my images with the S3?

The lure of this logic, with its overtones of monogamous virtue, has caused me, twice, to sell off DSLR cameras in a quest for simplicity. I essentially divorced two nice DSLRs: a Canon 300D Digital Rebel and then a Pentax *istD2. My newly-resolved relationship with a single, worthy P&S digicam lasted for perhaps six months, but in the end it was doomed to failure because while the lure of simplicity pulls me one way, I must confess to a problem that pulls me in another: lust for lenses. For me the online KEH used camera and lens store in Atlanta is a camera porn site to which I may be as addicted as David Duchovny is to the human variety.

Not only do I fancy lenses, I often fancy the older ones, as perhaps befits my age. I won’t state my age, but if you guessed 63 you’d be exactly close.

So, we come to the nub of it: lust leads to complexity. You acquire lenses, then you need a new body. Soon you have so many lenses it’s no longer possible to maintain a discrete relationship with each one. Your lens drawer becomes a sultan’s harem of complexity.

Perhaps Sarah Palin would counsel abstinence, but when you’re already pregnant with an expanding lens collection, it’s a little late, though I agree it would be morally reprehensible to suddenly abort. If I’d had lens education early enough I might have taken precautions, but as it is I’m a fallen photographer.

So, at last I face the varnished truth: I am a photographer with lens issues. For me simplicity is no more attainable than is a profound appreciation and understanding of punctuated equilibrium by George W. We all have our limitations.

Thus, after a lifetime of longing for simplicity, I bid adieu to Henry David Thoreau and his clever Walden memes. There is more than one kind of addiction, and an addiction to the idea of simplicity leads not to the promised land, but to the sorrow of yet another unobtainable dream (YAUD, in geek terminology). Besides, my cell phone is chirping, and I have to take this call.

5 thoughts on “A Fallen Photographer Confronts Simplicity

  1. heh, Gene, if you check evolutionary theory you’ll find that each year things get more complex and there are more varieties of species and life.. just like photographers.

    So don’t worry, you’ve got Darwin on your side ! ;D

  2. Yes, spot on … it’s the lens, baby. No, not lensbaby. Take the Minolta 7Sii which transferred ownership a few times lately 🙂 … do I NEED another fixed-lens RF? Prolly not. Definitely not if you ask certain people. But that lens is irresistible! And so are several others for which I long.

    This longing-ness/attachment leading me to the increasing realization that, for me, the practice of detachment and mindfulness are really important. Not to distract from the humour here (and it is VERY funny!), but the silver bullet syndrome can often (more often than not) keep me from … just plain photography.

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