I don't know about any of the rest of you, but reading Michael Reichmann's newest 'think piece' on PMA 2008 entitled "Reading Tea Leaves" left a gnawing in the pit of my stomach. The post-gnaw epiphany didn't come until the walk I was compelled to take after reading his piece, with my trust Australian Cattle Dog Matilda and my trusty old Leicaflex strapped to my shoulder.
I had seen the light.
I must say at the outset that I deeply appreciate Mr. Reichmann's erudite essays on everything photographic. I have benefited greatly over the years from his photographic insights, equipment tips, and good humor. He serves a need and does it well. Which is why what I'm about to say is so disturbing to me.
To put it bluntly, I was completely turned off by his Tea Leaf essay. I thought to myself, Is this what we've come to? Weighing the relative merits of 30mp's vs. 60mp cameras and processors? Where did we take a wrong turn? Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and we took the one *most* traveled by.
The trouble with any large trade show (PMA, Comdex, etc.) is that it preys on our worst instincts as artists. The Tyranny of the Now pervades our very being, and before we know it, we're writing things like:
"20+ MP files (whether from a DSLR or a medium format back) are only needed in the work that I do for my most critical landscape work and some commercial projects. (For example, I have a commission to document a major urban renewal project, and in addition to an eventual coffee table book have been told that wall-sized blow-ups for a presentation center will be needed. So, I'll be shooting much of that with a 39MP medium format back.)"
Come again? Did he actually say "20+ MP files are only needed in the work that I do for my most critical landscape work..." and "I'll be shooting much of that with a 39MP medium format back"?! Huh?!? Makes me wonder what kind of shoddy work Mr. Reichmann must have been resigned to producing back in the prehistoric days (aka eighteen months ago) of 10-12MP cameras. And poor Cartier-Bresson, stuck with @#$%^& film!!
Allow me a little perspective. A relative of mine (my uncle's sister's husband ~ what does that make him?) is the publisher of the Robb Report (for the uninitiated, the Robb Report sells Falcon X7's and Gulfstreams with the same casual swagger that other 'high-end retail' magazines sell Patek Philippes and...well, Leicas... Anyway, for a few years I worked with Mr. Bill on some of his ventures), and if there were ever a magazine that has perfected the art of pretentious obsession, it is the Robb Report. Sadly (for me, anyway), 'Reading Tea Leaves' had that same patina of overindulged asseveration to it. In defense of Mr. Reichmann, though, he is hardly the only one blinded by the Fashion of the New. But here's the rub. I came to expect more from LuLa (my pet name for this site). After all, isn't this the same guy who raved a few years back that
"After some 35 years as a photographer, printer and teacher I can say that the Epson 1270 along with its new inks and papers is the first inkjet printer that can claim to supplant traditional wet process photographic printing!"
"I believe that itís fair to say that with the 2200, and its larger brothers the 7600 and 9600, inkjet printing has now reached a level of maturity that requires no excuses or apologies. Ultra-high quality archival inkjet printing has truly arrived!"
"The net of all of this is that I intend on printing with SuperPhoto 2880 mode for my exhibition and sale prints..."
Where does it all end? Certainly not at 60MP's, that I promise you, because as quaint as Mr. Reichmann's ebullience about the Epson 1270 reads now, imagine what his rhetorical waxing about 60MP's will look like two years from now. Clearly, the years he was using his SuperPhoto 2880, his customers were getting short-changed. Or no, wait a minute... might there be a difference between relative quality and a trained eye?
The bottom line is this: a great photograph is 10% the right equipment, 90% a discerning eye. Like the old Mastercard ad campaign put it:
A Nikon D3 plus an AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR with nanocoating lens technology: $15,000.
A good eye: PRICELESS.
What Mr. Reichmann doesn't appear to realize (nor do the bevy of other photo-technophiles) is that essays like Reading Tea Leaves have become a parody of themselves ~ and symptomatic of an industry that has lost its soul in service to the Hype of the Latest Gadget. You see it in all the photog magazines, which have become nine parts glorified product endorsements and comparisons to one part photographic art.
I always used to say that having a 600hp engine in a $300k car couldn't be supported by the infrastructure (read "speed limits"), and thus only suitable for power- and image-obsessed car geeks who were very, very rich (and likely very, very bored), like many of the people who subscribe to the Robb Report. Of course, it always went without saying that the net-worth of a car had no bearing on the skill-set of the driver.
Which takes me back to my walk with Matilda and my 45 year-old all black Leicaflex (yes, 5 stars on the Leica rarity scale for those who actually give a damn), with its trusty Summicron 50mm 1:2 lens and a roll of expired Kodak Tri-X 400 Pro film in its belly. When I get done developing my pics and get to see the fabulous grain of that wonderful film, I won't lose a second's sleep wondering about high-resolution chips and new industry standard 39MP sensors. I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that if B&W emulsion was good enough for the likes of Mssrs. Adams and Cartier-Bresson, it's certainly good enough for me.
Does that mean I'm going to throw away my Fuji f30? Of course not, because it does just what digicams do best: satisfy my cravings for decent photographic quality and immediate gratification. But when I want to test the limits of my art and try to capture just the right light at just the right moment, will I go to the newest and latest DSLR? Of course not. I'll just grab my old Leicaflex and my trusty Matilda and head out the door for another late afternoon walk in the crisp, clean February air.