The Online Photographer

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Snide or Funny, Only Anonymous Knows

When I'm in a dyspeptic mood, which is often lately, I think I misinterpret certain comments posted to this blog as being snide, when in fact the authors are just trying to be funny. I mistrust my judgment about the writers' intentions, in other words. For instance, what am I to make of an anonymous comment to the "T.O.P. Endorses: Zeiss 25mm/28mm Finder" post below that reads, "I'm sure that is a nice product. Have any recommendations on Mammoth Spears for the big hunt later?"

Is that meant to be snide, or just funny?

Either way, I think the comment's underlying point is both mistaken and irrelevant. What's Anonymous saying, that no one of any consequence photographs with Leicas any more? Right.

It also underscores a peculiar change that has come over the photography hobby in recent years—say, increasingly over the last decade. It pleases me sometimes to pretend that I'm old and grizzled, but in fact I've only been a "serious" photographer since 1980 and a photo-writer since 1988, not really all that long. Even during that shortish time, however, it's become increasingly a matter of great interest and disputation amongst aficionados to discuss the photographic business and its industries. Non-experts are increasingly preoccupied with offering armchair advice to manufacturers, prognosticating, and critiquing business strategies. Doubtless, this is largely due to the medium of the internet.

In this context, it's important for people to remember: pretty much everybody on the internet has his head up his behind. The hard-fought consensus of non-expert opinion on one forum or another still just amounts to one more non-expert opinion. And—again important to remember—saying something a lot doesn't make it true. I'm sure ancient Greek sailors prayed to Poseidon every day. That didn't mean Poseidon was up there stroking his beard and deciding whether to whip up a low-pressure system because some trireme captain was an s.o.b.

Despite the internet's constant reinforcement of the opinion that digital's da bomb and film's a buggy whip, the "average" photographer in the world today is still shooting with a film point-and-shoot...and the "average" digital photographer is shooting with something in between a cell phone and a Canon A20. Don't let the internet and its ado-do fool you.

And furthermore, frankly and for the record, I could not give a flying fig about either one of those facts. What matters to me is the house, not the hammer. We've done at least two posts about Daguerreotypists, for god's sake. Not long ago I went on a tear here about Alec Soth, who photographs with an 8x10 view camera, a technology that was obsolescent when Speed Graphics were all the rage and that had its first big nostalgic revival in the 1970s. Nobody gets any automatic brownie points from me just because they have a gigantic battery-powered digi-Canon back home snug in its expensive purpose-made camera rucksack; on the other hand, if anyone's doing good work with one of those, I'll be first in line to take a look.

As long as there are twenty people in the world doing world-class work with rangefinders, and a great finder might be relevant to them, then it's relevant. Cell-phone photogs and Samsung's market share be danged.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

AHh that's better

5:25 PM  
Blogger Dean Tomasula said...

Mike -

Not everyone on the Internet has their head up their butts. But it's a clear majority.

I think the problem arose with the popularity of digital. Everyone with a digital camera thinks they are a photographer -- and has opinions and advice to prove it. Plus, they seem to be hung up on the equipment and are ignorant of the process. They don't know film, never shot film and wouldn't know how to go about developing film. It's as dead as a dinosaur to them.

It's pretty funny when you consider that the "digital is god" people think film is old fashioned, yet they buy all kinds of plug-ins to make their digital files look like Velvia or Tri-X.

If they knew even a little about analog photography, their digital photography would be 10-times better than it is.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Jim Natale said...

Just guessing, but Anonymous was probably trying to be snide AND funny.

Mike, I suspect a number of readers come to a site like this because they share your frustration regarding the amount of drivel (particularly equipment-related drivel) on the net. Amongst all that's said on all the forums, there's actually amazingly little about photographers and photographs. That's one reason your top ten list is enjoyable, as is the shadow list.

It's possible to discover great work that was done before most of us were born. A positive aspect of the internet is that anyone with even the slightest interest can see and learn about this work without a trip to a library or a gallery. That so few people seem to be photographically literate can only serve to illustrate that they're just not very serious about the subject. Too bad. Their loss.

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Anderson said...

"It's the house, not the hammer." I certainly agree, and so do my students. For 17 years I've been teaching photography to college students at a small university in North Dakota. My students are mostly Mass Comm majors who need a required photography course, or students who picked photography as one of their required "arts and aesthetics" options. Right now I have a class in digital imaging and one in "traditional" photography. I find it fascinating how the two classes regard each other. The digital group not only doesn't regard themselves as superior, but many of them envy the "wet class." They have a sneaking suspicion that the darkroom crew is having more fun. The wet photographers envy the "Photoshoppers" for the ease of contrast control and spotting, but they don't think inkjet prints look like "real photos." But both groups agree on one thing: a good photo is a good photo, whether it came from a brand-new D50 and pixels, or Dad's Pentax K1000 and a roll of Tri-X. They are also quick to see who is talking and who is walking, no matter what their camera cost.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about snide *and* funny?

7:09 PM  
Blogger Hiding Pup said...

I've got a digital camera, though no purpose-made rucksack for it. Funnily enough, rangefinders are something I aspire to. Sadly, I can't imagine having the same camera as Cartier-Bresson - so I might have to wait for Zeiss Ikon Digital or some such. Meanwhile, you go on posting pictures of Zeiss finders mounted on Voigtlander Bessas that cost the same money. Says nothing about Leicas at all, with or without jibes about mammoths.

7:31 PM  
Anonymous Steve White said...

One of the things I liked about the Aviation Special Interest Group on the former CompuServe was the use of "real names" and the civility of discourse. I don't recall if the Photography Forum had similar rules, but I believe that was common practice. It made it easier to understand what people were actually trying to say, despite the limitation of the keyboard. AVSIG, now on it's own on the web, has retained the rules and the civility. While I'm not suggesting all anonymous communication is without merit, I do tend to consider the source.

7:57 PM  
Blogger sbug said...

I have 5 cameras. 4 of them use film. 3 of them are rangefinders. One uses 620 film and none of them are SLR's. Please keep posting on a wide variety of photographic topics. This is a refreshingly BS free zone. Except for, of course, the 'good' kind of BS. :)

10:01 PM  
Blogger Pancho said...

I've been taking photographs for 46 years now....since I was 10 y.o. starting with a Brownie box camera and advancing thru Canon's and Nikons. Prints and slides for 4 decades, but since I didn't have the ability to print my own images I had a break in interest for several years. What I've found was that going digital in 1998 re-energized my interest, not only in digital but also in 35mm film. I've even had some of my old film cameras renovated and bought new lenses. Not to mention doing high res scans of much of my old stuff and reworking it on the computer. I've gotten some really good prints of very old pictures from the Brownie. It all counts if you are creative and enjoy it.

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Anonymous (D) would never make a comment that would be even considered snide. Some of us are tired of signing up and registering for everything, it just isn't worth the bother.

I do like the site though, and having made a living from photography for over 50 years I find it interesting that photographers who take pictures today are just as hung up on equipment as they were 50 years ago.

I keep telling myself, ITPS(It's The Picture Stupid). Equipment is interesting, but just that, a tool. No one ever asks a writer what typewriter he used.

And Mike, if you think that poster's comment was out of place, edit it out.

(will return to silence in CA)

1:01 AM  
Blogger NIMBY said...

Mike, I can see your frustration, but for each comment that contributes nothing there are 5 or more which are genuinely interesting.

It is a sad fact that the people who have the least to say, say it the most - but this is true in all media. The internet just makes it harder to avoid the noise to get to the signal (oops, a bit digital there).

I suspect that if you keep doing what you are doing, which is providing posts to people who are actually interested in photography for the experience and final product, then the number of visitors who are in it for other reasons will stay low. As has been said elsewhere - there is almost a limitless supply of equipment pugilism available elsewhere on the net.

I come here because I am interested in items such as the viewfinder - I probably wont buy one - but nice to read and consider.

As far as the comments go - just let them fly and move on. In the same way that not everyone will appreciate an individual photograph, they will have their opinion - and they are welcome to it.

1:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any chance you'll tell us who won the classified film vs. digital battle that was never televised?

2:32 AM  
Blogger hugo solo said...

Mike,IMHO,I think that my work is seriouly,both in color and BW,with Aiptek,Canon A30,60 and Ixus SD200,maybe I´m wrong.

3:14 AM  
Anonymous auspiciousdragon said...

Last year I posted an article on my website about different sorts of wrist straps that are available, because I found that using a wrist strap with my Leica M made my photography faster and my camera more secure. It has been the only one of my gear articles that has not been picked up by one of the "photography" meta sites. Yet when I write about a digital back that costs more than a car it gets reported and re-reported all around the world. Very few of the readers of those sites will be able to afford the digi-back (neither can I - it was a loan). Many of them might find the ten dollar straps of benefit.

Mike - you are not alone. Keep posting.

4:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on, Mike!
And there ARE people still using Leica M cameras to good effect. On the internet, some of them can be real s.o.b.s, though. Just google for "Frank" on the Leica forum, if you feel like getting even grouchier. Otherwise, don't bother.
Enjoying your blog daily, I remain

8:07 AM  
Blogger Admin said...

I think Dean's comment above does a good job of illustrating that it's not just digital photographers snubbing film users. It goes both ways. I see a lot of film users who can't take a decent picture to save their life, insulting digital photographers and their intelligence all the time online. It's a two way street.

At any rate, it's two groups of people, and any time you have groups of people, you're going to have bad apples. This isn't the first time I've seen a post on this site that was a direct response to users getting under the skin of the author (take the "King" post for example). On a moderated site where we only see the comments you want us to see, why let it bother you so much? Just focus your time on what you enjoy. It is after all the same internet you write about in your article. You can't make everyone play nice.

As for film vs digital, they're all just tools. Use what works for you and stop worrying about what everyone else is using. If you know what you're doing, you can get great shots with either one. If you can't, then you're not a professional photographer anyhow and you should be out shooting and learning instead of griping online about film vs digital.

Just my two cents. I like this site a lot, visit it daily, and this is my first post. I just hope we can focus less on bad apples, and more on useful content. Not everyone who uses film or digital cares what other people are using.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What's Anonymous saying, that no one of any consequence photographs with Leicas any more? Right."

Um, nope. Just entertained by the fact you felt you had to explain what a finder is and why one would want one.

Don't read too much into it.

I have to say that it was all worth it just to see that amazing comment from dean.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Muril said...

I feel uncomfortable getting into discussions about digital vs. film. But that's just my feeling, others may enjoy it and that's fine with me. I once heard that "Photographers talk about images, while others talk about equipment, technique, etc." Even though I've shot a lot of film and now shoot primarily digital, I have no clue as to what is best for other folks. But I sure do like seeing a nice image, no matter how it comes about.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee...By the time I got around to responding to this topic others had already posted my thoughts.

FWIW, this photographer shoots principally digital these days, but I also use a Leica M (ex: . (BTW, I use a Voigtlander viewfinder for my 21mm lens.) I was a film shooter for many years, left photography for a period, retired and returned to photography a few years ago. I had never owned (or even held) a Leica M until 18 months ago. What a pleasure to use such a craftsman's camera! I love my Canon 1's but I adore my M.

Mike, when you see silly comments on your topics just ignore them. I think you can see that the folks who follow your blog are in the main, like me; people who are much more interested in houses than hammers (terrific expression). Also more interested in photography's history and its creative / conceptual foundations than in how my 45 point auto-focus system works.

-Ken Tanaka-

11:12 AM  
Blogger Photo-essayist said...

A week or so ago someone made the following comment on this site: "I am getting a little tired of technical and digital talk...Where is the revolution in content?" I thought those words so apt they now scroll across my screensaver.

Great photographic content comes from imagination and vision; digital whatever has little to do with it. On the other hand, I cannot think of ANYTHING more relevant to photography than a great viewfinder.

Further on the topic of vision, I twice had the experience of handing over my favorite SLR to painter friends who wanted to take a picture. In both cases I ended up being somewhat awed by the originality of their vision. Their vision was far more powerful than any attributes my camera offered.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"I sure do like seeing a nice image, no matter how it comes about."

Hi Muril,
Me, too.


2:10 PM  
Blogger imants said...

crap comes with the territory

6:04 PM  
Blogger Sean Reid said...

Often, comments like this come from people who don't know any better. Some of them really think they're right because they have little to no experience using whatever it is they're insulting. They over-generalize; if it seems true to them, it must then be true.

It never ceases to amaze me that so many people are willing to talk so much about things they know so little about.

Regarding the finder itself...I'm testing a Zeiss 21 finder myself right now (part of the RF series) and it is outstanding.

Keep your powder dry,

Sean Reid
Reid Reviews

9:44 PM  
Anonymous billwheeler said...

Sounds snide to me. I suppose it could be viewed as humorous, too, at the blogger's expense. Oh, well. I read all this stuff--the bits on your blog by you and the comments of others--with interest. It's like sitting in on a lively conversation. Hang in there, friend.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Abba said...

Mike - I too teach photography and also started photographing as a boy - I'm 57 so work it out. In my film days I used to mix chemicals and play with different recipies for developer mixes to see how the negatives would come out. Being also a graphic designer I would say that there is a parallel lack of basic knowledge and tradition in the design world as there is in the photographic world when all you need today to become a designer is a PC and any old "graphics" program. How many designers know what "Leading" is? How many photographers know what "Bulb" is and does a term that is probably 140 years old appear on state of the art digital photographic, engineering, electronic and computer masterpeices. How many digital photography experts know why the Photoshop Dodge tool icon is made up of a line and circle and why on earth is the burn tool the shape of a hand? and why call it the "burn" tool? and for that matter what the hell is dodgy about the dodge tool.
Only if you have been in a darkroom or at least are familiar with film and darkroom terms can you rally understand what you are doing in todays digital world. All of which has nothing to do with actually photographing - you can do that very nicely with a $4 disposable camera.
Abba Richman - Israel (

4:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's this "digital" y'all keep talkin' 'bout?

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No matter what medium one uses, or what brand of equipment, when you boil it all down what really counts is the image.
I have often quoted my old grandfather - a carpenter by trade and now deceased - who often said "it is a poor mechanic who blames his tools."

9:29 AM  
Anonymous lostbryan said...

Some observatons:

1. It's not that the web is full of idiots. The world is full of idiots. The web is just an efficient global distillation of this, but by no means the only one.

2. For lots of people some of the time, and almost everybody a little bit of the time, it's not about results. It's about tools/toys/widgets. Many "photographers" are in fact camera collectors. That's OK. Just shouldn't be a cause of confusion.

All that said, I find the web is a great resource for two things (TOP being a fine example):

A. Pointers to great work. (Great photos I didn't know about, etc.)

B. Pointers to tools/vendors/resources I didn't know about.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Dave New said...

I try to make it a 'rule of life' both in conversation and print, to never use (or abide) sarcasm.

It's unfortunate that so many television shows are based almost completely on witty use of sarcasm amongst family members. It may be funny on TV, but it simply doesn't play well when parents actually try to emulate this and use it on their kids. I'm glad my folks hadn't picked up this trait when I was a kid.

I know this is kind of straying a bit, but the point is that sarcasm is *never* funny to the recipient, and should just simply not be tolerated or encouraged in civil discourse.

With that guideline in place, I think it would be pretty easy to know which comments to delete.

11:44 AM  

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