Technology Break

My many writings on this blog about creating images at the ‘edge of light”, has brought about some great points from someone who commented  recently. I want to thank Doug Whitman for telling me about the Mach Band theory by Ernst Mach.

Mach was a 19th Century philosopher/physicist for whom the speed of sound (Mach 1) was named. Below you will find Doug’s quote.

“You may wish to read about Mach Bands, discovered by Ernst Mach; the human eye can resolve an edge finer than the distance between two receptive cells as the eyes naturally “jiggle,” From that we get edge effects and one of those is created by a particular slope of light, or dark as it approaches an edge. The mind’s eye literally creates bands of light and dark that are not present in the external image.”

I do get the gist of Mach’s theory, but technically he was way too far ahead of me to comment. Of course do remember, physicists deal in theory.  Rarely is anything they “discover”, provable.

I was often considered to be a technical photographer because of my studies of spatial relationships between subjects, and how we use our lenses to display them, to manipulate them, and to exploit them. Also the practical aspects of shutter speed with and without panning, and what speeds you need reach to capture certain aspects of sharpness and blur. Most photographers that I knew, simply did not go deeply into those thoughts. That made me, as labeled by others, a technical photographer.

It is true that I believed firmly in mastering the knowledge of how to work one’s camera, and to determine with or without a meter, exposure. How to use depth off field as a creative tool, and how to use all the techniques of photography for standard good pictures, or how to make “better” use of them to fulfill your creative urges. How to use the principles of Ansel Adams zone system in black and white, or Galen Rowell’s color version of the same, to create images with the specific exposure levels we desire within a single photo. I also managed to figure out the inverse square law for manual flash, but was happier when dedicated flash came along with its through the lens readings. I can assure you that none of the above facts ever made me what I considered to be a technical photographer. That said, it is impossible to separate photography from technology. Photography is dependent on technology for its very existence.   Even a pinhole camera is a technological achievement.

Among those in bygone years who I sought for partnerships with me in teaching workshops, the biggest fear that many seemed to have was that they might not understand all of the technical aspects of image making, and therefore not be able to teach it. I had a hard time convincing good and great photographers to partner with me, just because of their lack of confidence in their knowledge of the technical aspects of making a picture. The Xs and Os. It is true that I have been a staunch opponent of point and shoot image making, but that still doesn’t make me a tech type person or photographer.

The truth is that my insatiable curiosity about some technical matters surrounding photography was due almost entirely to my appetite for making the pictures I wanted to make. It never carried over into other aspects of life.

I am not even a techy  when it comes to computer technology etc. I consider it a necessary evil.

Today there exists a new breed of technical photographer that is way beyond whatever I was. My first desire was always, just to “get the picture”, my second was artistry (as so labeled by myself, not others). The technical considerations were a means to an end. Many of today’s tech wizards, are just that, tech wizards. It extends far beyond the technical aspects of using the camera or creating an image.

I have always been sort of a “minor league” savant when it came to doing arithmetic or simple math in my head. I have my own system to do that, but from making change with money to figuring out percentages, I could often beat a calculator to the punch. Those brain cells seem to be dead now, but even back then, it didn’t mean that I was a tech wizard. In fact, my formulas for calculating in my head were concocted precisely  because I was not a tech wizard. It was my way out of the quagmire. I took so little math in my last years of schooling, that it is barely worth mentioning, but it is amazing just how we can create our own systems for dealing with simple math.

I bring all this up because many of today’s photographers use GPS, astronomical charts and tables, and no small amount of algebra (yuck), trigonometry (yuck again) and other such mysteries (to me) to calculate where true north is, or where the moon is, or some other such thing, in relationship to an object like a tree or a building. This is done in an effort to make the star or moon pictures they want, with those objects (tree etc.) juxtaposed properly in relationship to the north star or the moon. If it were me, I would probably give up and just go shoot the sunrise, with silhouettes (my favorite) and then go search for some flowers or birds to photograph.

I do admire those who are drawn to “fancy figuring gadgets” and how to use them. It’s one more tool in the camera bag. Whatever leads someone to great pictures, is a tool or guide worth using. I can relate to the hunger for learning to make better pictures, but not to the burning desire inside for gadgets and charts and such. I’ve already made some fairly substantial car trips without even a map. I used to (almost) always know what direction I was headed. I’ve never used GPS to figure out where I am going. I do play with my phone’s GPS mapping and other such features like they are toys, because that’s just what they are to me. If there were still any payphones around, I’d probably forgo a cell phone altogether. Of course, a payphone is also technology.

I guess there are worse things than being a dinosaur. After all, there are schools all over the world dedicated to studying dinosaurs.

In remembrance of simpler times, go out and have an un-technical sort of day. Take a walk without your phone. Check out a photography location you heard about, before looking it up on the internet. It may stink, but just maybe you’ll find something else even better with no electronic help whatsoever. Be and old fashioned explorer. Sit in front of a peaceful stream and contemplate the mystery of where it began or where it will end, and do so without finding the coordinates in advance of every twist and bend. Search for answers, rather than look them up.

One thing’s for sure, all of that techno wizardry will still be there waiting for you tomorrow.

Keep it simple,                                                                                                                                                Wayne

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