Saturday, July 28, 2012

Camera Guilt, and Other Unnecessary Anxieties of Street Style Photography

Let me start this post by saying I love my new camera and my new 85mm lens. I can do things with them I could never do with my old Panasonic Lumix GF1. I can get that lush bokeh, or background blur, so characteristic of The Sartorialist, Jak & Jil, and Le 21ème Arrondissement, among other top street style sites. I can shoot full body portraits without distortion. I can shoot snapshots of passerbys without them looking like tiny dots on the screen. But after a couple of days of shooting with it, I've experienced something I didn't expect; i've experienced a strange feeling of betrayal, as I if left my wife for a hot young mistress. My old camera is just sitting up there on the shelf, abandoned, lonely. And just as many adulterers report feeling a new attraction and deepening longing for their current spouses when they're out with their new lovers, my old camera is looking kinda awesome to me at the moment, vaguely like a classic rangefinder. So compact. So beautifully simple. 

My feeling of guilt, however doesn't stop there. I also feel a vague sense of betrayal towards my humble street style brethren, out shooting with whatever they could get their hands on. It's like I've sided with street fashion and the flashier side of the style blogosphere over the more grassroots-level outfits. And I feel a sense of betrayal towards my deeply rooted suspicion of consumer culture too. It's gotten me through a lot: post-college poverty, Southeast Asian slums, my experiments with organic farming. I owe it something. Have I, I wonder, finally given in to the corrosive logic of late capitalism, that irrational belief that personal development and product acquisition are the same thing? 

So I remind myself of why I got the camera. First, to understand on a practical and technical level how the people I'm studying achieve their shots. And on that front I feel like I've already made a huge leap of progress. Second, to up my game. I recently accepted a position as co-editor of Visual Anthropology Review, the top academic journal for visual anthropology, the subdiscipline of anthropology that studies visuality and uses photography and film to document culture, and I want to make myself into a better visual anthropologist. For this, and all future projects, I will be making some use of photography. I want to be the best photographer I can be. Finally, I got the camera as a symbolic gesture, a commitment to this project and the practice of visual anthropology more generally.

And I guess these reminders help. Or at least, furiously typing this after a particularly grueling jog in 80 percent humidity is helping. Which reminds me of the one other needless anxiety I've been experiencing: that by committing myself to photography I'm somehow betraying my first, and truest creative love, writing. But don't worry, writing, I'm not going anywhere. 

1 comment:

  1. I think that what matters is that you are even having these thoughts. You are coming at this project from every angle and in doing so it will be as thorough as a research project should be. You started with the basics and are moving on up just as other street style photographers do. Perfect.

    You are a great writer. Glad you plan to keep that a main focus of the blog. Really been enjoying the interviews and analysis.

    Sorry old camera...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.