On cameralessness and camera-sight


in Daily updates, Photography

For nearly a month now, I have been walking around without a decent camera (the one on my phone is too low quality to count). At the outset, I was wondering if it would change the way I looked at the world. It seems plausible that a person carrying a camera might become overly concerned about the possibility of recording experiences and thus become less immersed in the situations themselves. While I think that remains true in some circumstances, I find that the general result of not carrying a camera is simply loss of acuity in sensation. Having a camera forces you to pay more attention to what is happening around you: the quality of the light, the details of natural and man-made objects nearby, brightnesses and distances and angles.

As Tristan and I discussed while he was visiting this weekend, one’s sensitivity extends to include consideration for the kind of equipment being used. You do see a bit differently when you are carrying black and white film than when you are carrying colour; you care more about textures and relative brightnesses and not at all about colour temperature. Probably, there are differences in how you see based on whether you are carrying a camera loaded with 35mm film, one with a small digital sensor, or one with a larger sensor more capable of low-grain performance in low light. It is a bit like Michael Pollan’s description of what happened to his vision when he was collecting mushrooms: our visual systems are quite happy to optimize themselves for the task at hand.

Thankfully, my repaired camera is in the process of being mailed back to me. It is notable that Canon repaired it for free – essentially acknowledging that the problem arose because of a defect in manufacturing. I thus feel vindicated in saying that the Future Shop staff were wrong to reject an exchange, on the basis that I had abused the camera. I won’t be making the mistake of giving them more business anytime soon.

[Update: 31 January 2007] Oh, trumph and celebration! My camera has been returned and seems to be functioning properly. No more photos of the day from weeks past!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

tristan January 29, 2008 at 9:46 pm

I myself prefer to experience the landscape without a camera. I find it makes me a better photographer – the possibility with a camera is always that you will look for patterns and images that will happen to show up well on film – blinding you to the things themselves, seeing them only as possible objects of a photograph.

The best photos (and the best life), are made when the camera disappears – any effect the camera might have on the image (i.e. what film you are using, what lens, etc..) is no longer something you think about, the camera becomes an integrated part of your body and you do not sense it just as you do not sense your fingers when you use a wrench. (Which is to say, you do in fact sense them, but they are not an object of your attention).

The best photos are made by seeing the landscape as it is, and letting it show up on the film as it is. Photography is secondary to experience, it is a medium of conveying experience. (Or, of producing it – but it can only produce a derivative, perverted (not a value term) experience if it began with a real landscape or subject in the first place).

Perhaps what I’m getting at can be best expressed thusly: photos are interpretations, but they are interpretations of the world we live in. The worry is that having a camera, seeing everything always in terms of “the finished product” – while it allows the world to show itself in a way, does not let the world show itself as it desires to be shown but only in the specific terms of prior calculation.

Therefore, I do my best photography when I leave my camera at home.

tristan January 30, 2008 at 1:52 am

I’d be quite interested in knowing what your take on Ron Paul is. I’ve been up late watching youtube videos.


R.K. January 30, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Therefore, I do my best photography when I leave my camera at home.

This doesn’t make much sense. Having experience as a photographer may make you enjoy camera-free times more, but that doesn’t mean you are doing photography during those times. They are more precious precisely because you aren’t.

Anon January 30, 2008 at 5:32 pm
tristan January 30, 2008 at 7:34 pm


When someone makes a claim that is, on first reading, a logical fallacy – it is customary only to point this out if we think the person is an idiot. Otherwise, especially when such a short remark comes after a longer post, it would be customary to look in the post to find the key to making sense of the contradiction. In this case, the key is in the third paragraph when I state that “photos are interpretations…of the world we live in”, and then that “the worry” is that thinking about photography in terms of the finished photo shuts up the world, makes it recalcitrant, unwilling to reveal itself. There is nothing essentially representational about the notion of “photo” I am employing here – if the photo turns out to be a print or image on a screen this is incidental. You could disagree that it is possible to think the notion of ‘photo’ simply as ‘interpretation’ and not also as ‘interpretation as visual representation’. However, you can’t disagree by simply stating that “the times you spend without a camera are times when you aren’t doing photography”; you have to give a reason.

Milan January 31, 2008 at 8:58 am
Anon February 1, 2008 at 10:08 am

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