Here’s the thing. My DSLR camera – i.e. my Canon 5D MKII is a black lumbering beast that scares the shit out of people. It’s like Beuwulf. It’s like Atilla the Hun. It’s like Ivan the Terrible. Even before I’ve raised it to my eyes to take a shot people are cowering and taking cover behind trees, buses, walls, rubbish bins, other people, telephone boothes and lamp-posts. Even though it allows me to take (what I think are!) superlative images – I hate carrying it around. It’s heavy, it’s big, it’s expensive, it’s a pain in the wrist and a liability in the city because it’s an attention seeker – drawing attention to itself – drawing attention to me. It’s fantastic for more considered types of photography like landscape shots where subtlety is not a requirement and which requires patience – because all you have to do is just sit with the camera mounted on a tripod and wait for the light to become what you want it to become. But for street photography – for the urban guerrilla warrior that is me, scuttling through the darkened streets of Valparaiso, scampering across the squares, scurrying along dodgy side-streets – on a mission called ‘death wish’ – in search of that ‘decisive moment’, that glimpse of the eternal – it’s just too big a tool and a pain to hold and worry about.
Its size also affects the way I do things. What I usually end up doing first is assessing the environment I’m in for safety. i.e. reconnaissance. Not all the neighbourhoods and cerro’s in Valparaiso are the same. Some are more salubrious then others, with nicer homes, richer folk and are therefore much safer. Others – well, others are falling apart – which; though great for urban guerrilla fotografia, also means you are more likely to get mugged or assailed by a nasty strain of feral street kids with foamy spit dribbling out of their spotty teenage mouths. And as I said earlier, a big camera in such a neighbourhood – draws attention…
Also, a large DSLR is not really the right tool for spontaneous, impulsive, impromptu, ‘decisive moment’ candid street photography a la Carte Bresson. You need something smaller – something few can see – something less in your face. In short – something you can stick in your trouser pocket and take out quickly – shoot – put back in your pocket, without anybody even noticing. Voila! Like a magician. That’s street photography. It’s also much more fun as you’re no longer worrying about your camera equipment – only thinking about photography and composition and what’s around you: shapes, shadows, patterns, textures, street-life, street theatre and the incongruities amidst the hustle and bustle of existence.
So, here’s the deal. It’s time to get back into the original spirit of photography. The less is more philosophy. The challenge I have set myself (Oooh, I love setting myself challenges – so exciting! – constraints force one to be more creative), is to spend the next few days or so, only taking shots with my small, shitty, slow as a turtle, tiny sensor possessing, crap-low-light-performance, cheapy-dribbly-plasticky-cardboardlike, no optical viewfinder possessing, 12 MP Canon Powershot SX230 HS compact camera!
Yes, this is the sort of camera that tourists carry around with them. Yes tourists. I know what you’re thinking and I know what you’re about to ask me. ‘What do I think I am then?’ – right? Answer: Urban Guerrilla Warrior – now fuck off!
So…the Canon Powershot SX 230HS has (luckily for me) some manual controls (Aperture and Shutter Priority modes) so I have ‘some’ control over aperture and shutter speeds. It also has a wide zoom range from 28mm on the widest end to something ridiculously stupid like 300mm on the telephoto end. But the sensor is tiny and it’s not as fast and responsive as my DSLR (obviously – but then it wouldn’t be). I suspect my initial thoughts will be that this camera has Alzheimer’s disease or something (no offence intended) – but I’m sure I’ll get to love it for these very same weaknesses.
It’ll be interesting to see what I can do with it or what it will do with me – for a camera is merely a tool – the real magic happens up there. A lesser camera makes you think. Thought is better than automation. In the end it’ll force me to do things differently – and the freedom of movement – might just be a revelation.
It’s not the violin, it’s the violin player. It’s not the quality of the pen, it’s the quality of the stuff in your head.