I’ve been to California.
I’m not just bragging here about my latest foreign jaunt, amazing though it was, there’s a really important photography learning moment to this. We had a couple of days in San Francisco, saw the Monterey Bay Aquarium, drove highway one, saw Yosemite, visited Alcatraz. We did the tourist stuff (though as one local chap pointed out “the reason it’s tourist stuff is that it’s cool stuff man”). I took photos I was happy with, had a great time.
But, for a photo nerd moment, two things stood out. The second was visiting the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite and seeing his photos, actually printed by him, not mediated by a reproduction for publication or anything, actually printed in a darkroom by Ansel Adams so you can see the image exactly the way he meant it to be (some are also printed by his long term assistant who Adams said knew the negatives as well as he did), and actually seeing them in Yosemite in a building he knew and worked in was pretty awesome. But, the stand out, OMG moment of my trip, was a visit to meet Kim Weston in the house on Wildcat Hill where Edward lived and worked, I have to admit I was almost embarrassingly star struck by this. Kim and his wife Gina are lovely people who made us feel super welcome and gave us a great tour. We saw that pepper photo, and that portrait of Tina Modetti, actually as photographic prints on the wall, saw Edward’s darkroom, saw Kim’s darkroom (the latter has an enlarger, Edward’s didn’t) and Kim’s studio. It was all great fun and absolutely one of the highlights of trip for me (even Sue enjoyed it and she’s not a photographer).
What I came away with though, and this is something which has grown on me in the weeks since we got back, was that Kim shoots on film, with a Mamiya 6×7 which he inherited from his father, and a couple of lights. He’s up there in the Carmel Highlands producing amazing work with equipment which is probably older than a lot of photographic Youtubers. So I sit there and watch my favourite Youtube photo channels, which I really enjoy, but they’re using this combination of graduated filters, and they’re selling their presets, and discussing if they should make the move to mirrorless, or comparing one really expensive lens to another….and somehow I keep seeing Kim’s studio in my head and wondering why bother?
Now fortunately, I’ve never been a gear nerd. I have very little ‘stuff’ compared to probably most keen photographers, a fair bit is second hand, or that I’ve owned for years, and I’m happy with that and frankly never want to buy new shiny things. I’m also not going to fall into the trap of ‘gear not mattering’ as Mamiya medium format is really nice and Mamiya glass is stunning (I know, because I own some, well I will if the chap I want to buy it off ever gives me a price so I can buy it). But it does bring home the fact that actually you really don’t need new stuff, or a lot of stuff. Investing in something simple but good is frankly all you need.
The key thing is to do what Kim, and his father, his uncle and his grandfather (and his son, and various other relatives) all did. To take photos a lot, to think about the photos you’re taking, and to really, really care about the whole thing.
Am I doing this? You know, I wonder if I am….