Method: A slow change to the focus of this blog

Downtown Denver
Downtown Denver as seen through a 300mm f/4.5 Nikkor-H lens on my Nikon F3, on Kodak Plus-X film. You can see what might be a little chromatic aberration on the left-hand edge of Wells Fargo Center (the current name of the former One United Bank Center, also known by locals as the “mailbox building” or “cash register building” due to its unique shape). (Daniel J. Schneider)

Don’t worry, I’m not going to abandon all I’ve done on this site; I’m just going to make a slow pivot. And it’s not about my photography, just how I share it.

For the past five years or so I’ve been posting test photos and reviews of vintage cameras found in thrift stores. Before that I published a few digital photos I was, at the time, fairly proud of — and would now almost rather forget (but I won’t delete them because, on the internet, what would be the point?).

Over time I started to review things more seriously and dig up deeper technical and historic details. I started publishing resources about things like where to get film processed, how to fight intellectual property thieves online, and how to join in the worldwide film-loving community.

Some of my deep reviews, especially “A year with the Nikon FM2n,” and the more recent “A year with the Pentax 6×7,” have been seen by dozens of people every day. Some of my writings on less-well-represented cameras, such as the Kodak No. 2 Folding Cartridge Hawkeye Model B and the Konica Auto S2 rangefinder, have likewise ranked well in searches for a long time.

16th Street Mall rest
Office workers enjoy the sun on a chilly afternoon in downtown, laying in the courtyard outside the World Trade Center Denver on the 16th Street Mall. Taken with the Olympus 35SP rangefinder. (Daniel J. Schneider)

And I know my reviews have improved a lot in that time. I’ve had so much fun collecting esoteric (and mostly not-so-esoteric) cameras from thrift stores and trying them out. And I’m not necessarily going to stop that. But, after seriously examining just how I classify my cameras and why I have so many (a bunch are for sale now), I’ve started to move my thinking to a different track.

Mentally, I’m much more focused on photography as a craft than as a hobby, and thinking more about the work than the tools. I’ve become somewhat tired of acquiring lots of cameras, old cameras, unique cameras. I’m more interested now in good cameras that fit the work I’m trying to do. And I’ll still be playing with expired film (I have a supply that will last quite a while), but I’ll be using more fresh film. In short, I’m getting more serious.

Along with that, I plan to shift — slowly — the focus of my writings on this blog. I still have a couple dozen camera reviews in the pipe, and I may find more in the meantime that get added to the queue, but there’s one major area of photography that I feel I’ve missed.

I haven’t written much about the method — the philosophy — of photography. Largely that’s been because I haven’t felt like I had a lot to say, or when I did have something to say, I wasn’t sure if I really had the expertise to say it.

The latter part, at least, hasn’t really changed. But I’ve decided that as more of the concepts I’ve studied have gelled for me I might be more qualified to opine upon them, if only to invite discussion and broaden my mind. If these writings are helpful only in bringing the subjects to others’ minds so that they set off on an independent line of study, I will consider that a great success.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to start preaching from my ethereal pulpit, and I can’t hope to rival great photography educators like Ansel Adams in my writings. But I hope that as my own thoughts on the subject evolve and grow I can share them here and get people thinking. If I manage to open some minds to the possibilities in the process, so much the better.

There will still be plenty of more technical stuff and fun things, too, don’t worry. I’m just moving from a focus on the camera as an end to the camera as a means, and I hope to discuss the products of the photographer-camera unit more than the tools themselves.

So this new occasional series will slowly replace the previous In My Bag/This Week series, because that series was largely about what I had found in thrift stores, what I was planning to review, and so on. I’ll still post them occasionally, I’m sure, but they will be less and less frequent.

The new Method category and series will focus more on the art of being a photographer: thinking like one, acting like one, and considering images as both artistic and documentary endeavors. There will still be technical aspects, but with more focus on how my ideas about being a photographer evolve. I suspect a lot of things will be anchored by quotes from great photographers, since I’ve got a notebook full of them.

For now, let me leave you a quote from Walter L. Creese, Professor of Architectural History and Preservation at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, from his forward for Larry Kanfer‘s “Prairiescapes: Photography”:

Artists can help us see things in our environment that we might otherwise miss; they can make commonplace sites seem out of the ordinary.

Las Delicias
Las Delicias in Glendale, Colo., replaced long-time Mexican-food dining staple The Riviera sometime around the turn of the century. The new owners kept the sign, but reportedly one of the Denver area’s best Mexican eateries was lost in the change. (Daniel J. Schneider)
  • Bring it.

    I’m in a similar place. I’ve collected cameras for 41 years. Five-ish years ago I started become more interested in photography than in cameras.

    • I’ll certainly do my best! Playing around has been fun, and won’t stop entirely, but it’s time to focus if I want to improve.

  • mcthompson

    Looking forward to seeing where you arrive. Happy new year!

    • Thanks, Matthew. And thanks for reading! And happy new year to you, as well!

  • I too will be following this shift and looking forward to future articles. What you said here really resonated with me as I think I’m largely at the same spot. It was a desire to play with old cameras that got me into film photography in the first place – I still love gear, and I don’t intend to stop my weekly thrift store runs, but I need to focus. While I think my compositions and exposures have been pretty good, I’ve been deeply unhappy with the results of using untested cameras and expired films and chemicals, and embarrassed and unwilling to share any of it. Through no great thought or meditation I’ve naturally arrived at a desire for the results to take prominence and the gear to become the means. Though I don’t think your work needs the same kind of improvement, I’m excited to see where this shift takes you!

    • Thank you for reading! I beg to differ regarding my work — I feel I’ve a very long way to go until I’m truly satisfied, and the vast majority of what I’ve published here would embarrass me in any context other than as a quick test of a camera. Expired films and untried cameras definitely have produced a lot of so-so results when I could’ve made a good picture with predictable materials and tools. I might start taking more critical looks at films instead of cameras. It’s funny — this morning I loaded an FM2n and two lenses into my little bag and it almost felt boring since it’s a camera I already know well. I have to convince myself that, for the moment, the idea is to try out multiple exposures for the first (intentional) time instead of playing with a camera…