I’ve been trying to avoid the conversation of camera gear over the past few months, while I dig deeper into the theory behind my work. But I want to share a conversation going on in my head as of late.
Growing up I remember sitting in my room, sifting through my dads tape & record collection, listening to the smooth sounds of Pink Floyd, ZZ Top, Dire Straights & Clapton. I gravitated towards blues guitar like a fly to a flame. I would run from tape to tape, a-side to b-side, at volumes that I’m sure have effected my hearing. Still today I will put on an album and relax to the warm screech’s of the Black Keys or Joe Bonamassa. But there was no one that caught my attention more than the late legend BB King!
First things first, if you don’t know who BB King is, I need you to stop reading right now and head to youtube for the next 4 hours to soak up some classic blues legend! Seriously… go do it!
My father and I had the great pleasure of seeing BB in concert a few years back. It was magical! There is no mistaking the signature sounds BB would pull out of his big Gibson hollow body he had named Lucille (10 points to anyone who caught the title reference before reading the article). So warm, so intentional. Here was an artist who had not only mastered his tool, but had built a relationship with it for more than 35 years and over 40 albums (studio & live included).
What does all this mean to what I’ve been wrestling with in my head? To put it simple I envy the way Lucille was the extension of BB’s creative vision. He knew her sound and what he could make with her. I’ve heard him say in interviews that he simply brings two guitars with him on a concert travel series, his main body and a single backup. Thats a vast difference from the great deal of cameras I bring with me to shoot.
To give you an idea, my daily carry bag alone has no less than 3 camera bodies in it at any given moment. 85-90% of the time those three cameras are my Canon F1n w/50 1.4, Minolta AFS-v point and shoot and my soviet Kiev 4 rangefinder with either the Jupiter 35mm 2.8 or whatever 54mm something or other I have for it. Thats just for my daily street shooting. I’ve also been lugging my recently acquired Pentax 67 & 105 2.4 around (which I have been falling more and more in love with!!). Then there are the other cameras that get worked into the mix. A Yashica 124g TLR, Mamiya RZ67 w/127mm, Polaroid 250 Land Camera, Polaroid One Step sx70, Holga, Canon A2, back up Canon F1 and my beloved Mamiya 645 that Emily got me as a wedding present. Thats not including the various cameras Ive picked up at thrift stores, garage sales and craigslist finds that I’m testing to resell. I think you get the point… This setup is far different than the one and done approach BB has taken for the vast duration of his career.
I would equate my approach, up to this point, to be to be more along the lines of blues rockers like Joe Bonamassa or Dan Auerbach. They might have anywhere from 5-10 different guitars on stage with them at a concert, not to mention the backups that are ready to go incase one on stage gives out. I watch rig rundown videos quite often and am amazed at the vintage beauties these guys rock out on. I have no clue what the heck a humbucker pick up is, but these dudes sure do like finding vintage guitars that have them. Some songs might call for a guitar with 2 pickups, maybe 3, or a stiffer neck, etc. I follow Joe Bonamassa quite a bit on social media, and he’s always posting videos about his vintage strat’s, les paul’s, hybrid’s or whatever that he’s working into his rotation at the moment. He used to have rooms in his house just for his massive vintage guitar collection. Thats just on the guitar side, then you start talking about the various amps and pedal systems he’s working with and switching out… etc.
Lately, I’ve just been falling into the place of wondering if Im limiting my work by allowing too many technical options. I don’t know that I have come to the place where I could consolidate down to one camera, but I love the fact that BB found his sound. He zero’d in on it year after year, quite literally to the day he died. I think of guys like Henri Cartier Bresson & Elliot Erwitt who were famously know for shooting solely on Leica. Richard Avedon and the Hasselblad, Robert Capa and the Contax ii, the list goes on and on of photographers who found their “sound”. On the other hand you have Annie Lebovitz who shot a myriad of cameras, from 35mm to medium & large format. I can’t help but respect the fact that Dan Auerbach will search through guitars in used guitar shops until he hears the “right sound” for the song at hand.
I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here. I just enjoy asking challenging questions, and have been listening to a lot of blues rock lately haha. Am I going to sell off all of my gear in the near future.. probably not. But I am listing some of the ones that haven’t come off the shelf in a couple months. I have the cameras in mind that I will be keeping (for reference: Canon F1n, Pentax 67, Mamiya 645, Minolta Afs-v), I also want to try and get my hands on a Leica M3 within the next couple months to see how I prefer it to my F1 and minolta p&s (Specifically for my street work and lifestyle portraiture). Im sure I will keep you posted on instagram and through other blog posts. Until then, the search for Lucille continues!
What are your thoughts on this? Do you have a single piece of equipment that you use, or do you bounce back and forth between different cameras? I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. Also if you found this article interesting, consider subscribing to the blog on the sidebar to your right. Im trying to keep my writings well rounded, not too lofty in theory of photography, but not too technical on the gear side of things. Either way, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!