The Camera In Hand Makes the Photograph

Which camera inspires you to make what type of photograph? There are times when I carry a small Leica IIIg with a tiny 50mm f3.5 or Leica II with its 35mm f3.5 collapsible lens in my front jeans pocket because they make me feel good having a small candid camera always at the ready, and I’m a documentary photographer. And other times, I carry my Nikon D610 full frame digital SLR with a 28mm f1.8 or a 20mm f2.8, or today it’s my Nikon F3 film SLR with a 50mm f1.2 lens over my shoulder with a leather strap.

Yes, I always have a camera with me.

I’ve come to realize that the camera I carry dictates what I will make photographs of–the tool makes the art. If I’m carrying a Rolleiflex 3.5F, I’m making street portraits. If I’m using a Leica or a Nikon DSLR, I’m shooting street photographs. Even then, the Leica less so–street work is usually relegated to the digital format.

Film is for printing and special moments of family and friends, photographs I want to print and have in my home or exhibit in galleries.

But it doesn’t matter what you use. Just use whatever you will make art with today.

I was out on a photo walk in a mountain town a couple weeks ago with my photo buddy Paul Trantow and we stopped first for breakfast. I had my Rolleiflex out and made a portrait of the diner interior and also of the waitress standing outside by the door as we left. Both were made because that was the camera in my hand.

After breakfast, I tucked the Rolleiflex in a small case and took out the digital Nikon and went into street photography mode. Had I been carrying the Rolleiflex I know I would have made portraits of some of the people we met that day. But I did not.

I made street photographs.

Here are my photographs I made that day up in Leadville, Colorado, a town at 10,151′ elevation–less people photographs than is usual for me, but Paul is a photographer who likes simple graphics and I’m sure I was influenced by him that day. Hopefully it gives you a bit of a flavor of the town.

Paul used an Nikon F with Kodak Portra Film all day. I used a Nikon D610 with a 20mm f3.5 AIS manual focus lens.

It comes down to shoot what you want to shoot, camera-wise, to make what you want to make. I didn’t feel like making film photos of street scenes in this mountain town, so I held the Nikon D610 in hand. But as we came upon townspeople and shop owners, the Rolleiflex would have been employed differently than the digital camera. I would have had the reason, the excuse, to go up to them to ask for a portrait.

The Rolleiflex makes for a great ice-breaker, too. The kind of camera we’re holding makes the kind of work we create. I believe that’s true–for me, anyway.

William Eggleston has multiple Leicas and Canon rangefinder cameras–about 300, what he calls an obsession–and has said he takes out the one he feels like shooting on any given day, whichever inspires him. (From an article in the Wall Street Journal posted on PetaPixel.)

Whatever motivates us to create–whatever works–is a fine idea. I certainly use my Rolleiflex and large format cameras mostly for portraiture, not so much for documentary work. I know that about me, my shooting style from years of looking at my output, and that’s good to know. The time it takes to set up photos means for me that only 35mm film or digital cameras are quick enough cameras for spontaneous candid work. The Leicas and DSLR shine for those purposes.

What are you using and what does it inspire you to create? Because it will have an impact.

The camera in hand makes the photograph.

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