If you’re a photographer… shall I stop right there?
Everyone’s a photographer, so of course you’ve heard the constant comparison between camera-phones and professional cameras. It’s easy for people to bring this up, because how can what we do be so difficult, and why should clients pay thousands of dollars for something even a monkey can do? I mean, anybody can push a button, right? Pretty much, and just like everyone is a cook (mostly pretty lousy), there are chefs who creatively balance flavors and create sophisticated dishes for the most discerning palates. While we’re in the midst of a DIY Revolution, chefs have had to up their games too. So, I had to photograph this chef (not a cook), and the publicist pressured me to also take a picture of her with my phone, so they could post something immediately on social media. I shot about 30 frames before I came up with something I felt was acceptable and even then I was apprehensive to put my name on it. It wasn’t flattering, but it was, apparently, “good enough.”
If mediocrity is the goal, then I may be required to reluctantly lower the bar for a client, but in the meantime, I’m raising the bar on my image making, no matter what tool/toy/phone/drone/device I decide is best to produce quality images with. Chef Jean Georges can do more spectacular cooking with one chopstick and a Sterno than most people can with the best kitchen utensils money can buy. Oh, and John McEnroe may be on the senior tour, but he will still kick my ass in tennis with any old wooden racket! You cannot be serious?! He is.
Tools of the trade are a subjective choice, but I’m happy to go up against any kid with a phone, because I’ve had a camera in my hand, since I was pretending to make phone calls with my plastic Fisher Price one in the other hand. As the saying goes, “You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?” So, I just did a national campaign shoot for Arm & Hammer with a professional camera and not a phone, because they expected precise focus, high-resolution print-quality and a flattering perspective. My phone’s cheap lens distorts and makes people’s noses big, for example, so I usually don’t like to photograph people with it. More importantly, they were looking for very specific expressions and nuances from the talent, which I needed to direct and be able to shoot quickly, in order to capture them spontaneously. Of course, I wouldn’t use a phone for that project for the same reason I wouldn’t shoot with a 4×5 camera, one sheet of film at a time. I’d miss the shot. The camera I chose was the right tool for the job and it allows me to shoot huge image files very rapidly. That’s not to say I couldn’t have shot the job with my phone, but the end result would clearly be inferior to what my team and I produced.
If what your clients want is a consumer-generated noisy look, I’d recommend that you strap a Go-Pro to your cat, because you will get something interesting. Needless to say, I can’t compete with that, or robots either, for that matter. If what clients are looking for is insightful images that capture moments, leave it to the professional photographers (those who make a living at image making) to decide which tools are best to use for the project. That’s mostly what the camera-phone is, a tool. It’s also kind of a toy for me; one that I carry around in my pocket to experiment with and help me see better. That being said, if a company wanted to hire me to travel across the country to do something reportage-like, spontaneously posting images in a constant streaming dialogue, it could be interesting. I think we’re all attracted to the sketch-like quality of these devices and their immediacy: they give us the ability to post to the world instantaneously. That IS exciting, but let’s not deceive ourselves that they’re replacing professional camera rigs, because pro cameras keep getting better & better everyday, as well.
All that said, a camera is pretty much a box with a hole in it, and there will always be some sense of magic in creating with one, whether it also makes calls and flies or not. Creatives can’t be replaced by robots or devices, because it’s our vision and point of view that clients are interested in getting from us. I’m paid to execute the delivery of image assets, not to pretend. If you lose your phone, or if a drone steals it, you can replace it, but your signature vision is not replaceable. I’m focused on that, much the same way that if a photographer thinks too much about which lens to use, they miss the shot. With a working camera in my hands, I’ll create something of value, and so can you, if you remember it is your eyes that are doing the seeing.
Some of Michael Weschler’s “Ten Mavericks” portraits, including John McEnroe, are currently on view through April 25, 2015 at The Flomenhaft Gallery in Chelsea.