When I began to seriously look into photography again over this past year I discovered a lot of photographers I had never heard of before.
One of these was Eric Kim.
Eric Kim is a street photographer with a big online presence. He has a popular blog, writes and distributes free e-books on street photography and also gives workshops on street photography in cities all over the world.
His style reminds me a lot of Bruce Gilden, and while it’s not a style I feel very comfortable with myself (Eric has a crazy amount of confidence when it comes to approaching strangers on the street) his enthusiasm is what really made me a fan of his.
It was while reading his blog one day that I came across a phrase that has stuck with me since then.
Buy books, not gear. (Click HERE to go to Eric’s original article, it’s a great read)
Many photographers suffer from a condition called G.A.S.
Gear acquisition syndrome.
That constant voice in the back of your mind that says ‘You need that $1500 lens or else you won’t be able to make good pictures.’
It’s nonsense of course, but it’s there. In fact I’m suffering from it as we speak.
In my mind I am trying to decide whether to buy an Elmar 50mm or a Zeiss 35mm. My mind goes back and forth daily. The pros, the cons, once in a while trying to justify getting both. I am planning on sticking to one camera/one lens for one year and while I know the 35mm is more practical for Saigon’s narrow streets and alleys, the 50mm is where I’m comfortable and it just looks so damn nice. I also know I can’t get the Elmar in Saigon so should I go for the Zeiss I will, eventually, have to go back to Tokyo to pick up an Elmar. The Zeiss I can get here.
“You need that $1500 lens or else you won’t be able to make good pictures” – G.A.S
This is the dilemma faced by many, many photographers, myself included.
In a time when we are so used to digital photography, photo blogs and websites and phone screens and DPI, it’s easy to forget just how beautiful a well made book is.
Throughout this post I have included some pictures of some of my own photo books, brought over to Vietnam after a trip home to Ireland, which now sit in my living room.
Some I love, like Don McCullin’s ‘Shaped by War.’
Others I browse now and again like the Leica M books I picked up in Germany during a layover.
And some I rarely look at anymore, but should.
Either way, it is nice to have them. It is great in fact to be able to do something as simple as open a book when you’re feeling lazy, and simply by looking at some images that you’ve seen and read about a thousand times before, be inspired to get up and start shooting.
“Buy books, not gear” – Eric Kim
During my upcoming trip to Tokyo I am planning to buy a number of things photo related. A Leica M2, a lens, some developing supplies, film and some other odds and ends.
I’m also going to make a point of bringing back some good books. In particular, ‘Magnum Contact Sheets,’ by Kristen Lubben.
Below is a video from the wonderful Ted Forbes of The Art of Photography about this incredible book. Watch it. It’s worth it.
And perhaps I might even find a copy of my favorite book of them all, Peter Beard’s immense ’50 Year’s of Portraits.’ I found this book in the library when I was back in college and no book before or since has hit me as hard as that book. And don’t ever ask me why. Because I don’t know why. And that’s why I love it so much.
So take some advice from someone who suffers badly from G.A.S. Don’t let it get to you. Don’t do what I did and buy cameras you think you want, only to trade them in for something else and repeat that cycle.
Buy books, read books, study those who came before and whom you feel a connection with. And then, using that, find what you love.
I’ve found it again with black and white film photography.
Just as long as I can come home from Tokyo with just one lens, I’ll be ok.