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Double X

There was a very interesting discussion on the Negative Positives podcast about women and photography, or the apparent lack of. I took the impression from it that most social media photography sites tend towards the patronising or the boring. I think the view was that most fora are dominated by men and focus on geeky discussions of the minutiae of cameras and lenses or are haunted by soi-disant experts who excoriate the efforts of learners as some form of sport. There was an example of someone who posted a large format picture asking for feedback and instead was cross-examined at length to explain the composition and meaning of the picture. This is a good opportunity to go all Winograd or Filmosaur and demand that interpretation is the responsibility of the viewer. It’s a bugger if you really did want feedback though.

I do agree that there are photography-related blogs and fora that roll, naked and squealing, amongst their latest acquisitions of the best lens ever made or the best camera in the world (and so much better than the previous one they bought). I can’t share their joy, but anything that warns “avoid this item like herpes” is useful knowledge (the kit, not the people). They are generally harmless though. I was listening to one show though, where they were discussing lenses. When they talked of Nikon, one of the hosts had a whole set of Nikon lenses plus cameras to fit them to. Same with Minolta, then Canon, then Pentax… These things must fill his every shelf and cupboard. But there are people who collect teapots or spoons and like I say, they cause little harm.

So, what’s the problem here? Is it the testosterone-fuelled frenzy of owning every model and variant of a camera or lens? Is it the dark side of online commentary that leaves no turn unstoned? Is it that it’s difficult to learn anything by drinking from the internet firehose? Or is it Sturgeon’s law?

The rabid acquisition monkeys (©️ Sunny16) can be left to echo to themselves. They can be a useful resource, but remember that for these people money is no object. Go asking for a recommendation and you could be pointed at a Porsche when you would have been happy with a Ford.

Call that a lens? This will make some people very excited and leave others confused.

I must add that I have been accused of reverse willy-waving. Despite the mental image, this is meant to say that I take a perverse pride in using old or cheap kit and hold myself as better than people who use better equipment. Yes, the foolscap fits, but being aware of it I will try to practice what I preach and concentrate on the output. I’ll just say that this fascination with declared status is why cars have all the magic symbols on the back and why Leica put red dots on their cameras. Both are placed to be visible to others. And there I go again with my RWW.

It’s harder to avoid the trolls. Back in the dark days of Usenet there was one forum that was the specific home of the peevish. Newcomers would get bounced about between members passing-on their request to be given a copy of the guidance notes. When they grew bored with the game, the newbie would be sent a copy of the rules. There was just one: it said “lurk”. It is still good advice. If you think you have found a forum, don’t rush in but watch how it works. If it turns out to be an arsehole-rich environment, find another forum with fewer fundamentists.

There’s a recent bit of research I was reading about that gives some guidance on weighing advice. Basically, people who respond early and with confidence are more likely to be right, unless they have an agenda. If they are selling something or hoping to convert you to a point of view, their advice should be treated as suspect. But I would imagine that the places where beginners go to ask advice are probably not the places the experts go to give it. I would also think that the hardest type of advice to get is criticism. Anyone with a bit more clue than you can tell you how shutter speeds or apertures work. It’s probably harder to get a thoughtful response to the question “what do you think of this picture?”.

Beach shelter, couple talking in silhouette.
So why did you choose this subject?

I was in a camera club for a while and then in a photography club. I greatly enjoyed the photography club: we looked at our pictures and discussed what we could see and what we thought about it. I saw some images that impressed me hugely with new ways of seeing. I could no more tell you what camera they used than I can fly. This isn’t some form of false bravado: I really can’t be bothered with models and marks and versions. I also remember some fantastic video that a couple of people had made using a digital camera. This was during the early days of doing this and the results were superb. But it was what they had shot that was superb, not what they shot it with. So what I would recommend is to look at pictures and think about what you have seen.

As for learning, it’s very easy to get started taking pictures, now more than ever. You don’t have to buy or be given a camera: your mobile phone will do the job. There was a time when cameras were difficult to use; they provided the same sort of geeky challenge and mastery that led to a preponderance of men learning to use computers. Perhaps this is the path of learning that we ought to be telling people about and supporting, instead of arguing over the best camera to buy? Could we encourage people to think about how things are arranged in their pictures, and lead them to reflecting on using and breaking the rules of composition? Then look at what is in and out of focus, or light and dark. In each case you would be learning just what you needed to scratch the immediate itch. I would argue that learning about composition is a better introduction to photography, and a better route to improvement, than learning how a camera works. You can look at someone else’s picture and see what they did with composition; you can’t tell what f stop they used.

So are the things that put women off some photographic forums the things that photography should actually be about? Are men and women seeking different things? In particular, are women more interested in the output than the methods? From my limited experience (of women and everything else) I believe that the gender distributions overlap. I know women who can f-stop like navvies and scheimpflug in heels and I know some men who can’t tell their Arsenal from their Elinchrom and don’t care. I think we males do have a slight tendancy towards comparing megapixels and shiny things though. But on the whole I think it does a disservice to us all to believe that there are women’s subjects that are different to men’s subjects.

The answer, my friend (is blowing in the Windisch) is probably to shun the places where people compare the length of their lenses or beast beginners for fun and go to where pictures roam free. Personally I would avoid social media unless there are places where you can look at an image and just think why you like or dislike it or what you might do differently. There are loads of websites and blogs where people post portfolios of work. The world is also swamped in imagery that we usually ignore. Next time you see a picture in a magazine or advert, look at how it was put together – where the light falls, how things are arranged, where it’s sharp. Join a photography club or take a course: you get a social life as well as some feedback.

I don’t think women are any different to men in this. I do think that people have different interests and photography can have as long a learning curve as any craft.

Mood jaune
Go on then – say what you think.
Beach huts, Hayling Island
Or this one?

The other thing you can do if you want to learn more about photography is get books out of the library. Here in the UK libraries are fading away from austerity. Get out there and give them some footfall and loans. And get on t’interweb as well – I can reserve any book from the whole county through my library and have it delivered to the local branch. So there’s no excuse for not reading every photographic book they hold. Yay! Let’s hear it for social welfare and education!

As for gender stereotypes – down with this sort of thing!


Author: fupduckphoto

Still wishing I knew what was going on.

2 thoughts on “Double X”

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