When mid April rolls around, many things seem to happen all at once. Tax day is the most obvious one. For many photographers in the chilly North East, April is the time to start venturing outside again to photograph regularly. For me, mid-April also means I can start riding my motorcycle after the long winter hiatus. I was out riding recently and I ended up thinking about the similarities (and differences) between the folks outside enjoying their cameras and enjoying their motorcycles.
In the spring both groups have a lot in common. They are seized by an almost manic urge to get outside as early as the weather will allow. They both feel part of a somewhat exclusive fraternity of people who are enjoying an extra portion of fun while being outside.
If you are out photographing and you see another photographer, don’t you usually acknowledge them and even share a knowing smile? To me, that smile is the unspoken greeting shared by folks who are in on the secret that being outside photographing is one of the more pleasant things one can do.
When riding my motorcycle, other riders similarly gesture or wave to me and I wave back in recognition. Many riders flash the “V” symbol with their fingers, which I like to believe suggests our triumph over winter (or our victory over those who only fear motorcycles and who are NOT outside enjoying the day.)
Since photographers, like motorcycle riders, can also be a competitive bunch, there usually is a bit of sizing each other up going on during these brief encounters. Motorcycle riders assess one another by the size of their engine and the brand of the motorcycle. Photographers use remarkably similar measurements to assess the “seriousness” of the other photographers they encounter. Lens size and camera brand are usually used as a short hand to make similar evaluations. If you have read my post about what cameras I use and why, at: http://thewellspoint.com/2009/04/06/what-kind-of-tools-do-i-use-and-why-part-two/ you might imagine that there have been more than a few times I have left other photographers bewildered by the choice of gear I use.
I have found the efforts to connect among photographers and among motorcyclists equally interesting. The riders who wave at me, in other words the ones trying to connect, are frequently from other socio-economic or ethnic groups. Our differences clearly do not matter to them (or me) because we are both members of what I think of as the “fraternity of fun.” The hand gesture says (to me at least) something like “Hi there, other person out enjoying the road.”
The motorcyclists who usually do NOT wave or gesture, are the riders of what are known as sport bikes or racing bikes. These motorcycles are the ones with riders hunched over with their knees tucked in and up high. By comparison, I ride a cruiser or road bike (typified by the stereotypical Harley Davidson rider who is sitting upright and with his or her feet straight down.)
The one thing I have noted about the riders of sport bikes, besides their lack of friendliness is their youth (and their willingness to drive fast and/or dangerously.) I am guessing they think of those of us who ride cruisers as somehow “old school.”
In photography, a similar gear based distinction exists. Seeing that hierarchy in-play never ceases to amaze me. “Old school,” in the world of photography, usually refers to those photographers using large format cameras. In my experience, they are usually the ones least likely to acknowledge that photographers, like me, using hand held cameras are in fact their peers. To me, tripod or not, photography is not about gear but about looking and seeing. Next time you encounter one or a group of large format photographers, see if my experience is similar to yours.
For me, April also means new ways of thinking about the batteries for both the motorcycle and my cameras. In late October each year, I “winterize” the motorcycle, meaning I change the oil for the last time and fill the gas tank, adding a chemical to prevent the fuel from breaking down over winter. Then I take the battery out of the motorcycle and inside my house, to keep it safe and warm as well as charged up, using a trickle charger.
I actually do much the same for my camera batteries. Having grown up in California, winter in the North East is NOT my favorite time to be out and about photographing. I try as hard as I can to spend as much of the winter in warm climates such as California, Guatemala or India. That way, my camera batteries (like me) rarely if ever experience intensely cold weather, the kind of weather that will quickly drain batteries of their life, whether in cameras or motorcycles.
There is one glaring difference between motorcyclists and photographers. It is NOT the costs of entry to each pursuit, because in both cases you can spend a lot or a little to get started, so that’s not, to me, the biggest difference.
The big difference is how those who practice each of the two pursuits are told about the skill levels needed. In motorcycling, no one spends any time or effort telling the end-users how “anyone can do it” or how “easy it is to learn.” Motorcycle riders know that their passion requires training, skill, practice and more practice.
In photography, every thing is sold to the end-user as if it were the easiest thing on earth. I personally blame it on the founder of Kodak, George Eastman, who moved photography into the mass markets with his invention of roll film. Prior to Eastman’s invention, photographs were made one at a time with negatives made on plates of glass.
His advertising slogan, “You push the button, we do the rest,” was the first of hundreds of advertising pitches that continue to this day, selling photography as the easiest of practices. If you have ready any of my previous blog-posts you know I could not disagree more. Read more about that at: http://thewellspoint.com/2008/12/12/the-role-that-practice-plays-in-good-photography/ and http://thewellspoint.com/2008/12/15/photography-poetry-and-crossing-disciplines/ To me photography, like motorcycle riding, requires passion, skill, practice and more practice.
I could go on about the similarities between the two groups, photographers and motorcycle riders, but I will not. I hope this entry offered you some insight. It comes from my love of the two pursuits. It may also just as easily be borne of the blasts of spring weather I have recently encountered. Whether you found this insightful or insignificant let me know.