Everything Must Go

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Watching Paul Fusco's magnificent RFK Funeral Train essay has me thinking about limitations today and about the growing pile of equipment I bring to each shoot. Where an off-camera flash and a zoom lens once sufficed to shoot a portrait, I now bring a case full of lights, stands, softboxes and umbrellas, and another case carrying extra camera bodies and at least five prime lenses.I'm often left thinking about that simple truth that equipment is one stop on a path to becoming a more complete photographer, and that it's not a place one should stay for long. There's something comforting about dealing with equipment, the constant stimulation of new products, the hours that can be spent obsessing on the Internet over bokeh and other worthless measures. There's this overriding feeling of "all is well here, no need to go further" that make it so easy to ignore those issues of photography that are frankly harder and more challenging to address, and recently I've been trying to work out some of those issues. Ideas come to mind like subtlety, communication through composition and most of all, creating emotion that can connect with people who see my photos and elevate the images to something more. Fusco was shooting with one kind of film, at one incredibly slow speed (Kodachrome 25), and to my eye, one wide angle lens, around a 28mm or so. And the photos are all about what is there before him and they all go straight to the heart, rather than the viewer pausing to parse the composition, light or perspective. As he says, the motion blur suggests a sense of a society breaking up and his being able to work on this higher level of communication is really what most lasting photography is about. At the same time, I think for him and most great photographers, these "larger" feelings stay in the subconscious and deliberate attempts at addressing them can seem obvious and heavy-handed. And in thinking about this, removing barriers like equipment choices and complex lighting feels like it might help shortcut to these more essential aspects of photography. This in turn may allow for more direct exploration of the deeper truths of what I do and what I strive to do.