140420 Question - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

"What camera do you use?"

This shouldn't be a difficult question to answer. The machine has a name that's written right on the front of it. But what question does that factual answer really address?

Sometimes I'm asked "what camera" by someone who actually wants the simple and factual response. Perhaps they've seen an image of mine – perhaps they want to avoid the steps that led to it. That's easy to answer, especially when it's tied to a specific thing or event. My last trip to Las Vegas was mostly done with a Ricoh GR, this print is from a Nikon D800 file, that last roll of film is from my ZM Zeiss Ikon, and so on. Naming machines gives us technically-minded photographers a shorthand understanding of each others' backgrounds. Factual. Zing. Done.

But other times "what camera" is a status question. It ranges from misplaced loyalty and simplistic tribalism – "What are you, Canon or Nikon?" – to a finely nuanced parsing from the fickle camera inteligentsia. This is harder for me to answer, because I have so many different options to choose from, and am likely to pick something that lets me be contrary. My ongoing "Mechanism" project of images recorded directly through a flatbed scanner comes in handy here.

But there's an even a more insidious spin to the "what camera" question that makes me most uncomfortable. It comes when people give some special significance to the choice, as if knowing what camera I use provides some window into my soul, or a mystical insight into my process. It's a deeper question in the worst possible way, obscuring more than it reveals, and assigning meaning to the tool instead of to the creative decisions that come along with picking it up. This is the question that leaves me with nothing but distaste, and I simply can't answer.

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