The Blog at Three Years - A Post Mortem
During my sophomore year of high school, I remembered getting into a somewhat heated discussion with Mr. Polley, my English teacher. For reasons already posted on one of his classroom walls, he argued The Sound of Music was the worst movie ever made. Of course, being one who always hummed along to the sweet voice of Julie Andrews, I felt he missed the point. The Sound of Music was a musical that was adapted into a movie. As such, criticizing it on the basis of cinematic standards would be out of context.
I have not thought much about my formative years for ages. But as I watched Fräulein Maria again on my Sony flatscreen, I could not help but think about Mr. Polley. He was a child of the Sixties who was idealistic and fond of acoustic guitars and folk music. He was a passionate and dedicated teacher. I remember once hearing that he passed up an opportunity to study at Oxford on scholarship because he wanted to make a difference in his small corner of the world. That was one of the life’s lesson I learned back then.
Not every decision we make must be rational. Some of our best achievements come from the heart. For many, a labor of love with no practical return can sometimes be the most rewarding of all. And for Mr. Polley, he must have found gratification in seeing the fruits of his labor grow up to become contributing members of society. I suppose his example must have rubbed off one me. I mean, it did set in motion a fundamental belief that I can do something just for the sake of personal fulfillment - including this kooky blog.
When I began this blog three years ago, I did not think much about what I wanted to do. At the time, I started it because a friend mentioned that I should in passing on a weekly flight we took to and fro between Hong Kong and the heart of the People’s Republic. He thought I could do a better job than what existing reviewers did - or at the very least offer a different perspective. From that initial seed of encouragement grew forth this fledgling blog, which like other online resources concentrated on reviewing camera gear.
Obviously, I really did not know what I was doing in the beginning. Even so, I did not want to do what everyone else was doing - at least not exactly. I wanted to create content that offered the visitors of the blog substantive value beyond conventional retelling of the same tired discussion points. No unboxing, no price points, and no listing of statistics or details from the manufacturer. Frankly, all I wanted to do was offer supplementary insight to those willing to endure my kooky expression of love for the photographic medium.
I did not know this at first. But, what I was really churning out week after week was a sincere expression of love for the photographic medium. The reviews I made, the comparisons I conducted, and the many explorations I carried out with my partners in crime were all a testament of how I felt about photography. Doing this blog did not have to make sense. I enjoy doing it. So, I did not work towards any practical return for my efforts. Knowing others enjoyed my harebrained undertaking was already gratifying enough for me.
But over time, something changed in me. Having reviewed and compared so many different camera systems, I began to look at the photographic medium from the viewpoint of the photo industry. To be frank, how could I not? The constant product cycle upgrade, the disappointment of product design direction, and the realization of superficial improvements - all that just took the fun out of the photo taking experience and chipped away at my love for the photographic medium. Indeed, “a little learning is a dangerous thing”.
Of course, it is not as if I were ignorant of the true nature of the photo industry. Camera manufacturers are only just businesses. And as a revelation, it does seem quite obvious, exceedingly unsatisfactory, and anti climatic. But despite how self evident my conclusion is, many do not seem to realize it - or rather demonstrate that they understand the industry’s true nature, given their consumption habits and the outcome of their efforts. People are just so caught up over gear that they invariably fall short when they have to perform.
Upon internalizing what I already knew about the industry, I could not in good conscience continue to do what every camera reviewer was doing. Photography is about taking the photo. Gear is but one part of the equation in documentation. But with the way so many of us obsess over it, you would think there were no other material consideration in play when taking a photo. What is in front of the camera and what is behind the camera is not as crucial as the camera itself. Sadly, that error in judgment has infected many enthusiasts.
Mind you, the reality of not reviewing and comparing gear means I will have much less to discuss on this blog. To be frank, there is only so much I can write about regarding the subject of photography. For that reason, this is the final year of this blog - or at least in its current format and frequency of publication. I just do not believe I will have enough content to go on forever. Besides, if not for gear review, what reason will anyone have to visit this blog anymore? Most enthusiasts are too infectiously geared to care about anything else.
Moreover, there is only so much I can squeeze-out from this current method of collaboration with my partners in crime. After a while, even you must concur that the photos on this blog do seem somewhat predictable and monotonous in becoming increasingly disconnected from the discussion topic of the week. Lacking sufficient time to plan and coordinate each and every photowalk with a discussion topic and my irrational unwillingness to reuse photos already shared on this blog, I do not see how I can continue business as usual.
Plus, there is also the annoying matter of recognition when I am out on a photowalk with my partners in crime. Often times, we assume that bloggers are attention seeking. I mean, why else expose yourself to the internet? However, I do not want to be recognized. In fact, I do not know why I should be handicapped with recognition. In the immortal words of Neil Peart, as sung by his bandmate Geddy Lee of Rush in the song Limelight, “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long awaited friend”, as a result of seeking personal fulfillment in sharing.
Last, there is also the unfortunate issue of my obsessive compulsiveness, which this blog seems to worsen. In writing this blog, I cannot help but compose my words to fit every line of text justified in alignment without any ragging at the margins. In doing so, I turn the writing of this blog into a kind of jigsaw puzzle of words, in which my preoccupation cannot be appreciated via onscreen viewing. But as I said earlier, much of what I do on this blog is largely for personal fulfillment - and writing like this does give me that pathological fix.
So as you can imagine, the problems I experience are exceeding the benefits I feel in fulfillment and whatever guidance I offer to the readers of this blog. Still, there are a few more discussion topics of relevance that I wish to cover before I move on to my next offbeat initiative in photography. I will probably work on that sometime in the fall. But before that, I will take a few weeks off, in June and July, and publish intermittently while roaming at large. However, it does not mean I will not continue to publish regularly if inspiration is bountiful.
After three years of blogging, I suppose the example I can pass on to everyone else is the rationale of seeking for personal fulfillment in what we do. Nothing else we do is ever as rewarding or as satisfying. That said, there comes a point when the route to personal fulfillment runs its course. When that happens, change is necessary to remedy one’s bearings - especially to alleviate monotony and predictability. In my case, that happens every three years. Looking forward, I hope to shift towards more photo editorial projects in the future.
That said, I am deeply thankful that the work on this blog is well received and has not fallen onto death’s ear in readership. And, the fact that this blog continues to have an audience surprises me, despite my best efforts to curtail its popularity. I mean, it is not as if I am out to sabotage this blog. But like the lesson I learned from dear Mr. Polley, the heart must find personal fulfillment. And frankly, doing this blog for the sake of self promotion is not my idea of reaching any degree of personal fulfillment - not by a long shot!
Besides, what is the point of reviewing new gear anymore, seeing how very homogenized digital photography has become in both user experience and image rendering. Of course, if Leica releases new M-mount lenses, I will probably continue to review them too… well… maybe.
Photos are from the archives, photographed in the autumn - which explains the change in Judit’s hair color.
And yes… complete disconnect between the photos and the writing. But then again, better coordination takes much more time in planning, which I can no longer afford.
Worth noting - the title image of this blog entry was taken at the same location as the first image of the first set on this earlier blog entry. See how differently the blue renders in negative film compared to positive film.
All images have been digitized on a Pakon F135, cropped automatically from full negative during the scanning process, and tweaked in Adobe Lightroom.