BY: CONNOR BRIAN
It’s fair to say that in the creative process most of us have no idea what we are doing. Some turn to their next purchase feeling new equipment gives them the tools they need, while others find answers in the words of the great.
What you probably don’t know is Hunter S. Thompson worked very closely with a camera, using it as a prop to gain access to the Hell’s Angels, who saw him as the harmless fly-on-the-wall photographer, rather than a threateningly inquisitive writer. Most naively assume a photographer will romanticize them through imagery, and good old Hunter used this fault of ego-centric logic to his advantage. For two years he rode with the black dogs of society, snorting coke and ingesting infinite amounts of alcohol in-between taking intimate snap shots of their criminal lives.
Though he was primarily a writer, his existentialist philosophy on photography carries wisdom that even Henry Cartier Breton would tip his hat to.
While immersed in the elitist environment of the New York City photo bubble, Hunter found himself surrounded by a gear whoring social circle of photographers who would wake up with stained sheets from wet dreams of their next purchase.
“I was beginning to feel that no man should ever punch a shutter release without many years of instruction and at least $500 worth of the finest equipment.” He writes.
Overwhelmed by the marketing campaigns that plastered city streets, Hunter began to suffer from the disease that plagues many photographers – that what he owns is not enough, and to become truly skilled he must acquire more equipment.
“My only salvation lay in a Hasselblad, a Nikon and quick enrollment in a photographers’ school. I pondered this for a while and soon found myself running in circles, going from one camera store to the next […] Meanwhile, I zipped my camera into a suitcase and stopped taking pictures altogether. They were bound to be terrible, and besides that, I was embarrassed to be seen on the street with my ratty equipment.”
Tired of feeling creativity being sucked from his soul by snobby gear heads, Hunter decided to shove back against this concept writing, “snap shooting is not, by definition, a low and ignorant art.” He looked at his photographs and realized that though there was “something technically wrong with every one of them,” they instilled within him a genuine sense of happiness. He instantly recognized that he should spend less time buying and more time taking photos.
Humans have weak self control, are biologically gluttonous and all too easily we can get caught up in the infernal cycle of self validation through our next purchase, but in the end that shiny expensive camera is just bragging rights. It’s all about status, and with that comes the danger of conceited failure.
“No man will learn an inferiority complex quicker than he who starts out with a Leica and consistently gets poorer stuff than his buddy with an Olympus Pen,” Hunter writes.
The truth in photography is less is more: the more choices you overwhelm yourself with, the more fuel for stress. “Why give up because you can’t afford a camera with a 1.8 or 1.4 lens?” He writes. Stop worrying what you don’t possess, and focus on what you do.
“It may be that my thesis will rub some of your high-priced advertisers the wrong way” but “that’s my idea in a nutshell. When photography gets so technical as to intimidate people, the element of simple enjoyment is bound to suffer. Any man who can see what he wants to get on film will usually find some way to get it; and a man who thinks his equipment is going to see for him is not going to get much of anything.”
Always remember that it is the mind and hand that create the art, not the tools. “The moral here is that anyone who wants to take pictures can afford adequate equipment and can, with very little effort, learn how to use it. Then, when the pictures he gets start resembling the ones he saw in his mind’s eye, he can start thinking in terms of those added improvements that he may or may not need.” Hunter writes.
With an open mind to creative expression, Hunter “never found a situation that caused me to slink off in shame because I couldn’t shoot a 1000th of a second.” He recommends that you stop concerning yourself with your gear and learn to adapt to your situation—after all those who carry an extra long zoom lens may be overcompensating for their tiny balls, too shrivelled to get into the heat of the action.
You can read Thompson’s full letter here.