When I was growing up, I remember my dad being heavily involved with cars, one way or another.
At one point he had a fleet of taxis, and at other times a car sales lot of perhaps 25 cars too.
And for his own car, well, it seemed every changing, I guess because he was in the right industry to do so easily.
Plus his tastes and requirements seem to change like the wind too. One month a hot hatch, another a 4×4, another a luxurious and comfortable Jaguar.
Because of this, much of what dad talked about revolved around cars.
And because when you’re young, a large part of your lens on the world is provided by your experiences with your parents and their interests, I absorbed plenty about cars too.
For example I can still recall which year of production each letter at the start or end of a number plate signified.
I figured out at a young age that 1985, when new cars were registered with a B or C plate (eg B123 ABC) would be my starting point on this age scale, then I’d work forward or backwards from there. 1984 was A/B, 1986 was C/D, and so on.
Pretty useless information to anyone outside the car sales industry, but it did feed into my early curiosity in numbers, letters and patterns.
What it also did was let me see at at a glance the age of a car in the street.
I think here I also heavily imbued some of my dad’s opinions on various cars and the kind of people that drive them.
Which, while it may have some truth very broadly, is unfortunately just another way of judging or stereotyping people. (My dad had a number of other ways.)
This seems to have stuck with me, and I catch myself being overtaken or cut up by, say what I’d call a fancy car that’s only a year or two old, and thinking the person driving thinks they’re superior to anyone else who may have a “lesser” or older car.
Cars are just objects, tools to get us from one place to another as efficiently/safely/quickly/comfortably as possible, depending on one’s specific criteria and priorities.
But people do get attached to them like they might do a person, or a pet.
An Englishman’s home is his castle, the saying goes, and perhaps his car too. A private place where others aren’t welcome to enter (or drive too close), or else face his/her full wrath.
Anyway, this got me to thinking about other objects some of us define ourselves (and others) by.
The only camera equivalent I can recall of my car judging upbringing comes from kids parties, and not recently, now nearly everyone just uses their phone to make photographs.
A decade ago, when our oldest child was just starting that kids party era, at every event there seemed to be one parent (nearly always a dad, not a mum) who had a huge DSLR with a lens the size of a small bazooka.
They’d have the camera across their chest on the obligatory four inch wide strap with Nikon emblazoned all over it in bright yellow (but occasionally Canon in red and white), then another strap (their camera bag) crossing their chest the other way, akin to some mercenary soldier with bullets slung across his chest, overlapping with an X in the centre.
Oh yes, camera commandos they were, ready for battle!
And battle they did, mostly with themselves, as they swung round that ridiculously unwieldy and top heavy camera/lens combo, repeatedly avoiding knocking a small child unconscious by a mere whisper.
Their equally weighty camera bag (with matching named strap, and filled, no doubt, with another three lenses and perhaps even a back up camera) was flailing around most often in the opposite direction of the photographer, causing them to hitch it back round behind them every few seconds, like some exaggerated nervous twitch.
Quite a balancing act, and one they were frequently failing at.
I could never quite work out how much of this performance was an attempt to impress other parents (look how much gear I have and how big and heavy it is, I must be an amazing photographer, and rich too, ha!) or they were genuinely into photography to the extent they felt they needed so much equipment, and did achieve some lovely shots of their kids they couldn’t have got with a point and shoot.
I suspect the former.
The phrase “all the gear and no idea” came to mind.
Going back to the cars, this was akin to someone in fast, expensive and highly capable car that they only used to take the children to school half a mile away at a maximum 20 miles per hour.
So what do I think my favourite cameras say about me?
I think that upbringing of judging people by the cars has had an influence, along with my direct experience that, as with cars, you don’t need to spend much on a camera to have a huge amount of fun with it, and get the experience and outcome you hope for.
I’d go so far as to say perhaps I have a kind of inverted snobbery about cameras – the cheaper and simpler the better.
Part of this relates to a kind of expectation index, linked to a camera’s cost.
In other words, a camera you maybe only pay £10 for, you don’t have much expectation for. So when you get some decent shots, you’re elated!
If instead the camera cost £100, £500, £1000, or more, that expectation is greatly magnified. You feel you need to justify the outlay, and create stellar images that make that investment worthwhile.
This is a large reason why I’ve never spent more than £300 on a camera – and then only once, a decade ago.
Since then, my invisible ceiling has been around £150, a figure I’ve gone to three times I think, though virtually all other camera have cost £25 or less. Plenty of cheap and cheerful fun!
There’s also that kind of preciousness factor.
If a camera is expensive in your eyes, you’re going to be afraid of dropping, scratching or otherwise damaging it, or it simply stop working and become useless, an expensive misjudgement.
So you’re far more inhibited in using it than one that cost a few pounds and could be easily replaced with little emotional or financial damage.
Which cramps your style, your flow, your general enjoyment of photography.
Another part of me just likes avoiding the mainstream, not following the masses and buying whatever we’re told is the latest and greatest.
There is a strange yet genuine joy in sourcing a 15 year old digital camera for £25 (like my Pentax CCD DLSRs) and making pictures that delight you.
How about you? What do you think your camera(s) says about you? What do you think other people’s say about them?
As always, please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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