Ends and means

Or, strategy and tactics in photography (and elsewhere)

You have many tasks, large and small, difficult and otherwise.  For each one you have to choose a way to get it done.  A problem arises when you find such a wonderful means that you forget the end.

While our navigator was in the Navy he developed an interest in military history, which continues.  He recently read an analysis of a certain campaign that concluded, “even the best tactics do not constitute a strategy.”  Stated in another way, you may have developed a wonderful tool, but you still have to figure out what to use it for.

Our photographer freely admits that this is a danger for him.  “The Leica, for instance, is such a wonderful piece of engineering.  It’s tempting just to fiddle with it, or have it out on the desk.  But of course the purpose of a camera is to take pictures,” and the best camera for a particular image may not be this one.

There is nothing wrong with collecting cameras (or anything else) without intending to use them.  That’s a different end.  The confusion comes in when the purchase of a certain camera is assumed to guarantee great pictures.  This idea occurs often enough to be trite on photography blogs and websites, and to attract satires.  In fact, one photographer has challenged himself (and others) to use one camera with one lens for a full year as a sort of antidote.

Our photographer has gone in the other direction, methodically working with at least a dozen cameras, plus varying techniques including the five-color pictures from which we take our name.  But, he protests, it’s not a matter of mistaking the means for the end.  “I’m exploring what differences the methods make in the eventual pictures.  Some cameras, some scenes, give much the same results.  Other situations produce things that a subtly different.  Some are very different.  Like the Polaroid, which can give a quite unexpected look to things–I’m still exploring that.”

We challenge you to think of an area in which you may have confused your means with your end–or have narrowly escaped!



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