Jeff Alu: Seeing Beyond the Camera

Jeff Alu: Seeing Beyond the Camera

The Advantages of Being Rough on Your Photographic Equipment

by Jeff Alu, see his work in Vol. IV #8
Untitled by Jeff Alu
Untitled by Jeff Alu

I don’t own any expensive photographic equipment. I prefer to shoot with cheaper point and shoot digital cameras. The reasoning for this is both practical and philosophical.

First the practical: I’m hiking through a treacherous, rocky area and I drop my camera into a crack between two huge boulders completely out of reach or rescue. Do I want to dish out thousands to replace it? No way. Since I tend to be rough on things, this is the practical option.

Now the philosophical: I tend to be rough on things, and that’s how I like it.

That is not to say I don’t respect certain physical items. I actually do have the ability to treat certain pieces of my equipment with care and respect. For example my new GoPro Hero4 Black camera. So far, I’ve been very kind to it and have even purchased lens covers and I keep it in it’s protective casing whenever possible. At $500, it’s the single most expensive piece of photographic equipment that I own, so I should treat it with care, shouldn’t I?

Pictured below is my previous camera collection:

Past cameras Photo/Jeff Alu
Past cameras Photo/Jeff Alu

A few details: the Kodak DC-280 died in a sandstorm at El Mirage Dry Lake. The Canon Powershot A640 pretty much gave out when it was waterlogged while trying to photograph waves close up. The iPhone died after hitting the floor right after I flipped it in the air while making my bed (I think it was hiding from me under the sheets…). The other cameras simply passed, most likely searching in desperation for relief in the camera after-life. One, not pictured here, was stolen at a large field event when a person impersonating a trash collector walked up and took it right from my side, (this was decided after some deduction and with no one else to blame it on…).

But the practical side is not my only rationale for the purchase of these cheaper cameras, it’s also the philosophical. It’s the feeling that I’m doing a lot with a little. It’s the feeling that the equipment that I’m working with is not interfering with my creativity due to its being complicated by switches, dials, and gizmos. It’s the feeling that I’m not trying to be part of some kind of techie club, trying out and discussing the latest features. It’s the feeling that technology is not interfering with my way of seeing, (or is it?) It’s the feeling that my camera is simply an eye through which I view the world without barriers, (or is it?).

Mostly however it’s the feeling that the camera is part of who I am and that it takes on my personality. If I am leaping from rock to rock, it leaps along with me. It doesn’t dictate how I should move from place to place. I don’t have to think about protecting it while I’m on the move. This frees me up to concentrate on the terrain around me. It allows me to work with the lay of the land on my terms rather than the terms of some external influence.

The idea is to see beyond the camera. Or to see in spite of it. Or maybe simply to spite it, to get pissed at it for my needing it in the first place. Why do I need it? Why can’t I do all of this without it? The very idea of having it is forcing me to think within narrower terms than I would otherwise. When I don’t have it I accept everything as legitimate, without worry. Why does its presence cause me to be narrow-minded? Without it I’m free to see however I want. With it I’m forced to see things more specifically, to think less freely. But alas, I do need it there with me. The one I have inside me with all of that freedom won’t do the job.

At least I can be rough on it. I can beat it up a little. I can take out aggressions on it for its attempts to hold me back. If I do drop it in that crack between two boulders, that’ll serve it right. True, I’ll have to buy another one, but at least the first one will get what’s coming to it. Crappy little vision minimizin’ contraption.

But OK, maybe I shouldn’t let these things affect me in this way. How can a small device such as a camera really change the way I view the world? What is it about the thing that makes myself and others question my abilities to see correctly? How is it that rooms full of people can sit and intensely discuss captured visual moments that are not worth a single word when the parameter of time is included? There’s an apple on a table over there, not a big deal, but hey I have an idea, let’s turn that into single moment in time so that we can contemplate the way it looks even though each of us already saw it beforehand.

What is it about the power of the camera that causes fear and shyness in otherwise outspoken individuals? “Oh, I could never show anyone my work, it’s not very good.” Not true, it’s every bit as good as it is in the real world, in fact it IS the real world, and we don’t get embarrassed or shy about that do we? We walk past a tree and we see the tree there in front of us and then you show me a photo that you took of that tree and somehow, someway, it’s not as good as the tree, even though it is the tree, the same tree we’re looking at right now.

So it comes to this: stand there and look at a beautiful scene, nice, but raise your camera and click a button and now that same scene is subject to criticism, curation, mockery, imitation, praise, rejection, ego, valuation, collecting, selling, over-rating, under-appreciation, promotion, distribution, duplication, framing, archiving, theft, damage, and with any luck, auctioning. No one man-made object deserves to have that much transformative power over something that can already be viewed by everyone, anytime, without it.

So do yourself and all of us a favor. Destroy your cameras. All of them. It’s obvious that they’ve got an agenda, one which is already influencing the masses, instilling fear, inflicting pain, and limiting our ability to see clearly and subjectively.

Jeff out.

Originally published on

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