This Boat · DEDPXL


I wonder if Ansel Adams ever looked down on Walker Evans because of the kind of camera he used.  I wonder if Richard Avedon was called names by other photographers because he used a view camera.  Or a white background. Or if Annie Leibovitz stopped using a Hasselblad because people made fun of it so much she got embarrassed.  They made her feel less of a photographer because of it.

I wonder if Ed Weston really did just want to get Tina Modotti naked.

I wonder if there were ever fights that started because one guy loved his Hasselblad and another guy loved his Pentax.  Fist fights.

I can just see it in my mind – someone swinging a Mamiya RB67 around, an absolute tank of a camera – in an arc, picking up momentum and force as it crashes into the temple or some poor 35mm user.  Film spools and flies from the camera – decorating the sky with an ever darkening ribbon and blood.  Then six street photographers run up to capture the aftermath.  I wonder how many “likes” it would get.

I wonder what it would be like if the Internet existed seventy years ago, when all these great photographers were around.  I wonder if they would act like we all act now.  With bravado.  With assumption.  With arrogance.  You aren’t a professional unless you use the camera *I* use.  Or the memory cards.  Or the camera strap.  Or the film.  Or a changing bag.  Or think like I do.  Or act like I do.  You aren’t professional unless you are me.  Maybe they did, only it was around a coffee table instead of a web forum.  Their stings and jabs were on a more local, smaller level.  In person.  Face to face.

I wonder if people ganged up on someone just because they used a different developer.  Imagine a room full of shooters, all getting uncomfortably quiet because you entered the room and the word was that you used pyro for your negatives.  The horror.

I wonder if wet plate photographers cursed the day film started to outsell plates.  I wonder if anyone ever smashed their plates in protest.  I wonder if film guys snickered and rolled in laughter and the patheticness of those tintype shooters.  All those chemical headaches.  Glass.

It’s always been changing – no matter how far back we go. Yet, some things always remain the same.


This scan is of a page that came from “Camera Craft” magazine dated November 1901, in a section called “WITH THE AMATEUR: A Department For the Beginner with a few Suggestions for the Student, Conducted by Fayette J. Clute”.  I found it at a flea market last year:

“When you are asked to go out and make a negative for an acquaintance, do not let the assurance that you “will be paid for the trouble” serve as an inducement.  Do not deceive yourself that here is a chance to recuperate the purse made think by your bills for plates and paper.  Either do it willingly and refuse pay, or have an understanding from the start that the prints will cost exactly so much.

This price should be that of the better grade of professional work.  It is an easy matter to explain that you do not feel at liberty to do work below the price of the professional with an establishment to keep up and a livelihood to make.  If this negative is made for nothing, allow the party to order the prints of the professional and instruct him to charge his regular price.  If you are asked to make portraits, unless fitted up for it, decline.  Advise the customer that the better facilities of the professional permit him to turn out more satisfactory work.

You may lose a chance to make a dollar here and there, but you will gain in the long run.  Your patrons will find less fault with the work than if they “paid you for the trouble” only.  You will have less of such work to do, but it will pay you better.  The professional will be your friend instead of your foe.  You will win the respect of your acquaintances, both for yourself and for your work; and, above all, you will preserve your own self-respect.  Of course, with immediate friends the case is different.  A little tact and judgement will enable one to draw the line. Give the plan a trial and see if I am not right.

I’ve run into the same argument no matter what year it is, and where I go.  Just a few weeks ago this subject came up.  Tools change, but the underlying content doesn’t seem to.  Funny, isn’t it?

Decades pass.  Camera bodies change, the things we record light with change. We press shutters, much in the same way they did back then, only differently.  The words that come out of our mouths have already been spoken a hundred years before us.  It is said that everything has been done before.  And here we are doing the same things, but different, because now we have more innovations that make us work faster, see clearer, look quicker, compose easier.  Yet when we huddle around in groups, either in person or on the internet, our anger comes out saying the same things our photographic ancestors covered in the past. Only now we do it where everyone across the planet can join in the conversation all at the same time; it isn’t so much that the noise gets louder, but rather the echo from our forefathers can still be heard, under all of our murmurings.

I wonder when our children and children’s children look back on our blogs and websites and guest posts, if they’ll be wondering the same kind of questions and being given the same answers.  Will our thread forums echo in their ears?  Only now they have our answers etched in the blogosphere ether – all the name calling, the gear comparisons, brand loyalty,  and they’ll get lost finding true message of what photography is all about.

Me? I want to talk about that lobe in every photographers brain that makes them shoot the way they shoot.

There is something inherent in every single one of us that makes us shoot the way we do.  Unique.  Individual.  It isn’t about actions, or web lessons, or hanging on to the word of successful photographers.  It’s already in you, and we aren’t talking about it. It’s about those five years you spent at a fine art college.  It’s about all the comic books you’ve collected and read, all the movies you’ve watched, all the toys you’ve played with and music you’ve listened to.  It’s the people you’ve met, the stories you’ve listened to. It’s everything in your brain. All of that collects in this unidentified lobe of your brain and who you are as a photographer comes from there.

One of the greatest things about photography is that everyone’s eyeballs see differently.  On top of that how they see instinctively see is just as varied.  That lobe in the brain is different for everyone.  I love that each photographer inside of them has this little part of their brain that lets them shoot exactly the way they shoot. If you ask them, they might not be able to describe it – they just do what they do because that is what feels intuitive to them. I love that. And it makes the journey of being a photographer so awesome because of all the different ways an image can exist and be created.

That is what I want to see in a magazine a hundred years from now.  Not the same “Don’t shoot for free” reprinted over and over, but rather, I want to read about the lobes in those photographers brains that make them shoot the way they do.  It isn’t about comparing camera bodies, or fighting about megapixels.  I want to see that the craft has transcended beyond gear and actions and the common denominator product, and instead cuts our heads open and focuses on our lives and the colors and the whys that lead us to create images.

We all love photography.  We photograph because there are things out there so important to us that we want to photograph them and share them with the world.  That is a beautiful thing, and it floats high above all the gunk we argue about to help clutter our brains.

Maybe instead of fighting about cameras, Ansel Adams and Walker Evans sat around a table and talked about the unidentified lobes in their brains that caused them to photograph the way they did.  I sure as hell hope they did.

It would connect me to them so much more than what kind of tripod or camera they used.


Sid Ceaser

Sid Ceaser is a commercial, editorial & fine art photographer based in Nashua, NH and is a monthly contributor to DEDPXL. In addition to shooting he also teaches workshops and runs a podcast with designer Dave Seah.

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  1. Aaron Brethorst

    I read Minor White’s 1952 essay, “Exploratory Camera,” recently, which is all about the rise of popularity of the 35mm camera, and the value of the format, and I was struck by how you could replace “miniature cameras” with “Instagram,” and you’d have a completely modern essay. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    • Sid Ceaser

      I gotta admit: I love Instagram. It just works for me. It won’t replace my professional shooting, but I’m very addicted to it.

  2. Richard Wintle

    I had the privilege of attending a Greg Heisler lecture last year. He spent a lot of time telling the stories behind some of his best-known portraits, and almost no time at all talking about gear, other than sometimes indicating where and what colour his lights were. When he did mention camera brands and types, it was either couched as a joke, or to indicate which had been shot on film and which with a DSLR and tilt-shift lens. No brand bantering, no put downs, no comparisons between his gear and anyone else’s.

    I would really, really, really like to get a look at that unidentified lobe in Heisler’s brain. As would we all, I suspect. 🙂

    • Sid Ceaser

      I love that his Portraits book talks about the “why” of an image rather than the normal what-gear-was-used description.

      He’s trying to let us in on that lobe of his brain. I love that book.

  3. Ansell Tan

    During a meeting today, a director said:

    “The problem with young people these days is they’re too into the technical stuff. Like what camera body they use, what lens they use, but they don’t know what’s the story about”.

    Gotta agree.

  4. Rob Timko

    Yet today, all over my newsfeed everyone is saying ‘Beyonce/Kanye isn’t a real artist because they don’t play instruments’….

    If the end result is a picture. The end result is a picture.
    If the end result is a song….then who cares what instrument it was played on?

    • Meghan Arias

      Yes but what KIND of picture?

      What KIND of song?

      Just because a picture was taken doesn’t mean it’s any good, or that it will register with the viewer.

      Just because a song was written by fourteen people or one person (who plays all the things) doesn’t necessarily mean that the song will be good, or that it will register with the listener.

      At the end of the day it isn’t about the gear — it’s what one does with it. To do the best one can with what one has. Once its out in the world, well — then it’s no longer under one’s control. It can be interpreted in a myriad of ways based on the discernment (or lack thereof) of the audience.

      • Rob Timko

        The KIND of photos people like. The KIND of song that a lot of people like and dance to. Who cares what KIND of picture or song it is as long is the person/peoples who created it and their target audience likes it?

        • flokon

          Who cares? The same people who still appreciate, and value the difference between shallow entertainment, and art.

  5. Bill Simmons

    Ansel Adams and Evan Walker most likely would have talked about their vision, what they felt compelled to capture and possibly how they technically wanted to express it. The technical part, as tools, most likely interested both of them but wasn’t paramount. I doubt the lobes in their brain interested them much, unless that is a metaphor for their artistic compulsion.

    • Sid Ceaser

      Partially. That lobe probably includes compassion. It includes the National Parks that Ansel was so passionate about. It includes him putting his test strips into the microwave to dry them up faster. It has his childhood. It has everything that makes him who he is. Everything is drawn into that lobe, and everything he is as a photographer is drawn from that lobe. We all have a muse in us. It’s in that lobe.

      I’m using “lobe” because I don’t know what else to call it. But I think it’s there. It’s why Jeremy Cowart shoots the way he does. Or Zack.

  6. Frank Grygier

    I sincerely hope that this voice of yours can be raised above 50 megapixels! I enjoy your articles very much.

    • Sid Ceaser

      Thank you.
      I’m still a pup here at DEDPXL. I’m finding my legs. I get really nervous every time I write something because I don’t want to get voted off the Island here. This is an incredible team, and I cherish being on it. So much I make myself worried and sick.

      But thank you for the feedback. Thank you.

  7. Pedro

    Sid, dude. I absolutely love reading your stuff. Really. I really do.

    This goes straight to the point – nowadays everyone argues about X camera or Y camera. It’s irrelevant. It’s those inches behind it – always.

    What camera should I get? – I get asked a lot.
    “Get one with a lens, a shutter. And takes film. Or memory cards.”.

    • Sid Ceaser

      It’s easy to get lost in resolution and lights and flash doo-dads.

      I do everything I can to let people know who might consider hiring me is that it isn’t my camera. It isn’t what I wheel in on a cart or a camera bag. It’s me. It’s everything in my brain and all the influences that make up my creative lobe. That is what is being flexed when someone hires me.

      I think I do strong work. I think I get better as time goes on. The shots I take of musicians is absolutely directly influenced by me sitting in my room as a kid making mix tapes and intricate liner notes and cover jackets for them.

      We need to express all of that more.

      And thanks for the kind words. I’ve been very nervous with my writings here. I appreciate the positive feedback.

  8. jarWoodson


    There are those of us who are scared senseless that there’s room on The Boat….as if we are only worthy of being packed like cattle on the Steerage deck while the rest are sipping on Moscow Mules up on the Lido deck. There are those of us who wish we had the chutzpah of Ansel Adams to travel in the dead of winter to remote places with a caravan of quadrupeds lugging all our equipment to capture a moment in time that will be eternally timeless….or W. Eugene Smith, or even Dorothea Lange. There are those of us who understand we all pay our dues in time, patience, work and inspiration. Thank you for inspiring me. Now excuse me while I go buy a 12-pack of Shasta and squirrel it away for a special occasion 8^)



    • Sid Ceaser

      Every day I feel like I’m packed in that sardine can. Every time I’m around a group of photographers, I feel packed in. Squashed in. Almost like I can’t breathe. I get frustrated and angry and upset and feel like I’m full of failure.

      And that’s on a local level.

      When I think about how small I am in the world of photography, and let’s be honest, I’m a speck of a speck on the back of a speck on the radar, it’s like two giant hands are closing over me – blocking out the sun and making me choke.

      My creative lobe is all I have sometimes. It lights up like a beacon and in all the fog, through the mighty blizzard, I can sometimes see just enough to pull me a few feet further in this quest.

      There is power in that. We all have it. Instead we talk about cameras with GPS to take us to those places instead.

  9. Mark Loader

    There is a time and place to talk about gear, just not all the time (!). I really don’t mind if someone has, at last, found a camera he’s bonded with, whether it’s a 4/3rds, an old FA, Leica or Fooj. I’ve found mine (Fooj) but I’ve never felt the urge to slag off someone else’s choice or mosey over to their brand forum and bag their marque. Hard to learn a damn thing on most forums 🙁
    Let’s all talk about “Road To Seeing” and what it’s doing for our “whys”. Or a particularly fruitful day out shooting. A few people lately have spoken of dry spells, so why not chew that over?
    But, as Elton John sang “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” and we need to let off steam (in a totally manly way of course), so I’m suggesting Bag Fight Night.
    You bet I’m serious….
    ThinkTank vs Lowepro, Tamrac vs Domke, or an all-in brawl with everyone ganging up on those elitist Billingham swine. Don’t bother inviting Wotancraft or ONA though. Those leather boys will be too busy playing naked tag around a Grecian urn….and drinking warm English beer ;-P
    Whatever, it sure beats the hell out of chasing your tail on a forum!
    Love from Downunder

  10. Matin Firestone III

    Its interesting, as a five year fine art student, I knew many people interested in photography that swore of the idea “If you are going to succeed in photography…get a business degree”. It is like the PPA giving a Masters degree in photography…it rewards a certain way of thinking. We have so many different forums rewarding a certain way of thinking or at least a relatable topic and not so many outlets entertaining “lobes”.

    I think a vast majority “its about the gear” people make a quick assessment of the market and identify who is on top and then analyze the attributes which make them succeed. This type of persons are mainly looking for market share. The creative and analytical person in you realizes the short coming of this approach when building a solid foundation.

    I have come to understand when we have dialog about “lobes” with like minded friends, the discussion is fun, free flowing, and enjoyable. Add someone with a different goal, skill set, moral interest, respect, maturity, etc…now the discussion alienates someone and they often go into defensive mode…and now not so fun and enjoyable. You would think understanding the enteric details of a person and how it effects the process should be of most value. But, unfortunately the audience is small particularly, in a monitory since.

    I do encourage you to buck the trend and would rather enjoy reading more introspective commentary on the creative life. Best of luck, Cheers!

    • Sid Ceaser

      Fine art school represent!
      As a BFA graduate, one of the things that my small fine art college didn’t have in any way, shape, or form was any kind of business related classes; no professional artist class, no business of arts class, nothing. When I graduated in 2004 the BFA grads numbered 6 (!!!!), but currently, the same college is coming close to 150+ kids graduating a year. Six students are easy to ignore when the start asking about business, marketing, etc, but when you have 150+ kids all yelling that they don’t want to graduate at end up working at the mall, stuff needs to start happening. I tell the school whenever I talk to them that business classes are a must. These kids need the foundation to get themselves ready so they can try to hit the ground running. Otherwise they’ll all end up like I did – graduating and then baby stepping everything. I’m still trying to figure this business shit out.

      I’ve had people try to shove PPA methods down my throat, but I won’t join that group because I don’t want to alter the way I shoot to fit their requirements. The hell with a hair light, or a 3:1 or 3:2 ratio. Screw ratios. Screw competition print-worthy images. I’m shooting work for myself and my client. I don’t care about being judged until I become a “Master Photographer”. Like David duChemin says” If you go around calling yourself a Master, you probably aren’t”. That isn’t lobe-brain thinking, that’s just trying to make yourself look better in a lame way.

      Maybe people don’t think talking about the lobe-brain helps them in any way. Maybe people would rather talk about how they are a Master Photographer or a multiple Print Competition Winner and stuff. That is kinda a marketing slant. But it’s kinda a lame way of doing it.

      But lots of people go the gear copying route. Profoto lights will get me there. A softlighter will get me there. 50 Megapixels will get me there. All the while they are ignoring their creative-lobe. They should be rubbing that lobe until it glows white-hot. Instead, they chase cameras that are marketed like computers.

  11. Outis

    I’m new to photography– I’ve been at it for less than a year. I want to get better. My gut can tell me what’s a better picture or a worse picture, artistically, but I don’t have the words for *why* something is better or worse. I don’t know how certain parts of a picture can evoke certain emotions, or how I exploit this as an artist.

    I’ve gone to a lot of bookstores seeking photography books that would tell me this, but I can’t find any. They all discuss how not to screw up a shot on a technical level. I already know that.

    I’m surprised. When I was into music, it was drilled into us early and often that technique was there to serve the emotional content of the music, and that it was better to have an emotionally compelling performance than a technically perfect one. We were taught how decisions regarding technique would affect the emotional content.

    With music, I can absolutely express myself. But with photography…I can take pictures of interesting things, but I don’t really have any idea how to express myself.

    Where do I start?

    • Sid Ceaser

      I look at other photographers work a lot. And there are instances when I see an image, and something just looks “off” to me. I can’t explain what it is. You could be shooting with the most expensive lights and cameras and stuff, yet there will be something that just looks not right in the image.

      I don’t know where that comes from in me. It could be my fine art college background, where I’ve studied paintings and illustrations and photographs and things. I know in my work that I’m drawing small slivers of my fine art background into my work. Some people have said a I have a “painterly” feel to some of my images. In some of the work I can see that.

      We all need to get to that point when we look at our work and we know when to step back and know it’s done. Painters know how to do this. Good photographers know how to do this. With my formal education, I can recognize this some times and know when things are done, and any more work will ruin it. It’s just something you learn with practice. And the great thing about it is that everyone is different so this feeling or intuition is varied with everybody.

      And it’s just like music. Musicians know when to pull back, or layer more, or add to, or take away from. They can hear it in there creative lobes. We as photographers can see it in our creative lobes, which feeds off of intuition.

      But just as a songwriter writes from experience, photographers need to cull from their life experiences. Create images that deal with and discuss what has formed you and is part of you.

      • Outis

        Thanks for the thoughtful response! I will get back up on my horse, keep taking photographs, thoughtfully, and see where I get from there 🙂

        • Ben W

          Sid, thanks for a great piece and this great response.

          Outis, your thoughts are cogent even though you don’t know quite what to ask. I’ve been thinking about this for some time… Music and photography are so very similar, in my mind. You can play a C on a guitar on the 6th string/8th fret. You can play that same note on the 5th string/3rd fret. You can get that note an octave up on the 5th string/15th fret, or the 4th string/10th fret. And on and on and on. Photography is the same way. You can get the same exposure at f/4, ISO 800, 1/125th as you do at f/2.8 and 1/250th (at ISO 800). But it will be a little bit different, just like the C on the 6th string/8th fret is a little different than the C on the 5th string/3rd fret. They are the same frequency with a different timbre. To take it a step further, you can get that 5th string/15th fret C as middle C on a piano. And that’s just the “notes.” That doesn’t even get in to the why and how of the notes (the why and how of the exposure).

          If you’ve recorded music, perhaps you’re familiar with the proximity effect (the boosting of bass frequencies as the sound source gets closer to the microphone). Photography has a parallel in the inverse square law (light falling on an object is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the light source). I don’t know if the science behind the proximity effect and the inverse square law is the same, and I don’t really care. Having gone to film school before I learned to engineer a recording helped crystallize that nascent recording knowledge because there were so many parallels to be drawn (hanging lights and hanging microphones are so much the same… you can get a great drum recording with two overhead mics, but sometimes you need the overheads, plus the boundaries, the snare top, the snare bottom, the kick in and out, etc… because sometimes you want that much control. Other times, you have two mics and John Bonham in a big fucking house and you get “When the Levee Breaks.” You can get great photographs with some sunlight and a reflector, but sometimes you need 7 strobes (I never have, but I’m a caveman). After all that, microphones are really more like lenses… I could write about this forever but I won’t). My point is, you already have an abundant knowledge of the hows and whys in music. Let that inform your photography education and both will be richer.

          In both media, the technique is subservient to the content. That won’t change for you. Already having that knowledge puts you light years ahead of someone who is new to creative pursuits – so you’ve got that going for you, which is nice. You just get better and better and you will learn as you go and do. That’s the most important part – go and do. All of these Dedpxl Assignments that Zack is giving the world are the photographic equivalent of shedding scales for hours a day. Zappa didn’t pop out of the womb writing “Overnite Sensation,” ya know? Conversely, I’m willing to bet Ansel Adams fucked up a whole bunch before he ever made “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.”

          Tension and resolution. Good music and good photography will often have both. But you can’t ever make the dominant 7th chord resolve to the 1 if you don’t know what I just said. Same with photography. The frustrating thing is that we often have to speak of photography in these nebulous terms, because it’s a newer medium than music by about the whole of recorded history minus a couple hundred years (give or take). So it’s even more important, I think, to beat yourself senseless with the basics, the rules, the exposure calculations, eventually learning to light, etc., because we’re still developing ways to talk about this stuff. Learning the “basics” will help you find the beauty in the mundane, especially if you’re in to documentary or street photography (the musical analog would be field recordings – but no matter how good of an engineer or musician you are, it’s insanely fucking difficult to just walk out into the street and get an aurally pleasing field recording. Yet if you’re a good photographer, you can do that often). But also, learning the basics will allow you to make what is beautiful, painfully so (if you want to do that), or make the painful somehow beautiful (if you choose to). You can also just take some pictures of “stuff,” if that’s what you want to do. The best part is, none of these pursuits is more noble or ideologically superior to the others. You’ll find your voice and your “why” as you go along.

          Sid mentioned it above: You’ll know when a piece is finished. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Easier said than done. You will get there. It will be messy and painful and you will spend a lot of that time frustrated. But you will get there.

          At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. I’ve had a camera of some sort in my hand, on and off, for twenty years. I still think my work sucks sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. I’m not there yet. I’m not sure if I ever will be. But the destination isn’t the reward, you know? Just like music.

        • Jørgen

          Apparently, you can’t reply to the third reply in a thread.

          Anyways, to Ben W: Wonderful piece of text.

  12. Levi

    Aw Sid… you rascal. You’ve gone and done it again.

    Excellent work, sir. Excellent work.

  13. Loiare

    There’s something about how you write, and how the message is portrayed. Heartfelt. I’ll remember this one, thank you.

  14. Andrew Murdock

    Boom !!!. I’ve had the same conversation for a few days with a few different people. The ones that start with “what settings did you use”, “which lights did you use”, “I only shoot at f2.8 because xyz shoots at it” useless questions that answer nothing. The only interesting question is “why”. I want to know why you took that picture ?, what does it mean to you ?, what were you thinking ?, what was the person thinking, how was it working with them ?

    The gear, irrelevant – I cannot honestly tell you which Dan Winters pictures are taken on his 4×5 and which are a dSLR, or which of Zack’s are Fuji/X or Medium format (I can guess on the latter, but I’d probably be wrong), I honestly don’t care, all I want to see is a connection with the subject, something that tells me a story. I want to see the subject’s story, and the photographers. I look over at my beaten up D700, covers held on with duct tape, scratches, dents and I’m almost wistful that I will have to replace her imminently, it’s tough, she’s a part of me now.

    OK. Rant over, I’ll step away from the coffee.

  15. Chip Quinn

    …also there’s Timothy O’Sullivan with his wet plates in the desert, and Eugene Atget andhis packing carton with a lens on the front. One can make an argument that the tediouser the technology the better the pictures. I don’t think it’s entirely true, but maybe enforced labor makes you look harder. They did.

    Still, I’m chicken to go back.

    • Sid Ceaser

      I could do a thesis on how excited I am that hand made and older processes are becoming so popular again. Not only with photography, but with lots of other hand-made traditions as well, like Matt Swaggart and the Holdfast Gear line of leather products, and more.

      It’s awesome to see younger people raised on digital digging into older traditional methods. So awesome. I got scared for a while when it seemed like all of that stuff was dead. When I was looking for someone to do tintypes of Sara and I in our wedding attire, I had such a hard time finding someone. But, now, they are everywhere! 🙂