Looking Closer but Still on the Outside, Portand MN, 2004

Looking Closer but Still on the Outside, Portland Maine, 2004

I remember one summer evening when I was young, my Mom and Dad took me to a shoe store, and I bought a pair of new and popular Keds sneakers. After lacing them up, I felt these shoes would make me run faster. I remember I wore them out of the store and ran up and down the shopping center. I told my Mom, “Mom these shoes make me run faster!” (It probably wasn’t the shoes that night, but my added effort–and my belief–that made it seem so.) My mom, a wise woman, just smiled.

I often think of my Mom’s reaction when I am repeatedly asked in digital photography classes which camera they should buy to improve their photography. Like many of my students, when I started photography (this month makes my 11th year) I badgered many people with the same question. I needed a better camera to be a better photographer.

I once had an extended conversation with a teacher associated with a prestigious art/photography school; I tried several ways asking which camera she thought was best, and she repeatedly avoided the question. Finally overwhelmed, she said, “You are missing the point—it is only a tool; as your photography experience improves, you will grow frustrated with your current tool, as it will no longer serve its intended purpose. But until you improve your photography skills buying a new camera won’t make you a better photographer.” She looked at me, a very new, excited, and a very amateur photographer, and said, “Keep your current camera and become a better photographer first.”

Circa 2001, Looking Outside, Instead of Inside, Santa Fe, NM

Looking Way Outside, Instead of Close Inside, Santa Fé, New Mexico, 2001

Since, I’ve become a better photographer and owned many cameras, but I have continued to heed her advice. I learned to improve my craft and work my cameras until I outgrew them. But that is hard to do; it’s a lot easier to believe that the camera is holding you back, not the camera operator. Trust me, I know; I secretly still like to believe my Keds really did make me run faster.