"By Tuesday, you'll hate me"

These are the first words I remember from DAH when I introduced myself the day before class. I remember thinking that it was hype and bluster. How hard could it be?

By Tuesday I was hating him, photography, Dubai, myself and the world.

But let’s get one thing out if the way first: I don’t recommend you take this course.

Yes: It’s the best course I’ve ever taken in my life. But I don’t recommend you take it.

Look, I don’t know you. I don’t know if you have what it takes. Hell, I didn’t know myself if I had what it takes. So on this one, you’re on your own. You’re going to have to take an adult decision. Do you feel you have what it takes? Then go do it. The question, of course, is what does it take?

So what happens during these mysterious sessions?

For the most part, I was trying not to fall asleep, because I’d been up shooting and editing late (yes, partying was involved, but any good GPPer will tell you it’s part of the process.) For another part, I was fascinated and terrorized by my classmate’s portfolios. They were better than me technically. They were more creative. They had better access or better gear. Anything to feed the self doubt.
And then of course, there were the minutes when my own pictures were up on that wall. Typical aphorism: “Your bad pictures are closer to good than your good ones.”
So from the outside, all that happens is that David spends his time looking at our stuff, commenting on it and editing it (as in “no, no, no, no, maybe, no, no …”) And he spends time in between telling us to get an education on photography.
So on the face of it, not much happens.

Okay, but what really happens?

The worse for me was the lack of structure. No guidance, no chapters. Just: “Find a subject”, “Find a place”. “Go shoot.”
But just like in real life the journey matters more than the destination.
And the journey is simple: Find a subject, try to shoot it, show your pictures, go shoot again. Rinse, Repeat.
The trick, of course, is when it fails. That’s where you learn.

As Sara Lando put it in a tweet to me when I was feeling particularly down:

@TSWDAH he’s busy tearing you apart. The beer will come later, when you’ll staple the pieces back together.
And she was absolutely right.

Frankly, I wanted to believe her, but I don’t think I could.
It took three days of me failing.
In the end, David sat me down and told me that I was biting too much, that I wanted to say too much:

“Not everything you can articulate is easy or worth shooting”.

“Find something small and shoot it. Anders Petersen shot the same cafe for three years. “

As frustrating as it was, this was the turning point of my week. Kaya, a Burn editor and David’s assistant, mentionned a fisherman’s accomodation in the middle of Dubai she thought was worth shooting. I grasped at that idea like a lifeboat, and ran with it.

High as a kite

When I got to the warf I was determined to get the shots, and not move until I got them. So I stayed for 3 hours in a space not much larger than my bedroom. And shot, and talked to the guys, and shot again. At the end, I didn’t know if I had a good shot, but I had a new facebook friend who was calling me “photoman”. And I had a sense of the place that allowed me to capture it much better. On the contact sheets, I feel I can see the pictures becoming better and better.
And this waiting through the “bored” state is when I almost hit paydirt. At prayer call, the fishermen were wrapping up their day, we started saying goodbye – and in a reflex, I asked if I could see their accomodation. They were more than happy to oblige, and we started going in. Unfortunately, because it’s a government building, there’s a guard there who was kind of surprised to see me. After some palaver, he agreed that I could go see a room … but balked at the camera.
Dammit.
Yet that night, I was so sure I had something that I put together a slide show with some music (my wife can be your sound designer too, for a fee). When at the next morning critique David turned to me to say “You got it …”, I can’t tell you the sense of elation I felt then and there – until the “… but go get that shot of their room – without it, you got nothing” …. aaaaaaand crash.
That afternoon, the last day of shooting, I was pumped out of my mind. I had an Instax (thanks Fujifilm) so I wanted to give my new friends some snapshots. That alone was an awesome feeling, of giving back something instead of always taking.
Again, I spent hours shooting the scene. And this time, at the end, struck gold – by well prepared luck: I found that I could go in their kitchen, and it was a photographer’s dream. Absolutely no light save the cooking gaz and small LEDs they keep on their wrists. Jackpot.

As I was walking back towards the main road to get a taxi, I stopped because I was feeling weird. Then I realized: I was high. High on adrenalin, high on serotonin. Just plain happy.

The irony is that, for all this work, the shots I like best in the essay (the first and the last one) where almost pur luck. I took the first one thinking it was a snapshot of a guy dozing off, until I realized at home that his arm and the boat were just so. I staged a picture with an Instax in it, which I took many times until I got it absolutely right. In reality, it’s really bad. The one that works I took as I was passing by a net, for fun. But this would not have happened had I not failed spectacularly for three days, and worked the people and the location like a maniac.

Should you do it?

Breaking people to pieces to rebuild them is a classic technique. I guess I was ready to be broken. I’m sure some people aren’t. Or don’t like it. Or don’t want it.
It’s also a dangerous process, and David gets absolute credit for keeping our twelve individual stories and evolutions in his mind. I don’t think he pushed any of us too hard (but again, I can’t speak for the others.)

This is where you have to make your own mind. Are you ready to be run gratuitously through brutally honest critique every day (to be clear: never ever mean spirited – just no holds bared)? Are you ready to subject yourself to a “freeform” exercise where David will guide you, but not impose technique or subject in any way? Are you ready to be left to your own devices, find your own way, at the risk of getting absolutely nothing on the fifth day? If the answer is yes, then you’re in for the experience of a lifetime. If no, then try to work up the courage to do it one day. You owe it to your photography.

” I want to, but I’m not good enough.”

Pretty much everyone I met at GPP wanted to know how it was, and then immediately told me “oh, I couldn’t do it, I’m not a good enough photographer”.
To which my reply would be to laugh: I can’t light my way out of a paper bag, and I have a hard time remembering that f/2 is wide open.

Now, I’m not angelic.
There are good and bad photographers. There are people who will never get out of auto mode. But there are also people who will nail a shot with razor sharp focus every time, with the key light in the butterfly position and a 5/4 CTO gel (did I tell you I know nothing about light?) yet they will say absolutely NOTHING with their pictures. (Another Harveyism for you: “Yeah, it’s a picture, but it’s not a photograph”)

You can’t think of this class in terms of “technique”. I suspect if that’s the way you approach it, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you think you have a story to tell, I think you owe it to yourself to think it through long and hard. It just might be worth it.

Empty Nets. An essay for David Alan Harvey’s workshop at GPP 2014

The Pictures

 

The Video

[vimeo 89334254 w=640 h=360]

My assignment was simple: find a story, and shoot it. Well, it took me three days to find that story. Three days of running after an idea in my head that just wasn’t showing. And if I thought I had the premise of a story, David would quickly put that to rest: “you have nothing”

All I can remember now was his admonishment to stop moving. Apparently, I have photographers ADD. I’ve heard it called “Drive-by Shooting”. I call it the “Ooh, Shiny” approach to photography.
“Find someplace, stay there, shoot it until you get bored, and when you’re bored, go on shooting”

All good, but I didn’t have a story to be bored at. I struck lucky: Kaya, a Burn Magazine editor and David’s assistant on the workshop, told me about this fishermen’s accomodation in the heart of Dubai. She said she’d go shoot it herself if she had time, but she’d love for me to have a go. And David added: go take a picture of where they live.

So off I went. I was fairly lucky to find it on the first try with the taxi. And I spent 4 hours there. Every time I thought I was done, I forced myself to stay. After a while, I started seeing things that I missed. I started polishing shots until I got exactly what I wanted. When prayer time came, and the fishermen started trickling back to their accomodation, I asked if I could follow and see where they lived. They thought it strange, but where willing to show me.

Unfortunately, the guard who oversees the rooms (and the fishermen) wouldn’t let me take a picture.

And sure enough, at the next day’s critique, David jumped on it immediately: go back, get a picture of where they live.

Another day, another traipse. I had a lucky charm this time, though. Fuji had been nice enough to give me an Instax camera. My new friends where delighted to get their picture taken and physically have it. I had two separate guys come at me shyly once I’d moved away a little bit to each ask for a shot. The look on the second one when I told him I’d run out of paper was heart wrenching – but I have his facebook, so he’ll have some pictures of him anyway.
As the sun went down, I still was no closer to seeing where thy live, and I didn’t want to risk the guard another time. But again, the luck you make by sitting around worked: I found their kitchen, hidden on the other side of the road: a trailer with 20 gaz cookers, and NO LIGHTS. They cook using LED lights, and they were more than willing to be lightstands for me.

I had the shots.

Empty Nets. An essay for David Alan Harvey's workshop at GPP 2014

The Pictures

 

The Video

[vimeo 89334254 w=640 h=360]

My assignment was simple: find a story, and shoot it. Well, it took me three days to find that story. Three days of running after an idea in my head that just wasn’t showing. And if I thought I had the premise of a story, David would quickly put that to rest: “you have nothing”

All I can remember now was his admonishment to stop moving. Apparently, I have photographers ADD. I’ve heard it called “Drive-by Shooting”. I call it the “Ooh, Shiny” approach to photography.
“Find someplace, stay there, shoot it until you get bored, and when you’re bored, go on shooting”

All good, but I didn’t have a story to be bored at. I struck lucky: Kaya, a Burn Magazine editor and David’s assistant on the workshop, told me about this fishermen’s accomodation in the heart of Dubai. She said she’d go shoot it herself if she had time, but she’d love for me to have a go. And David added: go take a picture of where they live.

So off I went. I was fairly lucky to find it on the first try with the taxi. And I spent 4 hours there. Every time I thought I was done, I forced myself to stay. After a while, I started seeing things that I missed. I started polishing shots until I got exactly what I wanted. When prayer time came, and the fishermen started trickling back to their accomodation, I asked if I could follow and see where they lived. They thought it strange, but where willing to show me.

Unfortunately, the guard who oversees the rooms (and the fishermen) wouldn’t let me take a picture.

And sure enough, at the next day’s critique, David jumped on it immediately: go back, get a picture of where they live.

Another day, another traipse. I had a lucky charm this time, though. Fuji had been nice enough to give me an Instax camera. My new friends where delighted to get their picture taken and physically have it. I had two separate guys come at me shyly once I’d moved away a little bit to each ask for a shot. The look on the second one when I told him I’d run out of paper was heart wrenching – but I have his facebook, so he’ll have some pictures of him anyway.
As the sun went down, I still was no closer to seeing where thy live, and I didn’t want to risk the guard another time. But again, the luck you make by sitting around worked: I found their kitchen, hidden on the other side of the road: a trailer with 20 gaz cookers, and NO LIGHTS. They cook using LED lights, and they were more than willing to be lightstands for me.

I had the shots.

It's an (im)perfect world…

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

The great challenge of art is not learning to use the tools of our craft, but learning to say something human with them. The second is learning to be OK with the silence until then.

David duChemin Making it human

I’m conflicted about DuChemin. He’s a little bit too preachy/feely for me, but I have to admit, in the context of our upcoming week with DAH at GPP2014, this post was spot-on (and his very own publishing empire does put out some useful and cheap resources).
That said, the whole “I feel” vs “I geek out” meme is nothing new. The entire smartphone-as-camera and mirrorless industries are pretty much based on it. What are instagram filters if not textures and imperfections we add to make things more “authentic”? VSCO is capitalizing hard-core on the (optionally bearded) (Mumford-and-sons listening) hipster segment (I should know, I tick all the boxes except “lives in Brooklyn”).
Maybe we can draw a parallel with the music industry. I’m old enough that I remember exactly when I listened to a CD for the first time. I’ve seen vinyls go the way of the dodo, only to make a comeback with Kickstarter, I’ve seen stickers proudly proclaiming “remasterisation” of old recordings and stickers shouting “we haven’t touched a thing, hear the scratches”, I’ve lived through the flame wars about the loss of the “intangible” quality of analog vs the clinical cleanliness of digital, devolving into lossless vs lossy compression.
Sounds familiar? It should: Film vs digital, the Megapixel race, then Raw vs JPEG, “Fuji is so good that I can use JPEGs SOOC” …

Ultimately, I agree with most of duChemin’s argument. It’s about the showing of scars, it’s about meaning, it’s about stories. it’s about connections. I just disagree with that one sentence:

[Stirring the heart is] … something, for all the good that digital photography makes possible, that we’ve lost.

I’m not much of an Art Historian (I have a friend who is), but I’d wager that most attempts at art are crap, most of the time and whatever the tools. Even worse, if you really capture that elusive essence of imperfection, it doesn’t automatically make your production good art [1]. Yet that soul-baring seems like a necessary condition, so we keep ever trying:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho[2]


  1. but it most probably makes it pretty creepy  ↩
  2. looking for the exact source, I found this story, which is a great parable into the fate of our art once we let it loose.  ↩

It’s an (im)perfect world…

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

The great challenge of art is not learning to use the tools of our craft, but learning to say something human with them. The second is learning to be OK with the silence until then.

David duChemin Making it human

I’m conflicted about DuChemin. He’s a little bit too preachy/feely for me, but I have to admit, in the context of our upcoming week with DAH at GPP2014, this post was spot-on (and his very own publishing empire does put out some useful and cheap resources).
That said, the whole “I feel” vs “I geek out” meme is nothing new. The entire smartphone-as-camera and mirrorless industries are pretty much based on it. What are instagram filters if not textures and imperfections we add to make things more “authentic”? VSCO is capitalizing hard-core on the (optionally bearded) (Mumford-and-sons listening) hipster segment (I should know, I tick all the boxes except “lives in Brooklyn”).
Maybe we can draw a parallel with the music industry. I’m old enough that I remember exactly when I listened to a CD for the first time. I’ve seen vinyls go the way of the dodo, only to make a comeback with Kickstarter, I’ve seen stickers proudly proclaiming “remasterisation” of old recordings and stickers shouting “we haven’t touched a thing, hear the scratches”, I’ve lived through the flame wars about the loss of the “intangible” quality of analog vs the clinical cleanliness of digital, devolving into lossless vs lossy compression.
Sounds familiar? It should: Film vs digital, the Megapixel race, then Raw vs JPEG, “Fuji is so good that I can use JPEGs SOOC” …

Ultimately, I agree with most of duChemin’s argument. It’s about the showing of scars, it’s about meaning, it’s about stories. it’s about connections. I just disagree with that one sentence:

[Stirring the heart is] … something, for all the good that digital photography makes possible, that we’ve lost.

I’m not much of an Art Historian (I have a friend who is), but I’d wager that most attempts at art are crap, most of the time and whatever the tools. Even worse, if you really capture that elusive essence of imperfection, it doesn’t automatically make your production good art [1]. Yet that soul-baring seems like a necessary condition, so we keep ever trying:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho[2]


  1. but it most probably makes it pretty creepy  ↩
  2. looking for the exact source, I found this story, which is a great parable into the fate of our art once we let it loose.  ↩

GPP Kool-aid

The Mamiya C630 is a perfectly acceptable point and shoot. The Mamiya C630 is a perfectly acceptable point and shoot.

So my last tweet got retweeted by @zarias, and he even took the time to tweet a thank you note.
To (mis)quote @bruko, I’m as giddy as a kindergartner at a birthday party, because it’s awesome and it’s never happened to me., and because I’m getting to spend the next week rubbing shoulders with him and a dream team of photographers.

Last year, a fellow student took me aside during a class, and said to me: “we’ve spent all this money, and all we do is follow this guy around. He’s not teaching us anything.” I felt sad for him, but it kept nagging me. Had I and others really drunk some GPP Kool-aid, and been blinded to something more sinister?

Then I realized what the answer should be. My first year at GPP, I went home to Abu Dhabi every night. It was good (Zack, and David N. were my first instructors). But the second time, when I stayed at the hotel every night, and made some friends, it went from good to great. Because what we get that week is more than just “classes”. It’s access to the creative minds of people who are at the top of their game. We’re not getting an MFA at GPP University. We’re spending a week around these people while acting like sponges. Can you imagine what breakfast is with McNally, Heisler, Burnett and Harvey? Yeah, that. Then when you think it can’t get anymore awesomer, Keatley walks up and takes this in front of your eyes, in a dingy Holiday Inn corridor.

There’s a catch, of course. There’s effort on our part, as students. And I’m not talking about the effort of turning up to class and absorbing the material. I’m talking about the effort of being gracious to people who are so open with their time and knowledge, of not treating them like mere vendors [1].

So yes. You can look at it as a simple transaction, and bemoan the value you’re “not getting” from Dave Burnett not telling you which setting he’d use on your camera (maybe he can take the picture as well, right?). Or you can suck it up, spend some time talking to him, and get this awesome portrait from my pal Keith Rogers.

Your call.


  1. chances are, if you’re doing this, your photography doesn’t have much soul, so it doesn’t matter to you. It does to me.  ↩

Why we need “The Society of Good Stuff” (and Dedpxl)

Zack Arias is a cool dude. He’s a photographer and educator with a great sense of humor and self-deprecation. He’s also one of the first photographers to figure out this “social media” thing.

He’s so good, he can even take time off of the internet for a month every year and not be forgotten!

A few months ago, after running a 1500 question Q&A tumblr [1], Zack announced he was going to create a new site called Dedpxl [2]. And today, it’s finally live.

I haven’t had a chance to look at it in detail, but what I’ve seen has already convinced me that Zack (and his wife Meg) have done a very good job of it.

There is an introductory article to the site, and it’s pure ZA: a trip down memory lane to remind us of why we do this photography thing. If you’ve ever been to one of Zack’s classes, or follow him on ze interwebz, you’ll be right at home: he uses his personal experience to connect to us. And that’s what sets him apart. I’m pretty sure he’d be the first to admit that he doesn’t teach rocket science or mind blowing techniques – what he’s really good at is making it accessible: “if a shmuck like me can do it, so can you.”

The second thing that I’m very happy with is The society of Good Stuff. Actually, I would probably read Dedpxl even if it was just that column. Zack’s enrolled his wife Meg to curate [3] “stuff” that would be of tangential interest to photographers.
It’s fully in keeping with the goal of Dedpxl: make photography fun again, spark those creative juices. And it’s a classic Zack move. He and Meg just figured out something missing in “social media”, and they’re filling the gap with what, in retrospect, is an obvious idea [4].

The web has allowed geek culture to flourish by providing meeting spaces and tools to cater for all sorts of niche / fringe interests. Photography didn’t necessarily need this – it was a rich and varied culture before the web came along. But the web did enable that culture to propagate when the digital revolution started making photographers of all of us [5].
Unfortunately, making so much knowledge available instantly has a killer side-effect: we tend to become single-subject idiot-savants instead of well-rounded individuals. Culture can be defined by wide-ranging interest in many subjects, but I think that’s as much an artefact of technique (manuscripts, then books, then film) than of psychology. In a scarcity-based economy, you can only feed the beast by having interests in many different subjects: the relatively difficult access to new knowledge forced us, as curious individuals, to branch out of our comfort zone
With the cornucopia of knowledge available now, the driver is gone. We can geek out on aperture, focal and pixel count all day and still only scratch the surface of the subject, without coming out of our comfort zone. Collectively, this turns us into a series of mono-cultures, very deep yet very narrow. Ultimately, it’s the death of photography as we know it. We loose sight of the reason we make images: create beauty and make sense of the world around us.
“The society of Cool Stuff” can be an antidote to this death: by flexing the “artistic muscles”, as Meg puts it, it can help recapture the simple sense of wonder beyond the technical layer. It’s not new – Meg herself, a musician, is doing for us something she’s done for herself for a long time. But because of where photography is and who photographers are today, it’s necessary that people like her shake us up a little bit and show us where the flowers are. And because she’s in love with a photographer, you can be certain she’ll show us things we’ll want to see.

So long life to Dedpxl and The Society of Cool Stuff, and thanks to Meg and Zack.


  1. which made it into a book  ↩
  2. tagline: more signal, less noise  ↩
  3. yeah, yeah, I know – it’s an overused, pedantic word, but I like it  ↩
  4. all the good ones are  ↩
  5. and we’re all still scratching our heads – which is why it’s a great time to be a photographer  ↩

Why we need "The Society of Good Stuff" (and Dedpxl)

Zack Arias is a cool dude. He’s a photographer and educator with a great sense of humor and self-deprecation. He’s also one of the first photographers to figure out this “social media” thing.

He’s so good, he can even take time off of the internet for a month every year and not be forgotten!

A few months ago, after running a 1500 question Q&A tumblr [1], Zack announced he was going to create a new site called Dedpxl [2]. And today, it’s finally live.

I haven’t had a chance to look at it in detail, but what I’ve seen has already convinced me that Zack (and his wife Meg) have done a very good job of it.

There is an introductory article to the site, and it’s pure ZA: a trip down memory lane to remind us of why we do this photography thing. If you’ve ever been to one of Zack’s classes, or follow him on ze interwebz, you’ll be right at home: he uses his personal experience to connect to us. And that’s what sets him apart. I’m pretty sure he’d be the first to admit that he doesn’t teach rocket science or mind blowing techniques – what he’s really good at is making it accessible: “if a shmuck like me can do it, so can you.”

The second thing that I’m very happy with is The society of Good Stuff. Actually, I would probably read Dedpxl even if it was just that column. Zack’s enrolled his wife Meg to curate [3] “stuff” that would be of tangential interest to photographers.
It’s fully in keeping with the goal of Dedpxl: make photography fun again, spark those creative juices. And it’s a classic Zack move. He and Meg just figured out something missing in “social media”, and they’re filling the gap with what, in retrospect, is an obvious idea [4].

The web has allowed geek culture to flourish by providing meeting spaces and tools to cater for all sorts of niche / fringe interests. Photography didn’t necessarily need this – it was a rich and varied culture before the web came along. But the web did enable that culture to propagate when the digital revolution started making photographers of all of us [5].
Unfortunately, making so much knowledge available instantly has a killer side-effect: we tend to become single-subject idiot-savants instead of well-rounded individuals. Culture can be defined by wide-ranging interest in many subjects, but I think that’s as much an artefact of technique (manuscripts, then books, then film) than of psychology. In a scarcity-based economy, you can only feed the beast by having interests in many different subjects: the relatively difficult access to new knowledge forced us, as curious individuals, to branch out of our comfort zone
With the cornucopia of knowledge available now, the driver is gone. We can geek out on aperture, focal and pixel count all day and still only scratch the surface of the subject, without coming out of our comfort zone. Collectively, this turns us into a series of mono-cultures, very deep yet very narrow. Ultimately, it’s the death of photography as we know it. We loose sight of the reason we make images: create beauty and make sense of the world around us.
“The society of Cool Stuff” can be an antidote to this death: by flexing the “artistic muscles”, as Meg puts it, it can help recapture the simple sense of wonder beyond the technical layer. It’s not new – Meg herself, a musician, is doing for us something she’s done for herself for a long time. But because of where photography is and who photographers are today, it’s necessary that people like her shake us up a little bit and show us where the flowers are. And because she’s in love with a photographer, you can be certain she’ll show us things we’ll want to see.

So long life to Dedpxl and The Society of Cool Stuff, and thanks to Meg and Zack.


  1. which made it into a book  ↩
  2. tagline: more signal, less noise  ↩
  3. yeah, yeah, I know – it’s an overused, pedantic word, but I like it  ↩
  4. all the good ones are  ↩
  5. and we’re all still scratching our heads – which is why it’s a great time to be a photographer  ↩

Marketing is not a four letter word

I was pointed to a recent interview in DPReview of a senior FujiFilm manager.
I’ve written elsewhere about similarities between Apple and Fuji in their thoughtfulness of design.
The DPReview interview, by contrast, highlights a major difference in approach: Apple is notoriously tight-lipped about its design pipeline; Fuji, by comparison, has been very open, giving public access to some of its senior staff, bringing photographers to Japan to participate in their Kaizen process and, if the amount and precision of rumors leading up to the X-E2 and X-T1 are any indication, by orchestrating a very efficient viral marketing campaign.

I wasn’t paying attention in the 90’s, when Steve Jobs resurrected Apple, but I’d wager it was never similarly open: it seems too much of a cultural transformation to where it is now – the external secrecy it cherishes can only work with a healthy dose of internal paranoia. This in itself is good news to me: it means there is more than one path to thoughtful products. Hopefully it means that Apple and Fuji are not one-of-a-kind wonders but heralds of a trend.

A good example of Fuji’s openness, in the DPReview talk, is Iida-san’s discussion of continuing internal dissensions over providing firmware updates to discontinued models such as the X-E1 and X100. I can’t imagine that this was not a carefully thought out marketing point, just like the casual mention of film-era engineers guiding the Image Processing teams. And, because we’ve been conditioned to reject marketing, equating it to crass, vulgar, lowest-common-denominator advertising, there is some backlash to Fuji’s growing presence 1 in social media and in photography circles 2.
But I’m reminded here, as in design, that marketing can be a thoughtful process. Fuji is trying to sell us its cameras and to ensure its long term survival. It is doing so not by showing us half-naked women taking impossible pictures, but by engaging us in a conversation about where they want to go.
I actually quite enjoy being treated like an adult.


  1. trolling some of the better known photographers like Zack Arias and David Hobby for their vocal support of Fuji seems to be the flavor of the month. 
  2. I haven’t read anyone mention “cult” yet, but give it a few months. 

Thoughtful tools

X100s X100s

item 1. – I was asked the other day how many Apple devices we have at home 1.

item 2. – When Apple announced their new product line-up and I told my wife, her reaction was: “Promise me you’re not buying any of them.”

item 3. – I’ve recently broken off my 5 year affair with Canon, almost on a whim, to buy a fixed lens rangefinder-like camera from Fuji, a company I barely knew existed.2

Given all this, I guess you could say that I have a Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S, hat tip to Zack Arias, a photographer and wonderful educator, for coining the term.) The way I see it, though, is that I have a passion for thoughtful tools. You see, what the MacBook Air and the X100s have in common is that they are designed with clarity of purpose and most importantly, with strongly held opinions 3. This makes them better tools for us, humans. Because we can interact with them, and through them, with the designers. Because they free us to do our task (job / work / play whatever) yet constrain us enough that we can be creative. Because they respect us, even if they disagree with us. And yes, of course, because all this makes them more beautiful.

I know this is a strange way of seing things. But only because we’re surrounded by objects and interactions that are mostly designed “by default”. We’re surrounded by indecision. The buttons on a machine are placed by the engineer for manufacturing reasons. The font on your presentation is Calibri 4 because that’s the default in powerpoint these days. And we are so used to this non-decision that we take it for normal. When a tool or a service comes along that has been thoughtfully built, we dismiss it as hipster-chic or snobbish.

Yet I am hopeful, because Apple is conning us. Their tools have always been thoughtful. 5 But they have not been popular until the last decade. And they are not popular because they’re thoughtful. They’re popular for the wrong reasons. They’re popular because they’re “cool”. They’re popular because they’re “elite”. Stealthily, we have been exposed to thoughtful design in a mass market context, without seeing it coming. And now, we can see that thoughtful products are in fact, better. Hopefully, enough consumers are starting to change their perception that thoughtful design becomes a valid business model, not just the niche it’s always been.

That’s what I think Fuji has been doing in the past few years with their cameras. I know little about them, and their transformation is still recent, but all the signs point this way. Here are a few:

  • The X100 was not a “retro” camera. It was a camera that used interface elements of old cameras, iterated over the years, because they made sense. And yes, from that, they look cool and retro, but as a consequence.
  • The X100s is an iteration of the X100. It’s a refinement. It’s changed where it makes sense, or where the X100 fell short. But it speaks the same language, and it makes most of the same choices.
  • The X100(s) are opinionated cameras. There are few compromises, they reward study and the constraints are well thought out. There is no big green button for full auto mode. Yet the JPEG engine, which most pros and enlightened amateurs scoff at, is so good that some pros confess they shoot jpeg exclusively (at least for their own shots).

And on top of this really good design, they make non-obvious business choices. Not only do they deliver firmware updates that enhance major functionalities of the cameras, but they release them for discontinued models 6. That, as for Apple, is the sign that Thoughtful Design is finally coming to maturity.

So in the end, why does this thoughtfulness matter? Well, initially, because it makes for better, more useful tools for all of us. We do get to play with cool toys, and we do get to create beautiful things with them. But ultimately, if this catches on, I hope it may be part of the answer to our disposable mentality, both in the physical and the cultural world. We are starting to see thoughtful answers to the likes of Facebook and Google. I can’t wait for one of them to truly gain momentum.

  1. the answer is 11 
  2. I swapped this for this
  3. yes, I also believe you should hold strong opinions lightly 
  4. Arial if you’ve really angered the gods 
  5. A 25 year old Steve Jobs obsessed on the typography on 8 bit screens. 
  6. if you have a X100, the latest firmware update brings you the single most useful function you where still lacking from the X100s 

item 1. – I was asked the other day how many Apple devices we have at home [1].

item 2. – When Apple announced their new product line-up and I told my wife, her reaction was: “Promise me you’re not buying any of them.”

item 3. – I’ve recently broken off my 5 year affair with Canon, almost on a whim, to buy a fixed lens rangefinder-like camera from Fuji, a company I barely knew existed[2].

Given all this, I guess you could say that I have a Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S, hat tip to Zack Arias, a photographer and wonderful educator, for coining the term.) The way I see it, though, is that I have a passion for thoughtful tools.

You see, what the MacBook Air and the X100s have in common is that they are designed with clarity of purpose and most importantly, with strongly held opinions[3]. This makes them better tools for us, humans. Because we can interact with them, and through them, with the designers. Because they free us to do our task (job / work / play whatever) yet constrain us enough that we can be creative. Because they respect us, even if they disagree with us. And yes, of course, because all this makes them more beautiful.

I know this is a strange way of seing things. But only because we’re surrounded by objects and interactions that are mostly designed “by default”. We’re surrounded by indecision. The buttons on a machine are placed by the engineer for manufacturing reasons. The font on your presentation is Calibri [4] because that’s the default in powerpoint these days. And we are so used to this non-decision that we take it for normal. When a tool or a service comes along that has been thoughtfully built, we dismiss it as hipster-chic or snobbish.

Yet I am hopeful, because Apple is conning us. Their tools have always been thoughtful[5]. But they have not been popular until the last decade. And they are not popular because they’re thoughtful. They’re popular for the wrong reasons. They’re popular because they’re “cool”. They’re popular because they’re “elite”. Stealthily, we have been exposed to thoughtful design in a mass market context, without seeing it coming. And now, we can see that thoughtful products are in fact, better. Hopefully, enough consumers are starting to change their perception that thoughtful design becomes a valid business model, not just the niche it’s always been.

That’s what I think Fuji has been doing in the past few years with their cameras. I know little about them, and their transformation is still recent, but all the signs point this way. Here are a few:

The X100 was not a “retro” camera. It was a camera that used interface elements of old cameras, iterated over the years, because they made sense. And yes, from that, they look cool and retro, but as a consequence.
The X100s is an iteration of the X100. It’s a refinement. It’s changed where it makes sense, or where the X100 fell short. But it speaks the same language, and it makes most of the same choices.
The X100(s) are opinionated cameras. There are few compromises, they reward study and the constraints are well thought out. There is no big green button for full auto mode. Yet the JPEG engine, which most pros and enlightened amateurs scoff at, is so good that some pros confess they shoot jpeg exclusively (at least for their own shots).
And on top of this really good design, they make non-obvious business choices. Not only do they deliver firmware updates that enhance major functionalities of the cameras, but they release them for discontinued models[6]. That, as for Apple, is the sign that Thoughtful Design is finally coming to maturity.

So in the end, why does this thoughtfulness matter? Well, initially, because it makes for better, more useful tools for all of us. We do get to play with cool toys, and we do get to create beautiful things with them. But ultimately, if this catches on, I hope it may be part of the answer to our disposable mentality, both in the physical and the cultural world. We are starting to see thoughtful answers to the likes of Facebook and Google. I can’t wait for one of them to truly gain momentum.


  1. the answer is 11  ↩
  2. I swapped this for this  ↩
  3. yes, I also believe you should hold strong opinions lightly  ↩
  4. Arial if you’ve really angered the gods  ↩
  5. A 25 year old Steve Jobs obsessed on the typography on 8 bit screens.  ↩
  6. if you have a X100, the latest firmware update brings you the single most useful function you where still lacking from the X100s  ↩