A few days ago, an ill-worded update on Nikon camera maker’s official Facebook page enraged hundreds. It read: “A photographer is only as good as the equipment he uses, and a good lens is essential to taking good pictures! Do any of our Facebook fans use any of the NIKKOR lenses? Blah-blah-blah…” As you may imagine, the response was ferociously negative. Really? “Only as good,” huh? So we suppose we should go out and purchase thousands of dollars worth of top gear and viola, instant talent? Tsk-tsk.
As Ansel Adams once famously said, “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.” On that note, we now present you with a selection of excellent photographers who didn’t use anything fancy. They shot their masterpieces with simple Polaroid point-and-shoots, unsophisticated digital devices, and downright crappy DIY cameras. Enjoy!
The Saatchi Gallery has described NYC’s fast-living, young-dying legend like so: “Using a Polaroid camera for its instantaneous results and association as keep-sakes, the familiar format of Snow’s photos replicates the sentiments of his images: cheap, disposable, and plebian mementos become humble evidence of discarded beauty.” Or you could say, this was the easiest way to capture beautiful things he saw through the haze and the daze, things that he’d forget the next day. In many ways, he was simply brilliant.
Renowned experimental filmmaker/artist Chris Marker hid a spy camera in his coat and snuck lo-fi, fuzzy, voyeuristic shots of Passengers on the Paris Métro, savvily tinkered with the images’ softness in Photoshop and paired them with classic art reminiscent of each subject. Not bad for a stalwart in his late, late ’80s.
Back in 1921, Steichen — who was photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair in the ’20s and ’30s — snapped this famous image of his pal Isadora Duncan on the steps of the Parthenon using a Kodak camera that he had borrowed from the headwaiter at his hotel in Greece. He later went on to become the Director of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art until 1962.
Back in 2009 — long before there was a “mobile photography movement” to speak of– Jarvis, who has done commercial work for brands like Nike, Pepsi, Volvo, Reebok, Apple, and Red Bull, published The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You , an entire book of photos that he snapped using his iPhone.
Prague’s painting student turned elderly urban hermit, Miroslav Tichý died earlier this year, leaving behind a trove of hoarded photographs of the beauties in his town. He defined poetry as a mistake and “for that you need a bad camera.” Well, that he had. He made his own from shoe-box cardboard, tin cans, toilet paper rolls and elastic bits. Oh, and the fancy lens? Toothpaste-and-ash-polished Plexiglas rounds.
Andy Warhol’s captivating, simple shots of everyone weren’t even art, they were just studies for paintings… all captured by a clunky Polaroid Big Shot camera with a three-foot fixed focal length.
Photographer Michael Wolf shot several thought-provoking series with a simple digital camera, fixed on a tripod, aimed at his computer screen, scouring Google Street View scenes for hundreds of hours to discover car accidents, heart attacks, mysteries and wonders.
Fresh photographer Andy Kania’s completely no frills flash captured drunk derelicts and animal brawls. Truly raw, in subject and in form.
Oscar Fernando Gómez Rodríguez
Mexican cabbie Oscar Fernando Gómez Rodríguez started shooting early, with the cheapest Kodak he could find. From the window of his taxi, he captured tire fire pyramids, graffitied cows dragged along by children, markets, streets, beauty, and decay. His main tip remains, “Don’t worry about technique or what camera to buy. Feel what you feel and translate it to the image.”
French artist Denis Protéor first gained notoriety through DIY xerox leaflets, before going viral. His most striking pieces are grainy, distressed defining moments — stills culled from his home video tape recordings of rough sex romps, his morgue day job, and sunsets.
At 70, legendary Depression documentarian Walker Evans received a point-shoot-and-print SX-70 Polaroid Camera and an unlimited supply of film from its manufacturer. He was free. “Leaving aside the intricacies of photographic technique, Evans stripped photography to its bare essentials: seeing and choosing.” He just shot. And shot. And shot. And he was perfectly content.
Using a rather primitive, cheap-to-make pin hole camera, photographer Justin Quinnell has warped months worth of “passing” planet tracks into very-long-exposure landscapes. Just gorgeous.
Who are some of your favorite photographers without fancy cameras?