About the choice of lenses

Q: Do you find that you are putting less in the frame now, with the new lens?

GW: I don’t really know; I just take pictures, and they look almost the same to me. I really don’t know how to answer that question. The only real difference is, with a 28, racking it out as far as it’ll go, let’s say in terms of a face, there’s a lot less space, with a 35mm, left. It’s an interesting little difference. The minute you back up a little, then it becomes a question of how far you’ve got to back up. So with a 35 you’re probably going to back up more, usually. Or you’ll do things without feet… I really don’t want to look at contact sheets that are going to look the same as a 28. Even if I could do that with a 35, by changing the distance or whatever. It’s all about not being bored.

Q: Again, just to keep the problems interesting…

GW: Yeah. And the only way you can do that is finding out how much you can get away with, you know? It’s true.

“An interview with Garry Winogrand” (By Charles Hagen, published in Afterimage, Dec. 1977)

One of the things that I like about Garry Winogrand and makes me revisit him again and again are his plain and simple truths. No attempts to promote photography into the realms of philosophy and studied intellectuals, just plain observations accessible to anyone who can spare a few thoughts on the matter. A lot of people would disagree, of course, but I find this is rather suitable to certain types of photography and in a way to the mass-appeal of photography itself.

Before I bought my new lens I was struggling with the idea whether or not I should add another variable element to my way of working. I had a set of lenses for my Canon, and just sold most of them. More lenses, more choices… less simplicity, greater confusion and loss of focus on the task at hand. Then I realised that my considerations towards lens choice were not based on the right assumptions. A few days later I came across the above quote and it all made sense to me again.

In the past I based my choice of lens on something external – the subject. For example, the kind of subject, its size would dictate what equipment I would need to capture it. I started to really dislike changing lenses while facing a situation. It felt like an inappropriate burden, chasing after something, although I am not sure what. Standing there and trying to accommodate what is in front of the lens while juggling focal lengths does not seem the right thing to do. Unless you are a professional on an assignment of course, but that is a completely different set of deliverables compared to the amateur or artist.

So he is right: it is just about keeping things interesting, for yourself. It is a mind game after all, and this is just one of the cheap tricks. So what I do now is to pick a lens that I feel like working with for the day or so and let me work the situations I encounter with that setup. This is completely different, and surprisingly liberating.