Somewhat unsurprisingly, I’ve bought more lenses: This time there are two, the first is the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM mk II and the second is the TS-E 17mm f/4L. Both are god level lenses, pinnacles of technology and engineering. Both were secondhand, and I’m now trying to justify their purchase. A quick warning, this post wanders around a bit.
There’s a guy I follow on social media who makes amazing photos. He’s based somewhere in the western United States, shoots film on a really nice camera, and he posts a blissful combination of documentary and Americana. His images both inspire me and make me tense, jealous, and grumpy.
Watching his work appear, piece by piece, there is a temptation to imagine that this guy lives in the most amazing place. This is somewhere where incredible photographs are just waiting to be taken. Likewise his cameras seem to nail it every-time, his lenses flare in the right places, capture just the right amount of contrast, and deliver subtle tones and pathos. All of these things combine to transport me to a mythical and unearthly place.
Daily consumption of photography should challenge you, inspire you, move you, drive you, sometimes disgust you, but it will also occasionally make you want to sell all of your kit and go live in the woods.
This guy has done that to me a few times, as have a number of my friends, contemporaries and mentors. In these moments of crisis it is important to remember that he makes amazing photos of the things that are around him, because he is amazing. His landscape is no more littered with gems than mine. He has great gear because he is good and because has made both decisions and probably sacrifices.
He depicts desert bars fashioned from airstream caravans, illuminated with neon and frequented by the owners of ’72 Corvette Stingrays. That may not be your cup of tea, but it definitely brews my pot. I am jealous.
One of the things that I have on my doorstep that he doesn’t however, is a building that’s over 1000 years old. It contains within it the grave of King John and has a evolved over 1300 years through multiple schools of architecture to reach its present state.
I’m speaking of Worcester Cathedral, the site of which has been a place of worship since 680AD. Having lived in Worcester for over ten years, and eschewing religion, I’ve been guilty of allowing familiarity to breed contempt, or rather indifference.
Canon’s 17mm is the widest shift lens available for a full-frame camera, and it is perfect for photographing large architectural spaces. It would have been churlish not to try it out on the Cathedral. Once there of course I found my interest piqued, and enjoyed exploring the space and its history.
After a few years making images with the TSE 24mm mk I, the 17mm is a big upgrade. It’s sharper, much wider, has independent tilt and shift mechanics, and a front element that looks like an insurance claim waiting to happen, (and a dust magnet). It’s going to take some getting used to but I’m already convinced that it will be worth it.
The second of these god level lenses, the 35mm f/1.4, has dropped into my outfit as if I’d had it forever. It’s outrageously sharp, has lovely bokeh, focuses quickly and accurately and is in many ways a perfect lens. It’s been on one of my cameras ever since I got it home, and I’ve mostly been using it to photograph the intern, and my life in general. It has replaced my 50mm f/1.2 as my go to walkaround lens (although this is probably because it is new), and has served to confirm my mixed feelings about my 85mm f/1.4.
In reviewing the images for this post I’ve been reminded of how lucky I am to have the gear that I have, to live where I live, and to have the family, friends and opportunities that I have.
Whenever the urge to move to the woods arrives, I remind myself of that.