Nada and I met a fantastic photographer on our recent East End expedition. The work displayed in his shop was admirable, prices reasonable (yay, now we know where to get great prints made) – naturally, acting in my official capacity as captain acknowledgement, I just had to ask the fellow behind the counter, “Say, are you Dieter, the artist? ‘Cause this is really fine work.”

An excellent discussion on the economic weirdness faced by artists nowadays, followed (production-gear has never been so plentiful and affordable, but most markets pay a tiny fraction of what they did, if anything).

From there we got into the strangeness of the pantheon in Rome (such a huge influence on architecture, through the ages, and yet so modest-looking a building now, from outside) – his own extraordinary photos, informing us.

His talk about technical approach and understanding was humbling (quite a few historical sites will not allow tripods, so he has worked hard to refine hand-held techniques to produce results of incredible precision), but of course, his earned expertise reminded me of that question so hard for us all to address, as creative people. Where the heck are the lines now, anyhow?

Who is an artist, who is a hobbyist – who a dedicated amateur, who a hack? Curiously dangerous question to ask, for what it reveals.

Triumph of the wallet (top photo)

Here’s a bit of simple revelation about me, as a photographer – I’m not skilled in any way on the instrument, but I am willing to risk getting run over, to sneak through traffic and grab a shot on the move (or climb up something, or hang off something). Similarly, I’m a feeble instrumentalist – who is at least willing to look like a total fool, in order to discover a novel melodic fragment or groove.

I also empathize and walk, and so spot curious juxtapositions (like many), but that’s really all I’ve got – and I don’t fool myself by thinking otherwise.

At best, I rank a happy amateur – lover of the form (always entitled to be a technical idiot, compared to the full-range skills of a pro, because you’re only ever doing the part of it that you actually enjoy).

The reason I am so very happy to know that I am NOT a photographer, is because I love photography, and recognize that if everyone is, no one is.

I’m learning, having fun – pleased to participate, as an always-open student.

The one place I absolutely do cash-in the dividends quite shamelessly, is when it comes to my appreciation of the art and working artists I encounter around me – which is hugely enhanced by every single breakthrough I make, on any of my diverse creative fronts.

Contemplative frame of mind

Great situation, great natural model – happy result (thank you, Nada).
But could I ever hope to control, set-up or predict a picture like this? – no way!

During my career as a technician (mid 80s to mid 00s) I watched ‘prosumers’ rise and rapidly come to dominate the priorities of the music trade – the same has since become true in every visual and plastic art medium I know about.

I don’t hear any popular discussion whatsoever about the amount of creativity and culture which is being bottlenecked by current economics (so vast, anecdotally, as to be tragic, if it wasn’t so inspiring how hard everyone is trying, anyhow).

Widget-maker thinking has come to dominate over the last thirty years, even where it does nothing but harm – and our response as creators, yet lags.  Essentially, we are all working on an overhang of hope for a cultural recovery which is based, for now, on a wish.

This does not mean that what we’re all wishing-for is impossible, but it’s important to understand we don’t yet even have a workable philosophical plan, behind which we can all put our weight, and know for sure that we’re contributing to future artistic and cultural vitality.

Except, of course – for teaching another generation of everything from profound creators to hobbyists to art – which remains the one semi-viable artistic profession, thanks largely (drumroll please) to all of those avid, weirdly narcissistic, and professional-standards-destroying prosumers!

Who are also – let’s not forget – the mass-market force which made all of that juicy production-gear affordable to everyone, at last, after so many years of being locked out of reach for all but the wealthy.

Very confusing stuff! Unambiguous bad guys? Damn thin on the ground. Easy simplistic catharsis eludes us, here – rather frustrating, to the modern ego.  ;o)

Vintage play-time

Isn’t it rather hilarious, how the thing that’s useless garbage to us in one decade, becomes heartwarming and priceless, a few decades later, even when we know perfectly well that it was mass-produced in vast quantities?

These are all groovy toys, to be sure (and I love how specific that coast to coast graphic is – what year last thought the DH Vampire the very latest in aviation?). But these are also really great reminders about what prosumer-level thinking means – the kid part, the fun part only, of the ‘work’ of building.

Thing is, you still can’t live in a Lego house (though I have no doubt someone is working on that, for their thesis project), and those parts of building work that aren’t so fun, are the difference between the toy, and a full practical dwelling.

As I said – as an artistic question, this is already perilous – especially for an idiot like me, who may well be best classifiable as a multiple-offending bounder, rather than any sort of respectable artist at all – no matter – it’s worth facing anyhow.

Because the really important clue that prosumerism points us to, isn’t about art at all – it hits us at an even more fundamental level – our perceived reality.

If we allow too many media sources to penetrate our sanity, too much of the time, it’s very easy to start believing that the modern world has gone insane.
But the old standard measures have been discarded completely – far too rapidly for our brains to effectively recalibrate to ‘the new arbitrary’. The news now routinely asks the opinions of imbeciles, about matters of absolute clear fact, which they used to simply report as such. “Excuse me, sir – would you care to add some dangerous ignorance and panic, to an important unfolding story?”

As if every single one of us is suddenly a prosumer expert on everything.

What is my opinion on photography worth? I can say a few general things, and tell a few funny fish-stories, that’s it. What was my opinion on the setup of a two-inch open reel tape recorder worth? (Back when they were current production gear) Considerably more, because in that area, I could bring the full complement of results necessary, in order to produce optimal usefulness.  Pro-setup.

A couple of avocados sprouting on the windowsill, does not a farmer make!

What is our opinion worth? In each distinct area, it depends on whether we have actually learned all of the necessary skills to be able to produce complete useful function or not. Which means, for almost everything, our opinions are worth approximately zero.

I’m not saying that to be mean – but because this is the exact point where individual humility becomes a functional necessity, if we still want to learn, rather than defend arrays of comforting ignorance.

The adventure and exploration club – group photo – 2018

I’ve tried to get a shot of us in this overhead mirror a couple of times now (better camera this time, but still deplorably shaky results) and there’s a shoe-store on Queen with a very old mirror engraved with diamonds, where I also regularly fail to get a perfect image of our tiny adventure club.

Of course, I never ever hold the camera this way (away from my face) except when I’m attempting this odd trick. If I want to do better, I should probably practise the stance and balance as a specialized move and refine it carefully over time – much like Dieter, using precision pacing and triangulation techniques to patiently plot-out the exact centre of a great cathedral.

No wait – NOT like Dieter, he really is a pro. I’d do it way more like a fool, for sure.

Which reminds me about the very best story I can tell about prosumerism – confusing one’s own craving for fun, with the true nature of an activity. It’s also a Canadian gun story, for my American chums who may have been given the false impression there are no guns up here (many fewer, to be sure, but..)

Years ago, one of my favourite community college professors had a young man staying with him as a lodger, in a basement flat in his family house. The professor had learned to shoot in the late 1940s, when he was a linesman in the deep woods way up north, miles away from any help – just in case.

His lodger was fascinated by the professor’s small arsenal, and begged him to teach him how to shoot. The professor was extremely reluctant, but the guy was relentless about it, so he finally said that if the kid managed to qualify for a licence and permit (not at all easy, up here) and buy a gun of his own, he would show him how to use it, when they went away camping that summer.

Not only does the young fool manage to get his licence – he buys himself a gigantic ridiculous heavy weapon (a .357 Magnum, if I remember correctly) because of course, as a prosumer, what he really wants most is the thrill that guns deliver so reliably in the movies. (insert your own Freudian digression, here).

Over the next few weeks, the professor runs into him in front of the mirror, practising his quick-draw move, over and over again, to get it really fast and smooth, just like in the movies. Not creepy, mind you, he’s grinning like a fool, the whole time he’s doing it. Pure cowboy stuff.

Come the summer, they drive way up north into the bush, then they portage (canoe a river or lake, then carry it into the next lake and canoe that, too) even deeper into the woods – far far away from everyone. Peace and quiet. Real nature – lovely stuff.

And the professor was just finished setting up the family’s perfect little camp when the keener whips out his gun, quick-draw style, exactly like he has been practicing – and shoots himself right in the foot!

The prof never even tried to relay the specific form of the “I told you so,” that he delivered to that screaming idiot, as the no-longer-camping family had to make the whole trip back out of the bush, to get him to the nearest hospital – but knowing him as well as I do, I’m certain it was epic and expletive-laden.

Still not nearly on the scale of comeuppance that we’ve got heading our way, for the extent to which our own meta-vanities and mindless quick-draw opinions have driven out consideration and sober judgement, mind you. But real bad.

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