Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

In my final year of college, I took several photography classes that shaped my views on quality. My instructor, Kenneth Barrett, taught students not only about the typical photography concepts you'd expect, but also about composition and style. We studied famous black and white photographs and I fell in love with artists like Diane Arbus. Her photographs felt harsh, sometimes sadistic and even exploitative.

I first began shooting on a 1973 Mamiya/Sekor 1000 DTL my father gave me. It was the world's first camera with dual-pattern through-the-lens (TTL) metering. It was bulky, difficult to hold and completely unforgiving. It took patience loading the 35mm film. Developing the film was even more laborious. 30 seconds in the stop bath, 4 minutes in a fixer, 30 seconds in a rinse, 2 minutes in a clearing agent and so on. It was easy to screw up and I did on numerous occasions.

The more advanced I became shooting 35mm, the more I appreciated the restrictiveness of the format. The beauty of it wasn't about the camera's constraints, rather what it forced you to focus on. You had 36 chances to take a beautiful photograph.

Years later after graduating, the darkroom was converted to a digital photo studio. Kenneth Barrett no longer teaches there. Today, I take pictures on my iPhone and post them on Instagram. It takes seconds. I apply filters to emulate quality that would, in real life, sometimes take hours to create. I'm reminded of a quote from one of my favorite books by Robert Pirsig's, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

"It's the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don't know where to start because no one has ever told them there's such a thing as quality in this world and it's real, not style. Quality isn't something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Real quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start."