Down with Arsenal!

I hate the idea of Arsenal. I don’t mean the north London football team, which has always seemed to me one of the more acceptable London teams to support, though if I retained any interest in the game I’d more likely go to QPR or Brentford, the latter a team that several of my team mates when I played under-11 football in the cub league ended up at. But I wasn’t one of the stars of the side and even on the good days when we scored 40 or 50 goals in a match I seldom strayed goal-wards but stayed was left back in my own half. Though I was reasonably lethal to the opposing forwards and we seldom if ever let a goal in.

Arsenal, the intelligent camera assistant is a little device that sits on top of your camera and thinks for you, currently on Kickstarter. I watched one of the videos on the site and was appalled.

I don’t think I’m being a Luddite when I say that ‘I hate the idea of Arsenal.’ It represents the apotheosis of all that is wrong with photography on Flikr and other web-sharing photo sites, reducing the medium to a mechanism for making pretty pictures. Decorative wall art.

I’ve nothing against some of the automation that Arsenal offers (though I’m not convinced it will entirely provide.) It would be good to have something that makes it easy to get the right depth of field – something that was easy when we used manual focus and prime lenses with depth of field scales, but the switch to auto-focus and zoom lenses has made largely guesswork.

But when it comes to using a databank of pictures to decide how to come up with the best treatment for a particular scene this seems to be a certain recipe for the kind of dreary uniformity that distinguishes much of those pretty pictures that attract thousands of on-line ‘likes.’ And also occupy a certain section of the art photography market.

I used to confuse students by telling them that ‘photography isn’t about making pictures’, and I think this device illustrates well what I meant it wasn’t. Photography for me is about having something to say and finding a way to say it effectively. And that means trying to say it in a different way, not how other pictures have done it, though that isn’t easy. The pictures that are best have an element of visual surprise and don’t correspond to rules or stereotypes.

Arsenal sits on top of the camera which sits on top of a tripod, which to me is generally a basic mistake in taking photographs. There are some highly specialised areas where a tripod is needed, but only a very small percentage of good photography is make using one. If you want to do time-lapse photography I think ‘Arsenal’ would be a good buy. But if you want to use an 8×10″ – which admittedly is a little tricky hand-held – you won’t find Arsenal able to cope.

Way back in the 1890s, Kodak and art photographers such as Alfred Steiglitz liberated the camera from the tripod in many areas of photography, and advances in materials and equipment in the roughly 120 years since has meant that cumbersome appendage is seldom needed.

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