The Gorilla in the Room
Behavior is, broadly, a set of activities both physical and mental which are the result of a variety of influences. Some of those influences are beyond our control, such as personality, taste, and individual anatomical traits like height, or the size of our hands. Let's take a simple example to break down the concept.
If you like museums, you will be much happier about a trip to see the impressionist works at the Barnes Foundation than someone who doesn't like museums. This much is obvious. But going deeper, we find that the museum-goer's behavior is much more nuanced and involves many unconscious actions.
Day to day, moment to moment, the framework of our fixed characteristics direct and channel our behavior in ways which make us "who we are." The museum-goer may frequent websites about impressionist painting, may read books about art, may even have an aversion to scheduling things on Wednesday's because it's a "pay what you wish" day. These sources of information and activity are available to people who don't like museums, but those people aren't likely to pay any attention to those websites, books, or calendar opportunities because they aren't interested in going to a museum. Therefore, the experienced "reality" of our two example persons is wholly different because their fixed characteristics have pushed them toward certain experiences and information over others. Which websites we browse, what books we read, how we manage our calendar—these are examples of orientations based on *unconscious desires* which create behaviors both physical and psychological which will support those desires.
Although we feel like we live in a world of our conscious thoughts, we don't. The only thoughts our consciousness gets are those that have already been filtered through our mind—pre-screened, as it were, through personality, taste, beliefs and values. Accordingly, what we perceive as options are merely a subset of possibilities that have been reduced by our mind and appear in our consciousness.
This psychological process can be seen at work in studies about attentional blindness. One of the more well-known examples is Professor Daniel Simons' video experiment:
In our best-known demonstration, we showed people a video and asked them to count how many times three basketball players wearing white shirts passed a ball. After about 30 seconds, a woman in a gorilla suit sauntered into the scene, faced the camera, thumped her chest and walked away. Half the viewers missed her. In fact, some people looked right at the gorilla and did not see it.
Professor Simons' experiment shows the effects on perception when conscious attention is externally directed. But the same thing happens internally through the direction of our minds to our consciousness.
Which gets us back to cameras. When we go about picking a camera, there are all kinds of non-conscious processes at work influencing our choice. Many of those processes aren't easily articulated. "This one just feels right" is not a very convincing statement to justify spending several hundreds or thousands of dollars. However, "just feeling right" is probably an accurate measure of many needs and desires being in alignment with a particular piece of gear.
Because it isn't something we can articulate to justify our choices to others, however, we fall into thinking more about the things that can be discussed: technical qualities, the history of a thing, the gossip of who else uses it. This process of thinking gets us further and further away from the sources of our choices by using external reasons. In the end, we miss the gorilla and later on end up buying yet another piece of gear.
Likewise, when it's time to pick a tool to make a particular image, we must be in tune with our individual creative motivations. In the purest way possible the photographer must choose the camera and lens that most closely match the creative goal of the moment, or the image will suffer. Making that choice fluidly requires putting the right information in your mind in the first place: an objective understanding and awareness of each feature the tool offers, without regard to emotional issues of "brand" or an inappropriate emphasis on technology. No technical feature or combination of features is an answer, any more than wearing your team's jersey will make you play like a professional athlete. The answer comes from appreciating the strengths and weakness of each tool in your bag, and then responding to the creative impulses your mind gives you.
An artist's choice of tool is a constant dance: our unlimited and unrestricted creative impulses push us toward a particular tool, but all tools are inherently limited and restricted. The tool's limitations then become a source of attentional blindness as we attempt to reconcile the creative impulse with the resource at hand. The mind adapts to the resources it has, and we rapidly succumb to seeing the world as our camera is able to, instead of as our creative mind wants to see.
Although we can't do anything to resolve this conflict, being aware of it and being willing to switch out the tools means we're less likely to suffer attentional blindness. It's possible to watch the basketball being passed and to see the gorilla—if you're behaving as an artist and keeping your eyes open!
Our creative process is not static. Not only do our ideas evolve, but how we approach capturing those ideas changes depending upon the options of the situation. Each kind of camera provides a different approach not only to seeing, but to how one incorporates the camera into the behavior of making images. The priority is always, and always must be:
- creating art;
- everything else.
Better images will follow as soon as you let go of consciously thinking about your gear and start responding to your creative impulses. And to make that happen, pick that tool that "just feels right"!
* In this usage, the Latin: "a process which is hidden from observation and view."