The Sucky Side of Sports Today

Kirk Tuck seldom fails to delight and amaze. The extremely successful Austin, TX photographer writes prolifically on his Visual Science Lab website.

Kirk Tuck

What I love about Kirk is the same thing I love about Nancy Brown, a former top-flight fashion model who became a renowned photographer with clients that included Revlon and other big beauty industry names.

Nancy and Kirk are exceptional, in that they generously share their trade secrets. In joyful-athlete language, they have expansive hearts. Not surprising: based on their writing, they seem happy people.

I discovered Nancy’s wonderful book Photographing People for Advertising in the early ‘90s when I lived in a yoga-based community in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. I was drawn to learn about portrait photography because my friends were beautiful and I wanted to load up my camera with their vibes.

Nancy Brown
Nancy Brown

Nancy’s portrait setup was simple – just a couple of lights, three sheets of 4×8’ Fom-Core board, and a small white-topped artist’s table. Using this basic gear, she took wonderful photos that revealed the models’ beauty, and very often showed their basic human goodness.

Many of Nancy’s models were neighbors, family, and friends, and many of her props were purchased at thrift shops. I greatly admired Nancy’s down-to-earth spirit.

Kirk Tuck is Nancy’s photographic soulmate – he’s open-hearted, innovative, talented, and hard-working. Like Nancy, his photographs are beautiful and human, whether he’s shooting corporate VIPs, kids, or actors.

Kirk posted an article this morning that just thrilled me. It’s his slightly acerbic commentary on the latest wow-wow wave of high-end camera gear. See Why camera buying sucks right now.

Kirk points out – and he isn’t the first photographer to do so – that it isn’t the camera that counts, it’s the photographer; more specifically, it’s the quality of the photographer’s heart, soul, and work habits.

Kirk’s words set me in search of analogies in sports. To my way of thinking, sports today are just too big and fancy. I speak as one who lives 15 miles from where, in six days, the Super Bowl will be held, to my considerable indifference. I rode my bike past the Denver Broncos practice field on the Stanford campus today. Ho-hum. Frankly, I’d rather watch a junior high track meet, or the Nike Cross Nationals on TV, or just about any Division I cross-country race.

I’ve written elsewhere about the changes in running since the late 1960s when I got started in the sport. It’s become, in my view, superficial, plasticky, and over-concerned with things that absolutely don’t matter: the search for a better shoe, a better jacket, a better bra. And it’s full of little races made of ticky-tacky that all look just the same. Like everywhere else in our society, running has become focused on conformity, efficiency, and display. There isn’t much left of the weird and wonderful spirit that marked the sport’s beginnings. And I wonder if the cure isn’t what Kirk Tuck is saying – let’s tone down the emphasis on gear, and turn our attention to what’s pungent with value.

Kirk suggests a major life-turn for photographers. STOP fussing with gear and stop counting megapixels. Kirk illustrates this with photos that he took years ago, with gear that by today’s standards was extremely primitive. The photos are wonderful.

The point I take from this: the best running shoes and the best cameras are the ones that simply disappear. It isn’t the megapixels that count. The best gear poses the fewest obstacles to the photographer’s and athlete’s heart, which is all that counts, or most of it.

I replied to Kirk’s article with a comment:

Excellent and spot-on. I traded DOWN recently from a big, honking Nikon D7000 with 70-300 VR, 35/1.8G, and 12-28/4 (Tokina) lenses, and bought a used Nikon V1 for $175 with five wonderful lenses instead.

Why? Because I felt it was time to stop upgrading cameras and start upgrading the photographer.

Seriously, I felt that I needed a hand-some camera, i.e., a camera that would be mobile in my hands and simply disappear, like a pair of perfect running shoes.

To create Photographer 2.0, I am focusing on showing up early and scouting the latest venue with high energy, and then kicking my heart and mind in gear so I can see the shots that express soul.

I’m also killing myself – i.e., my ego – because ego and a warm and beautiful heart can’t stand in the same space. (I discovered this long ago while shooting sports, and on long walks in nature with camera where I made a disciplined vow to take NO photographs that didn’t come from a genuine heart.)

The V1 does the job for me. It’s like a great mechanical pencil or a great keyboard, or a Logitech trackball instead of a mouse. It just gets out of my way. It’s a tool that does the job. What I doodle with it is what matters.

P.S. Kirk did it again. Check out Red Head in Front of Galeries Lafayette in Berlin.

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