Sunday, July 10, 2011

Whatever The Brand Of Choice, There Will Always Be A$$h0<#$

     Pardon me for deviating from this blog's usual content, which is the making and tweaking of Hackintoshes.  For the longest time, I have strongly felt the need to address an issue that has been around for as long as I can remember playing with cameras.  People closest to me know I have three interests in life: computers, photography and eating out with the missus (actually, four interests if you count a certain civic group that I belong to).    

     For some people, the world revolves around two brands: Nikon or Canon.  I've played with either brand at the start, then made a decision based on my personal needs.  The key word here is "personal", and in no way related to image quality or speed or strap length or what-not from either company's offerings.  I settled for Nikon, and have stuck with it ever since because as one gets deeper into the hobby, one makes a substantial investment into lenses and other equipment that is only compatible with either brand.  Such is the law of brand management for if one can hybridize everything, then I'd probably drive an Infiniti G37 with a Prius' engine, the chassis of a Mercedes and the interior of one of the newer Cadillacs.  We will never have this luxury.  And so, in turn, we get to have "brand loyalty" dumped on our laps.  

     When I first started shooting pictures years ago, I remember being asked by a Canon-using friend "Why Nikon?" then proceeded to lecture me about the advantages of his brand of choice.  I can understand brand loyalty, but what I can't understand is why focus so much energy on it?  A monkey with a 5D Mark II (or a Nikon D3x) is, in the end, still a monkey.  In a lot of ways, the monkey has better insight because it knows it is still a monkey, and knows it has no use for the camera (or the camera has no use for him).  I can think of a lot of people who should stay farther from cameras than this monkey.  I have seen amazing pictures taken by someone with an old XT, and have seen horrible pictures taken by another with a state-of-the-art 1D Mark IV.  I'll give a dollar to anyone who can tell me which one is the photographer and which one is the monkey.

     The incendiary that ignited me to write about this, though, is that whenever we have competing brands, it is always a given that we have to have brand-bashing from either side.  And what is additionally irritating is that the loudest voices from either side always come from the ones who are the most ignorant.  Canon is this, Nikon is that, Canon is white, Nikon is black, etc etc.  Who actually gives a rat's ass about expeed and throughput and digic?  Why can't we let these two companies worry about the specs and let them one-up each other to our benefit?  Why can't we let the images we create tell the story?  

     The simple answer is: because culturally we can't.  Bet you did not see this answer coming.

     Why cultural?  What does camera brand have to do with anything about Filipino culture?  Let me give you the "Good Will Hunting" abbreviated version of the answer to this question: because the 300-year Spanish conquest really did a very good stomping on our self-esteem, our pride and our self-worth.  Now comes the long version, so read carefully.

     We have always been a culture of short-lived fads (remember jetskis and waverunners, badminton, bowling, cycling? Remember Guns N' Roses? or Milli 'effin Vanilli? ).  Then again, most fads are short-lived, but we Filipinos really take it to the extreme.  We actually invented the "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" doctrine.  We seize the day, live for the day, plan only for the day.  It does not matter if the new goddamn D7000 is PHP60,000 and Juan only earns PHP12,000 a month, he has gotta have it, right?  

     Please don't get me wrong as I'm all for getting the most out of life, and one must do what makes one happy, but really, didn't you say that too when you purchased that PHP50,000 road bike not too long ago because it was the new thing, or when you invested in bowling shoes and a bowling bag and a bowling ball that is now collecting dust in your closet?  Remember that high end computer you bought because you thought you could make a career out of playing Ragnarok and World of Warcraft?  If one can afford it, by all means, be my guest, but in our country, most ONEs can't afford it.  Yet they force themselves to, because what if your friends post a picture on Facebook and you're the only one without a DSLR hanging around your neck (or a road bike hanging around your neck?)  What if you're running a marathon and you're the only one with the old pair of Asics from your older brother while the rest of the guys have their Vibram Fivefingers on?   You shudder at the thought.  It is also sad that a lot of the ones who can afford it get into the hobby for the wrong reasons.  All of a sudden, people I know from way back when who can't even draw a goddamn circle or can't hold a 2B and HB pencil right (or can't tell one from the other) are now into photography.  Please don't tell me you found your calling, because until further notice, you are still supposed to use a camera for taking artistic images and not use it as a fashion accessory.

     Now, Juan with DSLR in hand (thinking of what interesting things he can take snapshots of at work, although to be honest, all he wants to do is show it off), goes to work and coworker Juana sees the shiny new camera that Juan flaunts around with shameless bravado.  Now Juana has to have one, too.  Now, it is at this exact moment where "Spanish conquest" wiggles into the socio-genetic psyche that Juana has inherited from the many generations of Juanas before her.  When we were slaves (oops, I shouldn't say "slaves", I should say "conquered natives") from the 1500s on to the late 1800s, we can only dream of what the Spanish can own and do.  

     For three hundred years, Juan's and Juana's ancestors can only salivate at the material things their Spanish masters flaunt around in their vast haciendas.  They can only dream of marrying someone as beautiful as Dona Narcisa or Don Felipe, as they have been told and indoctrinated every single day of their lives that the ideal beauty is what the Spanish look like: aquiline noses, small faces, broad shoulders and fair skin.  One can never take a second look at Procopio, no, Procopio is ugly, he is short, has a flat nose, dark skin and a wide forehead that even the latest widest Asian fit Oakley Half-Jacket can't fit right!  From that moment on, it was all about the Christmas wrapper for the rest of us, because Juan's ancestors got brainwashed.

     And so we've been made to believe every single day for 300 years (that's 109,500 days, give or take) that we were second class animals, and we can only own what the Spanish allowed us to.  We can only get in their good graces, get promoted, serve them dinner or attend their parties and galas if we kissed starting from the gravel underneath their feet, right along their fair-skinned long legs, and all the way up to the glorious and Friar-blessed crack of their aquiline asses.  The same thing happened with employment, with government, with social standing, with attending church.  I remember a history professor of mine who mentioned that even how hot chocolate was served to Spanish guests was different from that of "indios" (Filipinos).  So, we got our first taste of crab mentality and never looked back since, as every single one of our ancestors tried to one up every one else by being favored by the master, by trying to get in the master's good graces, by conforming to what he deemed (and what the church at the time deemed) was right.  Sadly, our ancestors did not realize at the time that at the end of the day, they were all still dogs.

     And then, we were suddenly free after 109,500 days, give or take.  But the stigma of the mindjob they did on us is as damning as genetics.  Scarred for eternity as a people and as a culture.  Our view of beauty, our restraint for emotion (say or portray something emotional and people will immediately say "That's corny!"), our reluctance to express ourselves artistically (write poetry and you will hear snickers immediately) - every single nuance that resembles humanity has been mutilated to this mutated culture that we have right now.  And from the carcass of all that is supposed to be beautifully Filipino comes the stench of crab mentality, nepotism, corruption and greed.  I have to disagree when people say one of our traits is "hiya".  It is actually "walang hiya", when we laud politicians for having mistresses and for holding office for several generations and for building palaces out of the people's hard earned money.  It is "walang hiya" when we pay to be served first in front of people who have been lining up to get services from government offices since 3 in the morning.  It is "walang hiya" when we are the only Air Force in the world without a single jet fighter acquired which was produced within the last four decades, and yet, we still have an Air Force!  

     Our ancestors have been in awe for so long at the special treatment the Spanish received for 300 years, that they can not wait to be in their shoes and do the same. They yearned for that special treatment.  They yearned for that recognition that when they enter an establishment, people had to show them false respect.  They yearned to be special.  And very sadly, they handed all the yearning to the rest of us.  The yearning to be regarded in high esteem no matter how false, and the yearning to be special, no matter how shallow.  We are all consumed the yearning to look rich, no matter how material.

     I could ramble on and on, I mean this is a personal blog, for chrissakes.  But I can't stray too far from my opener.  So by now, Juana is itching and raring to get the Nikon D7000.  But she has a problem.  She can only get a Canon, since all her friends have Canons, and she can get one a little cheaper from someone she knows (possibly from's forums where she can twist someone's arm into letting her pay in installments, or possibly trade in her pre-loved Chanel purse and an Asus netbook that she rarely uses as she can't figure out Linux), and she can borrow lenses from her friends.  

     Well, human nature tells us that when Juan and Juana meet in the pantry and have their cameras side by side, they will discuss the differences.  And when they do, they will discuss why they like their cameras.  And when they disagree as to which features are there and which ones are not, then they will discuss (and argue as to) which is better, and when this happens, the proverbial crack becomes wider.  And wider.  Juan creates a Nikon users group, Juana makes a Canon users group.  Juan starts an online forum, Juana starts an online forum.  Juan puts up an exhibit featuring Nikon users, Juana puts up an exhibit featuring Canon users.  They go at it for the longest time, flaunting lenses, jeering at each other during events, etc etc.  This is crab mentality at its finest.  They get so busy focusing on their differences that they forget to do what matters most - TAKING PICTURES.

     I can't for the life of me remember a single instance when any single person I stood next to in any photographic exhibit (REAL photography exhibits, not after-workshop ones, or one that is organized by your own rotary or personal friend, I'm talking big budget ones in LA or Nevada) has said "Oh, look at this, he must be using Nikon as the skin color is yellowish and not natural-looking and the reds are exaggerated."  Not ONE single instance.  There was one time when I did hear a rather over-enthusiastic gearhead-seeming individual ask a curator IF a Canon was used, and the curator smiled in a sad sort of way, "No, the artist used a Linhof-Teknika."  The guy looked at the curator rather puzzled and walked away without additional questions.  Such is the sad world of Nikon/Canon bashers - that they don't realize that the big photographic ocean is populated by other wonderful, if not better, species, such as Hasselblads, Linhofs, Mamiyas, Pentax(s), Leicas, Holgas, Tachiharas, Sony(s), Voigtlanders, Arca-Swiss(s), Horsemans, Wistas, Zeiss, and Phase Ones to name a few.

     By this time, it is the Sinulog festival, and Juan and Juana are in the middle of the Ayala Business Park trying to hold back their respective sides from killing each other.  Rumble time!  Suddenly, out of nowhere, a Nano-coated 24-70 flew out of nowhere just as a Canon 1Ds Mark III flew off from somewhere among the throng of Canon masses, both projectiles hitting their respective targets.  There was no stopping both sides now.  It took the local police 8 hours to sort through the wreckage and separate the two rival factions (this is still record time as the police can take 8 hours just drinking one cup of coffee), and reported that although there were several minor injuries (a lens stuck here, a tripod stabbed there), there was sadly one fatality.  Upon close inspection, they saw that the person lying dead between the two hordes was, in fact, a Sony A900 user.  The story was that he was trying to catch the parade as it passed through the park, got caught in the fray, and was an innocent casualty of war.  He was the only one there who had the right purpose with the right tool, and died because of it.  When they viewed the pictures in the memory stick of his camera, they saw that he had actually taken excellent pictures.  So the story goes that they put up an exhibit of his images and posthumously honored him to be a Sony endorser.  They named a school of photography after him, and declared his birthday a national holiday.  Now everyone in Cebu wants to use Sony, hooray!

     So, this is why culturally, we have to have brand-bashing.  We can't allow other people to be potentially better than us, and we can't allow other people to have better things than what we have, no!  We believe that we have to have the best no matter what the cost, and other people have to see that we have the best.  You would be surprised as to how many people I know who feel the need purchase a whole new wardrobe everytime they go back to the Philippines just so when they get home, and people see them, everyone says, "Sweet Jeeeezus, you are a balikbayan, aren't you?"  Camera user groups back home consist of people with insane gear lust who get together, and everyone always wants to be friends with the guy with the ridiculously expensive camera equipment.  Never mind whether said guy has any remote idea about what a DOF scale is or how to use it on his PHP300,000 lens, everybody still loves him - and everybody loves to BE him.  There is almost always nothing mentioned about artistry, or technique, or even a subtle hint about DOF and the effect of filters.

     This is basically the essence of what our Spanish masters wanted each and every one of our ancestors to do in the past - start stepping on each other's heads so they can get to the top and sit right next to the master so they can be patted for a good job of pushing every one else down.  That was the best way to quell an uprising by the indios, right? Our ancestors wanted what the Spanish had for so long, that they even hated to be Filipinos.  How many times have you met someone and talked about ancestry, and they always have to plug it in there that they have Spanish or Chinese blood even if their looks are a far cry from it?  Nowadays, we all love to be Filipinos, and I see a lot of Filipinos wearing those shirts with the flags on the their chests as they are so en vogue, yet we hate each other's guts to kingdom come.

     I think that the time most people in our culture start feeling they don't have the best equipment is the time when somebody else has something more expensive.  Which should not be so.  I, for one, believe that I always have the best equipment.  These are not the most expensive, nor are these the most unique, nor are these the brand that all of my friends use.  I have the best equipment because I know how to use them.  I have the best equipment because I spend time learning how to use them.  I have the best equipment because I make the most out of them in any situation.  I have the best equipment because I use them for their intended purpose.  I don't bring my 200mm f/2.8 to parties so people can see how big it is.  I actually don't bring a DSLR to parties as it is cumbersome and heavy.  I use the camera on my phone.  That's how much quality I need for that situation.  I love taking pictures no matter what medium, no matter what sensor size.  I take pictures during my lunch break with my phone's camera.  I take pictures for this blog with an old, antiquated point and shoot.  I take panoramas with a 12-24mm lens.  I take macros and portraits with a bargain basement manual lens.  I take long hikes to nowhere in pursuit of something beautiful, even if it turns out to be nothing at the end of the walk.  I practice photography, and live photography.  The point in time I will stop is the minute I start thinking too much and worrying about what brand I'm using.

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