Zooms and Primes
Warning: This article contains some details about photography techniques. However, reading it until the end will prove highly beneficial.
There is no secret for anyone that I like photography. I have always been and I always will be fascinated by the mystical revelations of the dark room, where all your dreams of light and shadows take life under the gleaming shine of the red safelight. When seen through the camera lens, even regular life becomes something special, according to the vision of the photographer; the singular moment is glorified and preserved for eternity; a lifetime can be contained occasionally in a frozen frame.
There is, however, an unspoken myth among photographers, more of a misconception really, that, for an image to be good, one has to use the perfect equipment. With this in mind, photographers are always in a quest for the perfect lens that will somewhat magically make them the best photographer in the world.
Among lenses one has to distinguish two kinds, the fixed lens and the zoom lens. For years, photographers have been struggling with either a lens permanently attached to the camera body or the pain of frequently changing lenses to match their photographic vision. The invention of the zoom was seen as a great revolution, as now with the turn of a dial, the world effortlessly comes closer to you.
The zoom, however, has killed creativity in many ways. With a fixed lens, that is also called a prime lens, you have to move closer or farther away from your subject, you have to participate in the photo you are taking, you have to get personal. The moment becomes alive as you adapt to the fixed vision field of your lens, and adapting to this vision, you become a different person with every click of the shutter. With the zoom, you can comfortably stay away, bringing the scene close to you as you please, like a cold observer who records life he does not care for. You do not adapt to the unique vision of the lens, but on the contrary, you make the world change according to your vision as you impassibly zoom in and out.
I bring this up because in today’s Christian world, I see people using similar types of lenses to peek into the spiritual world. I call them the Zoom Christian and the Prime Christian.
The Zoom Christian has no particular single vision on his spiritual life; he goes through life changing his views as he pleases, taking only what he likes from what he observes and experiences. He is not dogmatic, and the truth is only relative to his person. His life is based on feelings, hunches, and experiences, and he is very prone to change his point of view as easily as turning a dial. He does not want to adapt to a singular vision on life, but he wants the world to adapt to his ever-changing moods and desires.
The Prime Christian sees the world through the fixed lens he has inherited from his tradition, and he keeps it unchanged. He constantly works to understand the spiritual world by adapting himself to the unique vision he upholds. He has to be creative, he has to adapt, he has to suffer and work, but in the end, he doesn’t just admire this world from afar, but he becomes involved in it, and by participation, he is changed by it, he is integrated in it.
One of the most famous contemporary photojournalists, Henri Cartier-Bresson, has shot all his life with one camera with a single lens (a Leica with a 50mm prime, if you are curious). This scarce setting allowed him to concentrate not on the gear, not on the technique, but on his vision that became one with the camera. As he said it himself, “It is by strict economy of means that simplicity of expression is achieved.”
Spiritually speaking, this is also true. It is often by simple means that we attain great spiritual insight. It is not by our discovery that we find God, but it is by using the simple means of fasting and praying that we allow God to finds us. Only by simplicity do we achieve peace, and in peace, there is God.
We are born in a society of zoomers who want the world to constantly adapt to our fluctuating visions of it. We have to become primes and attach ourselves to the fixed and dogmatic vision of the Church, as God revealed it to the prophets, the apostles, and the saints. Using the purity of their foresight, we will be more focused on changing ourselves, by participation, into the vision God had for us from the beginning of the world.