Recently I saw on Reddit someone asked why are the majority of discussion topics around photography gear related. Many people ask this and I used to contemplate this question, too. I was frustrated at the lack of photography content that wasn't gear related. As a result, I felt like it was more difficult to improve my artistic expression. Today, let's talk about gear talk culture. I'm sure some people are going to flame me for this.
First of all, one simply cannot do photography if they don't understand the gear involved. Everyone must start out with understanding gear and how it relates to the end result. Consequently, gear talk becomes prevalent because something to discuss when one first starts out. This is further magnified with the democratization of knowledge and that everyone can share their opinion online, regardless of the value. The truth is, the excessive gear talk is just a reflection of the overall skill of the photography community and how most people are beginners.
Second of all, gear talk is easy because it's both highly quantitative and highly structured. There are concrete specs and topics around gear so anyone can participate in the conversation. Unlike art, it's not subjective nor open-ended - there's a clearer right or wrong, better or worse. It's easy as hell. Everyone can have an "opinion", even though it often really seems like facts being treated as "opinion".
For YouTubers and photography celebrities, gear talk is guaranteed income. So long as camera companies keep releasing new stuff, they will continue to get sponsorships and they are able to consistently produce content. Besides, there's a naturally much larger audience when the topic relates to gear for the other reasons mentioned. Honestly, I don't blame them as a lot need to make a living.
Over the years, I come to realize that this isn't necessarily a bad thing - it makes photography accessible. More importantly, it keeps the camera companies alive, giving us optionality and competitive pricing. But gear talk is soulless and gets repetitive and boring real fast. That being said, there's nothing wrong with being passionate about gear and gear collecting could just be a hobby. It's just not the hobby of photography.
Unlike gear talk, the art of photography isn't easy. I think photography is just a medium of expression for an idea. It often takes years for a photographer to develop a great idea, then it takes just as long to execute the idea. I find a lot of excellent photographers have brilliant ideas and these ideas transcend the medium itself. To focus on the art of photography is to focus more on ideas rather than technical skills and tech specs. Time and time again, it's been proven that a great artist will produce great art with any tool. Photography, like any art form, is about the artist, not the gear. In general, I find these people are harder to find because they're busy and they're working.
I think the reality is that many people get so obsessed with gear because they cannot progress to the next level of actually producing quality photos that convey great ideas. And it's totally understandable. Ideas are hard to come by are and thus rarely show up in public discussions. Many of these people either don't have the patience or don't know how to start becoming an artist. Great things don't come easy, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try!
There's a saying birds of a feather flock together. I think to meet photographers that who has a focus on art, one just need to become the change they want to see. When engaging with other photographers, try to steer the conversation away from gear. There are plenty of other interesting topics to talk about such as projects people are working on and their inspirations. If it's difficult to find these non-gear related conversations online, I encourage you to find photography communities in real life. You can try reaching out to photographers you admire to hear about their vision and their process. I've found over time that the truly passionate photographers are often very transparent and are willing to share their passion. Sometimes, these people will mention other photographers that they respect and soon enough you'll have a network of photographers you can talk to.
If the goal is to have more conversations around art, more time should also be spent understanding and creating art instead of looking at and understanding gear. Instagram is a terrible place for this since the platform encourages fast scrolling. There's tremendous value in staring at a photo longer to understand why it works and understand the artist's intent. After understanding good art, it'll be easier to incorporate new techniques into your own work and also be able to spot mistakes in your own work. I firmly believe that to be able to produce and talk about art requires a good understanding of what's been done before.
Similar advice and observations can be found in almost all hobbies and all fields in life. It's always easier to talk than to do. Just like gear head photographers, there are fitness guru who knows every exercise in the textbook, but aren't serious about the act of working out. Like anything difficult in life, photography requires deeper motivation and some association with your core values. Just wanting to "take good pictures" is not enough - everyone wants to take good pictures, just like how everyone wants to be rich, and how everyone wants to be fit. Dreams and wants are not tangible and don't translate into motivation. Ultimately, to be motivated in progressing beyond gear talk, you have to figure out yourself why you like photography.