Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

subtitled CONTENT vs DEVICES

I wish I knew what it was about the human condition that makes people like me pant after shiny things, wide aperture lenses and items with plugs.

Take ebooks. The Kindle is easily the market leader, but there are people who swear by Nook or Kobo, or who would only read ebooks on an iPad.

Now imagine that you had to make the decision that you would only read books printed by collotype. Or gravure. Or having a sulk because your partner prefers letterpress to litho.

It’s irrelevant. You know it is. I know it is. It’s the same with cameras. Once the short, bloody war between film and digital had been comprehensively won, the same old rivalry continued between the Nikon and Canon camps.

It. Doesn’t. Matter.

You can read Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies as a book, on a Kindle, on a Nook, on an iPad, on your Android ’phone if you will.

You can admire a Colin Macpherson photograph in print, on your laptop or on your iPhone.

It. Doesn’t. Matter.

It’s whatever you feel most comfortable with. The tools used to create and convey the work are unimportant. What matters is the mind and eye that controls that tool. It’s the brain that creates the content, whether it be Wolf Hall or an Ansel Adams print.

Some artists fall in love with their tools (OK, I could have phrased that more elegantly) like Douglas Adams, who obsessed about his Apple Macs. Others will write with whatever comes to hand (this gets worse). The creator will use whatever he or she is most comfortable with, and it should be the same for the consumer. Don’t feel pressured into abandoning printed books if that’s what you like best. I’m not going to recommend reverting to film cameras, however, because whatever happens you will have to digitise that image at some point. It may as well be born digital. But how will you bear to be reading a book on an iPad One when the 12-year-old sitting next to you on the tube is perusing an iPad Three?

The device is important of course, but the method of delivery is far less important than the actual content. It is infinitely more agreeable to get to the Frankfurt Book Fair by Rolls-Royce than by bus — but the important bit is getting to Frankfurt.

When you finish A La Recherche du Temps Perdu people aren’t going to ask you whether you read it in hardback, paperback or as an ebook, though they may ask if you read it in French or in translation. When you eat a meal, you needn’t ask the cook what oven she uses, especially if you plan on using teeth to eat with in the future. Why then do people say “Lovely photograph. What camera do you use?”

It. Doesn’t. Matter.

Everything you and I buy can be placed in one of three categories:

Consumables: e.g. Food. I eat it. I buy more. Clothes. I wear them. I wear them out.

Landfill: e.g. anything with a plug. If such a remarkable device as an iPad had existed in 1979 when I bought my Mont Blanc pen for £30, it might have cost a million pounds. Today they both cost about £500. In ten years’ time my pen will be worth about £750 and I will have thrown away my iPad. All the ebooks I bought will probably be irretrievable.

Heirlooms: e.g. my pen. I write with it. I will write with it for the next 20 years. Then I will leave it to a niece. It will always be worth more than I paid for it. And the leather bound copy of Follies will be on my bookshelf when I am cold and dry.

The memories of the marvellous books I have read and the wonderful photographs I have seen will stay with me long after the tools that produced them have been consigned to the scrap heap.




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25 Responses to “Consumables, Landfill, Heirlooms”

  1. Ian Hooker says:

    Very timely, Hedley.

    Just a week ago I bought myself a shiny, wide thing with losts of plugs (or at least, sockets) – a 1986 Rolls Royce!!! – (As a weekend toy, of course)!
    Very cheap and will probably soon be landfill – but it’s very shiny!!!


  2. Ian Hooker says:

    Sorry, Gwynn not hedley!!!! :O(

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      It’s Gwyn, not Gwynn, and Headley, not Hedley. Apart from that, I did exactly the same a few years ago. Bought myself a very disreputable yellow Rolls-Royce with gold plated chrome works, blackened windows and a huge TV aerial on the boot.

      What fun!

      I had a sign on the back window: “Don’t laugh darlin’, your daughter might be inside.”

  3. Chris Burton says:

    Love your taste in pens Gwyn, mine have pride of place on my desk too!

  4. Lorraine Howard says:

    Hear hear! You will never beat quality. A good pen, a leather bound book, a leather handbag ….
    Quality will always win in the end. You have to look after it but it will pay dividends. It doesn’t matter if your handbag is a Chanel, or a Hermés, or a Dior. Look after it and you will be able to pass it on to your daughter and grand daughter

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Build a high quality product and spend money promoting the brand, and you will be creating heirlooms. I would rather have a Blancpain than a Rolex, but which will be more valuable in 2050?

  5. Mike Mumford says:

    We live in a throwaway society, because we are all humanly different with different needs. That is good to have a wide choice in food and clothing. But when it comes to mechanical and electronic luxury toys to buy, mental skills must take over. The desire to go faster, to pack more things into our very short lives changes what we are able to do and should drive everything forward. A key factor in this process is to select “quality”, it may cost more now, will last you out and may be pass down/up the generations, to be valued more over time. Like Gwyn Headley says: how you get there is different for most people, to find “Quality” in everything you do is my secret, self-improvement and hard-work with a little common sense thrown in, also helps.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      We have tried to build quality into everything we do at fotoLibra. But because we’re entirely digital, it’s hard to get seen as an heirloom kind of company.

      Lovely pixels, though.

  6. Brian Murray says:

    Absolutely, Gwyn. When David Beckham scored a goal (OK, a while ago now), no-one asked what boots he wore.

    When the means are deemed more important than the end, it surely means no-one’s very interested in the end.

  7. Nick says:

    Here in Bayeux I have seen a French dish on a translated menu obviously designed for you.

    “Hot droppings with plugs”

  8. mike bridgestock says:

    brilliant. could not agree with you more.
    photographed a wedding recently and while doing so was asked why i didn’t get a cannon instead of the G1 which i think is a great camera and does as good a job as any.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      An executive from a very large camera company — I won’t mention the name — confided to me that their top end cameras could be half the size they are. But their customers need other people to see that they have spent a great deal of money on a very large piece of kit. You can’t take photos at a wedding if your tool is smaller than the best man’s brother.

      It’s not just men. Women are just as susceptible — ever heard of Fuck You shoes?

  9. Ade Davis says:

    I agree totally with ‘it doesn’t matter’. I love the whole process of photography which just happens to be digital nowadays because it’s flexible and convenient. I’m sure my Canon EOS 550D is as good as any Nikon. Now, who wants to lend the cash for a used 5D mark2?. Rolls Royce owners. Anyone? 🙂

  10. David Carton says:

    Like my Mother in law always says “David’s camera takes wonderful pictures”. Not sure which of the 9 cameras I’ve had since she’s known me she means, but hey ho!

  11. Gordon Nicol says:

    In response to “you must have great gear to get these shots” type comments from people who buy my prints, I decided to publish an iPhone Photo of The Week on Facebook. This was an attempt to try and get over the idea that its not all about the equipment you have. These I print as limited editions which sell as well, if not better, than the shoots I have taken with my 5D and L series lenses!

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