On a plane, once again, heading home after another workshop. This time though, I am surrounded by adults- the only screaming toddler is twelve rows back and well out of my mind. I have just finished a ten-day workshop with two extra teaching days tacked on meaning that I have been talking everyday, all day, for two straight weeks.
Once I get in this blabbermouth-mode it is very hard for me to stop. Just a couple of days ago I did a talk on marketing for 60 students and had 40 slides but I still managed to talk for more than 2 hours. Will I just shut up, already? At the grocery store the bagger asked if I wanted plastic or paper and I launched off on a 15 dissertation of slide mounts! I need help.
I made an interesting observation during rare moments of silence these last two weeks: Men carry much bigger camera bags than women do. And I mean much, much bigger.
Why is this? Is their gear bigger? No. Are their photographic needs greater? No.
Is there some sort of testosteronic imperative requiring all this stuff? No. Do men just like stuff more than women? Me thinks the answer here is yes.
My hypothesis is that men are bigger gear-weenies than are women. Men like all the stuff they carry and they at least subconsciously, measure themselves based on the size of their bags. They think the bigger their bags the better they are. (There is a very obvious digression here that I would normally revel in but knowing the stern hand of my editor I will save him the consternation and just move on. Know though that it is dancing joyously in the back of my mind safely out of reach of his cruel hand.)
If this relationship between bag size and quality of output were true then it would seem the biggest people, whether male or female, who could carry the biggest bags would be the best photographers. Extending this beyond photography it would also mean the baseball player who could swing the biggest bat would be the best or the stripper who had the biggest……I think we better stop right here.
Where was I? Oh yes, big bags. It has been my experience that women are just as good at photography as men are. There is no gender-based component of quality in any of the creative arts. This then again begs the question that if women can make just as good pictures while carrying less stuff why do men carry all that extra gear?
We have already figured out that men like carrying as much gear as they can and that it makes them feel good about themselves but it must go deeper than that. Perhaps there is a more fundamental, perhaps even a more profound reason for this universal male behavior. Let’s look at the wonderful world of animals to see if we can find an illuminating example.
The lowly dung beetle is a marvelous creature. Its lot in life, as suggested by its name, is as a do-do devotee. Living mostly on the forest floor in the tropics where soil fertility and available nutrients are very low dung beetles take advantage of sporadically and randomly placed steaming heaps of excrement. Yes, you and I would perhaps choose an alternative lifestyle but from the beetle-de-do-do point of view these piles are gold mines. Why? I am glad you asked!
Beetles lay eggs from which little beetle grubs hatch. If all goes well, grubs eventually grow and metamorphose into adult beetles but they need easy and plentiful food to do so. There in lies the rub. In the highly competitive and nutritionally challenged tropical rainforest reliable sources of food without much competition are hard to come by. Dung, though, meets all the requirements and is literally manna from Heaven. (Yes, that is an odd definition of Heaven, but I am talking from the beetle point of view. Let’s not dwell on it).
What could be better? Imagine walking around one day with your future family on your mind when all of a sudden you sense a huge stash of food nearby that would feed your offspring until they turn into adults and are able to feed themselves. You would be pretty excited about getting your piece of that pie, so to speak. And you wouldn’t hesitate to get your reproductive thoughts focused because this gold mine isn’t going to wait for you and it isn’t going to be prime picking for long. You’d be hoping a female would come by pretty darn quickly to take advantage of your newfound wealth.
Back to the beetles. Males are the first to arrive at the dung and they immediately busy themselves cutting out prime pieces of poop. Then, with their front legs down on the ground and their hind legs on top of their stash they roll their putrid plunder away from the mother lode and stake their claim to it. This is no easy feat though. Imagine doing a handstand while pushing a huge ball of fudge through the forest with your feet. You gotta admit, dem beetles sure are impressive!
After a male has staked out his territory surrounding his pill of poop a female dung beetle arrives looking for the best nursery for her eggs. (Can you imagine the real estate ads? Large round piece of shit house, nicely formed, firm but not solid, soft but not runny, low maintenance, walls edible, available for immediate occupancy.) Picking the male with the best ball (in other words the biggest) the female mates and deposits an egg inside the selected ball. The male then digs a small hole, buries the ball-with-egg and then rolls another one and waits for another female to admire his ball. When the female is finished she flies off to look for another big-balled male. Inside the buried ball of do-do the egg hatches, the grub eats his home and with time, turns into an adult dung beetle. Life is gooood!
What is the point of this you ask? The female selects the male based on the size of his ball. The bigger the dung ball the more likely the male will attract a female. How does this apply to the conundrum of the unequal male and female camera bags? Do I have to spell it out to you? It doesn’t matter what the quality of the ball is, what matters is the size. The bigger the better. I think guys carry big camera bags because even though they may be full of low quality gear they think the size of the bag attracts women. It is as simple as that. Men may not do so intentionally but none the less they always carry bigger when given the chance and it seems to me they carry their biggest when females are near.
So guys, go ahead, carry the biggest darn bag you possibly can. It won’t help your photography, it may even slow you down and make it harder for you to find subjects and get to where you want to go but that is not important. You are simply following the instinctive imperative of the dung beetle. Isn’t it nice to know that we men have come so far?
You see, it is not the equipment that is the measure of the photographer; it is how it is used. It helps, of course, if your gear isn’t a piece of shit.