In May, Peter McKinnon posted a video called “Finally Switching Cameras - Leica Q2.” It’s a cool video, you should definitely give it a watch. In case you have somehow evaded any video or Instagram post by Peter McKinnon, he’s a photographer and videographer in Canada with over ten million YouTube subscribers.
I generally like Peter McKinnon, and I have nothing against Leica, either.
But this video… It kind of irked me, and I wanted to write about it, because writing is how I think.
So what’s wrong with Peter’s new Leica?
The basic premise of the video is that Peter has shot with essentially the same kit for something like decades. He’s traveled the world and created some remarkable stuff with that kit. He says that in his photography, “I very rarely venture outside my walls.”
For that reason, he was inspired to try something very different, which brings him to a Leica boutique in Italy where he plays with, and ultimately buys, a Leica Q2 Reporter Edition.
As a huge fan of novelty myself, I can appreciate how using new equipment can breathe new life into the creative process. I recently got really into manual rangefinder lenses, and I had an older Sony mirrorless camera converted to infrared (more on that in a future post), so I get it, I like to switch it up, too.
I think what bothers me about this video isn’t the message that new tools inspire new ideas. I fully agree with that message, and have experienced it many times myself. I think what bothers me is the genre of the thing.
You Just Starred in a Success Porn
Ever since people started getting famous on YouTube—and I really think YouTube itself created this phenomenon—there is an apparent appetite for what I’m going to call “success porn.”
This is basically a “vlog” (or “video blog”), which is the motion picture equivalent of a personal account of events from someone’s own life, whose content conspicuously features what the vlogger’s lifestyle is like thanks to their success as a content creator.
To a substantial degree, it’s impossible for any successful content creator to avoid starring in success porn. If your persona is genuine and you get increasingly successful and have sponsors throwing money and products at you to use and talk about, your content naturally skews toward showcasing luxury.
Thanks to the unstoppable speed and force of the content treadmill that every creator is fated to ride, new stories must always be told and new experiences must always be shared. To stop is to die.
So when you, a globally famous and well-funded YouTube celebrity, feel the need to break free from your monotony, and the solution you choose is in the top 7% most expensive cameras listed on B&H’s website… Ta-daa, you just produced a success porn.
More Power to You, Peter
In reality, Peter McKinnon is sort of a rags-to-riches story, and he deserves all of the benefits of his hard work over many years, and I can’t hold any of that against him, and I don’t! This is not me saying “Peter, you should have just bought a Fuji X-T4!” even if, maybe, that could have worked.
No, this is me feeling irked by the way content begets success, which begets success content, which gradually but inexorably begins to glorify success and consumption and extravagance until all of that simply eclipses the reasons we started creating things in the first place.
Peter’s video is a ridiculously well-produced, cinematic spectacle of a rich kid’s trip to a high-end boutique to buy an indulgence on a lark, masquerading as a how-to video for the creatively bored.
It’s an altar to the success of the YouTube platform and Peter’s reach as a creator, and an entirely too-distracting way of saying “try something different.”
It only flies because it’s a personal narrative, a glimpse into Peter’s own life and his own choices, and to those he has an inalienable right. But the paper-thin sheen of “wow maybe try something new sometimes!” which comes across as advice feels less genuine, less grounded, at least to me.
Creativity Is Always Free
If you want to break out of a “rut” in your work, a solution is always available for nothing. Only take photos laying down. Only take photos at a single focal length that you already own. Only take photos in portrait orientation.
But if you want to buy something, consider carefully why you want it.
Someone called “Jim Powers” left this comment on Peter’s video:
The more you pay for a camera, the better the images look to you. I’ve owned Leicas and Hasselblads, but images hanging on the wall were indistinguishable from my Nikons or Mamiyas. Never stopped me from trying to buy talent, though. The magic dust isn’t in the camera.
That’s a little smarmy for sure, but with few exceptions, equipment doesn’t guarantee any result. All a Fuji GFX 100S guarantees is that there are 100 million pixels in the image. The photo could still be crap. You could still feel uninspired while using it.
You want to get weird with it? Try one of these Lensbaby Composer Pro II lenses for around $225. I had a previous iteration of the Composer Pro for Canon mount and had a ton of fun with it.
Phil Hansen did a TED talk about suffering nerve damage in high school, which caused his hand to shake uncontrollably. He dropped out of art school and gave up art for years. Eventually, he returned, and his physical limitation pushed him to try things he never would have tried before.
In the talk, he says:
Sometimes you need to be limited in order to become limitless.
Maybe that limit, for you, is a $6,000 Leica Q2 Reporter Edition, and if so, that’s wonderful. Just remember that limitations come in many forms and with many prices, and all of them provide the same tension and challenge that great art is born from.
Now go make something.