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Photographers and audiophiles, two of a kind?

The Audiophiliac ponders the connection between professional photographers and audiophiles.

I first became aware of the photographer/audiophile connection when I was a high-end audio salesman in the 1980s. I couldn't help but notice a significant percentage of my customers were professional photographers. At first I had no idea why, but both groups share a fascination with capturing reality -- images for photographers, and sound for audiophiles -- as accurately as possible.

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I remember one guy in particular, Jim. He was one of the city's top food photographers. Since I showed an interest in his work, he would from time to time bring in really amazing images, along with boxes of slightly melted Godiva chocolates to hand out to the staff (he shot Godiva chocolates for print ads). Jim lived in a huge basement apartment near the store, and he definitely had the best-sounding system I'd heard at that time. A number of fashion photographers were regulars as well; some of them had big systems in their studios.

My friends Dave and Robert have parallel interests in photography and audiophilia, so I asked them to ruminate on the connection for awhile and get back to me. Robert responded first with this:

"With photography we use a lens and film (analog), or a lens and photon-counter (digital) to convert light energy into density and color information, similar to the way a microphone plugged into a recorder stores sound information. Digital photography and digital audio both use signal processing, data compression, filtering, noise reduction, dynamic range compression, etc. The strange thing is that we still find veracity in images and sound." Absolutely; the image or sound doesn't have to be perfectly realistic to move us. In fact, analog film images or analog sound can be highly imperfect, and still carry a lot of emotional power.

Robert again, "Another interesting similarity is that even as resolution has increased in digital photography, it still doesn't look as lifelike as analog film does. We can convert images into digital ones and zeros, but the numbers cannot be perfectly put back together. I think audiophiles are starting to see that's also true in digital audio."

Robert's onto something here. I still think analog audio sounds more "correct" than even the best high-resolution files ever do. Robert went so far as to say that state-of-the-art digital photography has not improved qualitatively on the daguerreotype, a photographic technology that dates back to 1839!

He continued, "You also could say taking pictures is a way of directly engaging the world, indirectly. Lots of photographers take pictures to engage people on their terms, and I suspect audiophiles suffer some people overload too." I'd agree; audiophiles tend to be introverts, and they view their audio system as a safe haven.

My friend Dave took a different journey: "Finding perspective is what it's all about, isn't it? Over the years as I've thought about the relationship of audio and photography I've noticed several things. One thing that has helped me was a fascinating course I took in college titled 'The History of the Technology of Art,' which was a survey from cave drawings to cinema. And this survey made clear the innate human impetus toward making art is in some part a search for perspective...who we are...this odd animal with big-brain self-consciousness."

Dave continued, "So humans have sought perspective on ourselves throughout time by recording, documenting, and interpreting the world we find ourselves in. We did it first with chalk and clay, and then brushes and chisels, and now lenses and microphones. A camera lens is a mechanical 'eye,' a microphone a mechanical 'ear,' and recording media (digits, film, analog tape) our individual and collective 'memory.' The things we can create with these tools, the questions we can ask, and the meaning and satisfaction we can find in this moment and perhaps, if we are lucky enough, the next."

Thanks go out to Robert and Dave, and if any readers of this blog are photographers-audiophiles, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.