Olympus Has Fallen

Karst landscape along the Li River, Guangxi, China, featuring a boat dock and mountains in the background
Earlier this week, Olympus announced that they are getting out of the business of making cameras. As I heard the news, my first thought was that Dan Burkholder uses mostly Olympus (when he’s not shooting iPhone) and I wonder what he is going to do. I also remembered, fondly of course, that one of my earliest cameras was an Olympus. Yes, as a child I had a bunch of 110 style cameras and then, before I moved to Texas, I bought one of those Olympus point and shoot style cameras. It was the type where you just load the film and push a button. It got me through college graduations, moving to Texas, and if I’m being honest, my first photography exhibit. I actually shot with that until I “upgraded” to a used Nikon FE2, which I beat into submission for several years before eventually going to the matrix metering Nikon systems (N series) and medium format (Mamiya 645.) Camera histories aside, it’s a sign of the times that brands are falling under these days. Once Olympus had announced (rumors had been swirling for a while) speculation turns to the future. The big question, the elephant in the room, the monster under the bed, is who will be left standing? Is Nikon far behind? Can Nikon survive? We will be left with Canon and Fuji, Sony, and maybe those crazy Lomo people running around in the woods? (Don’t answer that. Especially not if you are a Lomo fan.)
When I started in photography, the art itself was out of favor. Photography seems to have, more so than other art forms, extreme ebbs and flows. In 1992 when I did my first show, there were not a lot of people practicing the art of photography. Seriously. Everybody had run off and taken up knitting or some such thing. Then, later on, the digital revolution kicked in and everybody, and I do mean everybody, became a photographer. Even the crazy Lomo people came out of the woods and looked normal. (Well, about as normal as crazy Lomo people can look, I suppose.) Maybe it’s the COVID, maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s just the fact that we can’t travel or we’re not watching a lot of TV, maybe it’s the phase of the moon, or maybe I just blame all of the rovers on planet Mars, but, lately anyway, nobody is taking pictures. Photography has hit a collective slump as of late. We’re collectively at the bottom looking up and wondering what comes next.
Hindsight is an incredible teacher. I can tell you that, back in 1992, it was a great move to get into photography. At least, I would not change a thing about my own personal journey. It was actually kind of nice to get into it when it was out of favor. It was fun to find a group, a tribe of sorts, who shared my love of the camera, and, heck, back then nobody was in it for the money, right? I mean, there was no money, so they couldn’t have been in it for that. No, it’s fairly safe to say, anybody out walking around with a camera circa 1992 was passionate about the art. So, what did that give us? Well, for starters, we had a lot of good work, even if a lot of it was underground. Passionate people do good work. It’s just how the world works. Taking up a camera when nobody else is points to passion, not opportunity. So, while we may be losing camera manufacturers right now, we might be gaining some great work. Be on the lookout, as they say. It’s out there, I’m telling you. I can smell it.
Of course, we are also shooting a lot of iPhone, mobile, and mirrorless these days. That could be a sign too. The winners are the brands that will change with the times. It’s hard to say and nobody has a crystal ball, but it doesn’t look good for the hardware folks just about now. Sure, I’ll miss Olympus and I hope this is not a sign of things to come, but I’ll also be on the lookout for some great work. It’s out there. I can sense it. If you look past the Kardashians, the decorative flowers, the licensing crap that always seems to float around, there’s going to be some interesting stuff. Somebody is going to dust off something, pick something up, question the world, document the pandemic, or just do something interesting. The world is full of artists and, if there’s one thing I’m sure of, nothing can keep down a strong spirit. So, while we might be losing brands left and right, I would challenge my fellow photographers to dig deep and hunt for that spirit. Olympus might be gone but a mountain is still a mountain, a river is still a river. Find the light, tell the story, live the dream, just do it, eh? As long as you have something that captures light, even if it’s not your preferred brand, you can go out there and make the magic happen. Sure, I’ll miss Olympus, but show me what you got.
Until next time…

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