Life Over Lenses

Life Over Lenses by Tony Ciampa

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Tony Ciampa is a writer and a picture taker who believes that the combination of words and images can tell stories never expressed before. His #fourpartpoems (both a book and a hashtag) is a unique example of his love for capturing the essence of life. And what strikes you most about his work is the raw emotion which he appears to capture in every photo he takes.

When we came across Tony’s ‘Life over Lenses’ story we instantly connected over the shared belief that life is about deeper experiences. That photography is not just about the technical quality of a photo, but the acknowledgement that capturing and sharing moments is important. Tony inspired us to see the world in a new way and we are excited to share his story with you.

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Hey there, my name is Tony and I am a writer.

I’m not a photographer. I’ve always wanted to be a photographer, and maybe someday I will be.

But for now, I am just a writer.

A writer with a $600 camera and an iPhone. A writer with a $600 camera and an iPhone who often believes I am only a few thousand dollars of equipment away from being a “real” photographer. Here are some photos I’ve taken:

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Which is why I had this

This is a jar filled with a few thousand dollars that I had been saving to buy this and this. A big fancy camera and a big fancy lens that I thought might change me overnight from a wannabe photographer to a world famous creative legend who does gallery openings all over Brooklyn and lives in a giant studio apartment like that dude in House of Cards.

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But one day I was on Instagram

and I happened across photos from a bunch of “big” photographers that get hired to do “big” assignments. Now, before I say what I’m about to say, I want to first go on the record as saying I understand the concept of “to each his own.” I know the style of photography that I love is not the style of photography that everyone else loves. Hell, there are like fifteen bazillion styles of photography in the world, all of which somebody has probably found a way to make a living off of. I also understand that a lot of the time (especially with weddings) the client, not the photographer, is largely responsible for directing creative. So if you don’t agree with what I’m about to say, that’s fine, and I hope nobody takes personal offense.

But damn these photos are boring. Every car photographer photographs a stationary car on a scenic road or in front of a wall. Every person that visits San Francisco spends their vacation taking photos of a big stationary bridge from different angles. Every travel photographer puts their tripod on the ground and takes a photo of snow capped mountains. And all of these photos require big fancy lenses if they’re going to be above average. But really that’s all it requires.

“Well,” I thought, “I don’t want to take photos that anyone with a equivalent lens and a plane ticket can take. I want to take photos that can never be replicated because I captured a compelling, authentic moment in time that can never be recreated, at least not exactly.”

With that, I looked back at some of the photos I’ve taken with my $600 camera, and I was disgusted. Sure the quality may be crisp and there may be good depth of field, but these photos are borrrrring. Easily replicated. Forgettable.

It dawned on me: ever since I stepped up to a “real” camera, I’ve been so busy playing with my ISO and aperture that I’ve forgotten why I picked up a camera in the first place. To capture the moments in my life that make me feel alive. Here are some of those boring photos:

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Then I got to thinking

about some of the photos that I’ve never been able to forget. The ones that still come to mind when I hear the word “photo” even if I haven’t seen them in over five years.

And they all have something in common: technically speaking, they’re imperfect, due to the fact that they weren’t taken with a $6,000 camera. But yet, they’re all incredibly interesting. At least to me. These are the photos I would have been proud to have taken if I was a photographer.

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So forget a new camera

I got a $99 Moment Lens for my iPhone instead.

Then I took the rest of the money and decided to spend it having awesome experiences with the people that matter most in my life. The type of moments that I want to capture so I never forget them. The type of moments that can never be perfectly recreated no matter how much equipment you buy.

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I went back to Maine to reconnect with my three best friends from elementary school

We jumped off cliffs, hiked mountains, got drunk and threw up in each others cars, chased girls, kissed girls, slept outside, drove through the night and felt like teenagers.

And shoot the photos aren’t perfect but I like them for once.

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I ate dinner

With some really cool people in some really cool places.

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I met a girl

And I took her on a trip. One of those trips where you enjoy yourself so much that you forget to take your camera out and end up with 15 or so photos to look through after the fact instead of the couple hundred you’d take in a normal weekend.

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I told some stories that mean a lot to me

One of the largest online dating sites in the country liked those stories enough to buy the campaign.

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I fell in love with documenting

the life I live instead of the life I wanted the internet to think I live.

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I got hired

to create a photo based campaign for one of the world’s largest credit card companies. Me. That dude down there with the little notebook and the roadside flowers and an iPhone. Getting paid to create a commercial campaign I conceptualized myself and now to get execute in my style. Without giving away exactly how much I’m getting paid, let’s just say it’s way more than the $99 Moment Lens I’ll be using. I can’t wait to show you guys the results.

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Why does any of this matter?

Because I hear so many young photographers, myself included, discouraging themselves from pursuing their artistic dreams because they can’t afford expensive equipment.

Because capturing a moment and telling a compelling story is more important to me than knowing how to calibrate a lens.

Because there are a million different ways to be an artist, and you don’t have to be exactly like someone else.

In reality, equipment obviously does matter. If you are a wedding photographer and you show up to a wedding with just an iphone, the bride may actually kill you. Sports Illustrated probably will not hire you to shoot the Super Bowl with a disposable. And you won’t live very long as a wildlife photographer if your lens doesn’t allow you to shoot from a safe distance.

But remember that the most successful wedding photographers didn’t get to where they are just because they bought a few lenses. Neil Leifer didn’t capture dozens of iconic sports photos simply because he had the right equipment. And Michael Nichols wasn’t wildlife photographer of the year because he made the right choice between Canon and Nikon.

Finally, answer for yourself this question: If someone told you that you would never make $1 off photography in your whole life, would you still do it? And if the answer is yes, and you’re looking back on your deathbed someday at all the photos you took in your life, what’s going to matter more: the lens you used or the moments you lived?

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Photography: Tony Ciampa // @emolabs

Copy: Tony Ciampa & Moment Team

Header image: Philip Edsel

Other photography used: Alfred Eisenstaedt // Stanley Forman // Bryan Derballa (@lovebryan) // Blue Valentine

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