Podcast Review #2 - Lenswork

Before I launch into this week's photography podcast review I've had a number of interesting responses & requests based on last week's review of the PetaPixel photography podcast. Although my previous blog post about the PetaPixel show seems to have polarised opinion, the general idea of reviewing current podcasts and bringing them to a wider audience seems to have been well received.

Some quick points -

  • I will produce a dedicated page tracking & linking to each of the reviews; this will be useful for people to have a "one-stop shop" to see what podcasts are out there & still running. Trawling iTunes you can find a huge number of podcasts out there. I'll focus on the ones I think are worth listening to.
  • I won't produce a league table to rank podcasts; the process is too subjective & too fluid. I will revisit podcasts I review periodically but it'll be when their content & presentation changes sufficiently to warrant a follow-up
  • I will try to avoid too-verbose "wall of text" write-ups and conclude things with bite-sized pros & cons like my gear reviews. This will be hard, I do tend to get carried away & I know that :)

As ever, I'm very keen to get any feedback, good or bad. I love to hear what you think!

This week's podcast review is the Lenswork photography podcast - available here

The Lenswork podcast is a companion to the Lenswork website & business from Brooks Jensen. Lenswork has made my task of trying to explain what they do quite easily, they even have a dedicated "mission statement" -

The premise of LensWork is that photography is more than mere craft. Photography is, or can be, a way of life. Beyond cameras and equipment, beyond film and chemistry, beyond pixels and technology lie the mysteries of the creative life shared by those who strive to communicate and express themselves clearly – fine art photographers, commercial photographers, amateurs and professionals. LensWork is an exploration of the path of creative photography. Through an exchange of ideas, insight, personal experience, and opinions, it is hoped LensWork will inspire photographic artists to create work which truly bears their signature.

I've actually cherry picked the most relevant part of their mission statement, it runs on for two more paragraphs! But this should be enough to give you a good understanding of what Lenswork is and what it tries to acheive.

According to Brooks, Lenswork is the longest running photography podcast ever and although I know of at least two other podcasts with the same claim, I'll not try to prove/disprove that now. Instead, I'll focus simply on the podcast itself.

It isn't the first time I've mentioned the podcast. A blog post earlier in the year was dedicated to debunking Brooks' notion that it's no longer possible to generate the Wow! factor in photography and I'll come back to this topic later on.

Overview

Although Lenswork is a print magazine and referenced occasionally in the podcast, by-and-large the two are separate; you don't need to buy-in to the print publication to get benefit from the podcast. The podcast is very short, often only 5 or 6 minutes long, and published on an irregular basis; sometimes it can be daily, more often it's every two or three weeks. Production quality is consistently good. Recently Brooks had started a new type of video podcast known as "Looking at Pictures" where he'd go into a deep dive on specific photos - this seems to have petered out in recent months. These were fairly uncommon to find on the feed but in almost all cases were examples of overanalysing & reading too much from a single photo. Rarely were they episodes I found interesting.

Generally speaking, Brooks tends to shy away from gear or current news and focus instead on the creative side of photography. Where he has, such as in the case of shooting 4k video and selecting the decisive moment from one of several hundred, it's always been focused on how that affects our creativity rather than a piece on the gear itself. In almost all cases, they draw on Brooks' own experiences & tie into something he has done in the past or plans to do. The topics can be very diverse, ranging from how you can kick-off or maintain interest in photography projects, how you can tie photography into your way of life, our own personal "photographic legacies" and "meta-thinking" behind how we see & approach taking pictures. You'll have noticed a lot of quotation marks there. That's because a lot of what Brooks goes into is quite esoteric and often not what you see or hear on other podcasts or photography forums.

In many respects, whether he is dishing out advice or providing inspiration, the general tone & nature of his topics reminded me an awful lot of the "wise old grandfather" trope; someone who has seen & photographed everything, everywhere and who undoutedly has advice we can all learn from. I certainly don't mean grandfatherly in a disparaging way but it does strike me as the most apt similie. By extension to the grandfather idea though it does mean Brooks occasionally comes out with some off-the-wall notions, or produces episodes devoid of any tangible hook or interest point - almost like he's recording a train of thought that gets muddled half-way through. Occasionally he does go bonkers, by his standards of course, and over-reacts to topics that really don't warrant any consideration at all. If you want to learn the wisdom of the ages, sometimes you need to listen to a lot of less interesting stuff first :)

In all my time that I've followed the podcast - which is NOT the whole run since 2004! - I've never known Brooks to share the airtime with anyone else and as such Lenswork does occasionally run into the monologuing trap. Most often, these are the aforementioned situations when he blows something out of proportion and goes on what by his terms is a rant. Most recently this was his exposition about the Another Rock, Another Tree (ARAT) debate but the Wow Factor in Photography was another notable example. Without someone to either bounce ideas off, or present an alternate view, when he goes down the rabbit hole on one particular subject it can lead to skipping the show in frustration.

That said, generally speaking his style & content are quite suited to just a single-voice show. If he comes out with some creative notions or questions that prompt deeper thought then it doesn't really matter he's on his own and the short running time & spaced out publication schedule generally complements this.

Overall, the podcast fills a niche that is rarely found in other podcasts. Sometimes this is good, and refreshingly varied. Sometimes it can be difficult to maintain interest. It definitely has its niche & I'm pleased Brooks is continuing with it... but I think if you aren't the type who appreciates (or you aren't in the mood for) deep, serious, creative thinking it may not be your cup of tea. Let me stretch the metaphor one more time. It's like a river cruise. Sometimes you see something that's rivetting & why you started the journey in the first place. Sometimes it can be tedious & frustrating enough to make you wonder why you started. Most of the time, it's a gentle ramble through aspects of the art you might never otherwise have taken the time to think about.

Pros

  • High quality production values
  • Focuses on deeper topics & the more unusual "how do we create" side of the hobby
  • Can occasionally generate some very thought-provoking notions which have a direct impact on how you approach your photography

Cons

  • Can at times be a very soporific delivery. Useful for insomniacs.
  • Sometimes the "creative thinking" concepts can feel a bit too abstruse & almost forced. You can come out of a podcast thinking that it IS possible to take things a bit too seriously, it's just taking photos man!
  • With an irregular schedule & such highbrow topics I sometimes just can't be bothered and put it off to listen to a slightly less intellectual show!  Can be hard to build and maintain a level of interest with such a short, infrequent show with such disparate topics.