Come on, let’s say it. Bags are a serious matter. For us women they’re a very serious matter. Think about it: every time you go on vacation, on a long trip, away for the weekend, or if you just simply have to go out, that crucial moment comes when you ask yourself what appears to be a simple question: “Where do I put everything I need while I’m away?” But the answer often isn’t so easy and obvious given the multitude of factors of an aesthetic, practical, economical and functional nature that need to be taken into account to solve the dilemma. And things get more complicated when we have to bring along something that is delicate and valuable such as, when it comes to us photographers, our own equipment.
Photography can be a rather costly profession (or hobby). The first time I realized this was when my battered Casio compact camera, my faithful daily companion during my high school years, began to no longer suit me. I felt the need to look into a viewfinder and not on a screen; the need to decide how to manage the available light and to get sharper and less noisy images. Therefore my father, who has always dearly supported and encouraged my passion for photography, decided to give me what I’ve always considered one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received: a Nikon D80. Precious, mainly because of its function and meaning, but no doubt, for a nineteen year old, also because of its economic value. From that day on, my equipment has evolved and expanded but continues to remain pretty basic: a Nikon D700, four lenses, extra batteries, a compact flash, a PC, a Nikon SB-600 flash, rechargeable batteries, tripod and various battery chargers. All in all not many things, but not so few as to be content with a shoulder bag, like the one that a dear friend gave me a couple of years ago: even though I liked it a lot, it soon proved to be hardly structured at all. It wasn’t large enough and it was quite uncomfortable to wear because of the shoulder strap that places all the weight on one shoulder.
My approach to photography was immediately instinctive. I never went to a real photography school, I just took a couple of basic courses. As I mentioned earlier on my “craze” to capture moments of daily life and slices of reality dates back to when I was in high school. The other recurring theme of my photos back then was… myself: the self-portrait has been a way to get to know myself better and at the same time it has allowed me to grow photographically. As a matter of fact working on oneself can prove to be much more complicated than working on others. To begin with, to compose an image, choose the correct exposure and timing and transmit an emotion, when it’s not possible to keep an eye on both the viewfinder and screen, definitely takes a good deal of abstraction; you have to, in a sense, split yourself in two: a part of you takes the photograph and a part of you is the photograph. A part of you that simply is and a part of you that is trying to dig deeper, to bring out more than the immediate presence. As far as light is concerned – the essence of photography – I have always used natural light or halogen or led lamps, which were exclusively for domestic use. I firmly believe it is essential, if you’re really passionate about photography but you don’t have the gear (flashes, tripods, reflectors, bank, etc.) or professional spaces (a studio, backdrops, etc.), to do one’s best and find creative solutions by looking around and taking advantage of what’s available. Of course the time comes when you feel the need to have a professional camera which you can’t do without. In the meantime, however, trying to find a solution and reproduce a certain kind of effect, without being able to use an instrument specifically designed for the purpose, is no doubt a stimulating challenge (a comparison for example, in my opinion, could be that of cooking; someone who is able to create tasty and nutritious dishes even without a fully equipped kitchen and a well-stocked pantry).
I don’t have a photo studio at the moment – if needed I rent one – and I tend to try to make do with natural light or with the light I find available when working on location or outdoors. I don’t like being limited in my movement, whether it be photo shoots or a photo reportage of a trip – if I want to climb somewhere to have a more interesting view I want to be able to do it without having the bag as a hindrance; if I have to wade across a river I want my hands to be free and to be able to proceed easily; if I have to walk on stretches of rough roads I don’t want to have to slow down because of a cumbersome and awkward bag – at the moment, the only bag for me is a backpack. I found particularly interesting the Professional Backpack 50 among Manfrotto’s bags for several reasons: it can be carried as hand luggage when traveling by plane (I would never want to have to leave my equipment in the cargo hold!); it comfortably holds all that I need and it also has an external attachment for a tripod; it comes with additional waterproof protection and, if needed, it can also become a trolley by simply adding a handle on the back.
I’m therefore absolutely convinced of the choice made even though, of course, it is based on my current needs. As far as my future needs are concerned, one bag is not and never will be enough. Just like when wearing an evening gown it’s not suitable to present yourself with one of the classic Mary Poppins bags, which contain anything and everything; a clutch bag is more appropriate. There are times when, for functional reasons rather than aesthetic, a small shoulder bag – lightweight, compact, sturdy and protective, like a Holster Plus 20 Professional bag – is more comfortable.
During my travels to distant lands in search of customs, rituals, foods, places and unknown faces, I always maintained a lifestyle that would allow me to get in touch, as naturally as possible, with the lives of the local people. In November 2012, for example, I was in Laos with my boyfriend and we decided to go to a mountain village named Paxieng. Since it wasn’t a tourist location at all we had to ride for four hours on a bumpy, dusty road in a semi-open mini-van. The van was an 8-seater but at times we counted 32 passengers (plus a few chickens!). These and other stories can be found in the blog that tells our adventure in South East Asia. In cases like this I choose not to weigh myself down, preferring the ease of removing the camera from the bag and being ready to take a photo rather than having a variety of lenses. The 24-70mm is more than sufficient because, given my knowledge of anthropology and my extrovert personality, in the end, it’s humans I’m most interested in. I prefer to establish contact directly with people by approaching them and talking and smiling rather than taking a picture from a distance: this approach makes a telephoto lens entirely superfluous.