Equipment snobs are lamentably familiar in photography. They unquestioningly buy the latest and best of everything, even if they never actually take a picture. Equipment anti-snobs are even more common. They protest that their Zorki is every bit the equal of a Leica, that their Seagull will do all a Rolliflex will do and that a Gandolfi is a waste of money.
Though anti-snobs seem to despise the latest and the best, they often make up for quality with quantity. Instead of one Leica, they have 3 Zorkis, a Fed and half a dozen fixed-lens rangefinder cameras. Instead of one Summilux, they have a dozen Russian screw-mount lenses. Instead of one Gandolfi with a Super-Symmar, they have 3 MPP Mk VIs with old Xenars, Lustrars and Angulons.
Until recently I had put both kinds of snobbery down to the undobuted seductiveness of new cameras, lenses and the like. There is always the implied promise they will, via some sort of sympathetic magic, give us better pictures.
But twice recently I have come across an assertion that I had enver encountered before, at least in such a plain and unvarnished form. It is that possessions and wealth in themselves are less important than having more possessions and wealth than the next man - or of course, woman.
This is the exact opposite of what I have always felt - namely, a certain discomfort that I should have so much when so many others have so little. I don't feel uncomfortable enough to give away all my possessions and live the life of a mendicant monk, not least because I am very happily married, but I am acutely aware that there are plenty of people in the world without a roof over their heads, or enough to eat, or even clean water to drink. Nearer home, there are hapless wage slaves toiling for meagre reward. In such a world it strikes me as the worst possible taste to flaunt your wealth and devote yourself to acquiring vastly more than you need, just because you can.
But by being brought face-to-face with this admission of naked grief and arrogance, I was able to understand for the first time the assertion, often made by the obscenely well-paid, that vast salaries and huge bonuses are not necessarily important in themselves, they are merely a way of keeping score, of showing who is best. This reinforced my conviction that such people have a very warped understanding of 'best', but at least I could begin to see what they were talking about.
Another reason I had never before considered their world picture is a sort of secular version of the Gospel According to St Matthew, Chapter 19, verse 24: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
Although I am not convinced of the literal existence of a kingdom of God, I am convinced it is uncommonly easy to be trapped by possessions. Not just by earning the money to acquire them, which can by itself occupy an altogether disproportionate amount of time, but also by the money and effort needed to maintain them, such as keeping the roof watertight or changing the oil in the car.
To put it in the most secular and contemporary terms, I simply can't be bothered to do all this. But I know full well that if I don't look after my possessions, they may quite quickly go to rack and ruin, and I'll have to replace them, or spend more on repairs than I would have had to spend on maintenance in the first place.
It therefore seems to me to make sense to buy the best I can afford, so it will last as long as possible and require the minimum of maintenance, to buy the minimum of it, so I don't have to spend all my time looking after it; and then look after it carefully so I don't have to replace it any more often than necessary.
As a result, if someone feels he is some way better than I am because he has more possessions, I tend to suspect the exact opposite. Indeed, I feel sorry for him, because he is trapped by his possessions. We are all constrained in our lives, but the difference between constraint and a trap is often a matter of choice.