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One year with Sony Alpha cameras and ZEISS E-mount lenses. Developing my own photographic eye in a in a scratch book manner. Hunting the stream of inspiration and sharing it through a popular blog platform.
This is what 'Days of Zeiss' is all about.




The end of journey

Toni Ahvenainen

Sony A7 & ZEISS Touit 2.8/50M – f/10, 1/25sec, ISO400, raw Photograph by Toni Ahvenainen

Sony A7 & ZEISS Touit 2.8/50M – f/10, 1/25sec, ISO400, raw
Photograph by Toni Ahvenainen

This is it, the last day of the year – 31st of December – and I’m sharing my last post with this project. While the year is ending, I’m coming back to that very same spot at the lake shore where I was standing about a year ago when I was still starting up this project. On that day, one year ago, I already had a proper website ready for my project but I was still missing that cover page picture where you see some Zeiss lenses and my naked legs on an icy rock (this is the picture I’m talking about). I have trouble to come up with fresh photographic ideas as much as anyone else and on that day the time was getting short. I only had that one particular idea for the cover page and I knew I had to make it work somehow despite the fact that it was cold and windy, and the waves from the lake were splashing into shore quite heavily.

While standing there at the lake shore the waves made me concerned as I had to get there at the edge of the rock, setup practically new Zeiss lenses there and have my naked legs in the same picture as well. I counted something like 30 or 40 waves and eventually decided that the waves would not reach the place where I was planning to put the lenses (after all, they say the every seventh wave is always the big one). So I started to put lenses there one by one, and to get them aligned straight I had to place tiny pieces of stones underneath them. Initially I had a planned to put all lenses there in a nice formation, but after the third lens I got too nervous and decided that three would, after all, be enough before something catastrophic would happen – I was afraid that the next big wave would wipe those precious jewels of optical design into bottom of the lake and end my project before it had even started. Next I set up my legs there very slowly, took a few pictures and hurried to deconstruct this setup of potential disaster. My toes and fingers were numb from the freezing wind, but the picture that I had wanted was inside the camera and by looking it from the LCD-display I knew I had it covered. Now I only had to start the project and make it through a year.

This seems like ages ago, but here we are at the end of the journey watching the circle closing. For the last picture I wanted it to be connected with the first one, but this year the very same rock I was using earlier was totally covered by the ice and I needed resort the rock next to it – and besides, this way you get to see that I do actually have shoes, albeit pretty worn out pair with the other string missing. As the project is ending, the end begs for an answer, did I make the most of my time which was originally limited to one year with this project? Well, I can definitely say that I, at least, tried to make the very best of it, but much like everyone else my time is shared with things like work, family and other mundane stuff – and what little is left of it I can use however I like which usually means my passion for the photography. I have to say this was a busy year as I had two small kids to take care of (other one being only seven months old when I started the project), I finished my thesis for the university, tried to find a job, kept myself busy with the family related stuff, etc. While I carried my camera everywhere in search for photographic opportunities, the project itself was mostly run at the nigh time, which meant everything from selecting pictures and post processing them to writing blog posts and chatting with the ones who followed my project. I was living ‘a kind of double life’ where all the photographic activities happened either in short pauses between work, kids and family, or at the night time when the rest world was asleep.

For this project I wrote 86 blog posts which add up together over hundred pages of text with a total the 223 shared pictures. I can say that this is at least a moderate amount of work and I’m very happy say that my efforts were rewarded as my pictures were loaded approximately 200 000 times over the year (unfortunately I don’t have the exact number right now as it takes a bit of summing from different sources). Naturally I’m very grateful for all of those who have followed my project, wrote comments and supported it in some other ways. Throughout the year I’ve constantly written about the photographic inspiration and how the tools you use can either support it or disturb it. But now at the end I want to say that the greatest inspiration has come from all of you who have given my project your attention and commented it in some way or another (many of you I consider to be my friends). You have made this journey such a positive experience that I have often felt I owe to all of you to make my best out of this. It would not have been the same without you. Thank you – really thank you to all of you for your support!

As the lenses from Zeiss have played a central role in this story, the end of the story also begs me to summarise something about them as well. Well, first of all, I want to emphasize that photography is not about the technology and I think it would intellectually dishonest to claim that getting new and better equipment would automatically make one a better photographer – they don’t. One must consider the Zeiss lenses primarily as high quality tools and while photography is still an activity convoyed by the use of technology, having a right kind of tools can play an important part in the search of personal inspiration.

The Zeiss lenses are often described with a certain terms that claim their unique qualities among the peers: ‘the Zeiss look’, ‘the Zeiss 3D-pop’, ‘the Zeiss contrast’, etc. – they all refer to unique qualities and if you have followed the online discussions you already know the drill. I have consciously avoided using these particular terms throughout the year as I consider their origin to be rooted more in the subjective perception and socio-cultural behaviour of human communities than in the theory of optical design (in other words, they don’t offer a sustainable foundation when discussing optical quality in its clearest sense). But these kind of terms also exemplify cultural knowledge of many photographers over the decades and they convoy that deep and quite real satisfaction which these photographers often have felt with their tools manufactured by Zeiss. While I have avoided these particular terms I have to conclude that my experiences align with this knowledge and I think Zeiss lenses are often more than a sum of their parts. I would put it this way: the company is particularly good at making tools that speaks to many photographers, not only at intellectual, but also at aesthetical and emotional level. Someone once told me that once you’ve tried the Zeiss you don’t want to use anything else – consider yourself warned.  

So anyway, someone has been asking that what happens to all these Zeiss lenses I’ve been using during this year? The project is done, so maybe I should pack them on the same boxes which they originally came with and send them back. I have to be honest here and tell you that it would be extremely hard for me to give up these lenses now that I’ve been using them for a year and grown to love them for what they are (I did warn you, didn’t I). Not really surprising, isn’t it? I realized this earlier already and had some behind the scenes conversations about my options. So, the thing is that I’m not sending them back; instead I decided to put my money where my mouth is and will buy them all! This includes the Batis 2/25 & Batis 1.8/85 and the Loxia 2/35 & Loxia 2/50 (the Touits have been my own lenses from the start). I get a bit of a discount because some value is also put to my work with this project – and after carrying them with me over twelve months they aren’t exactly new – but essentially I’m buying them with my own money and there are no free lunches. From my point of view this is a good trade as I’ve had already one year to enjoy them and I’m getting myself something I could not have even imagined before (yes, I do realize how lucky and privileged I am for having this opportunity). I bet that waking up tomorrow feels like a new morning because I know I can continue to use these lenses for the year 2017 as well.

Many of you have asked what I’m going to do next. Am I going to continue with this project or will I be starting a new one for the year 2017? To be honest, working with this project within the time span of twelve months has been both addicting and exhausting at the same time – and I need a break to be able to elevate to healthier level. I’m addicted to the feeling when I find a great photographic opportunity and get to share a good picture, but at the same time the last weeks particularly have been a stress test with a bit of a combat fatigue as, like I wrote before, I work on the project mainly during the nights. So, I definitely need a break from this, but at the same time I am annoyingly conscious about the fact that my photography needs to eat projects or otherwise there’s a risk that it regresses to a meaningless snapshot level. Like I have already written somewhere during the year, the conceptual projects are the vehicles which the photographer can use to develop his/her photographic eye and vision. To me, this project has been a means to end to find a meaningful way to do my photography, and it will be likely that I will need to find some other project in the future to give it a similar meaning again. Right now I have nothing in my mind, but I’m sure I’ll start dreaming about something after some rest.

But in the end, if there is a one single thing I have wanted to say with this project, it is this: whether you realize it or not at this very moment there are photographic opportunities everywhere and inner vision to found in the most mundane places that seem insignificant to the rest of the world. Your life is the very fine context that brings beautiful meanings to your photography. Escape the flickering screens, elevate above the mundane and search for the beautiful things. A new year is at the beginning, so make it count by living it to the fullest. Keep on chasing your own vision and swim against the current with trust. Maybe start a photography project of your own to give your photography personal guidelines and goals. Whatever you decide to do at the year 2017, make sure you don’t let the days pass. Don’t let them pass.

With love & hugs,

Ps. There, I did it! Phew, I need a beer…