Transitions

I truly believe photography is dead. In the midst of billions (trillions?) of digital flotsam and daily, hourly, by the second, shock-and-awe photo blasts, it has died. DSLRs laid the groundwork, and smartphones are just about finished nailing the lid down.

Desktop Publishing in the 90s proved it: the more people doing something, the lower the overall quality. Except, unlike photography, people realized after a decade that there was tremendous value in skill, and mercifully, Amateur Hour largely took a back seat in graphic design.

Yes, there are pros making a good living, and sometimes also great photographs, AKA wedding and commercial photographers, but more and more, they're the equivalent of becoming a famous model, actor, athlete, or author. Certainly it can happen with hard work and/or tremendous talent, but to say there's a lot of competition is ludicrous. More than ever before, photographers can't wait to give away their work for a small slice of self-worth.

View from the Window at Le Gras - enhanced version
View from the Window at Le Gras - enhanced version

This is a favourite photograph of mine. Not "mine", because I wasn't around in 1826-27. It's the oldest known surviving photograph by a man many say is the inventor of photography. And ever since then, it's been a race.

I'm not sure what it is about photography that so captures our hearts. I'm assuming it's the ease of recreating memories, but then we've got all the faff and inflated narcissism of today using the same medium, which has absolutely nothing to do with recreating valued memories.

Not that ego wasn't always a part of photography! It's simply massively accelerated. And you know what? There's absolutely nothing you or I can do about it.

I shot a few rolls of film on my father's Minolta SRT-101 in the 90s. No clue what I was doing. Then I walked away until my first Android smartphone around 2011. And I started taking photos. And photos. And more photos. Thousands and thousands of them - many of them which were better than they deserved to be. Except for one small thing. Yes, I was learning composition, but I didn't have a clue about anything else.

Fast-forward and I become seriously interested in photography (around 10 years too late). I started shooting digital, and purely by accident came across a store selling reams of old film cameras. Around that time I was wasting hours of my life every week reading camera reviews and studying digital camera technology. Ken Rockwell, DPReview, etc. etc. blah blah blah. It was never-ending. And just like that! I was staring at a wall of film cameras, many of which didn't even have light meters.

Magnolias and Branches - crafted Metol developer
Magnolias and Branches - Wirgin Edixa II - built 1953-55

I had been ramping up to spend more money than I had a right to on digital, so seeing a Pentax Spotmatic F with a f/1.8 55mm lens included for $120 was unbelievable. Before that moment, I literally thought film was dead. But, equipped with a surge of nostalgia and GAS, I dropped the money on camera, lens, and some Kodak Gold 400 film. ("Gold" - there's a misnomer.)

That launched a whole series of events, culminating in me actually learning how film works, creating my own B&W developer formulas, and actually discovering what exposure means, as opposed to simply studying a computer...err...camera manual.

Go ahead, call me a curmudgeon or the other fave term of the digital I-think-I-know-how-to-do-things-because-I'm-familiar-with-them tribe: anachronistic. (It is a great word!)

And, as is so often the case, as my skill increased I started hearing an increase of another sort.

"You should be doing this for a living."
"You're really good! You should get these in [insert art function]."
"Have you thought about doing weddings?!"

Etc.

And I bought in.

Consequently, I started down the road of freebies to gain experience and quickly made an unpleasant discovery: 45 year old cameras are prone to failure. And colour film doesn't magically white balance itself. I became so discouraged by my early forays that I began drifting back toward digital. At one point around three months passed without me picking up one of my film cameras. Even worse, I nearly stopped taking pictures, period. (Good! Right? There are too many photos in the world anyway.)

And then I got a really killer deal on a Sony a6000 camera. I mean, it IS from 2014. So, yesterday! But, reviewers aside with their pseudo-marketing "raison d'ĂȘtre," it's still a decent mirrorless camera on many levels, and I promptly slapped an adapter on it to use my vintage lenses. FINALLY - on my way into the modern camera age, and a strong step closer to pro shooting.

Several hundred (not thousands) of photos later, I came to a fork in the road. Specifically, I randomly decided to take my own Minolta SRT-101 out after not using it for months, with a 50mm f/1.7 lens. I needed a hike to clear my mind. Obviously the Sony was in tow.

I enjoyed the Minolta optical viewfinder - without realizing what I was enjoying - and the whole, "I'm analogue, baby!" thing. But, eventually, Delayed Gratification Reality sunk in, and I reached for the a6000. Back in business!

Branches - Crafted Metol Developer
Branches - Crafted Metol Developer

Have you ever looked through a proper optical viewfinder on an old film camera under forest foliage, and then switched to an EVF (electronic viewfinder) on a mirrorless camera? I tried to overlook the artificially brightened shadows and leering highlights by manually lowering the Sony's viewfinder brightness, and I snapped a few real pictures. Sigh. No go. The digital pixie dust just wasn't working.

And in that tiny, odd moment, I realized something was wrong: I had lost. Lost my love for creating a picture. Lost my self-reminder to ask whether what was in front of me could belong in a painting. Lost my desire to see the world in unusual terms. Lost my way, in a photographic sense.

Except it didn't come to me in that order - it took several weeks. I did realize immediately that something was wrong, and that I missed film, but eventually I came to realize that I don't care about digital photography. I'm not saying it's not useful! But I am saying that I can live without it. I think it's largely artless, and most of its practitioners don't know how to do anything more than sometimes compose a shot well and/or use software. I know, because I fell into the same category. And those who do have killed the usefulness of photography by producing more than the oceans' worth of useless, exceptionally temporal photographs. Most of which are based on momentary ego, not useful or emotional memories. As a result, it's nearly impossible for a real photograph to be seen, much less recognized.

Harsh, I realize. But sharp contrast, razor details, and saturated digital colours do not a worthwhile photograph make of themselves. Unless your love is for software, pixels on a screen, and lab-like details. And that is the way the world has gone - awareness has been blunted by the sheer force of marketing campaigns and social media psychological games - decades in the making.

...

But, I slowly picked up my film cameras, re-evaluated which ones made sense to me in light of dropping the urgent need to "go pro," dropped out of the technological rat-race, and began to detox...again.

Magnolias in Garden - crafted metol developer
Magnolias in Garden - crafted metol developer

I do hope that your own journey - digital or film - leads to better and stronger photographs filled with wonder, and peace for your soul.

Jason

Comments

Popular Posts