It makes me sad when I think about how valuable fine art portraiture is, created on medium or large format film, and yet how few people even know what it is, let alone why they would want to order a portrait like this.
The photograph above is a portrait of my Dad, sitting across from me at breakfast table in a small cafe when I went to Pennsylvania for a visit. This is him sharing time with me. This photograph means so much to me. It’s printed on my desk, and I keep him with me and see him everyday when I get to work.
I made his portrait on a 1950’s era Rolleiflex 6×6 camera. On Ilford HP5 black and white film. I know where this photograph will be in 50 years–still in the frame that it is in now, not lost on some old hard-drive or to obsolescence.
To me, this is what photography is–capturing memories and then being able to keep those that matter most to you close to you. A simple framed photograph does that very well.
But the ease of digital photography has made it so that most people keep all their photographs in file format. This file of my film portrait of my Dad (from a digital scan of the negative) is stored in my computer. It’s safe, perhaps, (unless there is a hardware failure) but I cannot experience it as a file everyday like I do a framed print.
There seems to be a need for printing our photographs so the most important people in our world are always with us. But why print them, most people ask?
Asking that question is like saying, “Why do we need museums, when we see the images, photographs, paintings, on our iPad or computer?” Because mobile devices are good for making a traveling photo album, and sharing our photos at lunch with friends. The problem is they don’t create a “place” for them. They only create a “glimpse” of them. But our family members are worth more than a glimpse, they’re worth a permanent place in our world. Surrounding us. Enveloping us.
Years ago, I remember going to my Grandpop’s and Grandmom’s house and there were photographs of relatives and family throughout the house–they filled their rooms with family photographs, and these were beautiful, high-quality photographs, both formal portraits, and family snapshots in boxes that were a treat to pick through.
Nowadays, I don’t see photographs at people’s houses. That’s the part that makes me sad.
Some of our parents and grandparents are at the end of their lives, and we’re not creating beautiful, frame-able photographs that we will be able to keep by our side to remember them by, something better than a blurry phone snap.
As a portrait photographer, the only commissions I get nowadays are for business portraits–headshots for LinkedIn and corporate use. Families aren’t ordering individual portraits.
Where are the good pictures being made? It’s not in a phone, because a wide-angle lens (as all phones have) is not a flattering lens for portraiture.
We are living in a trans-formative time, with technology changing the way we do things at a rapid pace. But just as things speed up, there is a push to slow down.
There are more people now embracing film photography than there were just a few years ago–because they want something tangible. Something that they’ve actually created. They want to slow down the process and create fewer, but more memorable, photographs, and they’re using film to do it.
Just like there is a slow food movement, and record sales are on the rise, there’s an anti-digital component at play. Everything doesn’t have to be the fastest to be enjoyed.
Playing a record is more time-consuming than programming Pandora, but maybe I like the sound of my turntable, that warm analog sound, and I just want to play one full Led Zeppelin album, not have to choose from among every song ever written. Maybe I just want to play a record, not program a computer.
A few years back, bookstores were concerned about losing out to digital e-readers and ebook sales, and the truth is they’re still going strong. Because people like to hold a single book, not every book they own on one small device. They say on an e-reader, there is a temptation to not read what they’re reading, but instead looking for what else they can be reading since their options are endless.
I charge just under a thousand dollars for a legacy film portrait session for a person and their parent or grandparent. I am a very experienced artist working with real film and creating large printed and framed portraits. I believe they are one of the most important portraits I can create, more important than any celebrity photograph. Because our family is our family–they’re the celebrities of our world.
If you contact me, and mention this article, I will photograph you and your mom or pop, and I’ll make the session rate complimentary. Of course you have to be within a reasonable travel distance for me, or someplace I regularly get to–Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Los Angeles or the front range of Colorado. I just want to see if anyone will do it if cost is not part of the equation.
I’m betting not.
Here’re the photographs of my parents that I get to live with, that are a part of a physical photograph album. That are the memories of who my parents are. My Mom is no longer with us. But she’s right here with me in these photographs.
Today is Father’s Day. I wonder how many people have a wonderful portrait of their father, one that captures their personality and their light, that one image that will be passed down to great grandchildren to know who their family was, and what they looked like.
If they don’t, well, that’s the part that makes me saddest, and I hope we will see a renewed interest in quality photography and framed prints in the years to come.