Posts Tagged ‘digital’

I asked my Father today if he remembered life before television.  He said he did, and it was a world where a lot of people read books and newspapers, played games and got together with friends and a barrel of beer.

The reason I asked is because I realize that since the invention of TV, and people watching hours a day, we’ve now become a society that lives on screens.  I wake up to my iPhone and iPad.  I read the iPad with coffee, then off to a computer where I work editing photographs and marketing photography.

Or I have a photo shoot, and I make the photographs and check them on the camera’s screen.  Finally, import them to the computer for editing tomorrow.

I wrap up the day, and it’s back to the iPad.  Or I write at night, like this post here, on my laptop either at a pub or at home.

I’m not a TV watcher, but if I were, I would probably switch that on when I got done writing, and finish up the day with an iPad in bed.

What happened to us?  We live on screens.

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I think that’s why I’m drawn to film photography–I get to create with a simple ground glass for viewing the image (on a 4×5 or 8×10 view camera, a Rolleiflex or a Leica 35mm).  It has no electronics.  It’s physical, just light being focused onto film.

Same with hand-printing photographs in a darkroom, it’s hands on, and nothing electronic to it.

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I’m betting that’s why some people like gardening (I am not one of those people) but it gives them the chance to work with their hands and dirt to create something beautiful.  Can’t get more “down to earth” than that!

Same thing with nature lovers and landscape photographers (I am not one of those either).  Staring at the sky and trees is a welcome past-time in this digitally screened-in world.

Anyway, I wonder what all these screens, with living in a screen world, is doing to us, how it’s affecting our culture, our friendships, our lives.

Are we better off than 80 years ago, when all we needed were friends and a barrel of beer?kids1 (2)

I traveled this month, a road trip from Colorado to California, and if you know me, I pack a variety of cameras.  I don’t go anywhere without at least one Leica.  And I brought a Rolleiflex for some portraits, and at the last minute put a 4×5 camera and some film and a changing bag into the car.

Plus the Nikon DSLR and three lenses, because I knew I would be picking up some freelance shoots in Los Angeles.

So, film, what is it good for?  On this trip, absolutely nothing / listen to me!

Because I was shooting street photos in Vegas and LA, and all along the way through Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Nikon with a 50mm or 20mm is perfect for that.  Quick and nimble.  Grab shots.  Instantly ready and can keep on shooting.

I came back home and put all the film back in the fridge.  Hopefully it enjoyed its trip.  But I thought about why I didn’t shoot any.  And it comes down to purpose.  I shoot film to MAKE photos.  To create a photo story on film or a portrait.  Film is for those family members and stories I want to make that are the most important to me.

For me, digital is best for grabbing shots–not making them, but TAKING them.  They are in front of me as a documentary photographer.  I’m not one to wait at one location for planets to align–elements to form a perfect composition in front of a mural, for example–that’s not my style of street photography.  I don’t stand still at all–I walk and watch and shoot when something grabs my attention.  When I see a story.  Then I grab a shot.

So, I guess you can tell what happened–I didn’t make any photographs.  I took images of the scenes before me.  Good documentary photos, but not made, taken.

That’s what digital excels at.

A funny photo, a good street photo, but a documentary photograph taken, not made.  I was at the right place at the right time.  And had the reflexes to grab the shot.  But I didn’t create it.  Hence the use of digital medium, not film. (Nikon F610 50mm f1.2)

Film is for, I realize, creating something.  I don’t just pull out the 4×5 and see what catches my fancy.  Not at all.  I have to go out and create something.  That’s what that beautiful large negative is for.  Purposeful photography.  And photographs made on film take planning.  I can’t just show up in a town I don’t know and see something I can make a photograph of.

So, I end up taking photos of the scenes before me.

I’ve been working on some fine art images the last few months, and I realize the difference between a nature photo by an artist Sally Mann and one by a nature photographer John Fielder is that one is made, and one is taken.  To me, there is a world of a difference.

The artist must make something out of the materials at hand.  It’s about vision.  And how they turn their creation into their finished piece.  It may not be literal.  It may not be fully realistic.  Artists are visionaries.  What they show tells us about them.

The nature photographer captures the magic in the natural world, and depicts it in all its full wondrous splendor, colors saturated for maximum impact (and sales).  Technically perfect, bursting with color, nature taking all the credit for the display, the photographer taking all the credit for capturing it.  But it’s not fine art.  It’s commercial art.  What they show is a wonderful display piece in a family room that tells us about nature.

Most people would rather hang a Fielder.  I can appreciate that.  But there’s no denying the mastery of Mann’s artistry.  There’s currently a landscape exhibit at the Denver Art Museum through September 16th featuring a couple of her hand-printed images that are quite beautiful and the exhibit is well worth seeing.

For me, film is Mann.  Digital is Fielder.  One is for making art.  The other for creating a salable product. Mann’s may hang in galleries and museums, and private galleries of those who collect her work, but ultimately, Fielder has the image that most people would like over their mantle in their mountain home.  (If you want one, they’re available at his online gallery.)

It’s just that I don’t have a mountain home.  If I did, and I could afford it, I’d choose Mann’s.  (She’s also made a wonderful body of work photographing her family with a large format camera, and all her work inspires!  I don’t think digital could’ve made those photographs.)

Guess that’s why I bring film with me.  I never know what I may find to make.  And there is an amazing sense of accomplishment when the opportunity arises.   When the picture lends itself to film.  Film photography takes a plan.  I need to make better plans, because next time, I’m sure I will take the film cameras again.

There’s such a joy to making a Rolleiflex portrait.  Or one on 4×5.


My Father, on film with my Rolleiflex, out to breakfast with me on my last road trip home.

Film, what is it good for, absolutely something–photographs I make!  But I have to have a goal and a plan to make them, otherwise, the film and film cameras are just along for the ride.

Digital convenience, is it really the best thing to have happened to our MUSIC, our PHOTOGRAPHS, our WORDS? Our MOVIES, our NEWS, our POLITICS?

Mp3s have significantly lowered the quality of music we listen to (and we’ve grown to accept it for its convenience), digital cameras makes thousands of images that disappear in old hard drives or lost phones, email birthday greetings replace actual greeting cards, and when was the last time you wrote or received a hand-written letter?

When was the last time we listened to a whole album, in the order it was created, without skipping songs, the way the artist placed them on the record, reading along with the lyrics, sharing the music with a friend?

Even movies on a big screen are being replaced by views on a phone or tablet.

I’m a proponent of listening to vinyl on a real stereo and good speakers, creating photographs with a film camera and printing and framing actual photographs, and writing real letters and cards. Because all of the former ways to listen to music, make photographs, and write still exist.

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writing ipod     laptop-mobile

If digital has an effect of making us accept lower quality, I wonder if it has an effect of making our whole world matter less. Does it make things seem cheap, and worthless? Does it create apathy? So that convenience trumps quality? Cheap made-in-China junk is the choice over a quality build from an artisan. Third-world labor-made clothing is the norm. Quick and cheap, regardless of quality, is what we seem to want. (I even see it in the photography and video industry–quality is not what matters most.)

We’ll buy a new crappy patio set from Wal-Mart and it will look nice for a year, and fall apart by next year, so we’ll buy another one. That’s the model, instead of buying quality, we replace. We’re not rich, but we look like it this year, until it all falls apart.

Is that America? Is the dream just that? Not real, just appearances. In 1959, a Swiss photographer, Robert Frank, published a book called THE AMERICANS, and it depicted the Americans he photographed in his travels across the U.S. on a Guggenheim grant. People panned it when it came out–surely America wasn’t that ugly. The images in the book didn’t match the image people had for America. But they were us.

I went to the local gala event on Friday night and didn’t bring a phone, and it felt like a treat to be disconnected from it. Phones consume our every waking hour. Mine, too.

They interrupt the silence on a walk or hike, at movies and shows, and dinner conversations with friends. They’re in our way at events like concerts, weddings and fireworks shows by folks who feel the need to take something home, instead of experiencing it there. (Note: The bride and groom have a photographer there. Sit back and enjoy the event–be present!)

Are we missing the real thing because of the technology? When was the last time you were without your phone? What did that feel like?

Do you think this can continue, and are we better off with this electronic substitute for the things we used to be able to hold–records, photographs, letters?

Or does it cheapen things, even politics, so that we can end up with a game show host for a president?

While digital allows many conveniences and accesses, is it in some ways unhealthy for society? Does it allow for the instant spreading of misinformation, which can foster hatred or influence decisions, even important ones like in an election? Does instant news make us feel more unsafe, because we think the world is more dangerous with all the negative reports? Is it actually more unsafe? Or is the perception changed because of the onslaught of “news”?

Seems like something has to change. Not to say that nothing good has come from digital technology, but are there negatives as well? And please tell me we’re not going to still be crossing the street and almost getting hit because we’re looking down at our phones in 20 years.