The last thing anybody needs at this point in time during the calamitous RNC convention is a report of 2 old guys sitting in a booth at a diner talking photography. But that is just what I am going to do. Recently, I had lunch with my old buddy who I have known since the mid 80’s (no not the 1880’s, the 1980’s. I am only 52 for God’s sakes!) and we got to discussing our latest photographic activities. He is working on a project using an 8 x 10 camera and he was surprised when I told him I have been doing a lot of shooting with Polaroid cameras and the latest iterations of the Impossible Project’s black and white material. The last he had heard from me I had just bought a Nikon D810 and was whole hog digital.
In the past 5 or 6 years I have been drifting away from film photography to the point where I sold all of my film cameras (Leica, Nikon, Hasselblad) and had dismantled my darkroom. I didn’t miss the darkroom. I was a terrible printer. I went from initially scanning film to shooting with digital SLRs (and a Fujifilm X E-2). I still think digital is the way to go for most photographers, especially if you are young and devoted to color. Black and white photography is open to discussion. There is an aesthetic to film based black and white photography that is lacking in it’s digital counterpart. I was quite successful shooting film (Ilford HP5 being my favorite) and scanning then making digital prints.
With today’s digital cameras you have to really try in order to get a technically bad photograph. My iPhone can take photos that become full page ads. As a result the world is full of technically good photographs that are lousy images. As Ansel Adams stated, “there is nothing worse than a sharp photograph of a fuzzy idea!” Or, if Twitter and Instagram are to be representative, no idea. I am awash in a sea of well exposed, idealess images. I notices this in myself too (so I am not innocent here). One can just shoot and shoot and shoot and think later (if at all).
Which led my friend and I to a discussion of process. We agreed that for us the process of making an image; looking, stopping, setting up the camera and taking the time to resolve visual and compositional issues in order to achieve a well thought out, well crafted image. As the Art World is not knocking down our doors we have the luxury of photographing for ourselves. And that is basically what we are doing as photographic artist. Maybe some time later our work will get wider recognition and maybe it won’t and that is alright with us.
The issue of the missing substrate closed out are diner lunch. Because digital is all ones and zero’s there is no underlying base. Film based photography is physical, being chemical, there is a necessary materiality, a structure to hold the chemicals, a field for the light and silver to play on. You really see this in the work of artists such as Sally Mann and Jerry Spagnoli. In the works of photographers such as Minor White and Paul Caponigro there is clear and beautiful evidence of the matching of film to paper so that the tones seem to be one with it’s base. Shades of gray and tones of white seem to play and live on it’s paper home.
When I started using instant film again I instantly saw this materiality which had been missing from my work of the past few years. And so I told my friend I was off on the road of chemical based photography. I toy with the idea of getting a 35mm film camera again but at the moment I am having a whole lot of fun with my SX-70. Maybe soon.