If there is one thing I love, it would have to be photography. The masters Henri-Cartier Bresson and Ansel Adams have a pretty fierce grasp of two heart strings right here (points to left side of chest). It is amazing what one can do with a piece of equipment, suspending one moment in time, to be relived over and over. It is magic, really.
Talking photography means talking about hardware. All the camera manufacturers in the world seem to quicken the pace at which their goods are produced and distributed, satisfying gearheads with every shipment to the nearest retailer. I’m not one to think of the good ol’ days because let’s face it, nothing gets accomplished and that is waste. However, there is also the adage ‘Haste makes waste.’ Could we apply it to today’s pieces of technology?
What is fascinating right now is the nostalgia that younger people have for a technology whose tail-end they caught: film or analog photography. Lomography has picked up with the sales of plastic cameras that take pretty funky images. Stores catering to the 12-25 set like Urban Outfitters carry cameras of the same nature. There IS an interest in film. Still.
So far, the camera that I have my eye out for is a compromise between analog and digital: the Fuji X100. I am certain that I am not alone. The camera is a beauty. Let’s not get too much into the specs but the camera physically is loosely based on rangefinder cameras from decades ago, only digital. The buttons are all manual (but with their automatic counterparts, for the lazy) unlike other digital cameras that have been designed and released thus far in the last couple of years. It may be the best compromise, so far with the convenience of digital and the regal appearance of a Leica. (A fundraising event is slowly getting organized for the 2011 holiday season. Let me rephrase that: for my 2011 holiday season. Cheques accepted but PayPal is best.)
The selling point of this camera is the old-school appearance but with the practicality its digital compatibility with our digital lives. At $1200, is keeping up appearances worth it? To some, yes. To others, no. The equipment that was once but a tool to capture images is now an image unto itself. It is like being caught between two mirrors facing each other, and the neverending hall of repeating reflections. Which is the original? No one really knows. The camera is only coveted until the updated version is available. Is that a waste? You decide.
There is a shortage of sublime photography. It could be that humans are becoming more visually driven to the point that photographic images that were once magical are just the norm. The mentioned norm includes bundles of digital data that depicting the debauchery of a Saturday night or an album of ‘candid’ photos of homeless people. Awe is divorced from the Image.
What people do not know is that even today, serious landscape photography is done with large format cameras that would put the weight of a portable heater to shame. Field cameras that people imagine to have been left for dead in favour of expensive digital camera gear. The truth is, the resolution on a large format film is so much better than the best digital camera on the market.
Ansel Adams’ landscape photography was done on a field camera. The detail and the poetry in each of his prints still outdo the best landscape photography of the digital age. The most advanced digital camera that costs as much as my education and a half could not meet the a large format’s image quality.
A lot of contemporary photographers use a compromise between analog by capturing the wanted image on a 4×5 format film and then using a high resolution scanner that could be the equivalent of 100 megapixels.
The 35mm format film was conceived for photojournalism before the digital era. It was a very convenient way of transporting film supply while on task without hassle. With the speed that news has to travel in cyberspace, it is so hard to conceive that photojournalism once involved people carrying film cameras, processing the rolls of film, doing enlarged prints of each frame, photo editing, then again editing, and then printing. Digital photography has increased the turnover for news. Can you imagine tabloids pre-digital? All of it was and is still junk but think of the physical garbage that one generates for one photo of a celebrity committing adultery. How many frames were wasted to get that one Fergie-toe-sucking photo to start that scandal in the 1990s? I digress; I think that tabloid culture would not be where it is, if it were not for digital.
Photography that moves and that entrances the visual mind is done frivolously. It requires practice, careful study of the craft, patience and the proper equipment.
As for me, 35mm is still my preferred format. This is out of convenience and the kind of photography that I do. Street photography is capturing life in the city, no matter how big or small. It is compelling to see good images depicting the lives of people when they are in transition from home to work or to school. Perhaps to meet a lover or to secure a business deal. Either way, I feel that film’s tangibility is the most attractive element to the craft. I am currently experimenting with 120 film because of the bigger and higher resolution prints that it makes. I guess, in photography, size matters.