Friday, December 21, 2012

Ready or Not

I accept that the battle has been lost. Digital photography is here to stay, I admit it. I remember discussing this with my colleagues in the early 90s and saying that this digital crap (not the word used at the time) will never be as good as film. I also said that zoom lenses were just a passing fad, but that is for another post. If you are wondering why it has taken me so long to come to this conclusion I guess the short answer is that I have been doing traditional photography for more that 30 years and I was finally beginning to get pretty good at it.

Why this sudden change of heart? I guess it is because I have come to accept some undeniable truths about digital photography and in the long run I see it as a good thing. These revelations include: 1. Digital image quality is at least equal and sometimes better than that of film. 2. Digital photography is easier. This semester for the first time I taught beginning digital photography and beginning traditional photography. The digital photography students had a much easier time of it. 3. Manufacturers are making printers that use pigment inks which produce prints with archival quality. 4. Digital media (paper) such as Epson’s Exhibition Fine Art are similar in look and feel to high quality photographic papers but you don’t have to worry about fogging them. 5. Many manufacturers of film products have gone bankrupt or shifted their priorities to digital. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find supplies for traditional photography. 6. And this is most important to me, DSLR manufacturers are developing cameras the have ISOs of 6400 and higher without noise (grain). This is probably the most revolutionary advancement since the advent of digital images. It is clearly a game changer and it is something I would never be able to do with film.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think that doing digital photography is like asking a formally trained master French chef to cook a meal in a microwave oven. And looking at a digital print is like looking at a man with shaved legs—it looks o.k., but you know that something ain’t right.

But I have finally accepted that maybe there is a place for both digital and traditional photography. Since 90% of my photography is black and white, I still like to shoot Tri-X film and process it in Ilford ID 11 film developer. This is a combination that has worked for me for a long, long time. I then scan the negatives and process the images in PhotoShop. I have even shot color film because of its expanded tonal range and converted these images to black and white with some success (Disney Concert Hall portfolio).

I am over feeling that I am selling out because I recognize I can’t fight “progress”. The reality is that in the not to distance future, I won’t even be able to buy my precious Tri-X (that is why I’m hoarding it) and even if I could I would probably have to make my own ID11.

I have come out of the darkroom and into the light. After all it is all about the image, Right!? Maybe one day I will even accept color as a viable form of photography. NOT LIKELY!!!