Tuesday, July 26, 2011

confessions of a stevedore

part 2 (unedited)

confessions 2

"i use a digital slr camera for all my professional work but my personnal preference is for film..."

there are no variations on this theme.  this is pretty much government issue for all serious lovers of photography.  annie leibovitz fixit shoots all day with hassleblads but in her down time she shoots with those stupid little point and shoot 10 megapixel compacts.

i know what you're thinkkng—it's all slumming, a deliberate dumming down, sneetches fixit trading in their stars to differentiate themselves from the masses.  but you're wrong...perhaps not about annie leibovitz, but she's a freaking kook, or so i've heard.  film has its rightful place, it's own particular sainted nitche in the world of art photography and in some very special cases, it reigns supreme.  here is a breakdown:

first, i admit there are idiots out there that shoot with film because they get a nice warm fuzzy feeling.  all that history and analogness...has to be good right?  there is also the school of thought that equates all things evil with digital, a selling of our collective artistic souls.  digital to them is a lie, counterfiedt fixit. an approximation.  a diabolical plot of the knights templar to suck our brains dry and turn us all into little neo-cons.  lovers of analogue pine for the tape hiss, the friendly warm reassuring scratching sound of the needle on vinyl, edward weston's  Pepper No. 30 on silver gelatin.  i have go say that i  dont exactly fall lock step into these kinds of arguements.  i'm not exactly confused about most media and it's confusion, ignorance and just plain naievete sp that leads down this road.

that's not to say that there isn't a grain of truth to all this digital bashing, it's just that the majority of what passes for water cooler chatter is just that—a lot of chatter.  the rub is that digital is too clean, too unforgiving.   moore's law is wearing a little thin,  not that it doesn't hold true.  it more than likely does (but who keeps up with all that crap).  it's just that all this technology has obscurred the one true tenet of artistic endeavor—that of the search for the lost note, the eternal music of the spheres, that indefinable something that distinguishes a vivian maier photo from that of a john q tourist...

let be me more specific;  in the early days of digital cameras, i mean the mid to late oughths, the days when digitial sensors were more or less perfected and pixel count became more about marketing than any real selling point,  when the market fell out of memory cards and hard drive space....i shot on average about 5,000 photos a week and on average i saved about 10 to 15 of those photos.  by that i mean that only about 10 to 15 pictures would i consider part of my ouvre, a decent sampling of my work or style, photos that i woudn't be too embarrassed to admit that i took, photos that i might show to fellow stevedores.  that's an absurd ratio—something around .01 percent.

so what's wrong wrong with this picture?  if todays digital imaging cameras deliver more quality than yesterday's film cameras (and they don't, not always) wherein lies the dilema sp.

the dilema is this:  film has a higher dynamic range than digital.  by that i mean that a piece of film can better display the full range of tones within a dynamic range.  lets say that we are taking a picture that has many differrent degrees of light, in other words, lots of sun, lots of shade.  digital cameras are really really good at rendering one particular dynamic at a time, either sun or shade.  they are not good at rendering both at the same time.  so if you are taking a picture that has subjects in the shade and in the sun, your digital camera only wants to properly develop (or expsose) one of these subjects, either the light or the shade.  now, all things being equal (meaning that we are using a digital sensor that is roughly equivalent to say...35mm film—not all digital sensors are the same size as 35mm film, in fact most of them are much much smaller.  to put this in perspective, a decent digital camera and lens that is equivalent to 35mm film will cost you damn close to 4,000 dollars!) like i was saying, all being equal, given an image that has only one dynamic range, lets say sunny, both the digital and film camers will give you something valid and useful, albeit different.  the difference is largely that of grain and texture.  film has a certain look to it, a filmic look—that of grain and relative softness.  digital cameras can produce images that are sharper and have more clarity, but it's a sharpness of a digital kind that is not always beneficial or flattering.  film more closely reproduces what our eyes see...or, and i could be playing my hand here—film more closely reproduces what our eyes have become accustomed to seeing—images that have some degree of softness and grain, more forgiving, more, dare i say, analog?

i can hear the haters in the gallery and they are screaming "hey!  what about hdr?"  hdr or high dynamic range photography is something of a dirty word amoung true fans of photography.  hdr is a term that largely means bracketing, that of taking a series of snapshots with a range of expsosures.  with film, the images can be double or tripled expsoed in the camera or this can also be done in the darkroom.  with digital, a range of exposure can be set within the camera, usually three images that are taken one right after the other.  these images are then merged within a software program on the computer, such as photoshop.  hdr photos tend to look like some kind of poster for a james cameron film or a typical fantasy book jacket du jour sp.  they tend to look fake, generally because the bracketing is too high, too dynamic and too unnatural looking, hence the fantasy references.

the truth behind the obsession with film cameras is that photographers have lost over the years their true objective, that of taking a good image.  these machine gun  antics of most tourists and newbie paps do nothing to achieve the goal of taking a great photo.  using film cameras reinstills this lost art.  a photographer is once again forced to look with his eyes and rely on his wits, and in most cases, he must rely on his knowledge of exposure, shutter speeds, film speeds and aperture settings because a lot of these old film cameras don't have built-in light meters which means that it's up to you to get the right exposure.

sure, there is the argument that digital slrs are bigger by nature than film cameras. they have huge lenses and bodies to house all this technology and they are a bit intimidating to the general public.  a pap with a decent camera rig can be seen a mile away whereas a gent with a small rangefinder camera around his neck is largely scene as a gentleman stroller out to take in the sights, not plaster your photo all over hello magazine.  if your objective is to take great pictures then you have to do what it takes to get a great shot.  pros generally get by with long telephoto shots of their subjects, especially paps who generally can't get close enough without getting their asses kicked.  any shot of bernie madoff hailing a cab downtown will sell, so why not just get a telephoto shot from a mile away.  but, all the really great street shots are taken at close range and generally with 35 to 50mm lenses.

the notion that rangefinders are more stealthly is a crock, especially from a paps point of view.  who cares if they see you coming.  did jackie o see ron galella coming.  we wouldn't have that shot of her smiling at him otherwise and who's ready to trade that in.  sophia loren...forget about it.

but there is a kind of validity to wrapping an old leica m3 around your neck, nice old leather strap, an elmar 50mm...brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation.  carter-bresson, that cat walk of his, on tippy toes immortalizing the crepe makers.  galella courting the great whore of the twentieth century, though he shot nikon...    there's a magic too of not knowing what you've shot, not caring and being deliciously surprised perhaps weeks later.  i can't quantify it.  suffice it to say that chicks dig it and let's move on.

du-par's restaurant and bakery since 1938, farmer's market, corner of fairfax and 3rd, 3:00 am...  

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