Somewhere Between Film and Sensor

For the past two years a lot of my photography has been in the form of black and white film photography. I accepted film as a challenge: a new medium to explore and learn from. I have come to realize that I have taken film photography as far as I intended to take it and as such it would probably be in my best artistic/creative interest to file it away as a tool and a method, but not as my primary photographic medium.

I reached this conclusion after looking back over my HDR photos yesterday and realizing that I have missed my other techniques and that I have been too monotonous (through a monochromatic medium even). An issue I now face is how to gracefully re-enter my older digital style, while retaining what I have added to my style through the use of film.

First of all, I know that I am going to have to slow down my digital pace. Every exposure on film is special, it is recoded on a finite medium that will remain for as long as the medium is able to survive (a long time once properly developed and fixed). Digital is virtually infinite. The images are recorded, transferred and moved about. Each image is special but for an instant until it is quickly replaced by another special or great image. Digital sucks the art out of photography if you let it, it is too perfect, too stable, too reproducible.

Second, as an extension of a slower pace, I will need to learn to shoot in RAW. Or more importantly, I will have to learn to process in RAW. I am from an era in digital imaging where the JPEG is everything, its how images exist and are transferred, but it is a compressed form that is pre-manufactured… JPEG digital photography is functionally equivalent to shooting with a Polaroid. The camera makes certain decisions and those decisions are committed to the file. RAW is more like having a negative, it can be modified in various ways with various treatments. There is more sensor data available and a wider tonal range to interact with.

Finally, I need to spend more time with the photographs once I have taken them. This goes along with the previous point somewhat. Its not about getting the perfect exposure or the perfect color on a photo, it is about selecting the correct way to portray the subject, the best way to see something. While it may seem that realism is the way to go in photography, it is very boring and misses one of the key benefits of photography over real life, there are many ways to view something. Manipulating color spaces, adjusting contrasts in those spaces and expanding the tonal range of the images creates new ways to view things. For digital, I cannot allow myself to accept realism as the default state anymore.

As an extension of these three points of change, I have to start thinking in the physical. With the use of film there is always a physical copy, even if it is in inverse form. I probably should think about producing digital images with the intention of them eventually being printed and being physical pieces of work. It is not enough to have a massive collection of photos stored digitally, in reality that probably is nearly worthless from an artistic perspective. There needs to be a lot of photos, but they have to be individual works, not a collection of point and shoot frames without meaning and without some sense of individuality and personality. 

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