Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..
Best of Both Worlds – Analog vs. Digital Photography
I was thinking how incredibly lucky I’ve been to have started my photographic career in the early 70’s working with film and traditional photographic processes. In just a matter of a few years digital technology literally transformed all aspects of the Photographic Industry. One day I was processing and printing a roll of T-Max and the next it seems I was downloading my images into a Mac computer.
Students entering the field of photography (in most cases) are not exposed to the magic of the analog “wet” process and that’s a shame in my opinion. Photography has such a rich and unique history and digital photography is just a very small part of the mediums evolution both technically and conceptually.
I can remember making my first print over 40 years ago in the darkroom of New York Institute of Technology like it was yesterday. It was one of those “AHHA” moments for me, and to think many photographers have only worked in the digital realm and may never have experienced the mood and mystery of the darkroom with its smells of Dektol, Stop Bath and Fixer, making prints under the glow of an amber safe light.
I began my photographic journey in 1973 when I was a junior at New York Institute of Technology on Long Island, New York. I was a Communication Arts major specializing in Television / Radio Broadcasting when I took a photography course in my junior year. The first time I shot a roll of Black and White film and developed it, I was hooked. I knew, at that moment I would pursue some aspect of photography in my life.
Once I got Dektol and D-76 in my blood, I began taking photographs and practicing my craft. I went into the U.S. Army soon after college in 1975. The recruiter asked me what discipline of the military I wanted to go into. After some serious thought I asked if there were any openings in photography. He said there was one slot and we had to lock into it quickly due to the high demand, so needless to say – I was raising my hand and taking the military oath within days of my initial meeting with the recruiter.
After Basic Training at Ft. Dix, NJ, I spent six months in Still Photography School in Denver, Colorado studying at Lowry Air Force Base. It was very thorough and intense Photographic training starting with photographic theory, large format cameras, photojournalism and photo chemistry. We even learned how to mix our photographic chemicals from scratch. Once I completed the Air Force Photo School, I was assigned to an Airborne support signal group at Fort Bragg, NC.
I worked in a small “make shift” photo lab shooting and writing for military newspapers and publications from 1976 – 1978. I got over 400 photographs and articles published in various military publications to include Army Times, Soldiers Magazine and the Fayetteville Observer during my 2 1/2 years stationed at Ft. Bragg NC. The instruction I received in military photography school and the in-depth “real world” experience I gained from photographing military training, deployments and exercises (in all kinds of conditions, locations and situations) has been invaluable throughout my photographic and teaching career.
I left the Army in 1978 and spent four more years in the Army National Guard as a Photojournalist (and assistant editor) for the NC National Guard Magazine and Newspaper covering all aspects of training and military exercises throughout the country. I also started working for a Community College in Sanford, NC as an audio-visual technician starting at $9,000 per year.
Just like everything else in my life I blinked and those days are long gone. I do most of my photography digitally now and post-production on the computer with Photoshop instead of the darkroom. I still get in the darkroom on occasion to print, however even though I’m nostalgic for those days I do embrace all aspects of digital imaging and the wide spectrum of creative options it affords me for personal expression.
I remember the first time I worked with Photoshop back around 1993. I attended a workshop at the Center for Creative Imaging sponsored by Kodak in Camden, Maine and I must admit I experienced that same “WOW” moment when I started manipulating images in Photoshop 2.5. Yes…2.5. Many versions ago!
We must remember that digital photographic technology is still in its embryonic stage. We can’t even imagine how its going to look 10 years from now. The technology has advanced so rapidly it is mind boggling. It’s also important to remember that the art of painting has been with us for 35,000 + years and photography has only been around since the 1830′s – about 170 years. In that relatively short period of time it has undergone many amazing transformations.
When its all said and done photography is still about seeing the world and translating what we see with our camera no matter what type of camera we are using and what we use to process the images.
Photography is now shown prolifically on blogs, social networks like Facebook, sent via e-mail, cell phone and twitter and yes is still exhibited in galleries and museums in print form, however is the mystic behind the actual printed image fading?
The print used to be the final step in the photographic process before matting framing and possibly exhibiting. This is still occurring no doubt, but a new generation of photographers and even many older photographers like myself and viewers of photography have other options and avenues for using, viewing, appreciating and analyzing photographs besides making actual prints.
So what about this THING we call the print? In gaining all these new creative venues (outlets) for showing / sharing photography, has the print been relegated to an after thought or more commercial realms?
Is there a real difference between looking at an actual print and the same image posted on the web in digital form?
I create many images with my cell phone, point and shoot, Holga and Canon 5-D that are posted to my blog, but never get printed. Does the viewing experience change when viewed from a computer screen or cell phone? I personally think so!
So yes…photography is rapidly evolving and many of the changes in the medium are great and exciting, however I must admit to missing the “thingness” of the printed photograph. I can’t even imagine what photography will be like in 10 – 20 years. What will the cameras look like? I wouldn’t be surprised if traditional 35mm cameras were completely replaced by very sophisticated and high resolution cell phone like devices. Cell photo cameras have gotten incredibly good in the past few years. The technology is evolving at rapid speed and I don’t see it slowing up any time soon.
So the point is… the medium of photography is constantly changing, evolving AND reinventing itself. That in itself is a very exciting thing. We have come a long way since Stieglitz, Strand, Weston and Ansel Adams. Just think of the possibilities – they are infinite. With that said, the photographic industry is dramatically different than it was 10 – 20 years ago because of the nature of the digital medium and the competitive global economy we live in. Photographers are going to have to forge their own paths into the digital terrain and carve out professional lives and careers. It is going to take ingenuity, creativity and entrepreneurial chutzpa to harness and ride the digital wave. There are endless opportunities for all of us in this great country and the global economy – the winners will be the ones who tap into a void that YOU and you only can fill with your innovative ideas and creative vision.