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Barriers to Digital


Canon 5D camera and Canon 24mm f1.4 L series lens

Canon 5D camera and Canon 24mm f1.4 L series Aspherical lens

I’m really glad that I no longer make prints in darkrooms. I’m old enough to remember the romance of the darkroom. It was that long ago. Yet not so long ago that I forget the many hours standing in either total or near darkness, on hard floors in a fixer-scented room. As a consequence I’ve taken my darkroom skills, together with a pretty critical eye, along the path we now call digital imaging. It’s fantastic!

Actually I don’t enjoy the cameras and lenses anywhere near as much as my film-fed Hasselblad and Leica cameras – long live our Swedish and German friends. It’s not so much that I love working at the desktop as I recognise the workflow advantages hard drives (storage and retrieval) and software applications (image organization, processing and output) like Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop provide us. Because of the accessibility and day-to-day low cost (as opposed to the initial cost) of digital imaging, I can now work on images practically everyday. It does require real discipline, but it’s so much easier to incorporate many computer-related tasks into everyday life, even if that means tapping away while kicking back on the couch. The darkroom, on the other hand, often lay unvisited for months on end.

So, what’s your position on digital imaging? Are you struggling to manage and process your files or have you become an advocate for this new technological marvel.

One way or another images printed by professional and consumer labs involve the digital process (eg. scanning of the neg/trans. and/or exposing of the photographic paper). And let’s not forget sending images as attachments via e-mail. Though some may not realise it, many ‘so-called’ traditionalists are also involved in digital imaging.

The notion of digital photography as cheating is really quite silly. Almost every decision we make as photographers (eg. film, filter, lens focal length, DOF, framing, developer, paper size and contrast takes us away from the so-called reality we saw when we pointed the camera). And what about black-and-white? Given that we perceive the world in color, black-and-white is really a pretty abstract concept. Many confuse traditional practices with notions of truth and purity when, in fact, they were probably as least as revolutionary when they were introduced as digital imaging has been to photography. But of course this kind of negativity isn’t new to either painting or photography. And if it wasn’t for such advancements in technology we might still be painting our pictures on cave walls. What really matters is not the process by which we do things, but the intentions behind what we do and the meaning that underpins our work.

So why do many folks still see digital imaging as being some kind of surrender to a metaphorical dark side? Naturally cost is an issue for many, as is the terribly steep learning curve for those having to replace their hard won traditional darkroom expertise with image processing on the desktop. I can also think of two artificially created barriers that could lead to such a conclusion. Firstly there is the fear of change. It’s easy enough to say that, in reality, change is really the only constant we can count on. But spare a thought for those older photographers whom, despite a real passion for the craft, feel that the journey into digital photography is beyond them. Then there is the silly notion that photography stands for fact (the photograph doesn’t lie) and that by altering your image on the desktop you are somehow altering reality, as though that were a bad thing. And that’s despite the fact that that is precisely what good printers actually undertook to do in the darkroom. Whether it was to emphasize shape, lighten a dark face or manage problems associated with recording high contrast scenes onto photographic materials, photography has always had to struggle between the need for a recognisable likeness and the artistic intentions of the individual photographer. Fortunately, for painters, photography’s ability to render ultra fine details pushed painting away from the constraints of realism into the freedom of abstraction.   

Reality is a concept, which we all perceive somewhat differently. Rarer than being overly concerned with the notion of recording reality, a photographer should work towards capturing the essence of the subject, as they perceive it, or their impression of the scene, whether that be sharp and clearly identifiable or abstract and suggestive.

Why is it that a group of photographers can photograph identical subject matter and produce completely different images? It’s because we all see, and often remember, the physical world differently. And thank the goddess of photography that we do! Imagine how boring life would be if we all saw, remembered and photographed the world around us in exactly the same way. Not only would that make picking a winner in a photography competition particularly tricky, it would probably eliminate the reason for having such competitions.

We believe in what we know and do, and fear what we don’t. It’s human nature. So, what about the journey down the digital road? It is a wonder, full of frustration and struggle. Yet, for those that persist, magic and beauty await, as does the opportunity to share our journey with an ever-larger audience.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved

Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography


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