Has film and silver gelatin prints finally become marginalized?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Jim Chinn, Jan 14, 2006.

  1. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I guess I never thought it would come to this but I am coming to the conclusion that traditional photography is becoming marginalized to the point of becoming the poor step sister to digital and except for some 35 mm film and paper will be a thing of the past in a few years.

    Every new magazine issue, every blog I read, every forum brings forth another group of photographers ditching traditional for digital. I have talked to two photographers who are getting out of ULF, one who is going to scan film from MF and make digital ULF negatives for contact printing and the other who decided for the cost of 2 years worth of film he can get a top of the line epson printer and work from smaller negs.

    In a couple of years I would imagine that magazines such as B&W and the UK Black and White will carry 90% digital portfolios with the occasional nod to an old timer still working with film.

    As everything accelerates to digital, due to the rock bottom costs of production, almost all new images being sold will be a digital print.
    I never thought I would say it, but I can see a day when galleries, publications and photographers will ridicule gelatin silver (more so then already) as a flawed, inferior final product compared to a digital print. It is certainly a flawed methodology to produce a print in the eyes of the majority of photographers today.

    Now one can argue, "but what about archival standards"? Well, to be honest, in this day and age, I don't think anyone outside of another traditionalist really gives a rats ass about how long a print lasts. Regardless if it costs 20, 50 or 250 dollars.

    I had the idea that no matter how entrenched digtial becomes there would always be an appreciation for the tradition, the handcrafted nature of a "real" gelatin silver print. I just don't see it that way anymore. I just see the ever increasing push for digital in magazines and web sites basically poisoning the well for anyone new to even consider analog. At one of the local Barnes and Nobel stores they had one single book about darkroom printing, among at least 100 volumes and multiple copies about everything digital.

    With no new cameras being made for entry level photographers, no information in magazines, no books one can look at in the bookstore, who is going to buy the film and paper? I guess I need to not really care about availability of film and paper and when it finally runs its course I can start looking at DSLRs and printers. Untill then enjoy the ride while it lasts.

    Hate to be such a pessimist which I am usually not. I have been in a kind of funk the last couple of weeks which is probably clouding my thinking. Maybe some one can blow some sunshine my way.
     
  2. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

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    funk

    Jim-I wonder how the traditionalists felt when they stopped making Platinum paper? Wasn't it Clarence White who said he would quit photography when that happened? Yet we have an extremely strong website here which is basically a traditionalists haven. We still have film and paper and it looks like it will be around for quite awhile. There are some excellant choices of materials currently available. I see many postings on photonet by newbies. These kids grew up with computers and actually like the idea of working with film. We all have a responsibilty to further the education of people using film and traditional materials. My B+N has lots of books in different titles. Actually growing up it was harder to find these books 20 years ago than today. The net certainly has changed availabilty. If you want to find something out it is at your fingertips.
    Then go and do it!
    Just as an aside I was gallery hopping today in NYC and impressed by some nicely done color prints printed out on a matte paper. I liked them alot as they looked well done and no photoslopping added. For me that is interesting because I am NEVER going to do color work in a darkroom but I have a ton color slides on Kodachrome that I might one day want see up on a wall.
    Hey-it's just a thought.... meanwhile cheer the heck up!!!
    Best, Peter
     
  3. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Are you really surprised the way the market is going? We live in a world driven by technology, mainly digital technology. It isn't surprising that photography is going this way as well. It doesn't mean that digital technology is better, anymore than MP3s are better than CDs. Yes, it is sad to see those among us announce they are going to shoot digital, it is sad to see established companies like Kodak and Nikon getting out of the traditional market. In fact, I see traditional color work going all digital sometime within my lifetime. I don't think B&W will go for a while though, if anything, I think digital technology will make it easier to produce traditional materials, and will bring an acceptance to traditional photography.
     
  4. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    There was a great photograph on the cover of the Hartford Courant, January 11, 2006, showing a line of photographers at the Alito hearings, all digital pretty much, maybe a few 35mm shooters, and in a corner Chris Maddaloni with a Crown Graphic. He's considerably younger than David Burnett, the other noted Graphic shooter among current photojournalists of national stature. One more and it'll be a trend.
     
  5. James Bleifus

    James Bleifus Member

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    At the local photo store yesterday I met a photography professor who teaches at my old high school. This is the school where I learned photography 25 years ago. Some years after I left the photo department fell into disrepair and disappeared. A few years ago it was resurrected and sounds stronger than ever. The program is all traditional photography. How will people know about traditional work in a digital world? It'll still be taught in some schools and art centers and there will always be some niche magazines (can't wait for my issue of Emulsion) and books. Heck, it's hard to use my 8 X 10 in public now because it's so unusual. In five years I'll probably be mobbed with questions!

    Cheers, James
     
  6. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    The beauty of these 'retro' photo journalists is that their work takes what we view as common and adds a richness that was, in a time gone by, taken for granted (viewed as common).
     
  7. smieglitz

    smieglitz Subscriber

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    Jim,

    I hear ya. I too think it inevitable that the great majority of imagemakers will soon be using digital equipment if they aren't already.

    In some ways I welcome that change although I dislike the impact it has on availability of traditional products. We will have fewer and fewer choices.

    Yet, acrylics didn't kill oil painting. Likewise, there will still be a dedicated group using traditional silver materials and other exotic photosensitive processes.

    As the great unwashed masses embrace digital, I hope the remaining conventional photographers might somehow obtain a cultural respect similar in concept to that awarded by the Japanese government to their "important intangible cultural properties," aka Living National Treasures.

    Master craftspersons will continue the tradition and the medium may be better off for it in the extended view.

    Joe
     
  8. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member Admin

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    I focus on two things which I strongly believe:

    1. Traditional art work will ALWAYS have a higher intrinsic value than it's digital push button counterpart.
    2. There will always be a lot of people who DO NOT want to use computers to create their art work.

    APUG is proof that there are a lot of people who have no interest in using computers to create their art. Like many here I find using computers to create art to be a dead, sterile, and lifeless excercise. I need to catch light, pour chemicals, get my hands dirty and work an image into existence, not push pixels then push buttons. Our numbers are growing faster than ever before. Is it coincidence that digital's honeymoon phase is starting to end and our numbers are hitting record growth? I can accept that we will consolidate into a smaller entity but do not think the end times are near. Also, digital is impacting many art forms in a similar way which works to our advantage if you look at the big picture. For example digital tools can now create sculptures, paintings, sounds, etc. There will come a time when the art world has more appreciation for all things non-digital and photography will be a part of this movement along with sculpture and other traditional based art forms that refuse to assimilate.
     
  9. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I met the owner of one of our camera stores here in Phoenix. He has large format cameras on display. He sells large format film. He also teaches an advanced photography class at one of the local universities. He tells me that there is a fairly sizeable group of traditional photographers here in Phoenix...primarily large format or ultra large format.

    He doesn't see film going away very soon.

    It's nice to have a resource locally.
     
  10. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    At the same time they're doing something completely contemporary. David Burnett's creative use of selective focus and available light is completely different from the photojournalism of the era when the Graphic was standard equipment. Instead of having to be descriptive, he can be interpretive. Maddaloni seems to be following in this path. And after all, interpretive is likely to be a lot more interesting than descriptive when faced with the task of photographing a judicial candidate giving testimony at a hearing, and trying to do something different from the 40 other photographers standing next to you.
     
  11. MattCarey

    MattCarey Member

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    One of those would be my brother Dan. Another would be the guy with the gool fiberq website on old cameras. http://www.fiberq.com/cam/

    Matt
     
  12. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Nope. Sorry Jim. Yer on your own on this one.

    You either walk the analogue walk under the power of your convictions, knowing what is best for your images, or you hop on the digital bus...just be sure to have a handfull of transfer tickets if you do :wink:

    Sigh...

    Murray
     
  13. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    Lots of reasons for pessimism out there. But there's also a few rays of sunshine. One of my biggest surprises was browsing at photonet recently and discovering less negative attitude toward traditional photography and more posts having to do with film cameras. I really can't foresee knowledgeable people ridiculing traditional photographic works. There still seems to be a reluctance on the part of many galleries in considering digigraphs although that attitude will change.

    I discount magazines and their editorial decisions completely. Commercial enterprises will always lean in the direction they see as being of the most benefit to them financially. They will try to be all things to all people and try to cater to the majority, just like a good old slimy politician.

    Perhaps the biggest bright spot in the gloom is the information and materials available on the internet. It really has opened up possibilities for those of us who are engaging in marginally popular activities. If the digital storm had hit 25 years ago and the only information or products available were through the local camera store or newsstand, I would be SOL. Today, I can order what products I need or find other people with the same interests relatively easily.

    Be of good cheer! We are becoming a unique, elite group. Enjoy it.
     
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  15. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Well Jim, Think about these upcoming events - The Silver Conference, APUG Conference and the View Camera Conference will all be taking place over the next few months. If the predictions of doom and gloom were correct, do not think the folks involved would bother..so bottom line, there is still a buck to be made on traditional photography. Not what it was, but enough that these people think it worth while.

    Maybe what you need it not sunshine but inspiration (did not make down for the Avedon exhibit here did you :smile: ) So get out, stay in...make some photos...use that new timer. All the fun toys we used to look forward to seeing are going away, but so many of the old toys we used to want, but could not afford - now we can...and they are just as much fun as before. Try some alternate process - make a VanDyke, try your hand at hand coating paper. Go to a gallery and find a print you love, get Rob Kendricks new book with the Cowboy Tin Types (it really is worth it)...now talk about a group of people that must hate to see all the automation replacing things...these guys are a what we grew up reading about, watching on TV....roping, branding, you get the idea. Things change....pretty much a cliche, but true none the less. How the change affects us is what is important, just because everyone else wants to point, click, download does not mean you have to. After all, how cool would it be if you were the last parent to shoot film at your kids graduation...and 30 years from now, they still had pictures from graduation....and no one else does? Now how cool do you think your kids will think you were then?
     
  16. Monophoto

    Monophoto Member

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    Jim -

    I agree with you that the popular trend is toward digital. But so what?

    I consider myself to be an individual. I don't have to follow the herd - I can do whatever I damn well want to do.

    A local group that I'm a part of is organizing a display of work at a local coffee shop, and I anticipate having something in that display. I may well be the only traditionalist in the bunch - both in the sense that the work I will be showing was done chemically, and that it was done with a large format camera.

    Excuse me - I have to stop wasting time on the computer and write some checks (yes, the paper kind - I don't pay all my bills on line).

    And I will be using a fountain pen with bottled ink to write those checks. Because I want to and the fact that the herd used those tacky ballpoints doesn't mean that I have to lower my standards to match them.


    Louie
     
  17. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    With a glittering generality, I think digital will prevail where commerical interests rule. Hybrid technology (combination of digital and analog) will be successful in the serious amateur artist. Fully traditional analog photography will be practiced by a dedicated minority. This group (as evdenced by the 10,000 or so members of this site) will spend lots of dollars on their passion. This is good for those that run niche businesses to fill these need.

    Discuss...
     
  18. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i just think it is a sad day when art schools have dropped most of the traditional photography courses ... risd has gotten rid of the lion's share of the classes... i guess it *is* marginalization ...
     
  19. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I'm certainly not planning on abandoning traditional unless the day comes when the materials are either unavailable or become to expensive for my budget and even if that happens I will still use a ULF camera part of the time with colodion or some other non-film alternative.

    I will avoid the computer for as long as possible, because I simply find the end result to be of more value (for me at least) due to the hands on nature, the craft and decision making processes from deciding on the film to the paper to interpreting the neg in the print. I don't mean value from a money point of view, but more value as anything hand made compared to a machine made object.

    What is currently bumming me out is that I have always thought that with collectors and even the general public who are interested in photography and grapics, there would always be a higher appreciation for anything done via a traditional method.

    That is if there were two photographers, both with outstanding images and ideas in the print, both worthy of gallery representation, one with a digital print and one with a silver gelatin, the silver gelatin (or platinum) would be seen as a "superior product" based on the nature of the process.

    I began to realize that we had better hope that a gelatin print is considered equal to a digital one, but what I fear is that eventually silver will be seen as the inferior medium. If that happens, then it is not long before the number of new or even current users of traditional methods dwindles to the point that mfg of materials ends with the exception of some 35mm film from China or Eastern Europe.

    The optimist in me understands that there will always be a group of people who want to persue a more "pure" or hands on way of doing things from a satisfaction point of view, whether it is woodworking or painting, or restoring a classic automobile. I hope that as digital takes over that maybe a few galleries will specialize in traditional work preserving and enhancing the cache of silver and platinum prints. I hope that I few schools always provide an opportunity for students to explore film and the darkroom or that at least enough people will be able to continue to provide workshops in traditional methods.

    It will be interseting to see what news comes out of the Ilford conference in March and then what buzz the APUG conference causes in May. For myself, I am going to try to quit reading the magazines for awhile, stick to APUG on the web and go get some overdue printing done in the darkroom today.
     
  20. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I'm still seeing plenty of traditional prints in New York galleries, and I still think the gallery owners and collectors are taking traditional prints seriously, even as they accommodate new digital work.

    In the more traditional galleries, I've even noticed a bit of sheepishness about admitting that some of the work they are showing is digital (for instance, describing relatively straight Chromira/LightJet-type prints from film as chromogenic prints with no digital manipulation). While one might wish that they would just call a digital C-print a "digital C-print," the upside of this is a recognition that traditional prints are still accepted without question, and one has to be a bit cagey about presenting digital work in a photo gallery that caters to collectors of photographic prints (as opposed to a general art gallery that shows work in various media).
     
  21. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    Traditional prints will open eyes tired by digital.

    What significant event established the fine art photography market in the 70s? Was it some hippie post modern idea?
    The answer is really quite simple, color had become the standard in magazines/advertising. B&W became special, and the impact of a B&W print much greater. It would be nice to think that digital process will also give analog art a boost.
     
  22. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    I have one problem with economic thinking. It is true that once acquired, if no proration of costs for the extra expense in buying the camera are concerned that didgital eliminates the cost of film and processing. If you do prorate the cost the equation changes. It is undeniably true that digtal has a great deal going for it, in fact an almost impossimle edge to beat for advertising and editorial work in terms of quickness of results and money saved. Digital did not start with cameras it started in the graphic arts industry. I have a daughter with 20+years of experience using first graphic arts cameras and hand retouching and then digital. On big budget jobs such as advertising seeing the image almoat immediately is far better than polaroids and shooting a ridiculous amount of film, waiting for processing etc.

    Consumer use of digital, I believe, has benefitted as much from the availibility of powerful PC's as it has from scanners and then digital cameras at relalitivly low prices. A lost cost digital camera that is well designed may serve the casual snapshooter as well as film, With the internet they can be shared with others fo almost nothing. I believe that for people that print
    their own work the biggest advantage is the ability to see on the monitor what effect various changes make. This elimates an awful lot of learning how to print, particularly for those working in color. Detracting from that. for the careful printer, is the PITA of systems calibaration. Material costs for printing are exhorbitant. From an LE standpoint digital may well equal, perhaps even exceed, at its best, what can be done with an optimally processed and RC, that is toned in the case of b&w. print.

    Silver gelatin prints are capable of stunning beauty. They can offer a very good LE. Color RA4 has much improved in the last 10 years as far as LE.

    I believe we all have to come to grips with our own level of what is convenient. What materials cost we are willing, or able. to spend....how many prints we wish to make etc. If we were totally dedicated to quality and making what we considered to be art and we wished it to last we would all be working in platinum, carbon, carbro etc. How many prctictioners are there world wide that can make their own 3 color carbon or tri chrome-carbroprints and do so? When one looks at advertisments made during the during the first half of the 20th century that were made as 3
    color carbon, if their reaction is similar to mine, digital prints in color have not improved the state of the art.. Dye transfer was only a easier way to achieve similar quality at a lot less expense. And so it goes. For me, I am a sloth. I will stick to RA4 and toned fiber based B&W.
     
  23. Timothy

    Timothy Member

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    I agree with most of what is said above, especially that digital tech has its place and that its advance just makes our stuff more valuable, although the "supply crunch" is sure aggravating. But I do not understand how the archival considerations can be dismissed.
    If you accept that a well crafted silver emulsion print properly toned yadayada.... could last for up to 500 years before showing any signs of fading or deteriorating..... then,
    Look back in history 500 years. What was going on then ? The discovery of the New World and the power struggles of medieval monarchies. What exists today, that we can examine from that period ? There are not many, but there are buildings still standing and art works, literature on original parchments, furniture and tools and weapons. We have a pretty good image of life and society at that time.

    Now, can any of you think of a single thing, A N Y thing, that was produced after 1970, that is liable to still be around in the year 2505. There probably are a few things, besides what might only exist buried in a landfill, but that list is very short. I can not help but think, that when historians in the 26th century look back at the period following the two world wars and the depression, (the first half of the twentieth century) and find a blank spot in the record, they will wonder: "Who were these people ?"

    Corny as it may sound: Aside from all of the personal preference reasons expressed above, I think that the work that we all do is ......
    important.


    Tim R
     
  24. phfitz

    phfitz Member

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    "Now, can any of you think of a single thing, A N Y thing, that was produced after 1970, that is liable to still be around in the year 2505."

    floppy discs

    Jim, digital is the saviour of analog film. Now less film is wasted on nothings leaving more film to be used. Kodak was actually buying train-car loads of silver per week, how long before it ran out? Now that it is not being wasted it should last quite some time.

    Have you noticed that the glut of LF gear on the market has ended and the prices are climbing again? Personal people do not have budgets and deadlines to meet, they have their own passions to satisfy. There will now be a very LARGE niche market, more than enough to keep small specialty companies up and running.

    Don't worry, take pictures.
     
  25. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    I am not sure this is really true. There are many more 'conservators' (ie regular people with disposable income) available now than ever before. It sounds dumb but I bet in 500 years there will be several collections of 'star wars' figures in good condition.

     
  26. celluloidpropaganda

    celluloidpropaganda Subscriber

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    I don't have much to add that hasn't been said, but I think it's just a case of shifting markets (and I don't mean that in a purely economical sense) - the cultural significance of silver gelatin printing (and traditional color) has already shifted. Where once the art world might have still unconsciously linked them to the world of advertising and commercial/editorial work, that can't be said anymore.

    Anyone, these days, could throw together a 'book' with InDesign, or fake traditional printmaking processes - but I can still find thousands of people producing artists' books by hand and any number of print shops still using the old ways.