Not exactly random thoughts on photography.

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by pbromaghin, Mar 15, 2013.

  1. pbromaghin

    pbromaghin Subscriber

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    The other day I was shooting at a cake-and-coffee get together for a guy's retirement. A young coworker was amazed that I was shooting film and asked how I knew if they were going to be any good without being able to digitally chimp. I was pretty much at a loss for words and ended up mumbling something about knowing how your equipment works. This little exchange really got in my head and a few days later I sent her this note. It's not a manifesto or anything like that, not deep nor profound, just a few thoughts on the theme may that entertain some of you. Or piss you off. It's worded to address somebody who knows nothing about this little alternative universe we live in here.


    Molly,

    The other day you asked me how I knew that my pictures were going to be alright without being able to look at them on a screen right away. I have heard that younger people do ask that question of film shooters, but nobody ever asked me before. I was unable to give you any good answer because I’ve been shooting film for almost 50 years and it has never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be good, or at least I wouldn’t know what would be wrong with them. That got me to thinking about why older film shooters do know that and younger digital users don’t.

    In my opinion you expect film photography to be unpredictable because you have been told 2 lies. The first lie is one that casual digital users tell themselves, that they have to chimp their shots (look at the screen after they shot) because what their camera captures is unpredictable. The real reason for this is that they just don’t know how their cameras work, so THEY can’t predict what their camera will capture. Even many self-proclaimed professionals fall into this category.

    The second lie is told by, and to, people who have discovered cheap peiceofcrap plastic junk toy cameras and lousy cheap film, all from China and all made with virtually no quality control. What will come out of those camera with that film is highly unpredictable. They have embraced this and find some kind of wonderfulness in it that escapes me. And somehow these fools have convinced most of the rest of the world that this is what film photography is and always has been. The first camera and film my parents gave me for my 7th birthday was better than this junk.

    You see, there is nothing unpredictable about what will happen to light passing through high-quality optical glass. The science and mathematics of optics goes back to the 1500’s with Copernicus and Galileo. There is also nothing unpredictable about what will happen when that light hits a high quality modern film. This films available today are the best ever made. The quality control involves using electron microscopes to examine the light-sensitive coatings at the molecular level. There is really nothing unpredictable about how development chemicals will act on those light-sensitive layers to bring the images into view. There is nothing unpredictable about what will happen when the images are projected onto light-sensitive paper and the passed through similar chemicals to be developed.

    But when I say it is all predictable, I mean when using standard methods, techniques, temperatures, formulae, etc. At every step of the way there is possibility for variation away from the standard. These variations require skill and knowledge of how the equipment works in order to bring the best out of it. This knowledge comes from making mistakes and learning from them. This is also where a lot of the artistry comes in.

    For an extreme example of skill and artistry, take Ansel Adams, the god-saint of American landscape photography. He used 8”x10” film, comparable to about 2000 megapixels. A friend of mine happened on him while hiking one time and stopped to chat. He had been at the spot for 3 days without taking a single picture, waiting for the light to be just right. When he would finally expose the film, he would already have in his mind just what he wanted the final print to look like. He knew the exact combination of chemicals, time, and temperature he would use to develop the film; the paper he would print it on; the ways he would enhance different parts of the picture; and the chemicals, time, and temperature he would use to develop the paper.

    Anyway, this was long and rambling and probably a big surprise to you. You see, your question caused me to bring together a lot of uncoordinated thoughts that have been bouncing around inside my empty head for quite some time. I wrote this as much for myself as for you. I take this stuff way too seriously.

    Thank you for your question,

    Peter
     
  2. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    I think this is an excellent piece of dialogue and an attempt to communicate.

    I especially like your point about the cheaper-cameras and film, that somehow this is always been this way. Very similar to when someone is trying to simulate an old movie, what is the first thing they do? Add scratches, like old film has always been scratched and not because it was improperly stored. Many older cameras are fine-quality machines (some newer ones too!) and the quality of film has never been better.

    Very nice response!
     
  3. redrockcoulee

    redrockcoulee Member

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    Although I shoot a very find Hasselblad and 4X5 systems and get great results as well from my Pentax 35mm equipment my wife and I both enjoy using our various Holgas and Dianas. I do not consider either of us fools for doing so nor respected photographers such as Micheal Kenna who has stated that he too has added a Holga to his gear. I was very happy with the Holga panoramic pinhole images I created from a recent trip to Havana.

    I have never heard or even read anywhere that lomography type cameras or images are what film photography is or ever was so not sure which fools you are referring to. I think there are better ways to promote the advantages of shooting film without insulting or denigrating those whose path differs from one's own. I bought the Holgas knowing full well what they could or could not do as well as knowing how they compare to earlier inexpensive cameras as we own several Kodaks from the 40s and 50s as well. My wife wanted them and they make great presents to her. We will continue being fools shooting and enjoying Holgas and pinhole cameras but other serious photographers do so as well. And enjoy shooting the Hasselblads and LF as well but for different reasons and different expectations and visions.

    As to your first lie or what you call a lie, chimping is certainly over used by digital shooters but polaroids were used by film photographers for much the same reason as well. There are so many more settings on a digital camera than most film ones that it is so easy for a setting to be changed without your knowing and viewing the image will often let you know that.
     
  4. pbromaghin

    pbromaghin Subscriber

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    redrockcoulee, your kind of Holga user is not the fool I was referring to. The fool is the one believing and convincing others this is all there is.
     
  5. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    I use a Holga as well (and greatly enjoy it, I even won an award with one) but part of the enjoyment is the unpredictability of it. You just never know what you are going to get and if it is usable. You have to admit it is very much a "pet rock" type of item, something that very in vogue at the moment but will likely not have long staying power.

    I think you are taking his reference to fools a little more personally than he intended; he is saying that the person who thinks the Holga/Lomo is the high-point or a complete representation of film photography is a fool, not the person using either.
     
  6. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

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    A nice write-up, pbromaghin. I admit I often 'chimp' when shooting the other stuff, what the heck, it's available. But I still don't generally experience great anxiety when shooting film (which I've done for approaching sixty years!) I also think there is an important difference in the characteristic curves that helps reduce my anxiety. If you exceed the upper range of a digital sensor, you pretty much wipe out all detail, whereas a typical film will compress the range a bit and you still get something. Yes, the final result may be less than optimum, but at least there is something there. And drawing from experience, in dim lighting I may take a second shot at a stop or so more exposure if I'm really worried. I'm sure most of my thought process goes into finding the right perspective and composition. I mean, yes, I've blown a few pretty badly over the years, but very seldom have I been left with nothing.

    I currently have a couple of pieces in a local art show (one of which even got an award!) and at the opening another artist was asking me about one scene. It's an historic farm in the area -- and I used IR, although it's not over the top with IR effects. She wanted to know what time of year it was taken and was surprised when I said "August." The grass in the foreground may have seemed a bit snowy. Anyway, when she learned it was taken with film she at first seemed quite surprised, but then started talking about digging out an old camera of hers. Of course, then she asked where to go for processing and I felt a bit short on current knowledge, especially for B&W, which I haven't sent out since about 1955!
     
  7. pbromaghin

    pbromaghin Subscriber

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    Actually, that was the first thing I mumbled...
     
  8. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    Although I haven't quite get there yet but my goal has been to remove all the unpredictability out of photography. I do not embrace the surprise or unpredictability in photography. Digital is actually much more predictable because you basically use the same sensor over and over and yet those who use them need to chimp.
     
  9. Brian C. Miller

    Brian C. Miller Member

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    You know if it's going to be good just like you know ahead of time when you cook something. How do you know that a tried-and-true cake recipe will be good at the end? Well, it's because you tried it before, and it tastes good.

    Now, how do I know that a photograph will be well-exposed? Because I meter the light to know how bright it is. Then I set the shutter, which is a precise clockwork mechanism, to let in just the right amount of light. The film has been made to unbelievably exact specifications to react "just so" to the light.

    How do I know I got just the right composition? That's a different question.
     
  10. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i have never heard of anyone who uses non-high-end cameras
    say or even suggest that all film based /chemical based photography
    had anything to do with their little fun camera.
    its too bad you put so much effort into calling people names
    camera and technique snobbery is not good for any vein of photography

    oh well ...
     
  11. Denis P.

    Denis P. Member

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    Peter, thank you for sharing this.
    I enjoyed reading your piece immensely :smile:
    And, although I sometimes use a Holga, it never even occured to me that you wrote anything against the "crowds who use them" (to paraphrase...).
    Again,thanks for a very nice (and good) read!
     
  12. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    Holga has been a mainstream camera since at least the late '80's here. As such, I wouldn't call it a pet rock type of item. Might have something to do with a photography school being in a nearby town. I'm sure plenty of people get them as gimmicks though. I've seen a lot of nice stuff from Holgas, but I prefer fuzzy large format (on good film) over fuzzy small format.
     
  13. redrockcoulee

    redrockcoulee Member

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    That is good to know and thanks for explaining however reading your original posting twice again I still get the same message from your wording.
     
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  15. Slixtiesix

    Slixtiesix Subscriber

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    I enjoyed it, but think you were a little bit too hard on the hipsters!
     
  16. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    +1 and long winded too. I have seen far more talent these days behind a lo-fi Holga than a lot of the "Technically Perfect" film snobs that post on here and beyond...

    I would have simply said that "It's like the difference between when you first pickup a guitar, looking at finger placement on the fretboard compared to a few months or years later when you no longer have to because you can just feel it."

    Or, even more simple, "Experience"....
     
  17. Pioneer

    Pioneer Member

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    I am a bit afraid that you may have caused Molly to shut you off. I suspect that at least half her friends are using, or have used, Holga cameras and when she reached the point in your note where you called them fools she probably did not get a lot further. They may not be treading the same road to image making that we did, but half of the fight in getting youngsters interested in film in the first place is to make it fun. You obviously don't care for Holga cameras or Holga photography, and I am really not all that excited by them myself, but my grandkids love them. Since they love them they use them. Two of them have now graduated from using their Holga's to using more traditional film cameras, and they enjoy them as well. Besides, their imagination is contagious and I find myself trying new things just because they find it so exciting. It is probably good for all of us.
     
  18. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Expect some awkward smiles next time you see her. It sounds like reasoning for madness.
     
  19. pdeeh

    pdeeh Member

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    Having a rant on APUG is one thing, but sending something in this vein - uninvited - to a "young coworker" strikes me as poor judgement

    I think if I was Molly, I'd be feeling pretty disturbed about getting an email like that and I'd want to talk to my supervisor about it.
     
  20. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Let's face it. Film photographers are packing around a lot of anger these days. They are feeling self conscious, and unsure of themselves. If they weren't why would we be having all these threads by analog people complaining about digital shooters and digital prints.

    It's like dressing like a Goth, then wondering why people are looking at you. They are looking at you because you are doings something different. They may ask you why you dress like that because they don't understand why you do it.

    Analog photography has become a niche way to photograph. Some kids today have never seen an analog camera, don't know how it works, and have absolutely no idea how a darkroom works. For the consumer, analog died years ago and before some of these kids were born.

    So if you want to be a grumpy old geezer that's up you, but you do have a great opportunity to teach people and evangelize the analog way if you wanted to.

    I find the OP letter a good teaching tool, although a little harsh.
     
  21. cjbecker

    cjbecker Member

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    I'm on my phone at the moment and it is hard to type a long thought.

    But I totally agree with you. I know exactly what the image will look like before I even pull the camera out of the bag. But recently my camera has been giving we weird results. Which was a bummer becuase they were from a hike in the smokey mountains.

    The only time that a picture is not what I was thinking is when the camera messes up.

    I think the problem is some weird reflections in the camera.
     
  22. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    Because they're trying desperately to preserve just about the last surviving online meeting place they can go to discuss their craft without being called idiots. That's where the anger you sense is coming from. Not from a sense of being unsure or self-conscious about analog itself.

    They're attempting to flee from the hordes of d-evangelists who won't be satisfied until this final online film oasis is overrun. Apparently those other 999,999 d-sites are not enough for them. They want all 1,000,000.

    The complaints are less about digital in general, and more about digital overrunning Sean's analog oasis.

    Ken
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2013
  23. pdeeh

    pdeeh Member

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    I don't see any threads about digital overrunning the analog oasis.
    I do see consistent attacks being launched against the very idea of digital, and the constant denigration of digital users and digital photographs as idiotic and stupid and ugly.
    There's no need.
    APUG can remain film-focused without denigrating and abusing others.
     
  24. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    I would have said to Molly that there is more to photography than merely pointing a camera in the general direction of the subject and taking a couple of dozen photographs in the hope that one will be satisfactory. There are concepts such as previsualization, composition, time-parallax compensation, etc, etc that a good photographer takes into consideration before he presses the shutter. These techiques help to ensure that a photo iis likely to be good. But she probably won't understand any of it.
     
  25. bobwysiwyg

    bobwysiwyg Subscriber

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    I'm not sure about the anger thing. I pack none. I enjoy doing what I do and the way I do it. If I'm ever asked why, I try to explain, no more no less. Whatever ultimately happens to film will not be changed by my, or anyone else's anger. Just have confidence in what you're doing and do it.
     
  26. Maris

    Maris Member

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    It reminds me of the last time I was shooting 8x10 in the field and the inevitable camera-toting kibbitzer (alias buttinski) showed up and popped the inevitable question "What are you doing?"

    After a bit of banter about it not being an old camera and how I "develop my own", it got down to the question of how did I know the pictures will "come out". I assured my new friend that film exposure and development were very precise and then gave him a look under the focussing cloth at the groundglass. While I was getting the usual "wow", "it's in colour", "it's upside down", I pointed out that the view camera can do something no digital camera can do. The groundglass enables "chimping" of the final image in full, with all the details exactly how they will appear, BEFORE taking the picture. The digital cameras folks carry around enable chimping of a mere "preview" only AFTER the picture is taken.

    If digital cameras omitted the little reassurance screens on the back, if they didn't offer chimping, their sales would plummet to a fraction of present levels. And people would have to relearn how photography actually works.
     
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