Sustainablity in Photography

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Derek Lofgreen, May 18, 2010.

  1. Derek Lofgreen

    Derek Lofgreen Subscriber

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    I was listening to some old pod casts of Analog photo radio and heard the mention of sustainability in photography. It got me thinking about it in both an environmental point of view and in the "digital race" to keep up with the latest gear at what seems to be a ridicules cost. Isn't it easier, cheaper, and less environmentally damaging to just keep your old camera that worked fine last week and buy the new latest and greatest film for your upgrade? less landfill space used and raw materials. After all, the difference in the image is what the photographer brings to it and creates than what he/she shot it with right? You can see my other thoughts on my blog. What do you guys think about this new consumer driven model of photography? How is it sustainable? I just can't see how this can go on and be a good thing all the way around. Maybe I am missing something.

    D.
     
  2. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    I don't think the data is out yet on digital cameras. The old days when everyone shot film, film was used of course and if you took it to a drug store to have it processed, they would print everyone. It's not so sustainable as folks shooting digital then erasing the out takes. On the flip side, people that shoot film cameras really don't upgrade their cameras while some digital cameras upgrade every few years. At least on the commercial side, it's mostly shot digitally. I don't think their are budgets for shooting and processing film anymore. On that front, commercial photography is greener. I'm interested in the analysis of how sustainable digital versus analog photography are.
     
  3. Mike Wilde

    Mike Wilde Member

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    I had a curve swung at me in a chat around the office yesterday on sustainability and I am not sure how to react to it.

    We just had a beautiful early summer weekend of weather. I was at a scouts/cubs/beavers campout with my kids.

    I mentioned that a guy I know - one of the other kids parents had gotten his motorcyle out for summer. After dropping the kids off he was going for a spin on the bike. His wife was working that weekend. When he picked up his kids he reported that he had cruised over 780km in the course of the day and two nights that the kids were at the campout. I said is did not get just cruising around in a vehicle.

    My boss, a bit of a rev head, said that I likely put out more impact on the environment with the photos I will process from the weekend's shoot of the events than the guy riding his bike just for the sake of riding.

    I'm not sure if that is a reasonable claim by my boss or not.
     
  4. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    the funny thing is that digital commercial work isn't any less expensive than film ..
    someone has to get paid to sit like a drone infront of the screen ...
    to make the image look "perfect " or cherry pick a still out of the stream
    if the images were shot on HD ... unless of course it is the unpaid intern
    or new recruit / assistant that is getting paid very little to do that ...

    in the end i am not sure "ewaste" is any less harmful that photochemistry or
    the pollution made from making film and paper. lets not forget that
    EK was listed as one of the largest polluters in the USA for years ...
    and now that there are people doing more alternative / more toxic forms
    of photography i wonder if the drips and dribbles of traditional wet plate fixer
    for example are collectively adding up and going into the water supply ...
    i am sure like everything else, a little bit isn't much,
    but when everyone's "a little bit" is added up, it is probably not really a little bit.
     
  5. photomem

    photomem Member

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    I try to be sustainable with my processing, but I have hit a hitch. My Sru is at my studio, but so that I have finer control of temps when processing film, I do it at home. So, I have to haul spent fixer to my studio. Being the incredibly lazy person I am, I hardly ever take the holding vessel to the studio and empty it. So, despite my best efforts, I end up pouring spent fix down the drain. The thing is, I feel horrid about it.

    Overall though, I run as green a shop as possible. I think that even more than chems, reusing things, fixing instead of replacing, and the use of rechargable cells goes much further than chemical supply and disposal. It is at this point that film pulls ahead of digital. My take is that the rapid disposal of equipment and the pollution caused by the manufacture of the equipment is at issue. I would be willing to wager that even at the height of Kodak's pollution, it still pales in comparison to the massive unregulated pollution of camera, sensor, chip, and battery manufacturers in lesser developed Asian and central American nations where regulation is lacking or officials can simply be paid off.

    One more thing, have any of you tried the Eco friendly chems digital truth is selling?
     
  6. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    I have an economical take on the subject: "Pollution costs money, it doesn't grow on trees..."

    If I buy a dollar's worth of product, I have made a dollars worth of pollution. If I pay someone a dollar, I have made a dollar's worth of pollution.

    It's not exact, and there are exceptions, but I think in general it is a reasonable way to look at. If something is more expensive then it is, in general, more polluting: it costs more in labor, which means more workers, which means more pollution created by the workers; it costs more in materials, which means more workers producing the materials; it creates more profits, which means more money spent at Hammer Schlemmer by idiots which creates more pollution....

    By my reckoning most products sold as 'green' and at twice the price are in fact twice as polluting. Obviously if the lower cost alternative makes radioactive waste and the high cost alternative pays a lot of Amish woodworkers then the $=pollution thing doesn't apply very well at all.

    The average Hog gets about 50 mpg. Driving 500 miles uses 10 gallons of gas or $30 worth of pollution. I guess if you shot a couple rolls of Kodachrome and sent it to Dwayne's the thing's a wash; if it was a couple rolls of Tri-X developed in D-76 then I think the Hog made more garbage.

    Black and white darkroom chemicals are pretty benign with the only exception being silver-laden fixer. But it all comes from the earth, it all returns to the earth, and the only harm comes from concentrating things that shouldn't be concentrated and from disposing of things that should be deactivated before disposal. Today's landfills will be tomorrows gold mines.
     
  7. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    Neither is your boss. Don't worry about it. :wink:
     
  8. funkpilz

    funkpilz Member

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    I think my photography workflow is pretty sustainable. I use highly dilute developer, re-use my stop bath, bulk-load film and only print the really good shots. I've taken steps to simplify my process to the maximum extent possible, not just for environmental, but mostly for financial reasons.
    And I don't buy a new camera every year like some digital shooters do. Whenever I buy a camera, it's a used one. That sounds pretty sustainable, too.
     
  9. wfe

    wfe Member

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    Interesting perspective Derek. I just picked up my old copy of Mastery by George Leonard and began to re-read it for the .... time. It's a wonderful book and he talks about what you could call sustainability in the context of life, learning and becomming really good at something. It really applies to anything that we do.
     
  10. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    While I agree that we all need to make as much effort as possible to reduce, re-use and recycle our waste, the "boom" in today's wet plate usage is still effectively zero. At the height of the wet plate era, there were folks washing their plates in streams that supplied drinking water. There were thousands of wet plate photographers across the US alone. Today, there might be a thousand wet plate photographers worldwide. In the 1890s, a single albumen paper manufacturer was using 6 million eggs per year. Think of the amount of poultry waste generated by all those chickens. And that was just ONE factory - there were several in Dresden, Germany alone. And then couple that with all the waste silver nitrate from the sensitization of all that paper. And god knows the paper industry in the 1860s to 1920s was not a paradigm of pollution-free production. So, by comparison, 21st century alt-process folks do not make a collective fly-speck on the planet relative to their contemporaries with the rare-earth heavy metals being used to make their computer chips, carbon consumed to power their devices, and inks, dyes and coatings to make inkjet prints.

    My point is not to give alt-process folks a free pass to be careless with their chemistry, but rather to relieve any sense of guilt or doubt for those who wish to continue working in these processes today.
     
  11. alapin

    alapin Subscriber

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    In your statement, It got me thinking about it in both an environmental point of view and in the "digital race" to keep up with the latest gear at what seems to be a ridicules cost.

    Lets put this in respect film vs digital race. Think of how many people, in the USA, actually shoots film and then how many of them develop their film, as compare to those using digital items. We're not just talking cameras but cell phones and toys.
    Now think how many of them use just one item that they all have in common, the battery.

    Google number of batteries sold in a year. Try 15 billion in the USA each year. How many do you think end up in landfills. Check this site (http://earth911.com/news/2008/10/20/where-batteries-live/).

    From their site: When the lifespan of a disposable battery runs out, it should never find its new life in a landfill. It is estimated that batteries account for 88 percent of all mercury and 54 percent of all cadmium deposited into landfills. These heavy metals can seep into the soil and groundwater or be released through the air, which is hazardous to human health.
     
  12. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    The digital stuff is sustainable for as long as there are fools wishing to part with their money for the newest, greatest, fastest, most technologically advanced camera that does everything so much better than the model released 7 months previously (nobody mentions in the fine print that the user must still press the shutter button to make something happen...). I've long since given up on arguing the point over how and why this silly travesty results in continuously dissatisfied consumers (rather than professionals) who think the camera is not doing enough or doing something correctly. The fault is with the user, not the camera. Coming as I do from a traditional education in photography (the Arts) and long interest, one thing sticks out glaringly: a profound lack of education. A solid education in photography would have seen the majority of people staying with film, using cameras 10, 20 30, 40 years old (+++ for many formats). Quite separate from all this is my continuing offence that traditional art should be usurped by a box of binary bits. Ha! It was fantasy stuff in uni days, now the horror is real.

    What happens to old digis traded in and nobody wants? Do they end up as landfill? Who recycles them, if at all? Now, what happens to old film cameras? People buy them! People use them, too. Those "backward, romantic farts of film" produce beautiful work run off 35mm, 120, 5x4 and even make serious money from it. My personal view is that the manufacturers have lost the plot as much as the consumer. They're not even half as helpful as they once were.
     
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  13. SilverGlow

    SilverGlow Member

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    The issue of "sustainability" that this thread discusses is a tempest in a teapot; an opportunity to disrespect our digital shooting fellow photographers. There is no objectivity here, although there is a lot of subjectivity, bias, religion, mythology, and emotion, and that is sad. Oh, and fear too. Fear that there is another medium that can be used to make awesome art: Just Like Film, but with a different look.

    As to damage to the environment, both film and digital photography are very dirty and damaging to the environment. The Pot should not call the Kettle Black!

    Too often film shooters WRONGLY assume that most or all digital shooters are those that buy the latest and greatest DSLR every 10 days, in order to "keep up". This of course is not true. What they don't understand is that digital technology is evolving and it is still in the early days. Just look at the Canon EOS SLR film system....in 20 years of making film bodies, Canon has created over 40 different film SLR models world wide!

    I love, and respect all mediums that can be used to make awesome art. To think otherwise is to commit intellectual fraud. You will find gear heads that shoot film and digital. You will find those that continually chase the latest and greatest shooting both mediums.

    What do you say we just live and let live...
     
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  14. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    I was bothered for many years by the constant upgrading inherent to digital photography, at least in its early days. Then there was the leica "modul r" that seemed a perfect solution: you'd just detach the digital part and swap it out for the next best one, a few years later. Or shoot film whenever you wanted. Genius! Well... it was quite promptly discontinued; the upfront cost was too much for most consumers and there's just not much profit to be made that way.

    Upgrading has been the core marketing principle of digital photography. If I had a buck for every time I read some column claiming that this one was the one to equal film... and then a few months later, no, this is the one... etc ad nauseam. Meanwhile people thought 12 mp is twice as good as 6 :rolleyes: Now that is unsustainable. Indeed, things have improved in dslr land now, but the marketing principle is still based on higher and higher pixel counts and more gadgetry. (Incidentally, I am not fervently anti-digital, I do have one that I consider to be very nice for several things and it is one of the very few digital bodies that I think is actually built to last, but... it really only handles some of my 35mm needs)

    Anyway, this whole notion of sustainability in the "built" economy has become an irritant to me. As far as I know, no electronics product... *none!*... is fully recyclable. Not even close. (n.b. I have several wooden cameras that are 100% recyclable :tongue: ) What if we actually factored remediation costs into the prices of our electronica? What would the prices be then? What if your CFL bulb cost $100 instead of $5? (And, to be fair: what if you had to return the silver from your fixer or pay a fine or higher price on the next purchase? Not so hard to implement, actually...)

    Until people start computing the actual, upfront consumer cost of sustainability, it's hard for me to take it seriously. I like the idea(l) of course, but, we have to run the real numbers.
     
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  15. nolanr66

    nolanr66 Member

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    I figure that film photography and digital photography are both harmful to the environment in various way. I do not know which one would be the worse offender but I think it would be wrong to not consider our own responsibility to the environment. We all can be more vigilant in our goal of photography and environmental responsibility.

    As far as the digital upgrade thing I am not sure why folks complain about it. Outside of the gearheads out there people generally buy a camera and use it until it is finished. Those that upgrade their gear are not throwing their $1500.00 camera in a lake. They sell it to somebody that is happy to have it. I see no reason to make comments about those that shoot digital as they are just photographers using modern gear. It is gear that blends well with the modern world, the computer and the internet. Of course in this forum you are not likely to find folks that make comments about film users. Shooting film or digital I believe we are all trying to achieve the same thing and that is great pictures.

    The digital shooter does not have much to worry about as new products and services are going to be happening. The sustainablility of film however is a crap shoot. Unfortunately Options are becoming more and more limited every year. Labs are closing, films are being discontinued and the availability of camera's is thinning as they approach decades in age.
     
  16. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    scott,

    you detailed just the tip of the iceberg so well
    and as i alluded to earlier, photography companies and photographers
    have been making nasty waste since before 1840.
    btw. you mentioned chicken guano ... it isn't bad,
    but a prized fertilizer, as most guano tends to be.
    so i am sure the albumen-companies were making money hand over fist.

    there are plenty of harsh, and harshly mined materials
    that go into photo-stuff ... or went into photo-chems, films, papers
    ... before being outlawed.
    that doesn't even take into account the other end ...
    like those bozos in the mini lab industry
    who dumped millions of gallons of waste into rivers or people
    like the guy on the lfinfo site a while ago whose boss wanted him
    to "dump pallets of seeping chemistry". all too often it is out of site/sight, out of mind

    i didn't mean to "pick on" wet platers, you don't need to absolve their
    collective guilt on account of me ... i am sure modern wet platers
    know what they are working with, and how to treat their
    chemistry with respect, i know the ones i met and watched did ...

    i could have just as easily have said people who use selenium toner
    or some other material that is used often and the wash water goes down the drain...
     
  17. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I was picking albumen printing as an example because the volume of it is quantifiable and the scope is meaningful to people.

    Chicken guano may make good fertilizer in small quantities, but in that kind of volume it wreaks all kinds of havoc on the watershed downstream from it. Actually, that's true of just about all fertilizers, organic or otherwise. Just ask the folks on the Eastern Shore of Maryland / in Delaware, where Perdue has chicken ranches. The phosphates and nitrates (I think those are the bad boys) are just so intense from that much chicken waste that it actually harms the soil where it accumulates (you'll know what I mean if you ever over-fertilized a lawn - you burn the lawn and where you spilled the fertilizer, nothing will grow for a year or more), and it gets into the runoff rainwater and ground water and causes algae blooms in the streams and the shallow margins of the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware Bay, which kill off the fish and shellfish that the watermen depend on to make a living. And it can also get some rather nasty bacteria (e.coli among others) into the water supply. Although, as bad as chickens can be, I think the waste from pig farms is much worse. If you want to convert a pig farm back into something else, you almost need to get an EPA Superfund grant to clean it up, and NOBODY wants to live downwind from a pig farm.
     
  18. Athiril

    Athiril Subscriber

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    Being also a digital user, I dont rush out and do the whole 'buy more shit' thing, Im still on the 30D, I merely want to upgrade for a bigger frame and video/cinematic capabilities, I've been using the same batteries for my 30D for the past 2 and a half years, only 1 is genuine canon, the others came from HK/China :smile:

    I'm also using old lenses, my only new autofocussing lens is the Sigma 12-24mm because there is simply no competitor and nothing else like it, works well for 35mm film @ 12mm as well :smile: