View Full Version : Traditionalists and nostalgia.
04-20-2012, 05:26 PM
As much as we celebrate expressive photography, we can't deny that nostalgia defines this medium and will always be the overriding power that the billions of images made in the last 180+ years hold for most people. Think of any photograph and you think of the past. That we continue to look for the past in the present is a habit developed, largely, from looking at photographs. The objects we might see in a family picture - "I wonder where that old lamp is?" - we grab the lamp from the attic and put it on display. More importantly, as photographers, is representation and the modernity we often omit from the frame deeming it 'banal', 'boring', 'clinical' and 'ugly' - words I see time and time again on this forum and words I've used myself. This is a condition that people who shoot film suffer from and digitalists, largely, do not. If there was to be some serious research carried out using images on Flickr there would undoubtedly be a massive correlation between 'film' tags and a lack of reference to modernity in the images. One of the reasons for this, other than the fact many of these shooters actively look for old cars, buildings, 70s wallpaper etc. is that a sum of the photographs will be romantic landscapes. I'm convinced the reason so many film hobbyists turn to the landscape to produce expressive work, has less to do with tonality/dynamic range/detail and more that in this environment their habitual searching for nostalgia can be switched off. That denial of the reality of encroaching modernity can feel like discipline in itself and discipline is an important part of artmaking - a subconscious connection is made. This fuels further detachment and cynicism about the modern world. Many practitioners (including myself at times) seem to be on a delusional spiritual and environmental crusade. Believe it or not, not all landscape photographers are city hating hermits! :cool: Again, I believe it's part of this condition we develop the minute we load our cameras with film. An aversion to the visual reality of the present. "Bring back Kodachrome!" really means "bring back my youth!" or at least a time they now perceive as being better, even if they weren't around!
If we're trying to keep film alive, why do we continue to pile on the dust? We need to learn to make reference to this century just a little bit more, as I feel concern with the past, whether it's the things we photograph or the visual language/style/overuse of sepia, is going a long way (in the mind of a fatalist) to killing film. From what I've observed and from the frequent comments uttered by those who know I shoot film or see me with my camera, a concern with the past is what turns people off film. It's simply anorakia to them and basically socially questionable. Young people in particular, who have no sentiment for the smells (which are strongly linked to memory - nostalgia) are being turned off film because of its association with nostalgia anoraks. Young people are more concerned with the future and this mindset is antipathetic.
In essence, film isn't the problem, it's the unattractive curiosities of the people who shoot it.
04-20-2012, 06:35 PM
I shoot the same range of subjects with film as I did in the 70s with the exception of sports in colour which I do in digital. I switch between black and white film and a digital camera depending on the image more so than the subject. Trees and rocks are not that much older than since the dawn of the digital age in fact some of the trees I have shot were not alive ten years ago. I think you are painting all film photographers with an extremely wide brush. I also do not think that just because I wish to continue to shot with film that I must adopt new subjects so that I am shooting so called modern ones on film. If I am not doing them with my digital camera why must I on my film ones just to stay relevant? Lamenting the demise of a product, or a favourite store or TV series is not wishing ones youth back perhaps simply wanting to continue using some thing one likes or even loves. I personally stopped using Kodachrome years ago but there are other products that I wished were still around. And some products that I have not used until the last couple of years that I really love.
It seems that it is the young that are finding film through Lomography or trying out the now cheap used SLRs. But of course they have to find their own way and make their own memories rather than borrow ours but what evidence is there that they are turned off from film because many of us shot landscapes? And do not many digital photographers shoot landscapes as well? I have seen many on the net. Perhaps they might be turned off by an individual who tells them that real photography is done by film or how much harder things used to be but that is by the person and not by the subject or the media.
So is the solution for all of us to visit the newest image sharing sites and change to shoot those subjects? How many more young people will try film because I shoot skateboarders instead of badlands? Most likely zero.
04-20-2012, 07:42 PM
I've been getting more positive encounters lately when I explain the camera I am carrying is a film camera.
A few years back it could be a subject of ridicule.
04-20-2012, 10:43 PM
Believe it or not, not all landscape photographers are city hating hermits!
Damn, I have been circumscribed - Nothing to do with tackle, it means drawn around - But yes, I live in the forest 360Km from the nearest city and refuse to go there, then curse Australia Post for their wretched delivery times when I have prints to get to international collectors
However, the article as a whole is very pertinent and the subject is a needed relief from the constant "what new/old camera I have bought" boredom that infests this site
Firstly, I understand photography to be a fundamentally documentary medium, in that EW's nautilus shell existed as a visual event which EW documented, this is also true for the strange works of Joel-Peter Witkin, which were also visual events in front of his camera
In these enlightened days of post-modernism, which I never really grasped, photography, initially the archetypal modernist medium (Rodschenko, Molohy-Nage, Strand and some WC Americans), seems to have fallen into a neo-romantic cess pit, with some workers going out of their way to find ancient Petzval lenses, use wet-plates and make bromoil prints, a print form the pre-WWII London Salon was guilty of regularly exhibiting - There is a current thread on loving paper negs - Grow up!
The question asked is how we can use the medium in a progressive way - To do this is to firstly open our eyes to the world around us, which in its mass media and mass communication is very much a digitally shown world - How many of us on APUG write to our friends with a fountain pen on the back of test prints, apart from me?
The problem I find on a practical level with deaesthetisising (spell check does not like that nor does OED) silver jelly photography is the reading of the medium itself, for the romantic/historical reasons listed - During the SW Australian Karri Forest Protest of the mid to late 1990s I used silver jelly to document the destruction of the forest and the defense by dedicated forest activists - Even during the height of the protest I would get comments like "Wow, look at the beautiful fall of forest light [over that clearfell coupe]" - Much of that work is now in the collection of the National Library of Australia historical collection as fine selenium etc prints and is viewed as very historical
The urban and decayed landscape photo-documentation I see aestheticises the subject just as badly as pretty views of farmland or sea spray
Turning to digital visual recording media, I don't see a difference in the way things are depicted, with modernism, post-modernism or whatever is now, effecting no real change in my view - I see it this way and am open to argument - In this regard GIMP and Photoshop have are used indiscriminately to aestheticise the depicted world
I don't see a path out of the way still images are perceived - I still remember the newspaper image of the second airliner banking to the left to fit into the second World Trade Centre tower - As well as a horrific moment, it is a visually stunning image which in my mind instantly de-contexturlised itself from the subject on account of its pictorial nature - I will probably cop a lot of flack for that comment, but I believe it to be true - I looked at the image as image rather than cry for what happened a second later - I can't feel guilt about this, it is part of our visual upbringing and probably happened to other viewers as well
So, I have failed to answer the problem and not really posed any way through other than to seek every greater clarity in what I see and choose to photography and print - It is held that those who ignore history will repeat it, with photography it can be said that those who know history choose to repeat it
I respectfully disagree with your premise. I don’t believe that we can ‘keep film alive’ by moving into the 21st century. We can keep it alive by doing we we are good at (Photograms, Polaroid’s, landscapes, photojournalism, portrait, wedding, street, abstract, etc., etc., etc,…)
We obviously are all in the 21st century, what some choose to photograph is reflective of his or her interest. If Andy Warhol were alive today, he would be doing prints of Justin Bieber, while Ansel Adams would probably still be largely doing timeless landscapes. How one embraces themselves in respect to this artistic medium is so personal and germane to his/her preference of aesthetics, that your postulation that we as a community need to move forward out of the sepia and timeless landscapes and capture reality more; a overreaching goal. What I enjoy so much of my analog brethren here is our diversity and your desire to move from timeless to modern banal/real would be as paradoxical of sitting Warhol and Adams down back in the day and asking each other to ‘do the other thing’. It is almost like we are a bunch of folks who like Ferraris, there are old Ferraris and new ones; those who have reverence to the old ones that is fine, those with reverence to the new ones that is fine too and those with reverence for both is fine also; everyone wins when we all like Ferraris (err analog photography).
04-21-2012, 03:08 AM
Disappointment - I came back here expecting a lot more comments from a great range of active photographers from a wide range of age and practice
If this was about collecting old French lenses this thread would be into seventeen pages by now - Which helps show why silver jelly photography and APUG in particular is in such a headlong descent to C19 pictorialism - Ir is this a byproduct of the great post-modernist catch-all?
04-21-2012, 07:44 AM
Perhaps most folks are reluctant to reply that they think the OP's premise is full of it... :whistle:
I am here: http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=40.030528,116.517381
04-21-2012, 08:18 AM
Not sure I grasp the meaning of the original post.
Well, if somebody uses film to take pictures of "not modern", or "timeless" subjects, and uses digital to take pictures of modern subjects - if that's the juice - then IMO he's overthinking photography.
I personally use film and digital in exactly the same manner and for exactly the same subjects. A picture is a picture. Film and cameras are just tools. They have some technical peculiarities, they can somehow have an influence on the work, but they don't dictate the work beyond their technical differences.
I don't know what happens in Flickr, but if really there was a correlation between use of film and non-modern subjects, I think flickr users have a problem with photography.
This is a bit as if, at the beginning of photography, painters - photographers had used painting for landscapes and photography for locomotives. Instead, they used painting for locomotives and photography for landscapes with the same enthusiasm.
04-21-2012, 09:01 AM
Perhaps most folks are reluctant to reply that they think the OP's premise is full of it...
I'm not that reluctant.
04-21-2012, 09:26 AM
For some, there is an element of nostalgia in using the older processes. The extreme are those who shoot reenactors with wet-plate Collodion ( I honestly can not understand why one would wish to relive the Civil War). A far better reason is that Alternative Processes were short-circuited by silver-gelatin. Their potential was never fully explored. Tintypes, for example, produce some of the best portrait images I've ever seen; and I hope to try the process in near future. Its appeal to me has nothing to do with nostalgia. The images are often timeless with a beauty not matched by other methods.
04-21-2012, 09:39 AM
Note to OP: just go out and shoot whatever you prefer, and quit thinking about things that don't matter one whit.
04-21-2012, 10:42 AM
Magic, Alchemy etc. defines this medium, attachment to the process, the skill itself, not the end product.
Nostalgia is left to the modern man, who is soulless being by default and is attached only to his own emptiness of existence, which ironically is in color. :D
When activities such as shooting B&W film., print it Yourself are difficult, only people who have a strong personal stake will participate.
04-21-2012, 11:21 AM
Nostalgia is left to the modern man, who is soulless being by default and is attached only to his own emptiness of existence, which ironically is in color.
I think to know emptiness, you have to have at least some idea of fullness? Heightened expectations and the inevitable disappointment of life can largely be attributed to those rose tinted specs in my opinion. Our ideas of what we want something to be usually come from what has gone before and by default, what has gone before is always better - I guess we wouldn't model our lives on it otherwise! What I'm saying is, because of a cultural obsession with nostalgia, we're simply incapable of seeing any beauty or finding any happiness in the now. Beauty is completely internalised almost, never letting the external in. We're too quick to dub what's around us 'banal', not necesarily because our ideas of beauty are better, but because we've built them up to be so. It's not a question of disregarding your ideas about aesthetics, but opening your eyes and embracing beauty, not as a solid concept or opinion, but as something that can affect us whenever, wherever and basically when you allow it. I think a lot of traditionalists are switched off in this regard.
04-21-2012, 11:27 AM
Everything is in the past.
The future does not exist.
The present.....shit, now it's past too.
The OP is right about a lot of people who love to re-experience the "old methods" and the "old looks" of photography, and to place their tripods in the holes left behind by the greats. They are nostalgia buffs. That's all fine.
Some people shoot film because it's a bit of an oddity and draws attention to themselves.
Some people shoot film because they like it for the aesthetics.
Lets face it, film ain't coming back as a major medium. It will forever be a nitch product now.
So who cares what anyone thinks of which process you use or if it will become more "popular"
04-21-2012, 01:05 PM
Everything is in the past.
The future does not exist.
04-21-2012, 07:19 PM
Been thinking a bit more
If silver jelly photography goes what will I turn to? - The answer was easy and instantaneous, charcoal on rough paper - Etching and other print making media are as process oriented as photography - So it will be back to charcoal, nothing like it for following the line of a nice ripe arse - Mind you, a sugar-lift aquatint could do a good job of that as well, but a new etching press would be as much as a SH 10x8" enlarger
This leads to the next thought, that there are parallels to silver jelly photo and the use of etching and lithography after the introduction of offset lithography in that the media have been used as artistic avenues since then - However, with etching we had strong work like that of Jim Dine and others who pushed the etching medium in ways the image making aspect of silver jelly does not seem to - I don't recall people moaning in ecstasy over copper or zink in nitric acid or the benefits of Dutch mordant in the way photographers are currently doing with Pyro and Amidol - I hold that there is a lot to learn from this parallel
Digital? - No, I only use that for communication, generally making a nuisance of myself by upsetting people on this site
04-21-2012, 07:30 PM
Everything is in the past.
Lets face it, film ain't coming back as a major medium. It will forever be a nitch [niche]product now.
So who cares what anyone thinks of which process you use or if it will become more "popular"
I care, and my bank manager smiles - When digiography came along my colleagues laughed at my continuance with the medium, while I drove away with a super cheap 10x8" DeVere enlarger and a Sinar
Now the tide is turning and silver jelly original prints are getting sought by serious collectors, not very much in Australia yet (or ever) but in Asia, Europe and South America, so I imagine in USA soon - I am not pushing my work in Australia apart Rae's gallery in Pemberton and via my website
Serious workers are encouraged to stick with it and work hard at making the medium work in its niche
04-21-2012, 07:41 PM
Why does it have to be about anything the op stated?
I don't know how "young" the OP is referring to, but I am 32. I briefly learned analog methods in 1995/96 as a sophomore in high school, and by the time I graduated in 1998, the first digitals were starting to come out. From 1999 to 2008 I didnt shoot a single thing, and my Canon EOS Elan grew dust. In 2008 I purchased my Nikon D90, and became knee deep in digital gear, ps actions, lr presets, and anything else I could 'click' to make my photographs something they didn't start out as. Before long my images looked just like everyone else's using the same digital software, and my mind was nothing but a bunch of mindless, thoughtless mouse clicks.
Film slows me down. It "makes" me think. It allows me to create the photo, and if screw up, there isn't a mouse click in the world that will fix it. My only option is to think a little more, and go back and do it over.
For me it isn't about nostalgia, or "old film looks".... It's about mental stimulation and creative control.
04-21-2012, 10:15 PM
I'm a few years older than ChristopherCoy. I prefer projecting my images in all their splendor. Therefore, for me the process is to get it right in the camera without any post processing. I don't even get to fix color balance or exposure mistakes because I'm shooting reversal film. But I can project the image (every one is an original) at a much higher quality than I could with one of those new digital projectors. If I wanna share it online, I have a scanner right next to my computer, and it only takes a couple minutes to scan the film.
I do still shoot digital, but for me reversal film does what I want it to do better than digital. For how long? Don't know, so I'm gonna shoot it while I still can.
04-22-2012, 08:01 AM
I'm almost retired. I still like shooting landscapes because it presents a spiritual sense of awe and escape from urban environment (I live in NYC). But I also shoot urban landscapes, people and anything that has dynamic lighting, interesting compositions, irony, unusual composition or whatever my eye finds interesting, is game for a shot. I don't shoot 35mm any more but sometimes shoot 120 medium format. I find film slows me down to think about what I'm shooting and how to capture it. I think my film shots are "better" than my digital. But I shoot digital too because it's easier to carry a P&S on my belt and have a camera available all the time. Some of my digitals are fine too. I do enjoy nostalgia, but I consider myself modern too and use LR3, Elements, as well as Premiere when converting my stills to movies for posting on YouTube or for Blu-Tooth display on HDTVs. (I still have movie and slide projectors but haven't used them in years).
I guess my point is it's probably not correct to pigeonhole people into one thing or another. Most of us adapt and change with the times using what we learned in the past as well as its tools and experience the new as well.