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  1. #1

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    Are photographers becoming Jacks of all, masters of none?

    Just read a comment from someone over at On Landscape (http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2012/08...nking-feeling/). The post had to do with the threat to the traditional photographer's methodology this recent news from Kodak represents. It reiterated the problem many photographers are now facing - both established and serious amateurs, aiming to solidify a future proof working method in order to actually focus on making images. This procrastination of "Should I shoot Ilford? Maybe I'll carry on shooting Kodak for a bit first?" is an absolute nightmare for a photographer who actually wants to get things done.

    The article at On Landscape was written by photographer David Ward, who has been shooting Velvia 50 in 5x4 exclusively for many years and whose approach to photography has a very close relationship with this film. He is now forced to either shoot another transparency film (until it's inevitably dropped) colour neg (a considerably different workflow) or digital... Fortunately for him, this photographer has a very refined eye and style and a change of material 'only' means developing a new technique. I'm sure David faces a certain 'cooling off' period while he makes some decisions and eventually begins to refine a new workflow, which must be an incredibly daunting prospect for someone at his level. What would have become of Ansel Adams, during his peak, had he been faced with such a fundamental upheaval to his creative process? "Sorry Mr. Adams, the zone system has been discontinued."

    For photographers still trying to find their voice and a consistency in their approach, this inevitable shifting around, using a variety of films and processes - maybe hybrid some of the time, black and white darkroom work at others - seems equally detrimental to the production of great, deeply explored work. My favourite photographers are generally specialists, both in terms of subject matter and craft/style (David Ward is definitely one of those). For work to have real depth of insight, the photographer has generally devoted himself to a very particular way of working/thinking/exploring in my mind. That almost sacrificial discipline, which many of the great artists/scientists had, has always been for the greater good of progression - for them to give themselves over. With all this dabbling with materials and techniques becoming the norm, will it force photographers to become Jacks of all, masters of none - photographic ADD? Or maybe, as someone else on APUG said, it will cause photographers to explore the medium once again, e.g. early Paul Strand, Kertesz, Sudek, Callahan. That might not be so bad. However, I think we really need some artists to give themselves over to a very specific concern or field, which is driven by sticking to one simplified and refined working method which provides that solid foundation. The future doesn't seem to favor these types of artists who, in my opinion, have shaped so much of what we know. Help?

  2. #2
    Matthew Wagg's Avatar
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    We've known for a long while that slide was in decline but this Kodak thing has sent shockwaves through the community. Its the people at the top of the company that are to blame for all this.

    As to what we can do about it. Not a whole lot really. David Ward does face a tough challenge but its not impossible. Using 4x5 he can use scanning backs and post process it. As for the rest of us, we'll just have to settle for the fact that Kodak emulsions aren't going to be available. Lets just support the companies that are committed to us like Ilford.

  3. #3

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    hi batwister

    sorry to sound confused
    but i don't understand how a photographer,
    or someone using a camera these days has to become a jack of all trades ..
    because he or she might have to work with a different film than they started with ?

    the thing people need to do is embrace change and have an open mind.
    always using the same film, subject matter and technique leads to stagnation.
    it is always good to try something new, and broaden one's horizons.
    AA didn't invent the zone system, he just refined a system that was invented many years before, for his own use.
    i have a feeling if he couldn't use it anymore, he would figure out another way to control his tonal range and exposure ...

    maybe he would take up painting or stay with music ?

  4. #4
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    Like John, I'm a bit confused, too. A photographer of Ward's calibre should be able to adapt to changes.
    It's never the materials/equipment that makes for a good photographer. It's the eye, and vision.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by jnanian View Post
    hi batwister

    sorry to sound confused
    but i don't understand how a photographer,
    or someone using a camera these days has to become a jack of all trades ..
    because he or she might have to work with a different film than they started with ?

    the thing people need to do is embrace change and have an open mind.
    always using the same film, subject matter and technique leads to stagnation.
    it is always good to try something new, and broaden one's horizons.
    AA didn't invent the zone system, he just refined a system that was invented many years before, for his own use.
    i have a feeling if he couldn't use it anymore, he would figure out another way to control his tonal range and exposure ...

    maybe he would take up painting or stay with music ?
    I think sticking to one or two films allows vision to come to the fore, this is when I've been most productive at least. It's extremely difficult to be this disciplined for me, but it always pays off - in the productivity department. It allows me to focus on the end goal of a project, rather than constantly thinking "what film/developer/paper should I use next?" If restricting myself to a particular technique/film led to stagnation, I would put it down to a lack of insight, rather than "I need to use more films/cameras/processes". Michael Kenna has been doing the same thing for years, yet his consistent use of the Hasselblad, medium speed black and white film and high contrast small prints hasn't led to his stagnation - in fact, having this discipline of technique and approach has allowed him to be incredibly prolific within the confines he has set himself. As is the case with David Ward, this kind of tunnel vision approach that many of the great photographers have is becoming impossible - in traditional photography at least. It's just hard to tell at the moment if this is due to the Kodak/Fuji problem or because, like the BJP editor said, photographers are generally moving towards an experimentation with the medium because of the shifting & ever changing options in imaging. But will this shifting ever end? If not, I think it will cause an anxiety in the artist that will always affect the quality of their output.

  6. #6
    eddie's Avatar
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    It's impossible to predict the future, and what materials will be around. To me, the real danger is in the worrying about availability, and becoming hesitant to use what we've hoarded. It could lead to stagnation and paralysis. There are many photographers who we associate with specific materials/cameras/techniques. The good ones will adapt, and grow as image makers. The rest are one-trick ponies...

    That being said, I miss many favorite films and papers. I wish we didn't have to discuss this stuff at all.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by eddie View Post
    It's impossible to predict the future, and what materials will be around. To me, the real danger is in the worrying about availability, and becoming hesitant to use what we've hoarded. It could lead to stagnation and paralysis. There are many photographers who we associate with specific materials/cameras/techniques. The good ones will adapt, and grow as image makers. The rest are one-trick ponies...

    That being said, I miss many favorite films and papers. I wish we didn't have to discuss this stuff at all.

    i couldn't agree more with you eddie !


    Quote Originally Posted by batwister View Post
    I think sticking to one or two films allows vision to come to the fore, this is when I've been most productive at least. It's extremely difficult to be this disciplined for me, but it always pays off - in the productivity department. It allows me to focus on the end goal of a project, rather than constantly thinking "what film/developer/paper should I use next?" If restricting myself to a particular technique/film led to stagnation, I would put it down to a lack of insight, rather than "I need to use more films/cameras/processes". Michael Kenna has been doing the same thing for years, yet his consistent use of the Hasselblad, medium speed black and white film and high contrast small prints hasn't led to his stagnation - in fact, having this discipline of technique and approach has allowed him to be incredibly prolific within the confines he has set himself. As is the case with David Ward, this kind of tunnel vision approach that many of the great photographers have is becoming impossible - in traditional photography at least. It's just hard to tell at the moment if this is due to the Kodak/Fuji problem or because, like the BJP editor said, photographers are generally moving towards an experimentation with the medium because of the shifting & ever changing options in imaging. But will this shifting ever end? If not, I think it will cause an anxiety in the artist that will always affect the quality of their output.
    i think the thing is to concentrate on what you want to do.
    if it is film and developer and paper testing, well, there sure are a lot of
    papers and developers and films out there.

    while you might think that michael kenna has just done one thing for all these years, i would guess that he
    has not, and it only seems that he has. i don't know, i am sure if photographic films and papers all of a sudden
    weren't available tomorrow or next week i am sure people who wanted to would be able to figure it out
    and make photographs.

    it is important to stop worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow and do what you want today...

  8. #8

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    Michael Kenna did a beautiful series of Pt prints, Monique's Kindergarten, in the late '90s. I remember seeing them at Wirtz Gallery in small frames with no glass, so you could almost feel the dimension of the paper.
    Agreed, he typically has a consistent style (one that I like very much), but if he had no Hasselblad or Tri X i bet he'd make equally nice images with a Yashica and HP5 or whatever else was available.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by eddie View Post
    It's impossible to predict the future, and what materials will be around. To me, the real danger is in the worrying about availability, and becoming hesitant to use what we've hoarded. It could lead to stagnation and paralysis. There are many photographers who we associate with specific materials/cameras/techniques. The good ones will adapt, and grow as image makers. The rest are one-trick ponies...

    That being said, I miss many favorite films and papers. I wish we didn't have to discuss this stuff at all.

    Or freeze all together in "Analysis Paralysis".
    Everytime I find a film or paper that I like, they discontinue it. - Paul Strand - Aperture monograph on Strand

  10. #10
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    Over the weekend I shot a roll of Tri-X and processed it. Had fun. I also went to a fashion event where I shot with my non-analog camera. Also had fun. I'll keep shooting film as long as they make it, but the loss of film won't paralyze my creativity. In the end, the medium (as much as I enjoy exploring different mediums) is just a tool for my spirit to create.

    I'm not going to lose sleep over something I can't control, anyway,

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