“Everything old is new again”

Via kenrockwell.com, an interesting read which closely reflects how I feel about the digital / analog photography debate:

Everything old is new again: “I’ve been talking to a bunch of my friends in the creative world and it seems like we’re on the verge of a tectonic shift back in time.  And the realization of this impending shift is striking people in diverse fields almost simultaneously.  Writers are going back to yellow legal pads or little leather journals to outline their next movie, novel, ad copy or grand opus.  Fountain pens are once again accounted sexier than the latest laptops.  My graphic designer amigos are sitting around with Bienfang sketch pads and fat #1 lead pencils as they sketch out logo roughs and doodle small icons—on real paper!”

Mea Culpa: I doodle with a pencil on paper — a very snazzy Graf von Faber-Castell on fashion-victim-tastic Moleskine — as it happens. I write with a fountain pen — either a Waterman, a Rotring, or a lovely, dangerous, weaponised silver dip pen my girlfriend ( a goldsmith) made for me using black ink.

As I drift perilously close to trying to make a few bucks off my photography, I’ve grown more tolerant of the digital debate. I agree that stock photography soul-whoring is best, and most economically, done on digital, and I have to say that the Nikon D700 is a fine tool for the job.

But if I’m shooting more ‘creative’ work, then the Hasselblad 503cx (in a studio) or the Rolleiflex 2.8E it must be.

Meanwhile there is no finer camera for ‘street’ or reportage than a small, discreet 35mm — in my case, a Leica (usually with a Voigtländer 35mm f/1.4) or my beater Canon A-1 (with its simply stunning 55mm f/1.2) — far less intimidating, less conspicuous than the enormous Nikon D700.

All using good, ‘old-fashioned’ film.

I put ‘old-fashioned’ in quotes because, despite reports to the contrary, Kodak, Fuji and others are actively researching and developing (no pun intended) new emulsions, new bases, new dyes, and so forth.

Not that there’s anything wrong with ‘old’ emulsions: It may or may not mean anything in this context, but I have read that Brad Pitt chose to take a zillion photographs of his lovely wife Angelina Jolie, and he chose to do so on a zillion rolls of Kodak Technical Pan.

Meanwhile, the Kodachrome Project tries to put a dignified face on the gradually dwindling supply of perhaps the finest colour film ever made.

Also: Kodak Tri-X, developed in Rodinal (or its poor country cousin, R09). It’s the dog’s bollocks.

Be that as it may, I think that there is a problem not with digital photography per se, so much as the almost ideological zeal with which some of its more rabid proponents sing its praises, almost completely disregarding the potential film continues to offer.

Yes, digital is quicker, yes, there are fewer labs willing to get their hands dirty, yes, “digital is getting better all the time”. But sometimes it’s good to slow down.

One other thing, which the article I have linked to does not go into in such detail, is the fact that old manual cameras don’t usually pretend to be anything more than light-proof boxes. They let me make the decisions, they make me think about what I am doing. Personally, I find that I take better pictures if I know what I’m doing, but that’s just me.

On my recent field trip (blog post to follow), I took far better pictures with the Hasselblad than with the Nikon.

Not that I was really going to make an Earth-shattering point or anything, but I guess it’s a ‘horses for courses’ type of argument. And there are some courses where film is the horse upon which it’s best to bet.

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About lidlesseye

Mouthing off about photography, and occasionally important things too.

Posted on June 2, 2009, in Photography. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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