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Darkroom Romances... And Parrallel Arguements


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#1 shutterblitz

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Posted 22 September 2004 - 01:17 PM

The arguments of digital over conventional technologies may have its advocates. But then, we have lost out on something somewhere. This is not really about the technical advantages of film over digital or vice versa, but about something far subtler. What I want to talk about is not really about photography, but of parallels in other forms of art.

I was rereading one of Asimov's short stories. A question was asked that jolted me into reality... Does a potter really want his creations to be designed on a computer, and then brought to reality by robotic arms? Can anything replace the feeling of moulding the clay with his own hands, and watching his creation come alive, even if it is with all the imperfections of doing it manually? Is there anything that can compete with the beauty of those imperfections?

We first learnt how to synthesize music and recreate sounds within a computer. The key word here is recreate. We copied sounds by made by instruments. In some cases, the best and the most expensive of these instruments are still made by hand... in some little, obscure towns. Once we perfected this electronic synthesis, we perfected the rhythms and the loops and created CDs and 7.1 channel sound. It made good music more accessible. But when I sit at a classical music concert here in India, the thrill and anticipation created by the musicians fine-tuning their instruments is something I never experience while listening to a CD.

I agree that email has made communication easier. Blogs like photographyblog. com has allowed me to share my views. Yet, I don't agree that it has necessarily improved every aspect of communication. The pleasure of using a fine instrument like a good fountain pen still remains. If I tell this to my friends, some of whom commercially compete with me in photography, I'm sure the retort will be, "Dude, use a quill and parchment. Make sure you use sealing wax." Everything said, I still enjoy receiving small notes written in a good cursive hand.

There is perhaps nothing as thrilling and fascinating as watching an image emerge on a print in a darkroom. The feel of film is different. There is a certain physicality to it that allows me to have a greater feeling of control. I like the idea of open film boxes and those air-tight plastic containers strewn on a worktable during a shoot. I like having to manually rewind and load film into my camera in front of the Creative Director. I like being ultra-careful about my compositions when I go 4x5 and having to pre-visualize my shot.

Left to my own devices, I would probably use film for every shot. I would certainly have it scanned a little later and get better tonality, depth and colors than if I would has taken the picture using a digital camera. I guess it would be right to say that there is a certain romance conventional imaging retains.

The point I'm trying to make is that, eventually, choice between conventional and digital is a choice between losing out on some of these aspects in favor of ease of use. As far as I am concerned, when they made it easier, they also made it more frivolous. I know some very senior photographers who converted to digital, and who shoot hundreds of frames every day. And then spend the next few days trying to figure out the best shot among those hundreds of frames. Digital photography allowed a lot of good photographers to throw their capability of thought out of their windows.

In this light, I still prefer using film. I like the clatter of the mirror returning home.

#2 Kurt

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 07:01 AM

I too loved using film, and I agree that there is nothing as thrilling as to see your image appearing on a print in the darkroom. That was one of the chief reasons I used monochrome and avoided slides.

However, for creative control, and that is what I craved, digital does it. I have control over every aspect of producing my image and nothing can be better than that.
Digital has brought this creative process within the reach of everyone.

I amuses me that people grumble about the cost of Photoshop. But compare that to the cost of a darkroom, enlargers, lenses and all the rest that would be necessary to produce even a fraction of what is available.

#3 shutterblitz

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 11:37 AM

Actually, a direct comparison between the two is difficult. In terms of cost, I find it almost the same. The costs that are saved because of workflow advantages are offset by costs incurred during image manipulation on a computer (it's chargeable, and it must be chargeable).

However, digital technology opens newer avenues of expression. There is no doubt about that. It also puts creative manipulation in the reach of a lot of people. We must explore it as thus.

What I find particularly interesting is the way our minds function. When we have a system of production or creation, we tend to move towards the simplest methodology automatically. This is a natural instinct to spend as less time and money as possible in producing something, even if it means a greater initial investment. Cut the time-and-cost factor! Improve the cost-benefit ratios!

Does this sound reminiscent of mass production? Do photographers really need to mass produce? Mass production, however, does not necessarily make what is produced simpler in nature. More often than not, it makes it more complex. The more we simplify process, the more complex is our creation. The more complex the process, the simpler is our creation. Somehow, I always find simpler images have more appeal. Black and white is simple. Stark. In some ways... more truthful.

Ansel Adams had said... "Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." Is that 'old school' thought? Perhaps it is. I cant help feeling that it defines who good photographers are.

Just a few days ago, I walked into one of the oldest studios in Bombay. It's called "Hamilton Studios" in the Backbay area, and owned by an ancient Parsi gentleman, Mr. Ranjeet Madhavji. He has taken hundreds of portraits of royalty. Some of the prints were made by contact printing 10 x 12 negatives. The tonality and the sharpness of the prints are simply breathtaking. And all manually done!!!

I am not throwing away digital technology. I frequently use it. Digital technology in photography today is a far sight better than it was since it first began. But at the end of the day, I prefer to choose between modes of expression to specifically clarify an end function.

#4 Kurt

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Posted 24 September 2004 - 12:47 PM

My remark about the Photoshop was a throw-away and not really part of my main thrust which is creative control. Few of us can afford (either in financial or space terms) to set up our own fully equipped darkroom. Digital gives us this on a desk.

The other area where digital wins in both cost and time is the ability to work on a project for an hour or two and save the job and switch off. Just think how much time would be taken getting out equipment and mixing chemicals as well as cleaning up afterwards. If you were not to spend a whole evening in the darkroom it wasn't worth starting.

Another benefit is the ability to reproduce actions exactly as long as one is fairly meticulous in noting how an effect was achieved (and this can be done after the fact by looking at the history of a file). With chemicals one has just too many variables that are beyond control (in the average home darkroom) temperature, mix, happy accidents! and so on.

Digital will win hands down. Obviously there will be room for film, just as in printing there are the odd character in a million messing about with lead type and letterpress. But sadly they are a doomed breed, even if not in our lifetimes.

#5 shutterblitz

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Posted 25 September 2004 - 08:02 PM

Well, Kurt, there's no denying the advantages. Like I said, I use digital technology fairly often. There is still that bit in conventional imaging that i miss. Even as we speak, I am making a comparison between 22 million pixel digital backs from various manufacturers for the studio where I also work (unfortunately, it happens to be a completely digital studio where the word conventional is taboo). As a commercial necessity (in most cases), pixels replace silver halide.

But I find the difference akin to a synthesizer like a Yamaha or a Roland as compared to a violin. A Roland would be more versatile in its own way, but the touch, feel and sound of a violin is irreplaceable. Both call for specialization and effort to master.

Yet, I think you'll find that going to a concert and hearing Perlman play the theme of Schindler's List live can't be replaced (er.. the irony is that I've got it as an MP3 on my computer... what I wouldn't give for a chance to hear it live, though).

Digital imaging will take a lot more 'becoming' for me to convert completely...

a. 40 million pixels… about the size of a good, clean scan from a medium to large format tranny.

b. A cheaper method to calibrate my entire system and tag images with colour profiles. Doing this chemically after knowing the properties of your film is still a cheaper, and a less time consuming process.

c. A method by which I know that nobody can make as good a duplicate as my original, as easily and cheaply as digital technology makes it today. You can still make out a dupe in conventional imaging. I still provide my clients with image sizes to just fit their artworks. No more, no less. I give them the option to buy the images completely off me… copyright and all… (I take a beating in terms of business, but then I still get assignments enough to just about carry on.)

d. Better CCDs or CMOS technologies for better tonality and colours. From a strictly technical standpoint, a mosaic filter over the CCD means that you need 4 consecutive pixels to register colour. So divide your total pixel count (length x breadth) by 4 to get the real image size. Maybe Foveon has an answer to this. This is also one of the reasons I still prefer to shoot film and then do an oil-mounted scan on a good scanner and retouch. The difference is quite visible.

e. Film does not produce moiré or other artefacts. Spherical and chromatic aberrations of lenses still remain even with digital imaging.

f. Better CCDs in terms of lower contrast AND higher latitude AND dynamic ranges. Even though digital cameras use f/stops and shutterspeeds, the lighting ratios in a studio go completely haywire. Fine tuning a lighting arrangement for a digital image is more critical and very un-film like. For example, lets say a certain film has the capacity to take lighting differences over a five stop range. Anything over this turns white, completely burnt out, and anything under this is completely dark. With a digital camera, I have approximately a three-four stop range to work with. The spec sheets of the newer digital backs say that they afford more control. but in practice, it is still pretty critical. It is getting better though. There's no denying that.

#6 Guest_J Shetler_*

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 04:21 PM

Digital is here to stay. I use it but I still prefer film. One problem I have is storage. I scratch a negative or slide I can fix it (ironically digitally) but if I scratch a DVD I have nothing. I have lost every image on that DVD. And now with all the questions on how they should be stored and how often the DVD's should be copied it turns into a real pain. I scan my images but always have my film as my ultimate backup. So for now I use digital for images that I don't care were they are at in in a few years. Anything I want to keep long term I use film. I shoot customer portraits with a digital back on a Hassy and give the customer a DVD to keep. For myself I shoot digital also but always make sure I get plenty of duplicate images on film. Everything I do strictly for myself is on film. I feel that I can get a much better image shooting film and then scanning it. If my dvd gets ruined I always have my original negative/transparency. For the people that use point and shoot cameras, and just taking snapshots, I do think that digital is the way to go.

#7 shutterblitz

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Posted 30 September 2004 - 10:14 PM

I wonder if I'm old fashioned when I say that there's more to conventional imaging than just the physics and chemistry.

I can't help thinking that there is also a certain truth and cleanliness in conventional methods (aaahhh... ok.. so the chemicals may not all be environment friendly, but then, in most cases, neither are the batteries we use in our digicams, or the power in the wall power-points... but you know what I mean).

Somehow, the more tedious process conventional imaging also makes us more thoughtful, philosophical, and careful with our compositions and creations.

#8 Neddy

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Posted 01 October 2004 - 09:41 AM

Whatever the process if one hasn't captured a quality image in the first place, one can't rescue it in the darkroom (including a digital darkroom). However, one can mess up a quality image in many ways.

#9 happyhippey

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 03:19 PM

I work with both film and digi... digi is handy as I get to see the image there and then...but as the iso setting is limited on digi...film is still my favourite..I shhot alot of gigs in cork...and taking 4000iso and pushing it to 6400...hand developing and looking at contact sheets after... Digi will never take away the fun of printing your own work in a darkroom...

#10 happyhippey

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 03:21 PM

unsure.gif oooopps messegs above should read pushing 400iso to 6400iso.. bit sleepy so sorry for mistakes....enjoy your day.. biggrin.gif



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