Musings on Photography

Untitled 7

Posted in digital printing, equipment, process, traditional materials by Paul Butzi on December 11, 2009

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I got this via email, but I think I’ll answer it here:

subject: i downloaded your ‘curves’ digital toning files, very nice, but a quick question

i just read some of your blog
are we are all just luddites ?
in the digital world all photos are worthless
photographers are useless schmoes
how many of ansel adams printers died of strange diseases
and they were actually better off than the industry in general
vats of strange chemicals.

i bought a digital camera
basically perfect
with photoshop and epson, every question answered
despite its perfection, it is depressing
my question is
do you think you should go back to film
inferior though it is,
because you can ? and because you are one of the last people on earth who ever could or will?

Luddites were the social movement of textile artisans who railed against the mechanized looms introduced during the industrial revolution. I can’t speak for others, I can only speak for myself. I am not a luddite.

I don’t think photographers are worthless schmoes. In fact, I think the world would be a better place if more people were art-makers, and since I see photography as art-making, I think photographers are far from worthless.

I think there were environmental risks from various chemicals used in traditional gelatin silver printing (and in other processes, as well). I expect there is environmental risk associated with digital photography as well. Silicon foundries are not low environmental impact.

I expect there are people out there who buy digital cameras, photoshop, and printers, and think “Oh, now I am getting perfect results”. I disagree with that point of view. I don’t get perfect results. I don’t know what perfect results might look like. If you think you’re getting perfect results, I think perhaps your technical standards are not set high enough. And that’s the technical part. I don’t know of anyone engaged in any artistic endeavor who thinks they’re achieving perfection.

So I’m at a loss. I’m not clear on what’s depressing about digital photography. I don’t see it as lifeless. I have little desire to go back to film right now, but I’d not hesitate to go back if it seemed like the way for me to achieve something I wanted to try. But that comment needs to be tempered with the observation that I don’t care if the image is formed by bits of silver salt suspended in gelatin and exposed to light using an optical machine, or by pigments sprayed onto a paper base using a computer controlled robot, or by fermented weasel feces dabbed onto the paper by magic woodchucks wielding camel’s hair spotting brushes. I happen to like processing photos on a computer, but I enjoyed darkroom work tremendously as well. And I expect I’d enjoy casting spells controlling magic woodchucks.

As for the last – I don’t think I should go back to film, unless I decide I want to. I don’t think film is inferior, I think it’s different. I don’t think the fact that I can do traditional darkroom work and might well be one of the last people who ever could or will generates any obligation for me to do it.

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  1. f1point8 said, on December 12, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Call me shallow but I’d think that the magic woodchuck images would have a certain je ne sais quoi over and above images produced by the other methods mentioned.


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