Point/Counterpoint: Analog Photography

Analog Photography is Alive by John Hutt

As more people carry around sophisticated phones with image manipulation capability in their pockets, some artists are moving back to film and polaroid as their medium. A polaroid no longer indicates instantaneous photography, it is now a relic of a bygone era, where the only meaningful reference to polaroid in the last 20 years is Outkast singing to 'shake it like a polaroid picture'. Of course, if you actually do shake a polaroid the colors get blended and jumbled into a wonderful mess.

When used by artists today polaroids are diametrically opposed to the large scale blown up, high resolution prints we have grown accustomed to seeing. Polaroids are something else entirely: an intimate, un-manipulatable piece of photography that merely documents. Most polaroids in civilian hands look washed out or faded - a simple demonstration of the split between those who understand light, depth and framing, and those who don't.

Often presented in series of huge collages, polaroids lose their subjects in a larger intention, a mosaic. The beauty of the polaroid lies in it's simplicity. A counter to the photoshopped images blown up to massive scales, the polaroid just simply is, take it or leave it.

The darkroom process has largely been forgone with the advent of digital; a messy, expensive and harmful piece of necessary work was swept aside as we bathed in the iridescent glow of Adobe or, if you were clever, Gimp. However, as we move forward to generations of photographers who have never had any experience in the darkroom, we lose something. Those tools on photoshop came from somewhere, and that somewhere was darkroom manipulation. Film speeds, filters, and lenses; everything once done manually is now a click away.

This opens up photography to just about anyone, but does that make film lose it's value? Film was expensive even when it was the only thing to work with. However some photographers have used film where they don't need to. There are groups, somewhat ironically, uploading their film images to flickr, making it is far from a dead medium.

Photography on film has simply become a tool of those who have a passion for the fiddly bits of photography, concerned as much with the process as the result; and the result is beautiful. The practice and substances of using a darkroom may be unsustainable, but the fewer darkrooms there are the more magical a place they become.

Stepping into a red room, and meticulously opening and rinsing all while waiting for a result that is never sure until the it's final emergence from the darkroom; is inherently wonderful. The human race may be impatient, but humans also love tension and being part of what happens. Using a digital camera may be instantaneous, but then that removes the process of working upon an image and creating the image.

With film we know intuitively how it works, the darkroom is dark, clearly it's based on light – I change the shutter speed for different levels of brightness in the photograph etc.

For a digital camera all of that is lost. I have no more idea how a digital camera works than I do my mobile phone. I'm not arguing against the forward strides of technology, I'm saying we become specialists at different facets of it. For example, my computer mouse, I don't know why it's called a mouse, I don't know how it works, I damn sure don't know how the internet works but there are people who do, and those are never the same people.

As we create newer and newer gagets we create more and more specialized positions for people who are the only people who know how to use/make them. The battery makers over at Apple only work under the monolith corporate giant because they were bought, Steve Jobs didn't know anything about computers, Steve Woz did, and so with specialized knowledge in two fields they created apple. 

The dark room makes you a specialist, gives you intimate control and knowledge of your camera, flash, film and development – there is nothing evening close to that in digital photography. I accept the film-based point and click is dead, but for artists who like to be craftspeople as well as artists; the darkroom will always be there for those who care to understand it.


Analog Photography is dead

by Justin McCallum

The human race is impatient. Express trains, instant messaging, fast food. We do not have the time to wait, let alone relax, so our lifestyle demands gratification in seconds - not minutes or hours.

With this expedited existence, we have left behind many things of old. Along with dial-up connections and Peewee Herman, we have thrown analog photography to the wayside.

The omnipresence of cameras in our smartphones, tablets and even laptops as well as DSLRs becoming as inexpensive as point-and-shoot cameras has made shooting with film entirely irrelevant.

Nobody in their right mind wants to take a picture without the instant gratification of seeing it. Analog cameras couldn’t guarantee proper exposure, a sharp picture or that your cousin Jerry wasn’t blinking in the family portrait. An iPhone blows its closest analog competitor, the “instantly developing” Polaroid, out of the water. Not only do you not need to shake your smartphone in anticipation, they let you post your snapshots instantaneously to Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and anywhere else that tickles your fancy.

Not only are darkrooms becoming harder to come by, less people are learning the process to develop film in the first place. The only people buying analog cameras today are hipster wannabe’s shelling out hundreds for an Urban Outfitters Holga or Lomography kit which were barely worth $20 in their hay day.

Some art schools have even gone eliminated their film photography classes, citing high costs and lack of interest. Most photographers today who are still working in the archaic practice scan their negatives to process and print digitally - never even setting foot into the fumes of a darkroom.

And whilst some complain a digital image is too easily manipulated, there is a double standard for darkroom prints. Traditional prints may be burned, dodged and filtered extensively yet retain their authenticity, although even color correcting in Photoshop compromises a digital image’s integrity.

Additionally, the practice of processing and printing film images is entirely unsustainable and irresponsible given the threat to our already degrading environment. Between toxic silver recovery units and endless test prints wasted, there is no place for these wasteful and harmful practices in the face of catastrophic climate change.

Moreover, the darkroom has become a place of elitism, like box seats at the opera. The prohibitive costs and special training stand starkly against the populist nature of digital photography. DSLRs with their low costs, minimal operating costs, and fewer technicalities to master have democratized the photographic process.

Is it unfortunate that the old art of analog photography is dying? Absolutely.

But nostalgia does not make up for the time, energy and resources wasted waiting around to see if you shot a good roll. In the words of YouTube sensation Sweet Brown, ain’t nobody got time for that.



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