Digital or Analog? Does there have to be a Choice?

I don’t really see a huge divide in photography between digital and analog photography. No reason why somebody who practices one should not practice the other. There are some obvious advantages and drawbacks to either format…ideally I would hope a reconciliation of sorts, that people use both side by side in situations when using one format over the other is advantageous.

For that, of course, the market would have to shift quite significantly – or rather, people would have to think differently about photography. In the following paragraphs I’ll just jog through a few situations where I think one format is better to use than the other, in the hope of reaching some sort of personal clarity.

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Photography for online use (websites, online publications etc.)

This is the prevalent use for commercial photography and here it is quite obviously necessary to use digital format. It reduces working time for both actual photography and post-processing and quite simply transfers the images where they are supposed to be. This is where tweaks can be made, where images can be processed for better or for worse – it’s a playground where there are many tools and very little practical limitations. It also requires the least amount of skill and pure knowledge. It’s time saving, non-intensive photography. Results can be great, but someone who has working knowledge of digital photography only stands on somewhat shaky ground as far as photography as an existential raison d’etre is concerned.

It’s photography for the professional amateur who is also a designer, advertiser, programmer, experimental artist and gods know what.

It’s also photography for journalistic photographers who only work for online media.

If you want to work as an active photographer it is almost unavoidable to have a considerable amount of knowledge of digital photography and post-processing (that said, you can always position yourself in a market niche where you only offer analog photography).

You will be faced with a hundred factors that limit your time, most of them pointless to the work at hand, but leaving you very little time for the actual work. Speed is an advantage here, so digital is probably unavoidable if you are operating in a competitive environment.

Amateur photography

I find it hard to decide whether increased digital options and a larger range of equipment has brought any actual advantages to casual photographers…to say they save time that they would need to devote to a hobby is not exactly an endorsement. Basics are easier to learn and results are more readily visible, but the overall visual skill that is required and that would develop has rapidly declined or has specialized to see as you would see on the screen.

As far as general use is concerned, digital photography has altered (some may say destroyed) the photography market unalterably. Equipment is slowly catching up to high standard analog quality, but the lack of printing options and colour management that were provided by different film stock and printing techniques cannot be adequately replaced. Digital photography is a commodity, in the truest sense of the word, but is it actually beneficial to casual photographers or to photography in general?

I would recommend that amateur photographers learn to use traditional photography techniques and spend at least some time in darkrooms, simply to develop not only their pictures but their visual skill. Here, of course, one has to consider the question of resources – it’s more expensive, but if more people were to demand it, there could be more places that serve as shared darkrooms with shared equipment.

Snapshots

You want to take pictures of your family gathering? Your day out? Selfies? Etc? Memories with no artistic consideration? Get a smart phone with a good lens, enough megapixels to brag about and forget about more expensive cameras. It’s money you don’t need to spend and you help the market shrink a bit.

Photography which is going to be printed

Unless there are limiting conditions concerning time of delivery and changeability of the images, it’s probably beneficial to treat image-making, post-processing and printing as three entirely separate stages. To use separate tools helps create this sense of separation without the mediatory effect of the computer.

Generally an image requires a certain remove to exist…if you constantly check whether something is right it’s a slightly compulsive and obsessive behavior that is in the way of actual reflection. Being able to constantly check is good for product photography or advertising, but that is not all that photography is or is meant to be.

If you want to print your photographs I assume that you want to spend a considerable amount of time, energy and imagination to make them good and worthwhile. This means allowing time for reflection, careful image-making, considered rather than automated choice of post-processing and choice of paper, printing appliances and all the minor and major adjustments along the way.

This is time-consuming and requires skill and experience. Digital photography does not provide any short cuts in this area and analog offers more options and rewards to an experienced photographer.

That being said the high end range of digital equipment provides a wealth of options and post processing has advanced considerably…still, the overall psychological impact of an image is higher if you see it as an actual rather than a virtual object. It is a representation of something actual to begin with and so stands at a remove from the very start. To remove it twice is akin to making a copy of a copy, but that is a very subtle difference that might not even register with many people.
I find arguments for both side and of course digital and analog should exist side by side. The market will ultimately decide the direction photography moves in, but the market is composed of our own individual choices.

Personally I enjoy shooting with analog cameras and love the thrill of discovery and not knowing exactly what you will get, but concerning paid work I will continue to use digital, simply because it is easier to satisfy the demands of the people you work for and because almost the entire professional machinery is set up for digital over analog.

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Some unfinished thoughts about change and tradition

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I find myself wondering about vanishing traditions and disappearing cultures every so often…one of my larger scale projects, Terranigma, deals with exactly this. But one does not have to go very far to see old and used to things disappearing in favour of new, shiny, glossy and comfortless elements. I’m simply wondering about how unwilling we often are to integrate new traditions into established worldviews…on a microscopic as well as a macroscopic scale.

Tradition, time honoured traditions have something solid, something absolutely not worrisome. They have stood the test of time, they aren’t shakey…and we live in a time when pretty much everything seems to be on very shakey ground. Tradition appeals to the security seeker and if we speak about vanishing traditions or willfully set out to change traditions, we upset this sense of security.

Suddenly the I, lonely naked I becomes concerned about its own vulnerability. No security, no fallback plans? Burn those heretics of the new and change-y!

A muddled sense of nostalgia seems so much better. The old is not yet gone, we feel it slipping, but it’s still there if we reach out far enough…

But we need to integrate new elements, pretty much constantly. As a society and as individuals. I do believe that as longs as we look with nostalgia and sadness at everything that disappears and look for blame and cause, reason and rescue, we are not inside of time, but very much outside of it. Some elements of traditions disappear, some travel along, some get reintegrated and used in different forms and combinations.

We are constantly evolving, constantly engaged with both our past and future. This is unavoidable as long as we live and breathe and it is not at all dramatic. We all do it, constantly. To look for purity or one fixed point where everything was perfect is to try to hammer a nail into a rapidly spinning globe.

Ultimately, change is just time made visible and while each of us has a very personal point where our time ends, change and newly formed elements and traditions will be ongoing. Lonely, naked I does not have to wear old clothes for fear of standing naked in the future.