I’ve had a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the apparent prominence of ‘film-based’ analogue capture of images by photographic artists – including several of those mentioned in my earlier post here. I ‘stirred the pot’ some weeks ago, in the OCA Flickr Group, resulting in this discussion; and there have been others in that forum, including this one. Of course, artists will work within the medium which, in terms of process and outcome, delivers work that satisfies their creative objectives – I have no concern about that, why should I. Naturally, many of the artists whose work populates the gallery walls began their practice before digital capture was either available or affordable, and that work is already created, so would represent the pre-digital approach (though there does seem to be a strong trend toward digital print methods). That ‘bee buzz’ has more to do with the question of why there doesn’t seem, as far as I can tell, to be some stronger indication that young, up-and-coming photographic artists are working extensively with digital capture and exploring the creative possibilities that digital methods can offer. It’s an open question; but also one that concerns me personally, in that I work wholly with digital methods and have no intention of doing otherwise. I do also sense a wider struggle to come to terms (understandably) with what the digital/internet age ‘means’ for ‘photography’. I might just be missing it, but is there extensive critical discussion of the question?
So – here is a topic that interests me – and, whilst browsing a local second-hand bookshop, I came upon this publication from 1963, which might just act as a medium for some photographic ‘thinking-with’. Much of this book reads like a foreign language, to me. (Brief pause, here, to confess that I have failed two exams in my life, one of which was Chemistry – and the other was an equally foreign language, Latin.) Consequently, I find myself looking at it, and through it, rather like a historical artefact – something from another age. It occurred to me that I might approach it as a subject for a studio project, seeing it as a kind of metaphor for the whole of film/analogue/traditional photographic practice. It might be a ‘taking apart’, a ‘deconstructing’, maybe a ‘subverting’, or even a ‘glorifying’ – I even had the idea that I might, eventually, literally take it apart bit-by-bit and photograph the process. And, without jumping too far ahead, I could envisage an ultimate outcome in book form, perhaps as a part of my final Body of Work. So, I have begun the process and here is a selection from the images produced so far.
I found the references to “photographic theory” on the book jacket interesting – the use of the word ‘coherence’ and the reference to theory as “… a good servant but a bad master …”. We, students of Photography in 2014, are likely to read that rather differently than it would have been read 50 years ago.
The physical characteristics of the book itself, photographed in a kind of forensic manner, reveal signs of age, mysteriously-shaped stains that suggest chemical reactions over time – rather like the chemically-based process that is its subject; odd scribbles that must have meant something to someone in the past – shades of the photographic archive.
The process doesn’t have to be restricted to ‘taking photographs’; this page spread has been scanned into a PDF, which has been opened on the PC and a ‘screen-shot’ taken – thinking about the ways in which the scope of current technology compares with that of 50 years ago.
But then taking that whole process even further, manipulating and re-presenting material; adding elements that both emphasise the ‘gulf’ between these approaches and ‘enhance’ the visual impression, but also applying the deliberately clumsy ‘Photoshop’ methods that I’ve used before.
And/or going in a different direction by using a deliberately ‘modernist’ aesthetic to present the subject; believe it or not, I had in mind Ansel Adams & the Yosemite National Park when I made this one.
This work, plus the images of ‘Tapes’, and some work I’m doing on the Self-portraits, is beginning to move me towards a second assignment submission in the next few weeks – hopefully.
Interesting Stan, there are other tomes that might be of interest, of course the ‘Old Modernist himself printed several iconic books, The Negative, The Camera and The Print all of which contain a lot of material that might work for you. But I think the best might be ‘The Complete Guide To Photography’ published by Collins (I have the 1998 reprint) written by a certain Michael Freeman. This book was a recommended reference for all OCA photography students and so it might be the perfect choice and of course due to it’s heritage was all based on film use 🙂 I’ll watch with interest.
Thanks for the suggestions, John; I may well end up making the attention to this specific book a part of the discipline of the process. There’s something quite appropriate (and quirky, I’ll admit) about its focus on the ‘technology’ of ‘film’ rather than the process of actually making photographs. I did buy two other books, actually, nothing to do with Photography but both with a wierd potential for investigation at some point. One is called “Electro-slag Refining” [a title that would have some very odd resonances in current ‘youth-parlance’] and the other is “The Fine Art of Garnishing”. You couldn’t make it up, could you!
I am unsure about feeding your curiosity about the arcane and historic processing of film, but there was a need to know more about what it was you were doing with film. The chemistry, the exposure were both much more important to the person who had intent with a camera. Today’s ubiquitous use of image making in the digital world largely decouples the user from the frame – I still contend that there isn’t any single person who knows how a digital camera works – it is just too bloody complex! However there are/were a lot of people who know/knew how a film camera works AND how film worked (I am not saying I am one of those) and they did so because it was important to have a grip on the variables – of which there were many. The practitioner today has scant knowledge of the practicalities of image making – so many of our fellow student have their camera set to bracket every exposure; and why not!?! The printing process, that so many are in terror of is so much more predictable today that it ever was – though comparing a print of a negative I made twenty years ago on Stirling Signature and comparing it with Canson Baryta has me wistfully nodding to an age gone by…… The risk of digital image making has been, like so many of the conveniences of contemporary life, ameliorated by ever fewer manufacturers of equipments that are almost interchangeable in their function/capability and form. Photography in the digital age is becoming a vanillarized simply because there is no option to comprehend the products and media beyond the feature list. In the age of film the spectrum of possibility was enabled by the plethora of players in the market at all levels – and those companies/craft workers are dying out or have already left the planet; the book you found, the books that I still have (along with data sheets of products long since deceased, and the thousands of negatives in files) were where entrants to the medium began or enhanced their journey. By the way if you come across ‘Edge of Darkness’ by Barry Thornton you will encounter someone who knew the process AND could write engagingly around the subject.
The books were needed, why else were they published, now all that gets published are how to make ‘WOW’ shots (those tomes also existed in times gone by but were largely in the periodicals, Amateur Photographer et al). Good luck with the journey.
A lot of food for thought in there, John. I am sure that the sense of being directly in touch with the process is what leads many of those current practitioners to stay with the more traditional methods – more like putting paint on a canvas or chiselling a shape out of a piece of stone. And, I can understand a point of view that sees it as more like ‘art’ than is the manipulation of digital information on a computer (either in the form of a camera or a PC). Understand, but not necessarily accept, and certainly seek to challenge! They are different – very different – processes. In a way, I think this project, if/however it progresses, might turn out to be more to do with me testing out my application of the digital and seeking to express its capabilities than it is an exploration of historic film processing.
Your reply suggests that I haven’t made myself clear 🙂 With film, and perhaps especially monochrome film there was a NEED to comprehend the processes (colour film was nearly always processed by a laboratory and gave much fewer options to ‘get involved’ with the chemicals etc). Understanding and, to some extent mastering those variables, enabled the photographer to get the most out of a medium that offered plenty of opportunities to be average. If I have suggested that because a photographer was more chemically influenced – though goodness knows what selenium and other toners have done to so many monochrome workers 😉 – meant that they were more accomplished artists wasn’t my point whatsoever. In my view film is just another medium, rather more limited these days than say a decade ago, but nonetheless an analogue, or hybrid image, has no privileged position as a work of art than anything accomplished digitally. The ‘art’ of a piece is in the intent primarily, but I fully accept that there are plenty of practitioners who prefer the materiality of analogue processing, the haptic quality – whether purposeful or not than the intrinsically flatness of a digitally produced print.
Sorry if I gave that impression, John; it certainly wasn’t the way I’d read your comments, which I understood and appreciated, I think. 🙂 I was more reflecting back to my own question in the original post, and some of the discussions on Flickr – and maybe some of the attitudes that I sense may be around ‘in the market’.
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