Shot on film, unretouched, I call it Waiting for Summer
If you know me at all, you know that I take aspects of old school to a heightened level of funk.
The most consistent and enduring example of this is my love of fountain pens and mechanical pencils and the fact that I write first drafts of almost everything I publish or produce long hand, in graph paper notebooks.
Some think this is a tad eccentric and they may be right but I hardly care. If you’re successful, you’re considered eccentric. If you’re a failure, you’re considered weird. So I’ll take eccentric, thank you very much.
Again, if you know me at all, you know I love to take photographs. Some of my photos have ended up on the covers of books and published elsewhere, hither and yon. Many of them grace the walls of friends, usually gifts from me, but from time to time a wealthy patron will actually pay me for my troubles.
And yet once again, if you know me at all, you know I have a daughter named Hanna, although professionally she is known as Johanna, and you may know that she has done some modeling in her time – nothing major, just the Dior show in Paris, par example – and is making her way in the world and finding her artistic expression on the other side of the camera as a photographer.
But here’s the thing. While I have always shot digital, Hanna who must have picked up her old school predisposition somewhere, I wonder where, prefers to shoot on film. And while I’m an old school gentleman myself, I never understood her desire to do so until a friend gave me a beautiful Minolta Dynex 500si this week and I shot, for the first time in decades, a roll of film.
Suddenly, brave new world, I discovered why Hanna is into film and not into digital.
It hits on so many levels. Putting in the film in the first place. Did it really get in there properly? Am I really taking photographs or is the film just bunched up inside? Will I be wasting my time for the next 24 or 36 shots?
And then – what I think I love the most – the sound and the feel of the click as the shutter opens and closes again. For a photographer, perhaps this is the most satisfying sensation in the world.
Then there is the care that you have to line your shot up with. You only have one chance, you can’t take ten like you do with a digital.
And so you take your shot, but then what? You can’t look at it. You can only hope, maybe pray, that it will turn out. And then you take a bunch of other shots, again hoping and praying, until your roll is done.
And then the film rewinds and you can only hope that the film isn’t all fucked up inside your camera. You open the back and take out the roll and you go to London Drugs or whatever and give it to them so they can develop it and make you some prints.
And then you wait. You’re aware of the exact time that you can go and pick up your prints. It seems to take forever. And when you do pick them up, there is a strange moment of truth when you first see the envelope and see that there are actually prints in there and so far so good, you now have something to look at.
You take your envelope to a special place and open it and look at your prints. What a moment! And then all those shots come back to you. Some suck, most suck. Some are ok. But a few of them, even one of them, might just be inspired.
It’s such a beautiful and prolonged process compared to the instant gratification of seeing what you just shot digitally.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and so I am content to imitate my daughter in this regard, as I think she is the most awesome person on the planet.
She was kind enough to share a recent photo of hers here on my little blog.
As you can see, while I take pictures, she’s actually an artist.
Thanks for reading!
Calgary Board of Education buildings, taken using the Instagram APP on my iPhone
I like taking photographs. For the last few years, I’ve taken a lot of them with my various cameras, and even fancy myself to be something of a decent amateur photographer.
This photograph, which may or may not be a great photograph, was taken almost randomly the other day when I noticed the reflection of the old school in the glass of the new building. I think I had my iPhone in my hand and so I stopped, conjured up the Instagram App, and hit the magic button. I immediately posted it on Instagram, and by extension on Facebook and Twitter, and before long a few of my friends had said they liked it. I felt quite proud of myself.
So whether it’s a great photograph or not is hardly the issue. What made the taking of this photograph possible was nothing more complex or contrived than the fact that I was walking down a certain street with my “phone” in my hand.
It used to be that if I wanted to take some photographs, it was something of an event. I would make sure my camera was charged and I would pack it in my bag and off I’d go. It was a deliberate activity, and as I was thus engaged I found myself suddenly looking at the world through the eyes of a photographer.
But now, for me at least, it has become an essentially random activity, with hardly any thought or planning put into it whatsoever. The photograph is taken, and then shared with those who friends on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter — all told, for me at least, potentially about 2,000 people. All I’ve done is stopped, aimed and pushed a button. Because of the sun and the size of the screen and the state of my eyesight, I hardly know what I’m looking at, so when a photo turns out like the one above, all I can really say is that it’s a happy accident.
This is a very far cry from the learned sophistication and artistry and experience of the great photographers of history. I think of Eugene Atget, of Dorothea Lange, of Walker Evans, of Yousuf Karsh, to name a few, all of whom have created some of the most famous and enduring images in the history of the human race. I wonder if the technology and the availability of that technology that allows me to take the photograph above, almost with my eyes closed, means that we will never see their likes again. Nowadays, everyone is a photographer, and the success of the photography is no longer judged in aesthetic terms but in terms of the number of “likes” a photograph generates. As for longevity, it would seem no longer to exist. Yesterday’s photographs are gone, you’re only as good as your next one. And when push comes to shove, it doesn’t really matter anyway because nothing is at stake for the person who takes the shot. The artist has been removed from the equation.
So my question is this: is photography as a fine art finished? Have Hipstamatic and Instagram and iPhones and digitization in general all conspired to kill the art of photography? Does this current set of circumstances almost ensure the photographer, as artist, as a household name, has vanished, never to be seen again?
And another thing . . . what about my camera that languishes in my bag, that I never bothered to take out to take the above shot? Is there any point any more in investing in another thing which is just another thing to lug around with you all day, day after day? Most of us have our phones on us at all times, and most of these phones now come with amazing cameras as a standard feature. They even shoot video, broadcast quality. For someone of my generation, ie pre-digitization, it’s hard to imagine the things we now take for granted.
The quality and affordability and ubiquity of these phones in part accounts for the profusion of images. We take them because we can. As they say, a million monkeys typing for a million years will eventually accidentally write Hamlet. So we get a few great photographs. Dear God, have we become the monkeys? Could a monkey take the shot above? Well, if I did without really seeing the screen, why would I think it couldn’t have been taken by a monkey? Can a monkey with an iPhone create “art?”
I’m not a Luddite. I like the photos I am taking on my iPhone. I am taking a lot more. I enjoy sharing them with my friends, and I like seeing the images others are coming up with.
Still, I can’t help but worry that something is lost, some level of care and artistry and permanence is being lost and seemingly, no one really cares.
Thanks for reading . . .
Self-portrait with iPhone.