Snobbery/Luddism

9 February, 2006

(This grew in the middle of my previous post, but I think it’s its own thing.)

When I picked up the camera this time around, I came with a few biases. One is a preference for film. One thing that sold me to get back into it all last year was someone telling me about holgas. I knew from my Paris Canon shots that even a crap camera could do cool things with film, and hey a $20 medium format camera? Hook me up. (How lazy am I though, I still haven’t picked one up….)

Another is a bias against modern cameras. I remember learning in junior high to meter with my palm, set my own aperture and shtter speed and focus for every shot, develop my own film and make my own prints. (Thanks for teaching us all that, Mr. Lieberman! Although I bet even you use digital now.) Having a camera do that for me (at the artistic level; snapshots? whatever) feels dishonest as a result. I mean, I’ll take it, cause I don’t remember anything from what I learned then 😉 but I have been making an effort to get inside my camera’s head.

Related to this is a bias against Photoshop. (Question for my photographer/sysadmin readership: which is worse, sendmail or photoshop?) I don’t feel I have the time to learn a big bloated software program for my already-lots-of-time-wasting hobby, and more seriously, it falls in the same category for me as everything that’s not the “M” setting. (However, I will say that now that I’m actually USING Photoshop via the simplified interface of Elements, I see it more as the digital darkroom than I did before, and have even used it for visualizing some abstract ideas.

These biases may read as snobbery, but they’re not rooted in some perception that Things Were Better In The Old Days, or Digital Is So Cheap It’s For The Unwashed, or anything like that. It’s about reliance on electronics being a shortcut to mastering machinery. I was a late convert to mp3s (hell–a late convert to compilation CDs vs mix tapes) and while I don’t have the resources to fix my own cars, I am more comfortable owning a car that can be fixed with a minimum of electrical gadgets. (Also, I drive a manual.) I trust mechanical controls because I can see them and manipulate them myself with far less expertise and equipment than the equivalent ability in electroncs would require. Maybe I’d feel differently if I were a programmer or electrical engineer. But I’m not.

I certainly don’t feel that the world would be better if more people had my attitude. This is not about what anyone else should do, but about me and what I do and why. It seems to me that pro photographers are very excited about digital and the things it makes easier, and were I doing this for money I’d very likely feel the same. But I’m doing it for love, and because I love using my hands. Electronics can make me feel like I’m only using my index finger.

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3 Responses to “Snobbery/Luddism”

  1. ivan Says:

    I’ve heard it said that Starbucks doesn’t really sell coffee- they sell coffee breaks. There are times when I hear people talk about film being dead, how digital is taking over etc.. and I wonder how often people confuse the coffee break for the coffee. Digital will always be more immediate than film, and I’m okay with that– I don’t mind a little slow in my life from time to time. But I might be weird. I like having to remember to pick up and pay for prints from the store– I showed up too late on a Saturday and felt pretty upset (they close early on Saturday, closed all day Sunday– I had to wait until Monday!) I was kicking myself for being late, but you know what it forced me to do? Head back home, recall the shots that I was waiting to pick up, and visualize them yet again in my head. Did that flash unit work out? Did I screw up the exposure on some film I’ve never used before.. that kind of thing. Then Monday comes, I head to the store right after work, and it feels like christmas. Yeah maybe I screwed up here or there, and yes it would have been better to know that right after I took each shot. But there they are, on my shelf, staring at me. Waiting for me to scan them in and mess with them (which I happily do). But I never mess with the originals for some reason– I guess I consider them as weird artifacts of whatever frame of mind I was in at the time.


  2. […] This is probably best read as a response to a post here. There’s a lot of stuff wrapped into that post, and I wanted to tease out and respond to a few individual threads without muddying the waters over there. So breaking it down I want to talk about technical differences, relative strengths, and technique in film and digital photography. Which looks like quite a mouthful now that I’ve written it, but we’ll muddle on. It’s important to note that I’m approaching this with learning photgraphers (myself included) as the intended audience; a variety of other positions could be held for snapshot shooters, pros, etc. […]

  3. wolfhead Says:

    I’m curious if your point of view extends to all of technology, or is it more in the realm of the creative? I’ve always thought of myself as a film snob, especially when it comes to movies. I still feel anything shot on 35mm is going to look better than anything shot on video. Does that mean I don’t like how anything shot with video looks? No. I tend to think of it as technology providing another tool, and I believe in using the right tool for the job. Even in a creative sense, different tools will provide different results. If you have a 50 million dollar budget, but HD will provide the look you want better than 35mm, I think that’s fine. The decision was made for creative purposes instead of financial.

    So, in the same way, I see digital cameras as another tool I can use to create what I want. But I’m not going to try to use it to duplicate or replace what I can do with 35mm film.

    On a tangent, technology does give people more access to techniques that were either more expensive or too time consuming. This is always a double edged sword; some creative people get to create stuff they never would’ve been able to before, however there will always be those that fail to inject any creativity into the process and become less an artist and more just a user of the tool.

    Which comes back to my main point about tools, not being afraid to use them, but I take the time to learn exactly what each tool can do and determine if it helps me create what I want.


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