Across The Divide
It was a divide, for me. Crossing the analog-digital divide, I knew, would forever change how I approach photography, thus my life. But I did not know how.
This Friday, January 11th, come out to Zygote Press in Cleveland for a visual taste of how the Digital Divide shaped my photography and that of my peers. The show runs through February 9th. For now, read on…
It was 2003. On the professional side, it was time to replace my loyal but no longer trusty Mamiya C220. This workhorse had seen me through Ohio U’s VisCom program, New York City-and all my assignments since. While my heart was set on a handsome Hasselblad, some peers were suggesting I “go digital” now. To me, those who’d “crossed over” had both succumbed and advanced at the same time.
Heart prevailing, I purchased my ‘Blad from Scotty–essentially the same person who’d sold me my C220 in the 80’s–and I went merrily on, in my film and Polaroid ways… until 2006, when my clients asked me to cross the divide. Scotty sold me a Canon 30D, and I put my beloved Blad away in its dark case.
Personally, crossing the divide idled my Canon Demi half-frame, and employed hand-me-down digital point-and-shoots, and eventually my Canon DSLRs. My shelves still overflowed with boxes of slides, filled with pairs of half-frames sharing the same subject matter and mount. Now, my hard drive overflows with jpegs, tiffs and .CR2’s, lost to my gaze in nested folders, just as my slides had seldom seen the glow of a projector.
I felt blind when I crossed over, and for good reason: as I neared the divide my close-up vision was faltering. I didn’t notice this with analog. I’d pull a Polaroid and put a loupe on it–sweet. I’d run the film and slap a loupe on it–luscious. I’d make a print and it looked–Scrumpdillyicious. But, a 2-inch LCD? Right. At 100% on a 20-inch monitor, with all the pixels peeping out at me? Ugh. Conspiring against me were the LCD image, auto-focus failures, chromatic aberrations, and the pixel-peeping. I overcame all, and my last film and first digital assignments are equal in quality.
Not an intangible experience, crossing this analog-digital divide was a thoroughly physical event. Photography had been about all the senses and process. I could feel the film wrap tear open, smell the Polaroid gel, hear the leader pop lose from the spool, taste the glue on the roll film seal, see the image come up in the tray. Now, it’s Click, Bam.
We took careful light readings, pulled Polaroids, changed backs, reloaded. We visited friends as we bought film and ran it through the lab. Now, it’s Click-Look-Click-Look. it’s me on the computer clicking and dragging. it’s me, clicking friends on the internet. Thankfully, for two decades I honed my craft, capturing images on color reversal film–and that reduces today’s click-looks and click-drags. And years out and about gave me the ability to communicate without emoticons, look my subject in the eye, and be nice.
And the cameras were beautiful: My C220, the way you change its lenses, its paramender. My Polaroid 195, its adjustable lens and PC socket. My FM2, FE and 1971 F. My Nikkor 135 f/2, with a 2x. The Forscher Back. My Graflex, Kodak 4x5, and 5x7 with a shutterless repro lens up front. My Brownie Bullseye, Hawkeye and Holiday 127. Sue’s Kodak 110, Mom’s Ansco, Grandpa’s Welta and TWL’s Instamatic 44–and his “616.” Dad’s Voigtlander. And my Canon Demi.
For me, one camera and film combo cannot be replaced, nor reloaded: my self-made pinhole that takes a bare sheet of Polaroid 4x5. That camera saw me through a meditative self-portrait series and captured several personal-favorite portraits.
Beautiful cameras have been pushed aside by incredible machines. And even, we sometimes look to an ugly box on the table for instant gratification: the scanner. Or an app on our phone–and does it pass for art, or commerce, or what have you?
Clearly now, my love for photography is about the image and the equipment. And for better or worse, how we practice photography is becoming less important as time trounces onward.