This question has been haunting me for some time now. Why do I do photography? What about this medium that inspires this strong drive and passion? And in digging deep to answer this very basic question some odd and shocking revelations surfaced. I realized digital photography, which is the medium I’ve been working with for close to ten years, not only bores me but it leaves me feeling empty and yearning for more. Digital photography has become the norm, it’s a way of life for so many successful and aspiring photographers. It’s the obvious and logical way to pursue photography as an art outlet in today’s media driven world.
But that didn’t jive for me. It didn’t fulfill my creative aspirations. I have followed the trend for the wrong reasons. I got stuck in the world of social media and forums and caved into the voice of public opinion. Until I asked my self: why am I doing this? Why do I feel the need to please the public or gain recognition by following the pack? Is that why I do photography? And the answer was so obvious it hurt bad when it slapped me across the face.
I begun to analyze what drove me to photography in the first place and what part of it I really loved. And by default what I don’t like about it. And while I could ramble on about what that is I think George Slade in his forward to Susan Burnstine’s book “Within Shadows” pretty much nailed it for me: “With the available technology on both the making and receiving ends, a contemporary photograph never needs to materialize as a print. Yet, through social media and countless web sites it is likely to be seen by thousands more people then ever would have seen it in physical form. Increasingly, the print is seen, if at all, as a secondary to the expeditiously “messaged” and up- and downloaded image. Lit from within, but invisible when the lights go out”.
Hmmm… “invisible when the lights go out”. That bugs me! I don’t want to create something that is going to be converted into a sequence of zeros and ones, glanced over and forgotten. A binary code vomit is not a representation of what photography is for me. And that is what has had me feeling empty and unsatisfied all these years with digital photography. I don’t print my images, I process them and put them on a website or social media forum. I, sometimes, process an image and send to a printer to do the job for me to send to a client. But that takes away the critical part of what made it special for me. I loved the darkroom experience. It’s where I fell in love with photography. It’s by finding out how it worked, the magic of light and silver that I truly understood its beauty. The physics and chemistry of making something tangible and real. The precise and controlled manipulation of my tools, chemistry and the power of my brain and physical ability was the culmination of fully creating something.
So I got rid of my digital set up and switched back to film. And this is definitely not a post about film vs. digital. I believe that comparison is similar to witnessing an argument between Monet and VanGogh about what’s better a brush or palette knife. It’s not about the tool, rather about which of the available tools gives me the most satisfaction in creating my work. It’s about making it fun! Working with my body and mind, using all of my God-given tools to create something. And the only purpose and driving force is my enjoyment. I can make something, hold it in my hands and love it. It’s tangible and it doesn’t disappear into the black hole of the “Sim City”-like hyper space when the power is turned off. It’s mine to look at and love in the most selfish way. And there is nothing wrong with that. If I cannot create art for my own pleasure and satisfaction then what I create will never please anyone else. Art is, in it’s deepest core about satisfying my own needs, all else is secondary. If I were to put the public good or financial reasons as my primary goal for creating I would be cheating myself and everyone else of its purpose, not to mention failing miserably.
The image below is a scan of lith print I have made a few weeks ago. I have captured the image on Hasselblad 501CM camera with black and white negative film, which I have developed in my bathroom. I later enlarged the negative in the darkroom and printed it on Fomatone MG Classic Warm Tone using lith developer. This developer gives images a warm tone which is quite pleasing for an image like this. The image was further split-toned in selenium and gold to give the shadows a cool blue tone. Yet, none of that can be truly understood by glancing at pixelated LCD monitor. To appreciated a print is to hold it in one’s hands and see the tonal variations and unique character of the paper, developer and toner.
I love the glorious imperfection and unpredictability of lith printing. It’s like opening a gift at Christmas under a red light. You watch for the silver crystals to grow and literally infect the crystals around them causing a chain reaction. The magic of it happens in front of your eyes and you feel privileged and blessed to be witnessing it happen. Almost as if you were witnessing something that is not meant to be seen. This is what it’s about for me. Glancing at the moment of something coming out of nothing, the secret of creation. Not megapixels but crystals, light and chemistry. So basic yet so profound. Probably nothing else will ever compare to this feeling for me. And I doubt I will ever go back to digital. Not after this bud has been re-planted in my heart.
“That’s what it’s about. It’s those moments. When you can feel the perfection of creation. The beauty, the physics, you know, the wonder of mathematics. The elation of action and reaction. And that is the kind of perfection that I want to be connected to.” Sam Anders