Emily Buchanan is a writer and blogger working for Howling Basset, a network of wedding photographers in Kent, UK. She'd cautiously call herself an amateur photographer and prefers to shoot with film (she, too, has a serious case of OCN and it is contagious). Follow Howling Basset on Twitter and Facebook.
By now, it’s a dated debate.Does the ease of a digital dark room hinder the legitimacy of an image or are we all just suffering from a strand of OCN (Obsessive Compulsive Nostalgia) bought on by digitalisation and social anxiety? Has the accessibility of photography served to dilute its artistry? Is this affected by the contemporary culture of cataloguing life online? Well?
In this ever-updating age, questions rotate in a perpetual thought-storm like transient objects of wonder. We are barely granted the time to form an opinion before the Next Big Thing has flipped the industry on its head and it’s time to reassess contemporary culture again. But whichever side of the fence you find yourself on, it’s important to take a balanced approach.
In 1936 Walter Benjamin wrote, “In the age of mechanical reproduction, art gradually loses its traditional and ritualistic value.” This theory bridged two states of human progression and so two states of art. The dust had barely settled since the Industrial Revolution and the Second World War was about to provoke an accelerated fast-forward into the modern age. What, then, would Benjamin make of art and mechanical reproduction today and which party would he align himself with?
Andy Stonier of Howling Basset defines one school of thought, “I believe there's no real difference between digital and analogue photography in terms of photographic art. They're merely different techniques for capturing a scene. Whether the image created is on film or a CCD it matters little; what counts is the idea.”
And sure, there’s a lot of weight to this argument. Quality photography is dictated by a certain compassion and understanding of the subject, alongside an innovative idea that challenges social conceptions or embellishes a moment, not to mention composition and technical now-how.
The trouble is, quality photography can be achieved using both digital and analogue cameras, it’s just that one instrument is distinctly more convenient than the other. Long have photographers bemoaned the loss of romanticism and solitude that came hand-in-hand with a day in the dark room. And indeed, it just doesn’t feel quite as poetic to plug a camera into a laptop and fiddle with exposure on Photoshop. Rick Adam of Destroy Everything shares this second school of thought, citing the skill involved in analogue photography compared to the point-and-shoot culture that’s now encouraged by social networking, “You have to be a lot more resourceful when shooting film,” says Adam in an interview with Digg Magazine, “for one you shoot fewer photos, but in doing so I think you learn a lot more about composition, lighting, etc… Looking at the bigger picture it’s not hard to see that technological advancements have affected photography drastically. Digital cameras have given people the chance to take and upload images to the Internet instantaneously. These days it’s easy to take some photos, build a website and call yourself a photographer.”
So where’s the resolution? Does the accessibility of photography make it easier to feign a career in the industry or, to put it another way, if one can afford professional gear, does one become a professional photographer? No, say many, for the tools don’t make the photographer. A good photographer needs ‘the eye,’ and that cannot be bought or sold.
Personally, I think the medium is evolving, just as all art forms have evolved and continue to do. If that weren’t the case, we’d still be painting stoic portraits of monarchs or eroticising reclining nudes. I think our online sharing habits have promoted a rebirth of photography as art. Sure, some would argue that this has diluted its quality, but the same can be said for every creative outlet. The internet provides a platform of expression for everyone, whether they’re good or not. This is something that shouldn’t be chastised, it should be celebrated. After all, the cream will always rise to the top and whether a traditionalist likes it or not, digital post production has the power to transform a moment in time into a work of art.
To quote Tolstoy, “Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously by means of certain signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that others are infected by those feelings and experiences them.”
So, tell us, do you think digital photography is disposable? Do you photograph with intent more with film versus digital?