Posts Tagged ‘debate


The analog vs. digital debate…

You knew it was coming.  How can a self-professed photo nerd/art geek not get involved in the “which is better” debate – analog or digital?

Here’s the thing.  Neither, if you have half a clue.

Something that I absolutely love about photography – the fact that there are so many styles, so many processes, so many techniques that give you such dramatically different results are all considered “photography.”  Tin-types, platinum prints, inkjet prints, digital-c prints, online web galleries, silver gelatin prints.  These are all forms of photography, different manifestations of an image.

So why are we debating this again?  Oh yeah, because it really sets some hardcore photographers off.  I used to be one of them.  I learned silver first.  I still love silver.  I’m a black and white girl at heart.  When digital first emerged, I said that it just wasn’t the same – and granted, it wasn’t.  The quality was so radically different that there wasn’t any real reason to switch unless you were an innate computer junkie.  Then every aspect of digital imaging got better.  So good now, that you can distinguish digital from analog, but it’s become a debate about inherent characteristics rather than fundamental quality.  And yet it really wasn’t until 2006 that I finally realized that I didn’t hate digital photography, and in fact thought it was kind of badass.  Nowadays, I do both: the classes I teach are almost exclusively digital (because that’s the way the industry has gone, for good reason) and do projects to keep myself up to date but almost all of my personal work is analog because at heart I am a process oriented person, and being in the darkroom keeps me sane.

Some of you may have thought I was copping out when I said that neither was better.  I’m really not.  I think that any type of camera that you use, and technique that you learn, or machine you utilize is simply a tool to help you express an image that is already in your head somewhere.  Some ideas innately call for the use of digital.  Others times, I’ve jumped from digital transparencies to collage then to photograms until I hit upon the right medium to express an idea.  One form of photography can’t be better than another when they are all just different means of expression.  What really matters is the idea and the image.  I could care less if my camera has 21 megapixels or 7, I care what I can do with it, what can I pull out of that machine and how does it relate to my idea.  The same goes for whether I pick up my 35mm or my 4×5 camera – the project almost always dictates the format, the idea relates to the equipment I use.  There’s a relationship there, and if there isn’t, that’s the real problem in my mind….


Books, theory and banging your head against a wall

While drinking my coffee this morning, I decided to read about some of the goings-on in the art world.  Somehow, this caused my brain to remember that I never did get around to reading/buying Michael Fried’s most recent book, Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before.  So of course, I go to Amazon to see what’s what.  And I’m plunged yet again into the complete chaos that is photo-theory.

Now, I’m not going to be able to sum up my ongoing, wonderful yet frustrating experience with contemporary theory of photography, more specifically, what the heck is Photography, in one post.  I somehow sense that this will be a frequent thread here.  But it really struck me when I started reading the comments for Fried’s book and looking at some of the other theory books that Amazon suggested in one of my favorite features “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought,” that there is a constant battle between “art” photography and photography for the rest of “us.”  And in that second category, I  would include everything else – commercial, snapshot, the proliferation of mobile devise photography (a la the iPhone pics), or even just “beautiful” photographs.

I’m not saying that I buy into this distinction of art vs. the world when it comes to photography.  I’m in the camp that thinks that one of the greatest aspects to the entire medium of photography is its unclassifiableness (yes, I know that isn’t even close to a word).  I think that the fact that we actually have to debate what photography is, what it means, what our relationship to it is as a member of society and also our relationship to it as artists means that in and of itself, the medium can contain everything.  And that it will frequently contradict itself.  Which I think leaves more room for those of us who grapple with the medium to push and explore how we use this ability to render light into image to better understand the world around us, however we interpret and see.  In all, the more we can’t understand photography, the more it becomes a universal tool that will help us to learn to articulate our relationship to others.

But I’ve got to say, this is not the normally held position by photographers, by theorists or critics or historians (though there are many, and this is by no means my own idea that I developed – I read a crap-ton and got most of this from all the reading I did during grad school).  And reading the comments left on Amazon reminded me that people spend so much time arguing about how we should or should not talk about photography, and who’s “right,” that a lot of the time we don’t ever talk about the photographs themselves, which I think is a bummer.

It also made me think about the articles I’d read this week about the Senate, and how currently all the RepGs keep doing is prevent any kind of debate at all, which means not only are the Dems stymied in their agenda, but everyone is frozen in place, incapable of any progress at all, let alone any forward progress.  Which again, I think is a bummer.  I’d argue that there is a major difference between productive debate that allows for differences but engages with the heart of the matter and debate that is purely posturing, where the fundamental ideas are ignored in favor of proving that someone is right and the other person is wrong – always.  This sucks, in both politics and in art.

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