Friday, September 27, 2013

Let's play peekaboo

Hiding in plain sight
Toronto, ON
August 2013
Thematic. Large structures. Here.
Heads-up: I'm about to date myself. I grew up in the age of film, in the land of photographic scarcity. Every shot was precious, finite, deliberate. Every finger-stab on the shutter cost you film, processing and time.

So before you took the shot, you pondered the scene, metered it, debated it with yourself, justified to the optical gods why this very scene deserved to be committed to silver-halide permanence, why it was worth waiting days for processing, not to mention a good chunk of your lawn mowing money.

All of this had an impact on how you chose your subjects and how you chose to document them. It meant you couldn't just choose anything. There had to be a distinct reason for it. And unless you had an especially good reason to do so, you didn't tend to return to the same scene over and over again. I grew up around folks who wouldn't return to the scene of the photographic crime because "we have that picture already."

So, based on this logic, one picture of the CN Tower would have been enough for the photo album. Because the world had plenty of other things worth remembering, and there was only so much film to go around.

Digital has, of course, changed the very nature of photography. The land of scarcity has been replaced by the land of plenty - some might say over-plenty. You're limited only by the how much space remains on your memory card and how much battery you've got.

On the one hand, it means you can return to the same place time and again, and challenge yourself to find new ways to explore it and tell its story to others. You can focus on the creative storytelling. You need never worry about frittering away your lawn mowing money again. Which is kind of what I was thinking as I headed to a meeting in Toronto and saw the CN Tower peeking out from behind a condo tower.

I've seen this iconic structure countless times since childhood, yet on this otherwise humid, light-challenged day, it seemed different. The condo towers sprouting up like steroidal mushrooms have begun to encroach on the tower's formerly wide-open slice of sky. Toronto is filling in, and this one shot speaks to what it often looks like from the ground.

Having the freedom to work in this way is, of course, a good thing. On the other hand, digital's blessings may be overly abundant. The flip side of photographic plenty is that we seem to have lost that sense of preciousness. There's no reason to be so deliberate before tripping the shutter, so we often shoot without giving it much thought. We'll fix it in PhotoShop, or weed out the losers when we get back to our workstations. Or we'll simply dump them all onto Facebook and let the masses decide what stays and what goes.

I admit I'm torn. Part of me loves the freedom to shoot at will and find new ways to revisit old friends - yes, even buildings can be old friends. Another part of me misses what it felt like to go deep before I committed the moment to memory. I rather enjoyed approaching a shot in my mind, constructing the process for what seemed like an age I wonder how the the removal of our film-and-processing shackles has influenced the way we shoot, and whether or not that actually results in better pictures, storytelling and sharing. I'm not entirely convinced it has.

Your turn: Digital...blessing or curse? Why/why not?

--
For more Thematic large structures, and to contribute your own, please click here.

4 comments:

Karen S. said...

Oh a blessing in more ways than not. You see I remember when the rolls of 24 films came with the extra 3 prints and I thought that was bliss. We have the ability to take so many more pictures without worry that we didn't catch the right one. Then when we delete it's a joy!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

So before you took the shot, you pondered the scene, metered it, debated it with yourself, justified to the optical gods why this very scene deserved to be committed to silver-halide permanence, why it was worth waiting days for processing, not to mention a good chunk of your lawn mowing money.

Or you just took lots of pictures, but never had them developed...because you needed your paper route money for that Peugeot 10-speed!
~

Carmi Levy said...

I had forgotten about those 24+3 rolls! Y'know, I still keep my old film-based DSLR in my sock drawer. It makes me feel good every time I come across it, as if it's a reminder of where I've come from.

Carmi Levy said...

I couldn't afford the film, either :) I'd save up for both film AND processing (and the rechargeable batteries, of course.)

I'm kinda glad that economics no longer dictates what I shoot.