Monday, September 14, 2009

The greater depth of film

When Yen first saw these pictures, she asked, "Which is better?"

After some thought, I answered that they should be interpreted as one unit, as a diptych of sorts; the forward swing and then the return swing.

Last night, while preparing the square montage for this post, it occurred to me for the first time that there is a story going on behind Yen: Jon and Zheng are walking out of the frame.

It also occurred to me that the results would have been very different had I shot in digital with autofocus. I would have fired more shots, and while that in some ways gives us more to choose from, I think it somehow dilutes the immortality of the moment.

With film, you have less of a buffer; one or two shots may be all you have, and the effort taken to make it count, as well as the so-called liberation from time, knowing that you can't go back, translates into the negative.

I look at these two pictures, and I don't see a shoot in which I am trying to capture Yen on the swing; I see, instead, a chance moment when Yen was swinging, and I happened to walk by, and I happened to have my camera, and I fired two shots not knowing what I'd get.

And then I walked on.

* * * * *

It has been said that, when it comes to black-and-white, whoever claims digital can rival film either hasn't seen film, or is lying.

In the ongoing high-dynamic-range (HDR) debate, it is interesting to note that film (on the whole) has both incredible dynamic range AND biting sharpness and contrast.

This article, in which photojournalist David Burnett talks about some of the tools of his trade, is worth a read:

An excerpt:

The colors are bright. Every part of the image is crisp, so crisp that just picking the minuscule figure of Mr. Kerry out of the huge crowd takes a "Where's Waldo?" moment.

And then Mr. Burnett flipped to a photograph taken seconds later with the ancient Speed Graphic. Suddenly, the image took on a luminescent depth. The center of the image, with Mr. Kerry, was clear. Yet soon the crowd along the edges began to float into softer focus on translucent planes of color.

The effect is to direct the viewer's eye to Mr. Kerry while also conveying the scale and intensity of the crowd. In accomplishing both at the same time, the old-fashioned photograph communicates a rich sense of meaning that the digital file does not.

The digital picture pretends to display raw reality. The analog picture is a visualization of human memory.

* * * * *

On another note, congrats to SooT and Doulos on your purchases of the Zenit-19 and FM-2, respectively!

May the cameras serve you well, even as we attempt to herald to revival of film photography.


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