Sunday, January 19, 2020

Leap of Faith

Kim, age 11 Wellesley, MA. Shot with Kodak 2D 8x10 view camera in 1973.

Everybody’s path from film to digital is different. Being something of an early adaptor, a marketing tag from midway through the last century, I placed my bet on the next big thing in photography a long time ago.

When I crossed the line, more like a gaping maw, from large format film to digital in 2002, my most promising photographs were still lifes and portraits. They were photographs that seemed to prove that making the leap wouldn’t kill my career or my psyche. I thought those early efforts stood up to gelatin silver prints at least from a technical perspective. Artistically I make no claim to the excellence. That’s in the eye of the beholder.

Butternut Squash, East Conway, NH, 2002

I’ve been pleased with 18 years of digital results even going to the extreme of touting digital images as the equal of film.

Alain Comeau, North Conway, NH, 2002

Faded Roses, Bethlehem, NH, 2004

Vanishing Point, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD, 2004. The 21x32 image on 32x40 paper is above the desk where I'm typing these words. The thing is tack sharp, has infinite depth of field and no apparent noise or grain.

I recall showing my portfolio to an esteemed photography educator, reviewer and consultant in 2006. And I paid her like a New York lawyer for the privilege. The expert asked me if the work in my book came from a wet darkroom or from a dastardly inkjet printer? She may not have used that exact adjective, but you get my drift.

I replied, “Both.”

She asked, “Which ones are from film and which are digital?”

Ever the wise guy I responded, “You tell me.”

After going through 80 stellar prints, she hadn’t identified which were which. Finally, she threw in the towel and asked me to point out the gelatin silver prints.

I told her there was only one silver print among the 80 and gave her another chance to find it.

“Which one is it?” I asked her. Again, she came up empty and pled with me to, I exaggerate to make the point, show her the real photograph. I paged through the portfolio till I found a 1973 portrait of my niece, the one I made with a 1941 Kodak 2D 8”x10.” Kim was eleven at the time.

I reveled in that teachable moment for eight years even as certain gallerists refused my work since it was digital and “digital doesn’t sell.”

Then in 2014 I was part of a four person show at the elegant and much missed Open Shutter Gallery in Durango, Colorado. At Open Shutter I shared wall space with an 8”x10” contact print by Paul Caponigro. It was a couple of pears, or it might have a been rutabagas. I was reduced to Jell-O by that jewel of print and swore to burn all my work. “Now I get it.” I said to myself. There is a difference. Or more precisely there is that much of a difference. Smooth, round and full of volume.

Bubble burst.

And speaking of still lifes, they loomed large in those heady days of so-called high resolution digital. Faded Roses and Hubbard Squash shown here are examples of images made with a resounding 10 megapixels. That was considered high resolution when I bought the much ballyhooed 10 megapixel Canon 1Ds for the princely sum of $7,700 in March of 2002. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. I got a deal. It retailed for $7.995. I simply had to have that bad boy for my annual ski safari in Chamonix. Surely, I’d ski better with a ten-pound anchor hanging from my neck.

Skiing aside, I loved that camera and the images that came from that beast.  It produced 21”x32” landscapes of amazing acuity and little grain. The still lifes were luminous and rich. Its portraits were a marvel. 10 megapixels. Did I mention that?

All but the image up top were shot with groundbreaking 1Ds. We’ve been lured into the high-resolution tar baby, boys and girls.

This post is a reasonable facsimile of my Jan-Feb article in Shadow and Light Magazine.

No comments: