In a recent blog I discussed the almost monoculture of the digital image among younger photographers. Not because I am a Luddite or anti progress in technical terms, but due to my sadness that a lot of people are missing out on the various qualities that a photographic image can possess. I say 'various' qualities because most often you hear the term 'quality' in discussions about equipment and it seems to be taken for granted now that there is only one 'quality' by which to compare various makes of cameras and lenses and that is digital quality. I think that's a shame.
Three of my Leicas of different vintages. IIIF from 1955 on the right.
M2 from 1965 on the left and an M9P from 2012 centre.
It's true of course that if the final destination of an image is the computer screen, newspaper or magazine page, many subtleties are lost. This has always been true however and it is only by enjoying the variations of qualities in original prints can you appreciate these.
Photographers used to argue about the relative qualities and differences between, say, Leica and Nikon lenses by looking at prints. Some might argue for the 'sharpness' of a Nikon lens over the perceived smoother quality of the Leica. Tiny, subtle differences that would be lost in newspaper or magazine printing. I was always a Leica person for my 'personal' work, mostly seen as original exhibition prints, although I used Nikons for the 'commercial' stuff I undertook.
|My Rolleiflex 'T'|
The differences in print quality could also be observed as one used differing formats too of course. 99% of my recent work is undertaken using 10" x 8" but I have also enjoyed and appreciated using other formats over the years.
Using larger formats is not always just about the extra quality gained, although this will always be an important factor. The actual size and shape of the camera and its format also affects how one approaches and renders any particular subject. I always had a fondness for the square format. Cropping a rectangular image to be square doesn't quite feel the same or work in the same way as composing with a square format camera.
|Barber's Shop, Bridge Street, Cardiff, 1969|
Making a portrait with a Leica or similar will elicit a different response from the subject than if they were photographed with a larger camera on a tripod. Place an 8" x 10" camera in front of someone and they take notice. You make a different kind of photograph. These various strategies for making images are as an integral part of the process as the look and feel of the final print. You, as a photographer also approach the subject in a different way if you use different equipment. Vilelm Flusser discussed this in his little volume entitled 'Towards a Philosophy of Photography'. With 99% of photographers now using DSLR's these differences of approach have been negated.
Thankfully I am in the happy position of still being able to use whatever format, approach and medium I feel is appropriate for the project in hand and I have acquired, over many years, the skills to use and appreciate these and their various qualities.
I'd like to think that the differing qualities of formats and materials still has a place in photography for those who appreciate them and the photograph as an object and in original, hand-made print form. Let's hope we never lose this. There are signs that the pendulum is beginning to swing back a little with sales of silver-based materials rising again from a low point. It would be a shame to see all those wonderful qualities being lost.