Digital Photography in the Digital Age

Wade in the Water, 2011

I love film a lot.  Its got a lot of heart in a way that digital photography just lacks.  Yeah, yeah, digital folks will argue and that’s cool.  I’m not anti-digital in ANY way whatsoever.  But there are things I can do with film that I can’t figure out how to do with my D700 or in post.  Aside from aesthetics, there’s this other thing about film, and that’s that when you burn a roll of film, you are making a thing that is real and that you can touch.

Artists make things.  Painters make paintings and sculptors make a lot of things that will eventually fill the basement of their mother’s house.  But as a 90% digital photographer, what the fuck am I making?  1s and 0s all day long, and because I’m not a computer genius, I’m not even sure what that is.  I do know that with a little surge of electricity, my entire body of work could be blinked into nothing.  10s of thousands of photos, which might as well be imaginary, are gone.  When I die, no one is going to run across a trove of negatives in an abandoned attic documenting prostitutes in New Orleans. (Like EJ Bellocq) And this is a bit worrisome.

Choke, 2011

For the last year I’ve been doing some printing on coldpress paper, chipboard, cardstock, and whatever else.  Some I managed to feed into an Epson which I thought rendered extremely rich, beautiful prints by using a matte or cotton paper preset and raising the platten about a million miles above the surface to avoid headstrikes.  Others were made with transfer markers, toner-based copies, and a bunch of manual labor.  I’ve been experimenting with matte gel medium a bit because it allows you to transfer almost any image onto anything, but I’m not returning the results I’d like to see.  It involves a lot of water and friction which beats the paper up and through a bunch of trial and error (mostly error) I haven’t found a way to transfer a solid print without burning a hole in it.  The lab is still working on it, but if there are any other artists doing something similar, I’d love to hear your advice.

Photographers have this luxury of creating images in multiples that other artists don’t always get, so it has been really different for me to make one-offs that I can’t recreate.  I’m quick to mail off test prints to people or write notes on the back of them, but these…I tend to be a little more possessive.  Learning a Zen detachment is good, though, so I’m riding out the anxiety.

Creeping Doubt, 2011

Along the lines of 1s and 0s….I feel like our digital world leads us to believe that we are doing something when in fact we are not.  For instance, I discovered online FPS games last year (I know, I’m always late to the party.  But I’m so handsomely dressed!) and will indulge sometimes for an hour or so in the evenings.  My online persona is steadily getting stronger, winning achievements and trophies, earning new weaponry.  I can see my progress over a timeline and measure how far I’ve come and how soon it will be before I level up.  In some way, it makes me feel like I’ve worked really hard to train and groom my online character, when in reality I have created nothing. I’ve spent hours achieving all of these milestones and goals that don’t exist except in the ether.  I have no real problem with video games, don’t get me wrong, but I’m worried that this is a small part of a bigger problem with the digital/computer world.  All of the hours I spend on this machine working on my photographs, and when I turn it off, there’s simply nothing to show for it.

Gel transfer on stained coldpress paper. Good tonality, but doesn't stand up the the washing.

A thing I always forget about the photographic print is how amazing they can look in person.  Staring at images on a screen all day long numbs me a little bit until I’m in a museum or gallery with my nose pressed against the glass, meticulously examining a photograph and making all the security guards nervous.   Enjoy your weekend.  Go make a thing you can touch and feel and hold!  I’m headed to Hollywood with a pocket full of TMAX.

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