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Friday, July 11

Yet more digital artifice

Image © by Maaz Khan

I hardly ever look at digital photography websites these days. I'm not interested in pixel-related equipment and I couldn't give two hoots what mark DXO Labs gives the latest optical-plastic computer. But in searching the web for interesting snippets to do with film and darkroom, occasionally one happens upon a funny wee digital item.

It's maybe just me but I have to laugh every time I read about film photography being inconsistent, full of surprises and totally unpredictable. It's maybe that way when you just start out and haven't had time to develop a consistent way of working or are too lazy to read a how-to book but the hipsters seem to think the whole world of film photography progressed like that: from one unpredictable cock-up to another.

Of course, being hipsters they think this was "cool" and there are now apps you can get for your iPhone that will simulate the poor working practices of the novice. A recent article on had a different take on the subject, bemoaning the fact that digital is largely free of such aberrations.

It began,
"Back in the days of analog photography, we were used to seeing all kinds of artifacts in our images: dust specs, scratches, fingerprints, cigarette burns, traces of the developing chemicals, etc. etc. The possibilities were endless. Then, there were all those crazy things you could do to film after it was developed, like exposing it to various substances, scratching it, coloring it, etc."
So far so predictable, just the same old view that film photography is all about the defects that can crop up rather than the possibilities for beauty when you get it all right - and let's face it, it's not that difficult, is it? But back to the article:
"In the digital age, most information that comes out of a camera is 'clean' - that is, the analog element of chance and surprise is (almost) entirely lacking. You don't have to deal with expired film or developing chemicals, you don't have to use a blower to get rid of dust, and so on. What can happen, though, is that you save images to a defective memory card, for instance, but that is rather the exception than the norm."
I just knew what was coming next and, sure enough, with a wistful look in the direction of the erring novice film photographer, the hipsters want their own digital cock-ups to rival those possible with film. Et voila, an app is born.

Image © by Maaz Khan

It's called Glitch Art and aims to add some completely artificial defects from the digital age to your camera files. Thunderstorm interference, vertical banding, pixelation - they're all just a button push away. Now you can take your lovely clean digital file and make it look like junk. What do I think of this sort of thing? I think it's complete crap. If that's the extent of your creativity then you'd better take up needlepoint.

The best thing digital has going for it is the clean look to the files, the lack of noise and high apparent sharpness (albeit not as much resolution as you'd think). Why do so many of the digital crowd go on about how great their medium is then try their utmost to ruin what it's good at?

They want the tonal qualities of Tri X, the grain of Tmax 3200, the sharpness of Rodinal, the look of outdated film and cross-processing - not to mention the fingerprints, scratches, etc, mentioned at the start of this post. And now, possibly tiring of aping film characteristics, they want to take digital's biggest virtues and turn them upside down as if, by so doing, they are being more creative. They're not.

Rant over.

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Herman Sheephouse said...

You know Bruce - I've seldom had 'cool' stuff on my film . .
I think the 'coolest' thing ever though was a massive blob of stickiness adhering to an area of sky on a 120 negative, taken on a very snowy walk to the top of a Munro . . in other words an unrepeatable image.
I tried everything to remove it, including resoaking and rubbing, but in the end, ended up with a worse mess. Cool!
For those readers of a nervous disposition the answer was, with sticky lumps caused by either too much or badly mixed wetting agent (as was the case with me), the answer is simple, so long as it is on the non-emulsion side . . lighter fluid on a piece of cotton wool and then a rewash . .it takes all the gunk off beautifully . . COOL!
I'm off now to code the 'I accidentally set my digital files on fire with Naptha' app . .

Kenny Wood said...

Hi Bruce,

I wonder if you can get a filter or App for either your film camera or enlarger that lets you emulate the digital artifacts ..he..he! Wouldn't it be great (not) to get coloured lines and streaks, or loose the image altogether because the film in the enlarger had 'crashed'!

Don't get me wrong I think digital has it's uses but as you say it is better suited to producing clean looking files rather than trying to be something it's not. For instance recently I did a quick and dirty wee test of digital infrared v's film infrared. Leica M8 v's Konica IR720 film of February 1993 vintage. So no contest then you might think! Well as far as I'm concerned the film won hands down as usual! The Leica files and film were both shot through the same Lee IR 87 polyester filter, with the film developed in Rodinal and the resulting negatives were just what I was looking for! The Leica files were flat, dull and uninspiring. They would have required a lot of post processing to breathe some life into them, which would have meant sitting in front of a computer trying to improve the 'Sow's ear'!

Speaking of film, you might like these if you haven't seen them One is a documentary video about Ralph Gibson and this is a video about film photographer Billy Mork in 'The Art of Analogue Film Printing'. You may have seen them, if not enjoy!

Bruce Robbins said...

Have you tried taping a negative between two sheets of sandpaper, stuffing them down your underpants and going horse riding? Wait, that's just given me an idea for an app!

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks, Kenny. I'd seen the Billy Mork video but not the Ralph Gibson one. I'm off to enjoy it over a coffee.