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Monday, May 11

For Formula E read digital photography


As a bit of a car nut and an F1 enthusiast, I found myself watching something called Formula E on Sunday or, as I prefer to call it, Formula Sewing Machine. For the uninitiated, it's sort of F1 for electric cars.

This particular race was around the famous Monaco circuit where real F1 cars annually make so much noise that it sounds as though they are intent on disturbing the very foundations of the Monte Carlo casino. Not on Sunday, though.

The Formula E machines hummed their way around the track and were about as awe inspiring and menacing as a food blender on the number one setting. If you can remember Nigel Mansell's desperate attempts lap after lap to overtake the slower Ayrton Senna in the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix, you'll know how thrilling such a duel can be.

By comparison, the Formula E event was not unlike watching a football match being played behind closed doors as a punishment for earlier crowd trouble. In the pantheon of great sporting spectacles, it was right up there with dominoes. Formula "E"? More like Formula Mogadon.

Who the hell thought this would be a good idea? Watch a scary film with the soundtrack turned down and it's as frightening as the Teletubbies (actually, the Teletubbies are far more sinister). Why remove the soundtrack from Formula 1? And what about that other sensory stimulant, the smell of Formula 1? That oil and petrol fug that hangs over a motor sport track and just adds to the "atmosphere". Formula E must smell the way your garden does when your electric hedge trimmer gets a branch lodged between its teeth.

Those and similar questions were playing around in my mind when it struck me that Formula E is exactly like digital photography. The machines are boring, there's a lack of noise, no soul and, no doubt through time, they'll replace real cars that have served us well for over a hundred years. Raw? Visceral? Emotional? Yes, it was none of those things. Just like digital.

I used to deny being a Luddite citing my love of the internet in my defence. However, I've come to realise that it's not a defence but an exception. Whether it's cars, job-stealing computers, digital photography, electric trains or whatever, I now tend to think that they've robbed life of much of its charm.

If I could, I'd scrap them all and go back 60 years to when Leica and Rolleiflex were at their peak. Photographically-speaking can anyone really claim that what we have now is an improvement? 

21 comments :

Regular Rod said...

It's worse than that! They have to change cars partway through the race to be able to continue to the finish as the batteries go flat. They also get penalised by the officials if they use more power than some artificially arrived at benchmark. It's utter rubbish...

RR

Bruce Robbins said...

Couldn't agree more Rod!

morris1800 said...

Sounds can be very evocative. I was out shooting with my eldest son the other day . He shoots digital with a Canon DSLR while I was shooting with my Rollei 6002. He spun round when I took an exposure a few yards away from him. " That camera sounds great ! " I barely heard him say over the noise of 36 sq cm of mirror flapping up and down and the film winding on due to the valiant effort of a 1 1/2 fps motor.... He never takes any interest when I'm shooting with my Leica!!

Michael Carberry said...

Unfortunately Bernie and friends are slowly (or not so....) doing the same thing to F1. The cars are slow,the sound uninspiring and the race tedious for the most part. The only excitement after the occasional starting melee' is an aggressive move to pass resulting in carnage. F1 is morphing inexorably into an open wheel NASCRAP.

satrain said...

"Those and similar questions were playing around in my mind when it struck me that Formula E is exactly like digital photography. The machines are boring, there's a lack of noise, no soul and, no doubt through time, they'll replace real cars that have served us well for over a hundred years. Raw? Visceral? Emotional? Yes, it was none of those things. Just like digital."

That's why I hate the film photography community. It's filled with pretentious hipsters back here in the State where I live and snobbish middle-aged limey luddites like yourself on the other side of the Atlantic. To call digital photography(yes, it IS photography) soulless is pretentious at best and downright elitist at worst. This is why I quit shooting film years ago and will never go back.

DavidM said...

Well, satrain may have a valid point and he or she is certainly entitled to express it, but I've never encountered quite such rudeness among the film community.
It may be that this sort of thing is normal in the State (sic) where satrain lives and we pretentious middle-aged limeys must learn to cope with it.

Elliot said...

I have a completely different opinion and politely disagree with Rod and others who disparage digital photography. There is nothing that I can say or do to change their view point which is obviously heartfelt- but in my opinion completely incorrect and uninformed.

Best to simply agree to disagree and remain friends.

DougH said...

Having spent the last 20 years of my working life before retirement as a computer programmer, I'm not a luddite. But the last few years have made me realize what we have lost by so totally adopting digital. We have traded our privacy for the sake of convenience. We have lost most of our photography capabilities again for the sake of convenience and ease of use. Social media has replaced human interaction. We have a long list of other lost valuables largely due to those enamored with the new. Digital is not reality or even a very good abstraction of it. Hopefully there will continue to be those who prefer craftsmanship over convenience, beauty over false perfection & sterility. Pushing a button is not creativity. End of rant!

satrain said...

I mean to say States as in the United States

Michael Carberry said...

My earlier comment dealt only with the racing end of it.

I shoot both. There I said it. Digital can be every bit as good as film.............BUT it does lack the feeling of being involved with the process film does for me.

I am not fond of HDR,overproduced,faddish photos produced by many photographers using digital. That is not to say it's all like that. And I certainly won't be rude to another photographer no matter their choice. I am not good enough that talking with another photographer can't enlighten me.

Alastair Moore said...

Agree with Elliot. I shoot solely with film and have been doing for quite some time now. I see the benefits of digital but it doesn't suit me. However, to describe it as it has been on this blog post is both unfair and incorrect. I've made digital prints from film negatives and, in the past, digital prints from digital images which have as much soul, noise, feeling as any wet print I've made.

I find this whole "them and us" in photography a little bit pathetic to be honest. If it's not film vs. digital, it's Canon vs. Nikon or full frame vs. cropped sensor. I realise that in most cases it's friendly ribbing but in many cases it isn't and that is how this post reads to me.

You really should let your photographs do the speaking rather than your gear.

DavidM said...

In this kind of debate, we teeter on the edge of sounding like a flint-knapper on seeing his first bronze tool.
May I comment that there seem to me to be two parallel debates? The appreciation of process and the appreciation of results. Sometimes it's difficult to separate the two, particularly where personal feelings become involved. Perhaps we might profitably leave the word "soul" to theologians.
As the debate started with motor cars, I'd better confess that watching them go round and round, with or without noise, does very little for me.

Bruce Robbins said...

Flint knapping was a noble craft that kept many people gainfully employed - a bit like real photography. Bronze tools were more like digital imaging. And a well-knapped flint was always sharper than a bronze tool.

Opinions differ but I think the various tones in the flint always looked nicer than the all-over smoothness of the bronze tool. Of course, there are people who claim the results from both were the same but I don't believe them.

DougH said...

I disagree with those who insist on calling digital imagery as photography. Graphics designers have for decades been using digital imaging tools/software, and we call their output graphic art. Those photographers who of late have adopted the same tools and techniques as graphics designers yet insist on calling their output a photograph. It seems at best tortured logic or possibly a marketing strategy.

This love for all-things digital reminds me of the 50's and earlier when to be modern we chrome-plated all metal and painted all wood. We're still scraping off the paint and removing the linoleum from beautiful hardwood floors.

DavidM said...

Let's start a thread for calligraphers to insist that using a keyboard isn't real writing, shall we? Only poetry inscribed with a quill can have a soul, obviously.

You limey flint-knappers ain't seen nuffin yet!

Bruce Robbins said...

Doug,
I don't have a problem with the term "digital photography". We already had "photography" and the newcomer should have distinguished itself with the adjective. That would have left "photography" to describe the stuff that isn't digital - pretty much as it always has done. Sadly, though, some twat somewhere thought it made sense to add the appellation "analogue/analog" to photography. That's why, as a snobby, pretentious limey Luddite (brilliant, creative insult, btw!) and purely out of spite I like to call the pixel stuff "digital imaging".

Alastair Moore said...

Doug,

You can deny that photographs can't be made with a digital camera all you like, but that doesn't make you correct.

A photograph is nothing more than an image created by light falling on a light sensitive surface. An image created with a digital ticks all those boxes.

Love it or hate it, that's simply how it is.

DavidM said...

This question does generate a great deal of excitement. There seem to be some thin-skinned people out there. Some argue that a print isn't a photograph unless it's made by the direct action of light. They seem curiously attached to the word "squirt". An interesting claim, because the images on my screen are made by the action of light.
I would be happy to use the word photography as a very broad umbrella and attach qualifiers as seems appropriate. We can say film photography, digital photography, even analogue photography with very little mental stress, if we feel it's an important distinction at the time.
May I draw our attention to the early days when all sorts of terms were used to describe each process? Daguerreotype, Calotype, Tintype, Sun pictures and so on.
It didn't seem to create quite so much squabbling, but perhaps they had more interesting things to do.

Jake said...

"If I could, I'd scrap them all and go back 60 years to when Leica and Rolleiflex were at their peak. Photographically-speaking can anyone really claim that what we have now is an improvement? "

First of all, go build yourself a time machine and go back to the 50s if you want, but don't drag the rest of humanity with you, and second, yes, digital PHOTOGRAPHY did help bring photography to the masses and that's an improvement, whatever you like it or not.

Bruce Robbins said...

You're entitled to your opinion, Jake, as I am. Unlike you, though, I don't claim to speak for "the rest of humanity".

Regular Rod said...

My comment was about electric car racing Elliott. Frankly, I'd be lost without a digital camera to illustrate my blog. There is no finer tool for the spray and pray type of pictures I make when out dry fly fishing...

RR