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A view to the future November 18, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, creativity, learn, life, technology.
Tags: , , , , ,

picwomencameraCameras capture time. Whether film or digital, still or movie, they are recording the profound or insignificant moments of our lives.

As I recognize how much I feel at home behind the viewfinder, and begin to gain a sense of the stillness at the centre of each photo, I am also seeing how — even as I watch — the way I think of photography is slipping into the stream of time. Photography, like the printing industry it is still mostly dependent on, is becoming outdated and antiquated.

There have been so many changes in the history of photography, from calotypes and Daguerreotype to magic lanterns, from the first mass-produced box cameras to the sophisticated computers with glass and mirrors we are used to seeing today. Now it is commonplace for people to take photos with their cellphones, and shoot videos with their digital cameras.

Of course, these days you can also buy a miniature camera no bigger than a thumbnail if you’re in the spy business, or if you want to snap the martians at play and don’t want to spend two years and a few million getting to Mars, you might be able to afford a monster-sized 1700 mm (5-1/2 foot) lens for your camera instead.

But I’m trying to simplify my life. I’m fascinated by convergence, by the iphone approach which incorporates music, phone, camera, organizers, becoming an electronic catch-all for the stuff you used to keep at the bottom of your purse or wallet or desk drawer. My cellphone can take photos (I’ve used it twice) and play music (I haven’t tried that function at all) as well as store task lists, phone numbers, and I’m sure it has many other bells and whistles I haven’t bothered to explore. But the fact is, I want to use it as a phone. Period.

browniecameraI have the same relationship with my camera. I use it to take pictures. I’m glad it’s digital, so I can see the images right away, and don’t have to pay for film and processing. But many cameras now are designed to do so much more than take pictures. Even the new high-end cameras are beginning to feature high-definition video capability, along with all the other must-have doohickeys. How many functions does your camera have? How many do you use?

I don’t want to be a luddite about this, but I’m afraid that what I see as the point of photography is getting lost in the race for bigger and better equipment, in the competition for the electronic-savvy consumers who want a camera that’s fully-loaded, whether or not they possess the will and skill to master it.

I’m not a camera purist. I don’t think that you have to use a square-format view camera and shoot in black-and-white (and process it in your own darkroom) in order to be considered a serious photographer. But I do want to draw a line between photography and videography, between single eloquent images and multi-frame movies. For me, photography is about stopping and seeing, about observing and contemplating a moment in time. I’m talking about still photography, plain old-fashioned pictures. Come to think of it, I prefer plain potato chips, too.doo-lough-ireland

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Related links:
Geist Magazine: “My Father’s Hands”
New York Magazine: “You must be streaming”
Jacki Schklar: “Video vs Still Images”
Technology Review: “Crossover Camera”



1. Alyson - November 19, 2008

You are so right – photography is about stopping and seeing. I don’t know how many times, when I’ve been travelling, I’ve seen people walking around with their cameras up to their faces so they can record it to look at once they get home. Know what I mean?

2. forestrat - November 19, 2008

I’m a film guy from way back so it took a while for me to make the switch to digital, but now I’m hooked. A couple of big pluses for me are the ability to change the ISO on the fly, and the feedback I get from the camera in terms of image previews and histograms.

On the other hand, I still use my digital like a film camera. I run it completely manual for all the settings, I have no idea what two thirds of the buttons do (well I guess I know what they do – I just choose to ignore them), I don’t need or want it to take videos (although I think it can), I bracket exposures manually, etc.

I’m no luddite either, I’m an information systems developer by trade and I like to stay on the bleeding edge, but I know that there are times when technology helps and there are times when technology is just a distraction and a hinderence. It is important to know where to draw the line.


P.S. Thanks for adding forest rat to your blogroll.

3. lavenderbay - November 19, 2008

That moment in time on that empty highway in Ireland will always be with me. I’m glad we have photos of it, but I’m gladder still that we took our time and drank in the magic of the scenery.

4. eyegillian - November 19, 2008

Alyson — I do know exactly what you mean. Sometimes it’s a struggle for me to resist the instant oh-I-must-capture-this impulse when what the moment really calls for is awe, stillness and respectful appreciation. I remember one time when lavenderbay and I were canoeing on a still lake in Algonquin Park, and suddenly a blue heron (that we hadn’t noticed perching on a nearby tree) stretched its wings and flew right over our heads. If I had looked away to rummage for my camera I would have missed the beautiful view of the feathers under its belly. So I just watched and marvelled. And I refuse to regret the photo I didn’t take in that brief moment.

Thanks for dropping by, forestrat! I’ve lurked on your blog, but haven’t had a chance to leave a proper comment yet… but I will! Like you, I started with film (remember the Kodak Instamatic?), and I loved using my all-manual Canon AE1 — until it was stolen. I was over the moon when I bought a dSLR (Canon Rebel XT) a few years ago, although I’ve rarely used full manual. But I want to create pictures, not just take snapshots, which means I need more control, although now I’m finding it’s hard to manually focus with this camera… (hoping to get a 5D, but not yet). I know it seems to be going against the tide, but I really want my camera to help me slow down, not speed up!

And lavenderbay, what great memories, eh? I know the experience of being there is more important than the photos, but I’m sure glad I have the photos, or I wouldn’t remember what it was like to be there. Sounds convoluted, I know… but that’s life!

5. lavenderbay - November 19, 2008

I agree about the convoluted part, actually. The time I spent solo in England is virtually forgotten, because you weren’t there, and the postcards and two rolls of film I acquired are the only ways of remembering any of it.

6. eyegillian - November 20, 2008

Speaking of film and photographs, I wonder if anyone uses photo albums any more… perhaps it’s time to go through those negatives and get the best ones scanned and stored on CDs before we start losing all those old (but good) pictures.

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