Mar 152009
 
A note on decision-making (the first of many)


In this time where the ability to create rapid « captures » of subject matter using digital means, why would an artist choose to make work in a painstaking traditional manner?

This is not a complicated question to answer in the end. The most obvious answer is aesthetic in nature. The physical qualities of the materials are of primary interest. The grain of different film stocks give images a concrete quality that is both seductive and provocative. This grain is created by the light sensitive particles as they are deposited on the polyester base to create film. Each company has proprietary processes that allows for subtle variations in how each film will react to light. For example, Kodak brand films have very little sensitivity to reds and greens producing low-key greys that are intense and often times dramatic while film produced by Adox are highly sensitive to bright subject matter, producing high-key images that have a strong physical quality (one can think of Ansell Adams famous Yellowstone photographs).

Different papers also produce results that will vary in their contrast, acutance and edge definition. The appropriate choice of a paper will allow the artist to create either subtlety or drama in accordance with their experience or perception of the subject matter. Though there are variations available to digital media that can mimic these qualities, they remain just that, an imitation of a traditional process. There are many cases where digital processes can offer their own particular aesthetic to subject matter but in the case of this project and my goals with it, they would not be used to their proper advantage.

The more complex part of this answer lies in the process of photographing itself and is more philosophical in nature. Using traditional wet lab technology implies a certain waiting period between the taking of a photograph and the seeing of it.

Even if it is often convenient to instantly see a capture and adjust exposure to achieve a “perfect” image; this often serves to move away from the expressive and towards a false (or constructed) sense of “the real”. The less instant act of photographing with film forces the artist to rely on instinct, skill and experience in a manner that inevitably will offer an image that not only speaks of the subject but also of the experience of being in its proximity.

The time spent waiting to see results is also a productive time; it is the space where imagination and memory begin to act on the photograph. This alters how it will be perceived and executed in the dark room and ultimately in the exhibition space. The potential viewer is not only invited to witness the images but also to share in the artist’s experience. Another aspect of this tie lag is perhaps more subtle to the viewer but nonetheless quite important to the photographer. The decisions made at the time of shooting must be dealt with, must be accepted when printing and making decisions about presentation. In essence, it is a practical experience of having to deal with ones assessment of an experience and the technical challenges that it creates.

To photograph is not simply to replicate the subject, it is an act of connection and interaction with the world and how we live in it.

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