Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Analogue / Digital Process - An explanation why.

In general and certainly within vernacular photography the modus operandi in this part of the 21st century is digital capture followed by digital display or a print made on a digital printer. This "method" of photography is perfect. The photographer has access to any number of capture devices in various price ranges and as technology improves the photographer will be able to expand his vision with all manner of instruments. I have no issues with digital capture, in fact quite the opposite and I enjoy the freedom (who can resist auto ISO?), quality, processing and output opportunities that this affords.

Black and white images from digital cameras are excellent. The colour sensor produces an RGB file that after simple conversion makes smooth silky images with a complete tonal range, with one manufacturer making a monochrome version of their top selling range finder camera specifically to enhance the output.

Photoshop has add in devices such as Silver Efex Pro and Exposure that take the digital image and make it look like an image shot on film. The opportunities when using these are endless. They allow choice of film, pull/push processing, a range of colour filters, contrast to mimic paper grades and variations in the film curve and grain texture. With four or five clicks of the mouse the raw file initially adjusted in ACR is then transformed into an image we are told looks like (say) Kodak Tri-X pushed 2 stops with an orange filter. In many respects these claim are correct so there is no justification for doing different; but I hope to prove otherwise.

My desire to shoot images onto film is not to recreate my wet darkroom experiences of the 1970s and 80s and take a nostalgic trip back to the smell of fixer and I have no desire to struggle with colour processing, which was always better left to labs in the past anyway. This work will therefore be limited to silver based monochrome film, processed in conventional chemicals, wet mounted for scanning on a flatbed scanner, post processing in Photoshop and printed output delivered through a 12 ink printer.

The aesthetic of a black and white photograph originating from film is not easy to explain. If the aesthetic needs further explanation then we can use additional words such as atmosphere, mood, delicate, enchanting, straight, classical, forceful, surreal and mature. However within these there are contradictions and it is not until work by the likes of Henri Cartier Bresson, Ansel Adams, Man Ray, Edward Weston and others of the early 1900s are examined will the feeling for and the need of the aesthetic become clear.

The "effect" is due to an incomplete presence, a lack of immediacy on the part of the image as compared to that of the colour photograph in its claim to represent the present. If the colour photograph offers a sense of the immediate, then the black and white photograph appears to be offering something once removed. At the outset therefore the need for it to be in monochrome must be firmly established in the mind of the photographer. Monochrome images are not colour images salvaged in post, they are thought about and made with a deliberate intent and for my work the addition of the film. In order that the finished work is presented at its best the technical work that will follow is a necessity that has to be completed in my search for printed output that is at the highest standard and exhibits all the nuances of monochrome and the special aesthetic that is only possible by using film at the heart of the workflow.

My intent to produce black and white work film based is unlikely to be seen as a cogent argument by those in photography who only have exposure to digital capture and it will be difficult here on the journal to present my finished work due to the workflow being specifically destined for the printer. However during the process of establishing the workflow I hope the experience will be of benefit to others who may be thinking of following a similar path.

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