A Conversation With a Digital Photographer
Johnny Martyr: For all the reasons everyone else who shoots film shoots film and all the reasons that digital photographers are trying to create the look of it; the grain, the latitude, the LIFE of the image.
Digital Photographer: Okay but, I'm telling you I can get the SAME photo out of a DSLR and some editing. I can make a print and put it side by side to your film photo and you won't be able to tell the difference.
Johnny Martyr: Well, that's relative to the photo and a number of different things. In some cases, yes, you're absolutely right. But even in those situations, I'd rather shoot on film because what good is digital if you're only going to use it to mimic the look of film?
Digital Photographer: Simple, I can take more photos, more quickly, with less error, for less money.
Johnny Martyr: Right well, you would agree that it's the photographer who makes the picture, not the camera,right?
Digital Photographer: Sure. Which is also why it's a bit strange that you make such a big deal out of what you shoot on.
Johnny Martyr: That's just it. The camera is a major influence on HOW we shoot. The main reasons you shoot digital are because it's easier and cheaper to get the look that you want and more of it. Is that a fair statement?
Digital Photographer: Yeah.
Johnny Martyr: So check this out. I don't want to shoot like that! For the purposes of your artistic statement or the practical use of your photography, the digital and automated way of shooting affects the way that you shoot in a positive way and corrects, what you see were problems in your film workflow. But for me, I WANT to shoot a little slower. I WANT fewer shots. I am okay with missing a few shots or missing perfect exposure or focus every once in a while. Because I think slight imperfections contribute to the humanity, the realism and the naturalness of the image. As does the real film grain of course. These give the image life. And the fewer images I walk away with, the more meaningful and iconic each one has the potential to be. Great shots can get lost in a slue of hundreds or thousands of less than great shots. And making it clear that these are my intended different results is partly why I have to make such a big deal, as you say, about what I shoot on.
Digital Photographer: Okay that's all fine and all but I'm telling you, the client can't even tell the difference, YOU can't even tell the difference between real film grain and digitally added film grain. So why not just set a DSLR to full manual and turn your preview screen off? It would be cheaper, you could shoot slower as you say and the client could get more photos. You can mess up the focus or exposure all you want!
Johnny Martyr: Yeah, I could do that but then I'm visually lying to the audience. How dare you lie to your audience!
Digital Photographer: I'm not lying to my audience!
Johnny Martyr: Sure you are! If you're making your digital shots look like something they're not, you're lying to your audience! Your'e telling their eyes, "this is film, this is the random dispersion of grain" but it's not. There's nothing random or organic about it. And when I tell their eyes, "this is film", their minds associate film with all these cultural ideas of what film is and what it represents. And all those meanings are hollowed out if the image is fraudulent. Even if for no other reason than to be able to say "this photo was taken on real 35mm film", I think it's worth, and my clients think it's worth, the investment in time and money to be able to say so. It's all about honesty. It's not ethical photojournalism if I'm capturing candid moments but faking the medium I'm taking them on! Everything about what I do is presenting an honest depiction. Film and manual cameras are honest, they show the mistakes and triumphs of the photographer, they document the photographer's reaction to the scene, they document how the image is processed, it's alignment of form and function, content and context, medium and message. I shoot digital and just fake the look and I'm obliterating all this beautiful gestalt!