The digital age

Fellow Record photographer Victor Blue recently returned from a three-week long trip to Guatemala. Instead of using digital equipment as he does at work, Vic shot 60 rolls of black and white film to document the various aspects of life there. This reminded me of what we gain and what we lose every time there is a new development in technology.

Film, especially black and white, adds a visceral quality to photographs (which is well-suited to Vic’s style of shooting) that digital photography has yet to match.

There is an art to printing black and white photos, carefully crafting the subtle shades and tones. One of my heroes, the photographic god Ansel Adams (who also trained to become a concert pianist), likened the negative to a musical score, while the print is the performance of that music.

While I found the hand processing of the film tedious, I used to love making prints in the darkroom. There’s a sense of accomplishment, of crafting something with my own hands. I found it soothing to stand in the darkroom, watching the prints gradually become more detailed in the developing tray.

When I started at The Record nearly 23 years ago, we shot nothing but black and white film. It was several years before we moved onto color film. But, I think digital photography has had one of the largest impacts on newspapers since the invention of photography itself.

In 2001, The Record photo department went cold turkey, dumping all of our film cameras and leaping head first into the digital revolution. Then the quality wasn’t as good as film (it is now), but the cost savings (no film or chemicals to buy) were tremendous. Moreover, for a news photographer on deadline, the time savings were invaluable. We now easily can transmit images from the field back to the newsroom. No more waiting for film to develop or prints to make (the downside is, we used to use that time to write captions or just to take a breather).

I sometimes find myself missing the old days, and I might shoot some black and white film for myself on occasion, but for practical every day applications, there’s no going back.

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