Too Perfect Isn’t or Then There’s Golf

Sharp, clear, focused, exposed, edited, lit, colored digital photography is all over everywhere. Poor Ansel, he spent hours and hours making his perfect B&W prints, now it comes out of the phone camera almost ready made.

The Diné, (Navaho) blanket makers weave a flaw into their blankets to not offend the gods with perfection. Audiophiles say vinyl records are “warm” compared to digital, and the pops and clicks are part of the experience. The modern trend in hot rods is rust, not 23 layers of candy apple lacquer paint with chromed oil breathers.

Sally Davis is a painter who became a street photographer of the urban landscape in NYC and LA. In her words in the book Masters of Street Photography about post processing images: “I find myself desaturating and adding a small Gaussian Blur. Digital Cameras sharpen to a fault. I am no longer interested in seeing the color of someone’s eyes half a block away.”

I love the look of film and use many presets and techniques to try to duplicate what I see as the look of it. Very good photographers say the “film look” is not that different from digital and what can be done in modern software darkrooms. But, if you ask them if there is anything special about a well done analog print on a piece of paper… Maybe, the blanket makers know something after all.

When you are sitting around looking at the dusty family photo albums ask yourself, “Boy, wouldn’t these look so much better if they were bright, sharp, clear, shiny digital photographs?” Any answer you make to the question is the right answer, BTW.

I have been scanning old film from the 70s, 80s, and 90s recently. It was all done with cheap lenses and drugstore processing. Film processing was and is very expensive to get the Ansel look. It takes the best cameras, lenses, and hours of work by people who are much more patient and talented at mixing magic potions in the dark and waving wands in the enlarger lights than I ever was. Let’s put that old saw about “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer” out in the rain to rust away. If better equipment didn’t make better photographs, those famous photographers would have used Kodak Brownie cameras.

Here are some old film photos, and some new digital ones.

I add grain to most of my digital images now. I also blur some of them. My Photoshop presets defocus things a bit, too. I don’t plan and fuss taking the images now either. I used to with many of the old film shots, you had to, and I was learning the ropes of tripods, filters, exposure, hyper-focal distance, shutter speed, f-stop, Zone System ad nausem then. Now my photos are moments I see and grab on the fly. For me, it’s fulfilling and enjoyable to do it like that. Perfection and moments in the continuum of existence are exactly the same thing, every moment is perfect and infinitely short. Likewise, it’s impossible to capture perfection in any moment, no matter how long it is. There lies the rub. Golf and photography are twins, or demons separated at birth tormenting their pursuers, so they cannot and never will get it perfect. There must be a lesson in there somewhere.



Image 1 of 17