One of the things I enjoy most about photographing using traditional film methods is the aesthetic. The ease of digital photography has ushered in a new era of thoughtlessness; we are free to machine-gun the shutter and then pick-and-choose which images we like after the fact. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s a time-consuming approach. I genuinely believe that the time, limited frame-count, and money involved with film photography naturally motivates the photographer to be more thoughtful regarding what to photograph and how to photograph it.
I made today’s photograph of the day using my twin-lens Yashica-D vintage view camera.
There is also a built-in aesthetic that comes along with black and white photography. Removing the color element, the photograph is more focused on the architecture and balance of composition. These photographs appear more “classic” or “timeless” because of the reticulation of the film grain and the lack of vibrant color. I’m reminded of a lecture delivered by one of the best professors I ever had, Mr. Keith McElroy.
“If any of you are interested in your photographs being important, remembered, recirculated, studied in text books, there’s one sure-fire way to help your chances. Go to the grocery store, the shopping mall, the warehouse markets. Go up and down the isles and photograph a catalog of all the merchandise on the shelves. In fifty years, the global marketplace is going to be different. Many of those products will have changed, will not exist, will be antiquated. People will be interested in seeing what they were like.”
It doesn’t sound like a glamorous project, but there’s so much truth to this. Photographs of turn-of-the-century Main Street, of general stores with apron-clad mustachioed men with monocles, New York street scenes with horse-drawn carriages, or street scenes with early model Ford cars and horses both navigating the thoroughfare – these are interesting photographs, even if the skill used to execute them is pedestrian. It’s the document that’s important and, in conjunction with the happenstance “aesthetic of age,” these photographs become unique (and sometimes important) historical specimens.
We never know what’s going to be considered important or interesting to future eyes. For all we know, a snapshot of t-shirt wearing shoppers at your local Wal-Mart will be republished in a History of Photography anthology at the dawn of the next century.
With the proliferation of photography, I expect to be reminded that such a snapshot would be but one of millions floating around. But computers crash and hard-drives fail. Not nearly as many photographs are printed as we might imagine. Digital file formats change, and can be corrupted; they disappear. Physical prints that survive the ages will be somewhat more significant.
Take a close look, too. Your one-hour photo prints are usually printed improperly, with exhausted film chemistry by unskilled technicians. You may notice your old family photo albums are filled with fading coloring prints. And do-it-yourself printing is even worse. Inkjet prints fade faster and are highly susceptible to water damage. But then look at great-grandpa’s album. Those black and white albumen prints probably still look pretty darn good.
If I were you, I would scan and re-print all of your cherished prints before they fade entirely.