Photography – let’s go back to Analogue

No I’m not serious. Well maybe just a little. I was brought up on Analogue. I’ve been taking, developing and printing photographs since I was a teenager decades ago. And I enthusiastically embraced the digital revolution. Not only because I am a geek at heart, but because it was so liberating. I went from darkroom to Lightroom. I had full creative control of my photograph. I could click away to my heart’s content. What’s there not to like? Going on a trip? No need to estimate how many packs of film I had to take with me (which was always, by some quirky Law of Nature, one less than I needed). Today there’s a plethora of new categories of cameras and equipment, with capabilities that would have boggled the mind of the teenager that I was.

And yet.

It started when my (millennial) daughter wanted to try her hand at instant photography with Fujifilm’s Instax series of cameras. I was intrigued. Why would someone raised on digital, with all the convenience this entails want to “go back”? But I encouraged her. And as always, I learnt much from watching my kids. Her first surprise was when she finished the pack of film (10 photos) in about 3 minutes flat, and photography basically stopped. The second surprise was the discovery of the price of film. This was a far cry from the “free” digital photographs. Subsequently, she really took her time before pressing the shutter. She ensured the light was right, the settings were correct, and composition was impactful. And I must say, I loved her photographs.

A few weeks later she was contemplating buying a printer that took Instax films. So instead of loading the camera with film, you load the printer, hook it up your device, choose the photo from your gallery and get it printed on “instant film”. The printer wasn’t very expensive, and she asked for my opinion. I discouraged her from buying it. Because the beauty of instant photography is in the concentration you put in each photograph. You think before you click. We lost that in the move to digital. Click away, and one of these photographs will be good enough, right? And if not, well you can always recover it in post-production. By loading a printer with instant film, you might gain in convenience and flexibililty, but you lose on the creative process. I think I saved her about $150 and I continue to enjoy her instant photography.

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In an unrelated series of events, I felt I was getting in a funk with my photography, losing the passion. So in a Kondo-esque move, I got rid of all my equipment and started from scratch. It was a radical move in which I replaced a plethora of equipment with one Fujilfim X-Pro2 and one “prime lens”. That’s it. The camera appealed to me with its retro design, and its buttons and dials in all the traditional places (no need to rummage through menus). But the retro exterior belies some serious technology below the surface. And I liked how Fujifilm had leveraged their expertise and long experience of manufacturing film. They were able to emulate their films digitally inside the camera. (Now here’s a company who knew how to navigate the meanders of digital transformation – but that’s another story).

I started using my camera in the same way my daughter was using her Instax film. I took extreme care not to “machine gun”, and especially not to check the photo after every click (I disabled that feature). I loved the sense of anticipation when I finally checked the results back home. I “loaded” the camera with Fujifilm’s Acros black-and-white film. By doing so, I was committed to black-and-white (you can turn a colour photo to b/w, but not the other way round). Many were surprised by that decision. But I realised that I shoot and see the world differently when I know I’m shooting in black-and-white. Just like in the “old days”. Many were also surprised by my choice of a prime lens. What if I wanted to zoom in? Well then I’ll just need to move in closer. And finally I turned almost exclusively to street photography, a subject in which I had no prior experience, having had much apprehension of taking pictures of people. It was a major challenge.

By going back to basics, I imposed on myself many constraints and gave myself new challenges. But I had so much fun in the process. I felt reinvigorated. I had lost much in terms of flexibility, it is true, but I realised that constraints actually beget creativity. Constraints force you to think “out of the box”. Flexibility breeds  laziness.

Do I want to go back to analogue? The convenience and flexibility that digital photography provides me are wonderful, and I would certainly not want to go back. But these two experiences taught me to contemplate the impact of digital in our lives, beyond photography. I learnt that it is important for us to seriously consider how we use technology. We need manage it, and not have it manage us. Let us distill from technology what is best and discard the rest.

For yes, flexibility is a wonderful asset. But I often find that what’s easy is also not satisfying.

2 thoughts on “Photography – let’s go back to Analogue

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  1. I have the leisure and good fortune of being able to express face to face the thoughts that Hani’s blog elicited in me and I plan on doing it but in a sense decidedly “antagonistic/ opposed” to the direction of the thought of a “return to analog”, I am making a move to the digital by posting comments on a blog rather than limiting my exchange to the traditional conversation medium — after all, the sense of a blog and the advantage of digital should not be overlooked/ neglected and parked away just because of some inconvenient (lazy?) behaviors that it allows us to adopt. And I think this is the essence of my comment – even if the preamble contains more thoughtful meaning than the subsequent comments

    The essence of the blog, as I see it, is not so much whether we should actually return to analog in photos, but return to a behavior that changed, gradually or otherwise depending on how change-averse a person is, because technology allowed us to. Did the arrival of digital photography alter our ability to take photos a la Ansel Adams (hours at a time for just the right moment, just the right photo) or is it something else about the development of new technology that alters our behavior. I am a poor excuse for a photographer and no better at writing but I see a parallel between that and the comment by Hemmingway when asked how he wrote, (paraphrased) long periods of thinking, short periods of writing. Did the advent of electric typwriters and then more digital forms of writing necessarily change the way we write or is it something else about human nature and behavior that was the cause? In other words, do we need to effect a return to anything because of the technology? I think, in a sure sign that I am even more rooted in the past than I’d like to admit, that Socrates had the answer back in his time already “know thyself” for it is in that knowledge that we can determine what is important to us in whatever we do. Do we love photography because we can put all our friends to sleep with even more photos of our vacation than we used to by displaying slides on a large white sheet in the living room or is it the artistic process itself that we enjoy – the act of being able to create something approaching an artistic image despite our inability to paint the simplest scenes.

    And I think Hani hit the nail on the head because it is fundamental human nature to tend to ease – it is even perhaps a sign of human inteligence, I have heard, because without this laziness would we have been so inventive over time? (I am convinced that the invention of the wheel was made a lazy bloke who was just too tired to pull / push or carry his load any farther.). It is such human nature that it is encapsulated in a common French saying: “la facilité amoindrît l’homme”. It is the ease that brings success to technological advances and at the same time it’s “demise” or perhaps more appropriately, it’s risks. Owning a digital camera has never obliged anyone to modify their creative approach to photography – I owned a digital camera for years before I realized that it wasn’t a big deal if I took a bad picture because I could just erase it and not worry about having reduced my film from 24 exposures to 23 (I used to roll my own film and didn’t like the scratches that sometimes appeared in lengths of film that allowed more than 24 exposures.) In the same way that owning a computer and MS Word did not necessarily change the thought that was necessary before typing. I think it is important, however – and I thank Hani for bringing this up – that we be aware of the TEMPTATION that technology creates to click away or type away mindlessly before focusing on the creative act… and as this reply shows, being aware of it does not protect one from falling into the trap.

  2. Hi Alec, thanks for taking the time of writing a detailed feedback. Appreciate it! Indeed, interesting parallel re writing. I remember having written a couple of letters (pen and paper variety) to my kids when they had moved to university, and discovered that the process was so different – used different muscles both in the hands and in the brain — than typing on a computer (with the consequent ease of editing). And the result was also different, I believe. When you know you are committing words to paper, you take your time before placing the pen on paper.

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