The digital revolution has driven another stake into the heart of the old world. And as a journalist who’s entry into the field was as a photographer, this one hurts.
Kodak announced on June 22 that it was ending the production of Kodachrome slide film, it’s oldest film product, and for many photographers, the gold standard for capturing life-like color.
This comes on the heels of other bad news in the photographic world.
Nikon, probably the world’s most famous manufacturer of cameras, now builds only two flim cameras, both SLRs, one pro model and one for amateurs. It makes no point and shoot film cameras. None. This contrasts with the nine digital SLRs it builds and the 17 digital point and shoot models it carries.
As a photography buff and a student of the art, this is a low moment indeed.
Sure, digital cameras make images instantly available, and I doubt the growing clamor for instant gratification in the United States will ever be slaked, but whatever happened to the good things that come to people who wait?
And yes, digital photos can be e-mailed around the world at the touch of a button, and yes, digital photos can be printed in the comfort of your own home, but hasn’t this level of convenience cheapened the value of a photograph? Are they still even worth a thousand words?
Of course, the quality of digital prints is still lower than what comes from 35 mm film. Even the best digital cameras only capture a fraction of the amount of information that’s enclosed in a single frame of 35 mm. That, coupled with most people trying to print digital photos on poor quality paper and using as low a resolution as possible, means that many, many digital photos barely qualify as snapshots.
But the worst thing about digital photography is that it kills the magical alchemy behind photography. It used to be an art, something that required skill, innate talent and time spent working in an apprenticeship role to someone who could pass on years of knowledge.
Photography classes must still teach composition and exposure, but with ever-more-automatic cameras and computer programs to fix nearly any photographic glitch, how long will it be before we are looking at nothing but perfectly composed, perfectly cropped and perfectly exposed — yet utterly lifeless and soulless — photographs?
Yes, I’m talking to you, Photoshop.
The days of students learning how to mix chemicals and how to work an enlarger in total darkness are long past, and the art is certainly poorer for it. Photography no longer requires a knowledge of chemistry, mathematics and physics. Everything is reduced to little ones and zeros, like so much else in the world.
I still yearn to have a darkroom in my home, a place filled with trays of acrid chemicals and kept in soothing darkness much of the time. A place where the right combination of science and artistry can still yield magic, magic in the deep blacks, the bright whites and the countless shades of gray of a real photograph.
Photo by michelphoto53 en Rénovation