23 May 2008


for a few months now, a new love interest and i have been exchanging visits between our respective home towns, 200 miles apart. the photos i got back from a recent rendezvous set me to thinking about my history in photography -- they were taken with a Nikon N90 35mm SLR film camera. that's right, non-digital. my developer is kind enough to offer both traditional prints and negatives, supplemented by a DVD of digitalized images. this enables me to send photos as attachments to emails to my friends, while still practicing the art and science of photography as i first learned it, discovering the delicate balance between lens opening and shutter speed and film speed and ambient conditions and the photographer's creative vision, which are the purest form of film photography.

back in the day (over forty years ago), photos were just snapshots, with a kodak camera and later a polaroid camera. i didn't really begin to learn and understand the process of creative photography until i was in vietnam. there i purchased a 16mm Minolta cartridge film camera half the size of a pack of cigarettes, and carried it everywhere i went. astonishingly, this tiny device had controls for shutter speed and lens opening, and by trial and error i began to learn how manipulating each control affects the light which reaches the film. i'd begun an artistic and photodocumentary journey.

a few years later, living in spectacularly photogenic southern arizona, i progressed to a Pentax Spotmatic 35mm SLR, with a wide angle lens and a zoom telephoto as well. the pentax was still a simple camera, with manual adjustments for shutter speed and lens opening. the sole electronic device was a built-in light meter. my vision broadened, my instincts became more fine-tuned, as this old workhorse taught me even more about light, and shadow, and composition, and depth of field, and motion, and color saturation, and focus. four years spent managing a nature preserve provided a nonstop playground for experimenting with light.

fast forward to the late 90s, the pacific northwest. i decided to upgrade to my current Nikon, with all its attendant bells and whistles -- built in flash, motor drive, autofocus, more features than i've ever used. it cost an arm and a leg, and wouldn't you know it, i made the purchase right before the digital revolution changed photography forever. so here i sit, determined to use and enjoy this older technology until it wears out or they stop making film. digital is great, and someday i'll indulge, but for now, i'm still a film guy.

it's analogous to the faces on watches. i still much prefer the traditional analog clock face with its numerical face and hands, to the somehow impersonal flicking, ticking numbers on digital watches. i don't think i'm a luddite -- there's something i find visually appealing, as well as intuitive, about glancing at an analog watch and picturing what time it is without having to think the numbers to myself, then translate that to something meaningful.

one could make a similar observation about musical instruments -- i also happen to prefer the more organic, genuine sound of an acoustic guitar to the whine of an electric guitar, all other things being equal. or even sound recordings -- there's something primal, historic, about listening to a symphony on an old LP, compared to the admittedly more brilliant digital sound on a CD.

it takes all kinds, i guess.

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