April 5, 2015

Hearing and Feeling Photographs

A post to a Photography group on LinkedIn highlighted this enjoyable NY Times article on the career and philosphy of a master black and white printer, Chuck Kelton. Naturally, if nauseatingly so, some comments gravitated to comparisons of traditional and digital photography (and printing). While I have strong opinions about the unique expressiveness of certain analog papers and processes, I'm equally opinionated about the tired staleness of the debate. It needs to stop. Education that facilities understanding the unique nature of each medium would be far more valuable to the culture of photography than debating perceived superiority. My comment to the discussion follows:

As photographers, we convey our experience and understanding of a scene. The deeper the understanding (through experience, familiarity, empathy and craft), the greater the potential for expression. Extraordinary images communicate an awareness beyond the 2D dimensional construct of the image (or print). They lift the veil and shine light (if briefly) into our shared humanities.

For the photographers/commenters still stuck in the digital/analog morass, I suggest rethinking the debate into a celebration of the inherent advantages (aesthetics) of each medium as tools of expression. On the surface they appear the same when, in fact, they are substantially different. This is a good thing! It’s the philosophy you bring to the chosen or preferred process that ultimately defines the nature and expressiveness of your work. Does anything else matter?

Mr. Kelton's choice to remain committed to traditional silver prints represents an intimate understanding of the expressive nature of the medium he works in. There is nothing in digital printing that can effectively emulate the expressive characteristic of the well printed silver gelatin print. It's a question of the material itself, its aesthetic and the process used to create it. It speaks uniquely. As it should.

I believe the key point made in the article, worth contemplating, relative to your own photographic development, is this:

“It’s really in that last 10 percent where the magnificence of the object lies.”

That philosophy, engrained into your own work, will transform it.


It's one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it's another thing to make a portrait of who they are.

Paul Caponigro