November 13, 2014



I'm not one for dipping into the Internet meme toolbox to make a point. But, occasionally, you read something that begs for it.

The romance and nostalgia associated with film doesn't justify its continued use, even for the black and white photographer working in the traditional wet darkroom.

This statement belongs to Fred. Fred isn't this guy's real name. His real name doesn't matter. But that statement qualifies Fred for douchebag status. Let me explain. Last week Fred was hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park. Two of my friends and I were, also. One friend had his digital medium format system in tow and, while photographing, was approached by Fred. The subsequent discussion, which I saw but couldn't hear, was related to me. It was a largely one-way discussion about gear that often occurs between photographers, and has about as much merit as a circle jerk. Fred, not having his system with him, made sure my friend understood his equipment was equally good, if not better. The experience of Fred in the Narrows and the "my equipment is bigger than yours" exchange probably would've floated into distant memory, except we all spied Fred again at dinner. There was no exchange, but seeing him prompted some Internet searching, and we found his website with the aforementioned quote. And, Fred goes on:

The technical hoops one must jump through to scan and process the image alone are reason enough to abandon the medium, and the color shifts and casts are an additional headache. The recent quality improvements in medium format digital capture conclude the argument.

This argument, which amounts to "film was hard, digital is so much better (and easier)", is something of a classic philosophical position defensively adopted by "fine art" photographers who transitioned to digital. I'll admit there was a period where the question of veracity in digital photography made me feel defensive of the portion of my work that was digital as well. But I'm over that. And so are a lot of others, thank goodness. So why pick on poor old Fred? Fred's assertion that his points "conclude the argument" concerning digital vs. film is egregiously narrow-minded and arrogant. And, for me, unacceptable. If you have a true appreciation for the medium of photography and its potential as an artistic pursuit, then these 5 ideas should ring truer than Fred's position.
  1. The argument concerning the superiority of digital vs. film is dead. In fact, we'd all be better off if it'd never existed in the first place. If you want to talk about film and digital's characteristic differences, please do. Because they are different. Fundamentally so. One is analog. One is digital. Duh. And the choice to use one vs. the other (or both) is a personal one that should align to your goals as a photographer.
  2. Photographers who continue to work in the traditional wet darkroom do so for love of medium, the aesthetic characteristics of the product created, and the inherent processes the medium requires. Some people simply love to work in a tactile environment in a traditional, craft-based way. More power to them.
  3. The assumption of digital superiority, in technical terms, may have merit, but romance and nostalgia are powerful forces that align well with people who commit to an artistic pursuit for its own sake and not the popular trends of the culture. Throw in some rebelliousness and out-of-bounds thinking and you're beginning to characterize some of the greatest artists we've ever known.
  4. Analog prints (both color and black and white) created in the hands of master printers have aesthetic characteristics both unique and incredibly beautiful. For certain styles, these prints still rival and can exceed the aesthetics of the highest end papers and processes currently available digitally. Why? Mastery of medium aligned to one's vision will generally exceed technical, product, even aesthetic superiority.
  5. Much of digital photography and printmaking today is its own unique medium that should be pursued, mastered, and appreciated for its own inherent qualities and capabilities. My digital work is often quite different from the work I pursue with film. I enjoy the different options and aesthetics associated with the strengths of the medium.
I'd like to think all my statements are both reasonable and inclusive. Fred's statements take the form of defensive posturing. They, sadly, fit the character of the person we briefly encountered in Zion. I'm not sure Fred understands that quality and aesthetic are two distinctly separate ideas. People with commitment to a particular creative medium (aesthetic) should be celebrated, not refuted for superiority's (quality's) sake. Maybe next year I'll come across Fred again in the Narrows. And you can bet the conversation will not be about whose camera is bigger.


My object has always been to get as close to the real thing as possible — people animals and country. The melodramatic Wild West idea is not for me the big possibility. The more lasting qualities are in the quiet and more broadly human aspects of Western life.

Maynard Dixon