There’s no “undo” key combination in the darkroom
My wife still uses the 3 megapixel digital camera that I bought 14 years ago. The first two years that I owned it, I used it almost exclusively to make my living.
Of the three forms of modern replacement technology that I’ve struggled to get used to, digital photography has been the easiest to learn and accept and yet, film photography has been the hardest thing to let go.
A scant 6 years before I bought that first digital camera, I was shooting text book covers for Harcourt Brace and helping a friend and mentor create images for a food catalog (ah, the cheesecake shot) using large format — 4×5 or 8×10 — view cameras. We proofed every shot with black and white Polaroids and every afternoon someone had to run the boxes of Ektachrome to the lab before closing time. Then the transparencies were scanned and the images dropped into PageMaker and the catalog was laid out. Shazam! In less than 24 hours we were in the digital age. One day we were shooting photos on a camera that didn’t even have a working shutter — we just darkened the room, took the lens cap off, fired the flash (sometimes multiple times), put the lens cap back on. And the next day someone sat at a computer and created the layout.
One of the strangest things to think of now, about that whole process, is that we shot everything so that the image on the transparency was the size it needed to be in the finished catalog. That was a holdover from a previous era because we still weren’t too sure about those scanned images.
For me, that time was the beginning of the blending of the new and old image representation technology. The new innovations were always interesting to me and I never resisted a single one, wanting to try them all, compare them — especially the computer advances. I learned to use Photoshop long before I had ever even touched a digital camera. I knew that some kind of line had been crossed when I found myself involuntarily trying to hit “undo” after making mistakes in the darkroom.
It was easy to embrace new technology as it came along. For one thing, I had a genuine interest in many aspects of it. For another, being just barely forty, it was pretty clear that if I wanted to keep working at photography for very long, the time to “get with the program” was immediately. So I studied, tried, embraced, learned, adopted and switched every way I could.
After those two years of making my living with that 3 megapixel camera, I felt like I was pretty much with the program. Then it hit me. If I woke up one morning and all the modern photographic technology was gone, it simply wouldn’t matter to me. It would be so easy to let it go and I just wouldn’t care. I even considered myself a better photographer because of all the practice I was able to get with digital, but for some reason it just didn’t matter.
I don’t know what it means or even why I feel that way but I’m sure that if I woke up tomorrow and all the digital technology was gone, I could still — even with the knowledge that it had existed — just pick up my beautiful, dented, 40+ year old Nikon F (doesn’t even have a light meter), plop some film in it and head out the door.
I really love digital photography and have a great time with my camera and computer. But I miss my darkroom, old cameras and black & white film the way one might miss a good old friend who has moved away. They’re still out there but just not part of your day to day existence any more. Every time I see those cameras I feel a pang of loss and frustration. Yes, I know it’s possible and people are still doing it — but for me, right now, there is just no way to work it into my schedule or budget.
That brings me to today, to this place and time and to this blog called “Learning to Paint.” I have a nice day job that I really enjoy and I don’t have to try to make my way with my camera any more. Heck, everybody’s a photographer now (at least they think they are), so what do they need me for. I no longer have to face the incredulous looks when I tell someone how much money I want to be paid for something “anybody can do.” I’ve had all the kinds of success that I ever thought I might have, not the least of which is people actually forking over their hard earned cash for copies of my photos just to hang on their wall.
There’s no intention to stop taking photos — at this point in my life it’s as easy and natural as taking a step or wiping my brow. I’m happy, though, to move on from just being a photographer. I am a writer and an artist and a photographer — and a gardner. That all suits me just fine as I head forward in life.
So that’s it. I’m no longer stuck in those three limbos of this modern world. It’s a new day and I am so glad that you have stopped by to read this and let me prattle on so. Now I’ll go back to listening to what you have to say which is much more important to me anyway.