The central span of the old bridge was demolished a couple of weeks ago. What remains are the two peripheral spans, each isolated, each looking somewhat like a skeletal Trojan horse.
The three images are all from the same day and the same time, but taken on different cameras. The top is a medium format film image from a Rolleiflex twin lens reflex camara, the second from a Canon Elan 7E single lens reflex film camera, and the third from a Canon 5D Mark III, a single lens reflex digital camera.
Regardless of the change in compositional angle and viewpoint, each image has a feel that is characteristic of the medium of capture. The large negative from the Rolleiflex conveys a drama that is in part due to the square format and in part due to the uniquely fine resolution that medium format film conveys. The grain of this film is no different from that used for 35mm photography, but the much larger size of the captured image effectively shrinks it into a much smoother, sharper and silkier appearance.
Whereas the second image, captured on 35mm film, reveals a more strongly apparent grain. This is not necessarily a bad thing; grain in itself conveys a feel that moves the photographic image closer to that created by a pointillistic painter and it takes on an attractiveness that is in itself most satisfying. But if you are looking for the clearest detail and sharpest image, you won’t find it here.
But you will find in the third image, the digital product of a 22 megapixel sensor, and, in this day and age, the most commonly found type of photograph.
And you cannot deny the digital image looks very good. Clean, crisp and naturally colorful.
So why do I find my eye gravitating towards the scanned film images you see here? Maybe it’s something to do with the black and whiteness of them, emphasizing the contrast and angularity of the structure. But the color contrast in the digital image is just as stark – grey-browns and pale greens and blues.
It has to be more than simply the content of the image. There’s a psychology at work here. Partly historic, partly aesthetic. I grew up with film photographs and prints. In the text books of my schooldays, bridges such as this would inevitably be portrayed in black and white. What’s more, the bridges found in those books would closely resemble this aging truss bridge structure. The cleaner lines of today’s girder bridges were less commonly found, or, at the very least, less commonly photographed. Is that any surprise? The symmetry, angularity and complexity of the truss bridge is a far more involving subject.
Here the top two photographs far more closely resemble those images from my past, settled via memory into my mental image of what a bridge should look like. Color seems extraneous. Too much unnecessary information.
I found myself drawn repeatedly to this, and to other old bridges, over the past years. I relish the beauty of the structure. I’ve photographed this bridge many times. But it’s only recently, via black and white film, that I’ve captured the emotional feel of this structure. This is perhaps the main reason why film photography continues to fascinate me since I took it up again and confounds any and all technical reasons – and there are many – arguing for the superiority of digital photography.