Something of a corollary to this article, this one, but it serves to amplify an aesthetic concern that has bothered me about digital photography almost since its inception.
Simply put, digital photography has become too good.
What do I mean by that?
I mean it has become super efficient at capturing detail. So much so that one can take a picture taken with a contemporary high resolution sensor such as found in the Canon 5DS, take a tiny crop and it will still blow up to highly detailed image.
For many photographers, this seems like nirvana. The quest for ever finer detail seems to be a compulsive mantra, with devotees pushing lenses to their limits with endless photographs of resolution charts.
Why do they do this?
For it doesn’t take more than a moment’s glance through the majority of the results of this effort, when applied to the actual photographs one sees on the web (for example), to see all that it has achieved are cleaner and even more shiny emulations of what has been emulated over and over again during the course of photographic history.
Note that I say the majority. There will always be artists who use this technique for truly creative ends. But they will be small in number, alas. Most are simply seduced by the technology and utterly fail to transcend it.
The results appall me. It’s why I find myself moving further and further away from popular photography. Moving onto lesser traveled roads, some inevitably cul-de-sacs, but at least trails where I can feel that I can breathe photography free of the stultifying compression of fashion, fad and ever more complicated technology.
That’s why I have a lot of sympathy for the world of photographic subculture. The Lomographers. The film enthusiasts. Anyone who challenges the orthodoxies. Digital photographers who exploit the limitations of the technology, using old cameras or deliberately distorting methods – not those clichéd in-camera ‘effects’ or Instagram tricks, by the way – to break out of the sameness of so much of the results.
I’m probably too old and set in my ways to truly embrace these unorthodoxies. But I’m working to bring them into my work and finding the results have real resonance for me.
Look at the image above. A fairly straight forward landscape on the surface, although I find the parallel lines of road, water and shadow leading towards horizon rich in symbolism, its real magic rises out of the deeply pointillistic effect produced by the heavy grain of the Adox Color Implosion negative as reproduced by the film scanner.
Zoom into this image and within moments detail is completely lost, replaced by a seemingly random collection of colored dots.
This dissolution of clarity is entrancing. It speaks more to the soul of the image than any amount of microscopically precise detail. I love this.
You might say that the same effect could be obtained by zooming down to pixel level in a digital image. And on one level you would be quite right. But nothing about that level of pixelation – whatever it may be – suggests a transformation of the image. It simply represents the binary limit of that particular image’s resolution, a limit that will be exceeded by the next generation of sensors. In other words, it is simply a resting point. In most cases, not a deliberately chosen limit. Technology rules the image and technology calls the shots. Impersonally and without soul. Nothing has been arrived at. All we are witnessing is a journey in process without any real exposition of that journey. No wonder so many digital images feel so empty.