The battle between film and digital is over. Digital won. (Part 3)

Tim Nighswander/IMAGING4ART
May 3, 2014 12:45PM

Previously I alluded to there being a negative side to photographing with a digital camera. I also confessed a bit of nostalgia for the days when film was king. The two are linked; for while I maintain that the current technology allows me to deliver a better final image, the downside (for me at least) is an intangible, almost indescribable loss of some of the magic, the allure, the romance if you will, of film photography.  It is not a question of a loss of quality; rather it is a loss of something of the essence of photography as it existed for its first 150 years.

Perhaps it brings out some of the Luddite in me but I am not totally comfortable being completely dependent on a technology that I cannot fully understand. To be sure, the last iterations of film cameras were technological marvels; like fine watches they were masterpieces of precision and miniaturization. Though they had become increasingly packed with electronics they were, by and large, mechanical devices. Gears and levers I understand. The physics, optics and chemistry all make sense to me. When I clicked the shutter I knew what was taking place inside the camera. The sounds it made could tell me that everything was functioning properly or help me diagnose a problem if something went wrong.

Now I am immersed in a world where the image is created by means of an unimaginably complex computer code. I can use the jargon to speak the language, can operate the software and arrive at results I am pleased with but I can't really say I understand how it all happens. I suspect that there are relatively few people who do - and that they are software engineers. Based on trial and error and past experience, when I do encounter a problem I swap cables, change batteries, reload software, re-boot, mutter a few expletives and can usually get everything working again - but I can't say I have a clue which of these things work or why (when I started using high end digital cameras nearly 18 years ago and encountered problems I was told I should "Zap the P RAM."  It sounded like the name of a rock band. Though I would do my best to comply, to this day I have no idea what it means...).

The film camera that I used when I first learned photography was not substantively different from film cameras I was using decades later. In a trend that is unlikely to change any time soon, new generations of digital cameras are released way too frequently. Cameras from four years ago are virtual antiques. Not only must the camera equipment be replaced but so too do the software and computers necessary to produce the images require constant upgrading and relearning. There have always been photographers who were more tuned to the technical side of image making. Now, however, it seems there is little choice but to spend more time and put more emphasis on the equipment just to keep up with technology.

What, if anything, is lost in all of this? I am not sure. I have embraced the new technology and for all of the reasons listed in previous posts I would not wish to go back. In the end a film camera is just a tool - the means to an end - and like many tools before it is being replaced by newer, faster, better technologies that open the door to expanded realms of creative expression. The legacy of the latent image is now being continued into the digital age and that is a good thing. While it is premature to declare that film is dead, the end may be nigh and it is appropriate to both mourn and celebrate its eminent passing.
Tim Nighswander/IMAGING4ART
Get the Artsy app
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play
Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019