Losing The Magic

We love prints, yet they have severe limitations. Prints are reflective, meaning that they depend fundamentally on the intensity and quality of the light hitting them. Colors in printed photograph only existing thanks and through the light we, or our customer 2,000 kms away, decide to cast on them.

Prints are physical objects made of a very fragile material, likely to be scratched, likely to be damaged by water in liquid or vapor state. Prints can be bent, burn or cut. Prints can commit a slow suicide because of the acidity of the very paper they are made of, their colors can vanish under attacks from the air and/or the light. As the print goes so does the photograph it embodies.

Besides, prints are large objects that don’t move very well. They need to be framed, and then packed carefully, which adds bulk and increases the cost of transport.

What if this were about to become a thing of the past?

The above paragraphs were written by Bernard Languillier in an article posted on Luminous Landscape about the future of displaying photography. There is not much new here, at least in regards to my own thoughts about the future and the impact of the digital world on the display of photography. What I did get from reading this article is a reenforcement of the feelings I have about my plate work and why I am drawn to it.

I fear the loss of the physical image. When I look at my collection of vintage tintypes, ambrotypes, and daguerreotypes I often find myself wondering what people will know of todays as well as future photography which is moving to the full digital environment. In this environment the image never has a physical form from capture, post-production, and display where the only physical aspect is the hardware were the image lives. So much visual history will be lost by hardware failure, file corruption and deletion, and as file formats obsolescent over time.

I am not anti-digital. I personally own much more digital photography equipment than the plate equipment. Most of my paying work is digital and I don’t feel guilty about making digital images, but I do worry about the longevity of the images that never make it to a physical form. Looking through a shoebox of horribly fading and discoloring family snapshots made in the ’70s is an example of how long the move to more disposable photographic history on a personal level has been accelerating (by the use of ever more cheaper material and process). Even in this example the images have survived for over 30 years….can we expect the same from todays digital visual records of our world?

Digital photography and display is not going to go away. The question that I would like to throw out to you to think about is how do we balance the extreme positives of digital technology on photography with the dangerous temporary nature of what it creates? I don’t have answers, but I know that I will continue to point most of my passion and energy into make physical images.


~ by Phil Nesmith on August 22, 2008.

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