Friday, January 3, 2014

Cloudy Evening, By Smartphone

I caught this image from Trumbo Road looking southwest toward the city. I thought the cloud cover was impressive, even though I'm sick of cloudy days. I took a picture, with my Android phone, no tripod, no film and who knows what the image might look like were it blown up or printed. But that is not my way, and fine by me I thought...

Then I read this article in Britain's Guardian newspaper:

I love digital photography; it has liberated me. In the old days photography was terribly expensive, not simply the cost of developing but also the cost of film and the price of simply taking pictures. Imagine taking a picture and not knowing how it would come out! That was skill and luck and determination combined! If the shot mattered you had to take several pictures bracketing the exposures. If you were organized, and I wasn't, you noted the speeds and settings in a notebook so when the film came back you could compare the results with the intentions. Nowadays who thinks of that? Not only can you see the picture instantly, you can also open the appropriate page and the digital camera has recorded all the settings for you! Amazing.

I tried using a darkroom in school but I hated the chemicals and I disliked the whole business of fiddling with paper and bottles in the dark. So though I lacked the control I had over the black and white images I went to color which was more fun when it came out well, but the development process rapidly became so automated the pictures came back washed out, badly cropped and generally treated with indifference. Nowadays I can use digital effects when I take the picture or even afterwards if the recorded image isn't the way I want it to look. All in my phone! Then with a click I upload it to my Picasa account where it is stored and available for use in my computer when I want it. The technology is amazing.

Above we see the future of Key West, another huge hotel by Pritam Singh springing up behind Schooner Wharf Bar. Below we see the present, a city occupied by panhandlers bugging the tourists that feed us all. Pictures courtesy of my unobtrusive Smart Phone!
It costs me pennies to use my Google Blogger and Picasa accounts, but I fear the true price we pay is loss of privacy. These free, or nearly free accounts are sold by the providers to their advertisers. We are the product sold like chattel. And as we have seen thanks to Edward Snowden something digital is forever. Scrub your computer and the words and images can still be retrieved. As a result my blog rarely says anything about certain subjects and is for me, a worker bee dependent on my job, simply a trove of pictures about where I like to live. I have opinions and I express some of them as is my right, and yours to disagree. I don't have any deep dark secrets in my life, I could hardly have undergone the scrutiny I did to get a job at the police department had I been nurturing some fireball of horror in my past. But we are all flawed, layered people that the Web seems to try to unravel a little bit too much. To me that's what we have to guard against, not the death of decent photography.

Professional photographers are bound to lose out, as in every technological innovation or political twist. When President Reagan changed the rules for broadcasting news readers like me lost out big time as our bosses were no longer required to broadcast news in the public interest over the public airwaves. We've seen what that rule did to consolidate ownership of broadcast outlets. A colleague of mine described us as "the best buggy whip makers in town" and we changed professions. I miss my days as a radio reporter, but I wouldn't want to do it now with the emphasis on garbage news gossip and "tips" as the format. News has been replaced by tips on how to improve your waistline, love life or cooking skills. News? Really? I get my news online and I hope I have the judgement to sift the crap from the newsworthy and reliable. Certainly the mainstream is all crap, unhappily because real news makes you think, it requires mental involvement.

I don't know whether or not amateur photography rots peoples' brains, or deprives us of the ability to see. I don't think most people use their phone cameras much, not to record the day to day beauty of their lives, the dimple pictures of their worlds. If they find I wish they would post them. I think my blog is unique, and if not unique it's a format unusual enough that I can't find many other bloggers who simply photograph their worlds, and the periphery around those worlds. The streets, the parks, the crowds, the shops, the beauty of daily living, and I see lots of unrecorded beauty and humor and intrigue in my islands. Like the article says, everyone seeks a picture of an event or famous face but from what I can tell that which they see everyday they seem to ignore. I wish I could go online and see a resident's view of Buenos Aires or Port Stanley, Haïfa or Aquaba, here or there. A story to go with the pictures, a phrase to make me think would be nice, a meditation on the place, an argument or a conversation. So many blogs are family scrap books, some actual, some disguised as informative. Photos are few or small or repetitive. Content they tell us is the key, and photo content will keep photography alive and it needs to live, in all of us.

I'm not very good at seeing people properly, of capturing their essence. I wish I were better at it but it is my Achilles Heel, and I live and adapt. People with phone cameras do the same, and professional photographers will have to do the same. Buggy whip makers all.



bob skoot said...

Mr Conchscooter:

As one who grew up in the Analogue age I think digital has ruined photography. The creative ones will still use film but generally B&W and would process them by themselves. I like fiddling with chemicals, it is relaxing and when you produce a Print it is an object of great satisfaction to know you created the masterpiece with your own hands.

I was a digital holdout until the end when finally the results of digital matched and has now surpassed film with equipment that can usually be carried in a large pocket.

thank you for your resolve in capturing the daily life in a place many strive to visit. One day we shall get there and see it with our own eyes and somehow it will all look familiar

Riding the Wet Coast

Conchscooter said...

Which doesn't expmsin why photography is ruined! By all means continue closeting yourself with your chemicals. I love pixels, clean cheap fast and non consuming almost.

Martha Tenney said...

I miss my darkroom and all those lovely chemicals. The magic that appears in the trays...but cost and convenience...I'm still resentful that digital happened. It can't compare, but then nothing compares anymore.

I'm not exactly the Chamber of Commerce for Madison (nor do I want to be), but I DID post a video of walking in squeaky subzero snow for you:

Martha Tenney said...

Ouch! We all have our little nostalgia.

bob skoot said...

Mr Conchscoter:

I came across this interesting article

With the power of being able to create beautiful images with barely any effort for the masses, who know nothing about the technical aspects of photography, it has devalued the profession. Whereas before it took technical excellence to produce something worthy of framing and hanging on your wall.

I suppose it's not unlike a painter when cameras were first invented, or driving a manual shift car vs an automatic. Some of us used to take satisfaction in producing something of value which took years to learn & perfect.

I have learned to adapt to the modern ways and love technology but somehow I think the world is progressing too fast

Just like yourself, where not long ago you entered the modern age by using your iPad to post and though you say you are technically challenged, I have not yet figured out how you did it

Riding the Wet Coast

William Lewis said...

The original aspects of photography was an art form in it's right. There was something magical about taking the photo, processing the negatives then watching the image appear on the paper under the red safelight,

The anticipation of seeing how your photo came out was like waiting on a Christmas gift. If the photo was good, then you are pleased. If not, well four letter words were acceptable.

The smell of some of the chemicals was not all that unpleasant. And if you knew how, the costs were not that bad. Like bulk loading your own film.

Digital photography has made it easier to take photos for sure. If the pic is bad, then quickly snap another. Using program like Photoshop has made retouching photos a breeze when before it took a lot of patience and skill.

True digital has saved the costs of chemicals, film and paper but that has been made up by the high cost of a half way decent camera.

My OM-1 setup cost me $300 with a 55mm and a 300mm lens. Today you cannot come close to that for a camera body.

And for me personally if it was not for the way we used to take and process photos I would be single. You see, I met my wife in a darkroom that I was in charge of.

blader54 said...

Hi, first let me explain that I came to your blog from the link you provided in your wonderful report on about your Vespa trip across the US and Mexico back in 1981. Now, some things are simply serendipitous, I think. For example, on Wednesday I read the article you speak of about photography in the Guardian, and then I end up on your blog reading your thoughts about it. Interesting. So, on to photography.....

I'm thinking now that in some ways photography has come full circle. By that I mean that the digital era we inhabit reminds me strongly of the era of the Brownie box camera, when Kodak's ad slogan was "press the button and we do the rest." The idea was to build a camera that didn't require much skill to use. In fact, originally you didn't even handle the film, I think you sent the whole camera to Kodak and they sent it back reloaded along with your negatives and prints. So now today we have digital cameras which allow anyone to take a passable photo by just leaving things on "A" and pressing the button. The camera focuses for you, sets the exposure, the ISO, everything but pressing the button. I think this is a good thing for photography as it encourages people to take snapshots of anything that interests them. Photography has become much more widespread and I think that the more people who take snapshots the greater the likelihood that some of them will want to learn more, do more, and some of those may decide to pursue it as an art.

On the other hand, from my observations I have noticed that the ease of using a digital camera and the apparent cost-less image (I say apparent because memory cards do cost money, but in the act of shooting who thinks of that? We are just happy that all our images are stored seemingly for free compared to film) tend to lead to large numbers of badly composed images and a willful ignorance of technique or control. I see many friends just use the shotgun approach: shoot a huge number of images and hope that some look good. I have also seen situations where, because someone does not understand concepts like depth of field, ISO, or how to change exposure they end up with photos that do not satisfy them because all they know is to put the switch on "A" and push the button, even with a DSLR. I don't think this ruins photography. I just feel sorry for them. A large part of their lack of understanding I put down to manufacturers who provide manuals that are confusing and way too long for most people to read. So, they just go with "A."

As to the impact of digital photography on professional photographers I am uncertain. News photography seems to be affected, with some papers cutting their photography staff. And I expect much more competition among wedding photographers as the digital camera really lowered the entry barrier to that field. But will digital destroy photography as an art? I don't think it necessarily will, as it did not do so during the box brownie era, when photography was first available to almost anyone. What digital should do is stimulate discussion about what, exactly, photography IS. How far can you go with manipulation before it's not photography any longer?

I do agree with you that being able to review the image is a huge advantage for digital. That would be the main selling point for me, along with the iso range and the ability to change it from shot to shot. And not having to lug around many rolls of film is a big plus, as well. For some reason I never had much problem getting correct exposure with film, so I do not find the elimination of bracketing an advantage.

Conchscooter said...

That was thoughtful. Hard to disagree with any if it. I miss telephoto pictures with my phone camera. Depth of field is terribly difficult to achieve also but I work on it all the and usually fail. But the ability to play with digital is glorious. Want black and white suddenly? There it is.., no changing cameras or throwing away film! If you want darkroom techniques you hot 'em.

By the way I have plans for my new old Vespa. I should have it home ready to ride in a few months, talking of new and old. Mexico may be out of reach right now but who knows?