I have noticed a lot of talk and comment recently concerning analogue photography and it’s resurgence. I have also spoken about this on a recent podcast (you can here what I had to say here https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2019/05/08/podcast-a-photographic-life-episode-53-plus-photographer-guia-besana/). Its not a new conversation, but have no fear I’m not about to launch into yet another take on the tedious digital versus analogue battle of previous years.
The reason for me choosing to enter the analogue discussion at this point is to reflect on aspects of the analogue resurgence that raise issues far broader than those concerned with capturing a photographic image.
Speaking with a fashion and portrait photographer recently, he started to tell me how he felt that his worked had improved considerably recently thanks to a return to working with analogue cameras, or as he put it “shooting film”. He went on to say how by returning to film, his passion and love of photography had been reunited and perhaps most importantly that it had forced him to slow down.
I asked whether his decision to move away from digital was primarily an aesthetic choice or one based on process, and he answered that although the aesthetic was a consideration it was the change of process that had lead to his decision. The workflow was the reason, the resulting aesthetic a result of that decision, one that has lead to a renewed sense of creative experimentation.
He went on to say that when shooting digitally he found himself creating 100s of frames for each set-up but when shooting film he was shooting much less and found himself far more aware in the moment of the images he was creating. This is nothing new as a revelation but his comments made me reflect on the power of the machine over its user and his use of the term ‘shoot’ (a term commonly used amongst commissioned photographers if often derided by some outside of that environment) immediately suggested to me a metaphor that seemed to describe a loss of control that he was describing. It is this loss of control that I believe has echoes with aspects of our lives outside of photography.
That metaphor is one of an automatic machine gun and its relationship with a repeating shotgun. One allows rapid results thanks to finger-tip pressure with little control or thought whilst the machine spits out its missiles, whilst the other places the responsibility for the release of a cartridge very firmly into the hands and mind of the shooter.
Of course the more expert the shooter is the better they can control the firearm they hold and use and the same can be said of the photographer. But in a highly competitive environment where the pressure to ‘get the shot’ is intense, the seductive nature of the rapid burst can easily become a dominant factor. A similar sense of pressure is often spoken about in connection with social media addiction, the sense of chasing ‘likes’ and anxiety of ‘missing out’.
I mentioned this metaphor to the photographer I was speaking with and it seemed to resonate with him. He had decided to use his digital cameras as polaroids on shoots, instant images that set an agenda for the shoot but not the client based artefact. He had stepped back from too much social media interaction and was looking to move away from his urban apartment to a calmer and slower area to live in. His choice to re-adopt analogue photography was connected to a broader approach to life, a decision to slow down and to take control of his photographic practice and his personal situation.
I recently spoke on the A Photographic Life podcast about an incident in which a university lecturer stated that only analogue photography was ‘true’ photography (https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2018/11/21/podcast-a-photographic-life-episode-30-plus-photographer-danny-north) and that the reason for this was that analogue photography slowed you down and therefore gave you more time to think. This additional thinking time was given as the difference between a worthless image and a considered one worthy of investigation and study.
This really is an argument out of time and one that cannot stand up to even the shallowest examination. The experienced analogue photographer can work just as quickly with analogue as with digital and the inexperienced photographer can work just as slowly with digital as they can quickly with analogue with equally poor results.
The chosen tool does not define the seriousness or quality of the image. However, in a world in which many people are experiencing a sense of fragility and anxiety, fed by the rapid growth of technological interventions into their lives at a pace that many find hard to adopt and respond to. The appeal of an opportunity to adopt a process that forces a sense of slowing down should be no surprise. Add to this a nostalgic sense of returning to a time when photography was less competitive and perhaps more respected and it is clear that the return to analogue photography is far more complicated than merely a choice of tool or material with which to create images.
Slowing down certainly occurs for some in the moment of capture, but perhaps more importantly for many, the adoption of analogue photography is more closely aligned with a slowing down of life within a hectic world and an attempt to re-frame photography as a practice, outside of and separate from the digital deluge of images created and consumed by those who have no interest or knowledge of photography as a creative professional practice.
When someone steals your ball, starts playing with it ignoring your rules, and refuses to give it back, it is only natural that you will want to get another ball the same as the one you used to have. It’s not a better ball, it’s just the one you know that makes you feel safe, and one that allows you to play your game under your rules.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Photography, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Focal Press 2014) and The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Focal Press 2015). His next book New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography will be published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2019. He is currently work on his next documentary film project Woke Up This Morning: The Rock n’ Roll Thunder of Ray Lowry.
© Grant Scott 2019