I like listening to music. In the car I listen via my phone or to CD’s, in the shower via my DAB radio, in the kitchen I have a bluetooth speaker connected to a music system, but in the room in which I sit quietly with the sole intent of listening to music (my shed) I listen to vinyl. I enjoy the process of selecting the next album to be played, brushing off any dust or static and slowly lowering the needle onto the disc. That initial crackle followed by a rich detailed delivery of whatever I happen to be listening to, through my specially chosen speakers seated on vibration dampening material.
My point is of course that I use whatever piece of technology is most appropriate to my location. I could of course have a record player in every room (Keith Moon the drummer in The Who famously had one in his car, as I think members of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones did) but why would I make life so difficult for myself if technology exists that can make my life easier?
I enjoy the process of choosing, cleaning and placing a record onto a turntable, I find it meditative and calming. It has a sense of ritual attached to my involvement in turning vinyl into sound. Loading an analogue camera with film gives me the same sense of tactile and intellectual wellbeing as I prepare film ready to transform into the photographic image. The continuation of this process into the darkroom from film to print is an obvious continuation of a procedure that is as old as the medium of photography.
The right tool for the right job is a long held maxim within photography. Just as a vinyl record delivers maximum aural information so the large or medium format camera delivers maximum visual information, if handled correctly. Similarly the use of a 35mm film camera can provide nuance of subtlety and aesthetic decision making if the technical aspects of the tool and process are understood. This technical understanding is to me the most important aspect of working with analogue equipment, that and the expectation of working with it.
There is no doubt that the world of photography is filled with masters of the art of analogue and alternative process approaches to image-making, just as it is filled with masters of a digital approach to the medium. A digital approach often perceived as being an easy solution to making photographs and of course to many it is. Automatic focus, exposure and pre-set algorithm based press-button solutions make image capture fast, easy and acceptable for those not interested in exploring the idea of photography in more depth. The idea of the analogue ‘snapshot’ has been replaced with the digital capture that fills so many smartphones and social platforms. The digital camera is the perfect tool for this job and I believe helps those just starting out within photographic education to see and document with minimum expense to them and maximum opportunity to make the mistakes that we all learn from when mastering light, composition and narrative.
To think that your work will improve just because you choose to use an analogue camera is naive in the extreme. Using an old camera, putting a roll of colour print film through it and sending that film to the local ‘Snappy Snaps’ is not in my opinion working with the right tool. To explore analogue photography requires time, patience and a willingness to respect its history whilst also engaging with every aspect of the process. Don’t use an analogue camera for the ‘look’ or because someone you have read about does. Use it because it is appropriate to the nature of your practice and the expectation you have for the dissemination of the images you create.
Analogue process is intrinsic to those whose practice is based upon its quality and eccentricities, it is not something to jump in and out of based on a ‘style’ decision. It is also not something to base your practice on if your expectation is to be commissioned by a client whom you expect to pay your expenses. Just as vinyl records have now rocketed in price, so the price of film, processing, printing and scanning comes with a cost; a cost that the majority of clients will rarely if ever have any intention of meeting.
It is therefore an act of wilful negligence to allow or encourage someone to focus on working with analogue photography if their expectation is to work as a professional photographer within a commissioned context. I should add at this point that I did work for six years as a commissioned photographer working with film. Why did I stop? Because my clients wanted digital files.
It is also a mistake to encourage the use of analogue without the required technical understanding of how and why it is such a complex and rewarding endeavour.
I continue to work for clients and supply them with digital files, and I occasionally make photographs with my analogue cameras for my own personal use. I listen to vinyl records in my shed, I listen to digital files in my car. I don’t listen to vinyl to make me a better guitar player and I don’t shoot analogue to make me a better photographer. I do both because I enjoy the experience, I appreciate the quality and as I have previously written I recognise the nostalgic spirit that analogue brings to my images – https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2019/08/18/travelling-through-the-picture-leiter-dylan-and-pennebaker/ – in a sense both are selfish acts based upon my personal enjoyment. Neither make me better at anything, help me to see or hear. They may bring detail or nuance but the song or the image remain the same.
I can appreciate a beautiful hand-made box and a mass-produced, machine-made box. But at the end of the day they both hold things in the same way. One box is no better than another box in its holding qualities. The tools used may differ but if you don’t understand what a box is and how it is constructed it doesn’t matter what hammer you use, that box is never going to come together, and the answer how to make that box will not lie within the hammer.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, 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.
© Grant Scott 2019