We live in the 21st century. A few decades after digital photography was invented, more than a decade after its rule began, in the times when digital rules supreme. It is a time when all leading manufacturers have stopped offering film cameras, when few photographers can even develop a roll of black and white film or use a simple manual SLR. It is a time when digital cameras offer nearly perfect image quality, in many aspects better than that offered by traditional materials. Then why bother and make photos using traditional methods, the very traditional ones, in the days when the greatest photographers, both old and young, use digital cameras. Why ‘lose’ time and money and get ‘inferior’ quality in return?
The reason, at least for me, is very simple. It is because I want my photography to be tangible, to have a physical form. It is because I want it to be a creation of my own hands. It is because I must feel that I am the one who creates my images. It is because I want to be independent and to know that my pictures will last.
First of all, photography is more than simple recording for me. It is, first of all, creation, creation of images, akin to painting. Thanks to historical and alternative processes, I can feel that I am the creator at all stages; not only when choosing or setting up the frame and releasing the shutter, but also when I prepare my own papers or make prints. This way, photography becomes a physical experience, the work of photographer’s own hands, of my own hands. Choosing a technique appropriate for the given image, I have full control over the form it takes; its texture, size, the quality of the image depend only on me; on my skills, my will and my dedication.
Secondly, I want my photography to be physical, tangible. A photograph is for me more than just an ordered set of pixels on the screen or the hard disc drive of my computer. It is a real world object. Sure, one can say that a computer print is a physical object that can be touched or put away in a drawer; still I am not able to make the same connection to such an object as to a print I make myself, with my own hands. Besides, a computer generated print, though in many ways perfect, superior to traditional prints, is at the same time inferior to them in many ways. No digital print, even the best one, can match the silvery perfection of an ambrotype. None will have the ethereal quality of a gumprint or the force of an oilprint. The very fact that a print, even a digital print, originated from a negative rather than a digital file influences the final appearance of the image, as can be seen in Salgado’s stunning Genesis. Tangibility, physical shape, contribute to the image permanence as well; a quality that is becoming increasingly important when even the vice-president of Google warns that we may become a generation with no surviving photographic record.
Finally, there comes the third argument; independence. Over the last ten or so year, countless products have disappeared from the market; films, papers, chemicals. Manufacturers such as AGFA, EFKE, FORTE have gone out of business and it is not just them. Nearly every week information about more materials to be discontinued appears. As I am writing this, Fuji has announced that their PRO NS 160 sheet film will be discontinued. I can recall countless conversations with photographers grieving after materials gone, looking for replacements, for papers that will be as good as the ones that were their favourites and are not available any longer, for a film that will replace the one they used for years. I do use factory made materials; X-ray films, photographic negatives, ready made photographic papers and chemicals. But for me, they are only a convenient addition to my photography. Even if all of them disappear one day, I won’t despair as I already make most of my materials. And I can make all the others when need comes.