The Beauty Of ImperfectionMonday, April 16, 2012
|Corinne after Edward Hopper's Morning Sun 1952|
Mamiya RB-67 Kodak Portra 800 pushed to 1600 ISO
An article in today’s NY Times in the business section tries to explain why it is that facebook bought Instagram. It further delves into why neither Kodak nor Polaroid ever foresaw the likelihood of such a look (an old-fashioned kind of Polaroid or cheap Kodak box camera appearance) ever becoming popular. Would such an innovation back then have saved the two companies from bankruptcy? The answer in the article is that few companies can innovate in their mid existence. It explains that it is akin to trying to change a fan belt while the old one is still turning. The article by Nick Bilton ends with:
|Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 Time Machine Photo Effects - The Daguerreotype|
Since it may be impossible to change the fan belt, buying a new engine, even for $1 billion, starts sounding pretty smart.
I suspect that this is not the only reason. I think that more could be explained by our loss in our-until-now love for perfection.
|Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 Time Machine Photo Effects - The Albumen Print|
There are a few out there (I am not one of them) who are able to ignore clicks and pops in record reproduction on old-fashioned turntables and stereos. They tell us that they cannot abide by the perfection but sterility of CDs or the unreality of surround sound. I have quite a few CDs whose sound I love and I do not find them sterile or cold.
|Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 Time Machine Photo Effects - The Cyanotype|
It is in the photographic medium where uncertainty has been removed by the instant in-back-of-the-camera replay of the last picture. There are no more comments from friends, “Alex I hope your pictures turn out.” Short of experiencing the not so infrequent glitch (My storage card was corrupted!), perfection is utterly predictable. Then there are those carefully stitched panoramas done in HDR (high dynamic range) that are as perfect as perfect can be. After seeing half a dozen I feel like I am being forced to watch 100 close-up slides of roses. I snooze.
|Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 Time Machine Photo Effects - Early Colour|
Instagram and Hipstamatic are bringing (paradoxically!) imperfection in a most predictable and sure fire way. These companies have applications that render perfection (digital camera perfection) into the look of analog cameras of the past. In many cases (more than you might think) those using these apps have no idea what box cameras were, or exactly what cross processing was all about. The idea of something resembling a Polaroid is like imagining driving a car with a clutch. What exactly is all that?
|Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 Time Machine Photo Effects - The Platinum Print|
Luckily car manufacturers of the past, in convincing former users of carriages drawn by horses to let them go, did not build cars that would deposit mounds of brown stuff on the pavement every few miles or leak steaming yellow water that resembled horse piss. Innovation was direct from one medium to another and about the only remnants of the horse carriage age that carried through for a while were names like landau or the running boards that served no purpose in the original VW beetles.
|Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 Time Machine Photo Effects - The Box Camera|
When people see me take out my relatively large 6x7 cm format Mamiya RB-67 and peel the packaging of my Ektachrome 100G in 120 format they are incredulous. I might shock them less if I produced a horse whip!
|Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 Time Machine Photo Effects - Cross Process|
But all that perfection of our not too long in duration digital age has now lost a bit of its luster and that might explain the success of Hipstamatic and Instagram. When those apps become everyday fare what will be next? Meanwhile we will have to suffer through the imperfection (but oh, so nice!) green faces or red faces or yellow faces. Custom white balance in decent digital cameras finally reached the threshold of being able to reproduce the delicate colouring of a read haired person’s skin. Are we now going back to the old because perfection is not good enough?
The above are all done with one click. Slightly more complicated is the picture below in which with the same film in my camera I replaced the 90mm lens with a body cap to which I had drilled a hole and placed a brass shim with a tiny pinhole. The result is a fairly accurate reproduction of a true pinhole camera.
|Pinhole camera photograph sepia toned in Photoshop|