Sharing Low TechnologySunday, April 22, 2012
|Bronwen Marsden through the pinhole of a Mamiya RB-67 body cap. Fuji FP-3000B b+w film|
In one of those low points in National Geographic’s journey from being a good magazine, slowly turning into a terrible and inconsequential on to then becoming again an ever-better magazine than it ever was, I remember a photograph of a sunset in Samoa showing Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave. I was shocked because the edges of the sky were precisely what a photographer would get had he or she used a French made Cokin filter called a tobacco neutral density. The edges were an unrealistic pink brown. Perhaps (this may have been the 70s or 80s) photo budgets were low and the magazine did not allow the photographer to wait for that killer sunset. Since then the magazine has not only improved photographically but they have even begun to accept that many in this world are gay, poor, sick, communist, etc. They even accept that the United States could be wrong in many ways.
The above is simply an overture to my reading last night an article in the NY Times called Everyone’s Lives in Everyone’s Pictures by Karen Rosemberg. She discusses the curious and ubiquitous act that we now call photo sharing. She ends it by writing:
Few would argue that these photos are good art. In a way, they outsource artistry. For Eva Respini, associate curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art and the organizer of the current Cindy Sherman retrospective, Instagram, however attractive its filters, simply updates Kodak’s slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” — a promise that dates back to the late 19th century. “They are saying, let us do the work of making something aesthetically pleasing, or interesting,” she said. “You just focus on making the picture and sharing it with your friends.”
In one of my classes at Focal Point this last Thursday I shot my last Fuji FP-3000B Instant b+w white film with my Mamiya RB and my special dedicated body cap that renders my camera into a pinhole camera. My guessed exposure of 8 seconds was not correct (It should have been around 15) so the resulting print was very dark and I am sure my students were suitably unimpressed.
They all own high-end digital single lens reflex cameras and many of them have become bored with predictability and with predictable excellence in the technical side of picture taking. Their pictures are always sharp and well exposed. Some of my students are buying relatively inexpensive low-tech plastic cameras that shoot film like the Holga which uses 120 film with its not overly sharp plastic lens.
I was out to prove that by simply buying (internet companies offer these for individual DSLR models) a pinhole body cap dedicated to their particular brand of camera,, they will then produce images with that yesteryear look, the blurred, badly composed, badly exposed snapshot.
Paradoxically, I find it most interesting that my initially low tech effort at showing off to my students has only been made visible by using the high technology of Photoshop and Corel Paint Shop ProX2 to “save” my underexposed blurred pictures of our subject, Bronwen Marsden. The picture on the left is the scanned print and the one on the right the scanned peeled negative.