The Analog Side Of Coffee

Recently there has been a discussion about the fate of the so-called ‘decisive moment’ as a technique of photography. However, by simply looking at Henri Cartier Bresson’s images, one should become aware that the ‘decisive moment’ and the whole concept of rangefinder photography is not a mere technique, but a state of mind. The photographer is emotionally immersed in the actions of the potential subject, and finds a moment in which the arrangement of the scene evokes a sense of visual or spatial awareness that represents accurately that emotion.

The idea that the freezing of a spatial grouping of visual elements, which dynamically change every fraction of a second, should be done faithfully and non-manipulatively is the main characteristics of film-based photographic art. But the sensor of a digital camera creates a computer file which we all know is a non-entity, a string of zeros and ones interpreted by special programs to become accessible, so that anyone can change every part of it as long and as often as they wish. Therefore, the one-to-one correspondence that exists in analog photography between the moment of making the picture and the reality that is being recorded is lost: The digital photo has no longer any direct relationship to the scene that has been recorded. Also, the mental state of the photographer has to be totally different, and the importance of having a ‘good eye’ in order to ‘see’ the scene has become redundant. That’s why the switch from a film camera to a digital one represents a fundamental change in the style of picture taking.

But I still enjoy photography through my sweet analog rangefinder, although I’m well aware that today the vast majority of photographers choose the electronic sensor.

This leaves me wondering:

Is it the convenience of being able to print the picture immediately after the act of pressing the shutter? That would be a meagre argument. If you know what you photographed, having it mentally visualized, you can wait a few hours or even days. Besides, going to a lab with your memory card is no less time consuming than going with your film to a one hour photo.

Is it the added value of the digital imaging chain that can improve or alter the original picture with the digital manipulations at the Photoshop and printing stages? This is very convincing but I can use my film, scan it and do anything with that file that I can do with the digitally captured image. On this level I can even argue that a digital camera is not an improvement at all…

So, there must be something else… And yes, there is! The simple fact that I can take a picture and immediately examine the results implies that I can redo the picture in case of non-satisfaction. This seems to be a bonus that has no impact on the style of photography: Right? Wrong!

Referring again to HCB and his style of photography, we clearly see that the mere act of examining every single picture to check if it is right kills the whole idea of emotional involvement with the subject. And if we use our digital camera as in HCB style, we should select the burst mode and capture many photos in quick succession, losing the digital advance of being able to correct the ones we don’t like by re-doing them…

But the basic act of a digital photographer is exactly this and you can observe it everywhere on this globe: The photographer takes the picture, waits to examine the result and if he/she is in company, shares that result with the rest. Then, in many cases, the image is discarded, as if the act of sharing it momentarily is the final stage of most digital images.

However, I am not being negative about the emerging digital world of imagery: It offers fascinating possibilities in the news field. But the two basic traits of digital photography, such as the limitless manipulation of the original file during and after exposure, and the mental state that you do not have to concentrate or even think in order to create the best image in a split second, will change the world of photography beyond recognition.

Digital images are means of instant visual communication, people take pictures in a more relaxed way as they do not need to worry about cost or technique, but analog photography is still focused on the documentary picture and the fixing of the image in a specific time frame, requiring sensitivity and expertise to see beyond the obvious and superficial.

So, going digital implies saying goodbye to this aspect of the art of photographing. Does it also imply the death of the film camera? I absolutely don’t think so, but this is matter for another reflection.


About Mauro Metallo

A Writer and Photographer equally at home in Italy and in Canada.

2 responses to “The Analog Side Of Coffee”

  1. davecandoit says :

    Interesting read, Mauro and I love that shot. I remember you taking it at the Tim Horton’s when we were out with your nephew, Robert.

    As for digital versus analog, I don’t really give it much consideration. For me, the camera is simply a transference device that catches what the photographer sees and holds it until the photographer turns it into a print or posts it on the internet. There are people, amazing artists, who make incredible art with a child’s “Etch A Sketch” device. The device itself is simply a tool and has little to do with art.

    Comparing analog to digital is like one artist comparing using a paint brush to someone who using their hands to apply the paint. Does it really matter? Not so much. The judgment will be on the product, not the tools used to create it.

    One thing about analog is that because you have no way to check your photos on the fly for proper exposure and such, you have to really understand aperture and shutter speeds and light. With digital one can simply shoot, check the shot, adjust the settings and then shoot again until he gets what he hoped for. If the digital camera user doesn’t want to really take the time to learn about photography, he or she doesn’t have to. On the flip side, with digital there is an opportunity to learn more quickly about composition and such, since you can review your photos on the fly and try different things until you begin to get what you want. Hopefully you’ll learn from your mistakes and learn to understand why certain photos succeed over others. Of course, there first has to be the desire to learn.

    As for digital replacing film, I agree with you. I can’t imagine it ever will.

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  1. Film vs. Digital - Leica User Forum - July 26, 2010

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