I remember intake week at university in 1999. I was 18 and surrounded by over a 100 new classmates and future photographers for our history of photography course. Before jumping into the material, our professor asked some individuals in the group why they were there. Many of those asked (and I imagine most of us) had decided on photography because they/we wanted to be photojournalists, war photographers, crime photographers a la Weegee. That was the initial attraction, to be the cool photographer snapping pictures while chaos rained down around us.
That said, during the presentations this week I was reminded of two movies, one of which was mentioned, Pecker, and another which wasn’t, One Hour Photo. Pecker because John Waters is one of my favourite directors and the film came out around the time (late 90s) that photographers like Ryan McGinley, whose work I love, were beginning to come to prominence. The film also picked on the art world, and artists in general. The excesses of the 80s and early 90s were starting to get old I think Waters’ critique was echoed by artists like Banksy who also came to prominence around that time.
All of this is to say that many romanticize the work of photographers, the grittiness of conflict photography, the smoothness of fashion photography, the pathetic ‘aficionado’ who works in a One hour lab. There are a million perceptions but I’m not sure there’s one stereotype. The impact on myself and my own behavior? Oftentimes I don’t even mention I’m a photographer as I don’t want to start the conversation.
The reason I mention One Hour Photo is due to my own personal experience working in labs. I was raised on Black and White and learned to process and print color at school. I later worked in photo labs developing E-6 and C-41 where I came to hate the noxious chemicals. By the time I graduated, scanning backs for large and medium format had become a thing and high end dslr cameras were being released. Everything we shot was reviewed, contact sheets were made and then we scanned and printed everything on inkjet printers. If it was for sale or exhibition, maybe a C print.
Digital was good enough though and many of my friends and colleagues switched over. In the meantime, the photographers we assisted for in NYC, Chicago, LA, and in Detroit, all kept using film. The quality of digital wasn’t enough for many of them, and they later suffered as a result. I personally had been shooting film with my Contax G1 for years and decided to switch over to the Canon G series (G5, then a G7, and later a G1X) to continue my personal work. When I needed to do something professionally, I would borrow or rent equipment, and I kept that up until a few years back when I began to get too much work to make renting a possibility. I do finally feel happy with the quality of the images that can be produced digitally but, despite my hatred for the pollution/waste involved in film, I still do miss the look.
I think that I’ve been luckier than many as I was trained classically but introduced to digital in its infancy and so transitioning into full digital, mostly online work hasn’t been too much of a problem. I do fear the day I am introduced to a new tool and don’t take to it as well as I have with technology until now.