A photography teacher joked with me once, saying Photoshop was the best toy of the modern age. Like me his background led back to the darkroom. Like me, he appreciated the power of digital editing because he knew on what it was based.

I taught darkroom process a few years ago and didn’t like it. I borrowed medium format negatives to remind myself. The darkroom was clumsy and uncomfortable: slopping chemicals, peering in darkness, and the results weren’t good even with a Hasselblad negative. If I’d worked with a digital file it would have been far better, taken far less time, with a comfortable process sitting in a chair.

I used a graduated filter edit for this shot, replicating a camera filter. Adjusted the saturation slightly, which again replicates darkroom process. There is no such thing as ‘pure’ photography. Every part of it is variable. The film you used, the chemicals you used to develop it, the chemicals in the darkroom, the paper you favoured, all of these changed the result. The lens you use means a softer or harder effect, with differing colour results. It’s much the same with digital methods regarding, for example, the sensor in your camera and what it can and cannot achieve.

I’m not sure there’s value any more teaching film and darkroom photography. Except, that is, for one particular reason: understanding what I call the aesthetic limits of traditional methods which translate into digital methods. Photoshop or similar is now part of photography. You might for example adjust your file to achieve the effect of a better lens. The end result is no different. The problem with this power is when it goes too far.

 

Corsica Photography: Near Lac du Renosu

Wednesday November 4, 2015