Do I Belong in the Past?

This week, we remember a great photographer who died on August 4th, 1927. Eugene Atget was a Parisian commercial photographer by all accounts, who would have probably been left unknown to most of the public had it not been for the efforts of the American photographer, Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). While working in Paris as a young photographer, she was introduced to Atget by the great Man Ray. She became close friends with Atget, and upon his death, tracked down his negatives (glass plates) and prints to ensure their safety and his place in the history of photography.

Why do I ask the question, do I belong in the past? I was reading an excerpt about Atget by renowned photography historian, John Szarkowski. He described Atget, “To a casual observer, he might have seemed a typical commercial photographer of the day. He was not progressive, but worked patiently with techniques that were obsolescent when he adopted them, and very nearly anachronistic by the time of his death. He was little given to experiment in the conventional sense, and less to theorizing. He founded no movement and attracted no circle. He did however make photographs which for purity and intensity of vision have not been bettered.”

I thought about that word, anachronistic, describing a person or thing that is chronologically out of place. Because Atget used an earlier photographic process – one involving glass plates and a bulky large format camera at a time when he could have adopted much “easier” or “portable” processes (for timeline reference, the Kodak No. 1 handheld camera was released in 1888) he chose to work with a “dated” process thus dating him. Most of his work was produced after the turn of the century (1900-1927), and during this time, photography was rapidly changing. Much like today – digital technology continues to grow leaps and bounds. Cameras become smaller, lighter, and less expensive. The technology is truly astounding – think of HDR, or the ability to digitally remove someone in a photo, just because you might not like them. It’s not like the days of tearing a printed 4×6 in half when you break up with that trifling boyfriend.

I thought, am I anachronistic? I love my darkroom, more than my DSLR. I’ve been spending time this week, as a matter of fact, printing some new images to submit to an upcoming show, and testing my Second Amendment negatives to determine how I’m going to present this body of work. I was in my darkroom, making gelatin-silver prints and wondered, am I anachronistic?

I came across another great article to help answer my question. The title of this article is Film Photography Makes a Stunning Comeback. Okay, so you can guess what this is about! In the article, the author discusses why some commercial photographers choose to include film in their arsenal today, and why “everyday” film shooters love what he says is “…difficult to define, but easy to see.”

“Film has a quality that is unique; a beauty and tonal warmth that digital cannot match.”

He talks about the longevity of film versus digital files, and likens some of his argument to the popular debate of vinyl versus MP3 files (NO comparison in my book!). And, finally, he references a telling comment to sum up his discussion,

“The way people shoot has changed. Film has become a more considered approach; something people invest time in creating.” – Professor Steve Macleod

As for me, I’ll answer my own question. Do I belong in the past? No, I do not belong in the past. According to UK-based Ilford Photo in a survey of film users last year, 30 percent were under 35 years old! Seems I might just be hip again!

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