Hipsters Stunned…

Or to give it the full title Hipsters stunned as vintage cameras fail to make them professional photographers on Hayibo made me laugh a little, because it contains some rather astute observations on several things that annoy me.

Like the guys who routinely convert their colour digital images of protests before posting them on the web, presumably because they think that this somehow make them more authentically ‘documentary’.  Or even those who think that using film somehow makes them better photographers. On one digital printing forum the other day there was a guy who posted (or rather boasted) about how he was going to take all his pictures on film and set up a wet darkroom to print them onto photographic paper because that would somehow make them real photographs rather than the digital crap the rest of us make.

I’ve nothing against black and white. I spent years mainly taking black and white images, using Tri-X, FP4 and the rest. Got good enough at printing to be asked by other photographers on various occasions if I would print their stuff. Took loads of colour film too.

If you want to work in black and white  – and just occasionally I think there are good reasons to do so – you need to learn to think in black and white. Not enough to own a camera that will convert your images to black and white or even a great Photoshop plugin which will do it even better. There are photographers who do it well, and some of them will be rich enough to afford Leica’s  M Monochrom digital camera.  (Of course their M8 (I made the mistake of buying one) is actually a decent monochrome digital, just had problems with colour. But the M Monochrom looks great for those who want to work in black and white and have around £6,000 to spare.  I’d love one.

There really was nothing special about film. I’m currently spending several hours a day scanning it and cursing it for its many faults. Too many frames that have bits of fogging from loading in bright light, or where I tried to squeeze in another exposure on the end of the roll. Scratches from dirty cameras or cassettes or careless handling by darkroom technicians (myself included.) Some have even suffered damage from abrasion while inside ‘archival’ storage sheets. Dust, dust, dust, both embedded during the drying or picked up later and held by powerful static electrical forces. Not to mention those that have had coffee, beer, wine, spit and various other liquids spattered across them in later life. Most of my negatives were at least properly washed, unlike some trade processed material, though I’m told that a small residue of chemicals can actually help to preserve them. Perhaps they also would help protect them from the insects who have made some of my files their homes over the years, who I’m sure like their gelatin additive-free.

Of course I exaggerate – if only slightly. But for working in black and white, digital has many advantages, and for working in colour, one over-riding one. Colour is simply so much better. Film gave you colours from the manufacturer’s tin rather than the real world.  Of course colour differs between different camera manufacturers and can be altered in processing, but the overall colour quality from both the Nikon and Fuji cameras I use is superb. There are still a few tricky areas, for example in the handling of bright oranges and reds. For some of the Guantanamo protests where those taking place wear bright orange jump suits I sometimes find I need to change to a different camera profile, but for normal subjects everything works fine.

And as for the printing, a good scan with the Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro (fitted with a diffuser) gives a better result than my Apo-Rodagon or other expensive enlarging lenses, and printing with the Epson R2400 allows me to work in Photoshop with a subtlety that was simply unattainable in the darkroom. It’s a bonus that the prints are likely to last longer too.

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