Vacation is almost over; time to return to the real world.
For the last couple of weeks I have been spending time on the beach with my family and a few good books. On the literature front, believe the hype about 'The Traveler'; its a great summer page turner with a twist. The setting is so present-day America real that you may begin to look over your shoulder at the person standing next to you and start to wonder about just who is on the other end of those terrorist-preventing security cameras. Trust me, your government doesn't want you reading this book!
My photographic companions this trip, 'Diane Arbus, Revelations' and 'The Polaroid Book' both left me with a sense of nostalgia. Each book speaks to the creativity possible when an artist comes into union with the proper set of tools. For Arbus it was her twin-lens, German film and home-made developer that helped set her unique vision free. Many other photographers have blossomed under the spell of the instant experimentation that decades of Polaroid films and cameras have provided.
What I long for and fear we are losing is the individual expression made possible by the very hands-on business of making pictures in the 20th century. Back then, you had hundreds of choices to make - camera, film type, exposure, development, printing paper, toning - you get the idea. Today, photography has devolved into the one - few camera types all essentially producing the same, auto-focused, perfect digital image. Yes, if you have mastered the one digital darkroom tool, Photoshop, you may be able to render something personal from your mega-pixel file; but more often I see, especially from professionals using digital equipment, the perfect exposure with the perfect tonal range and the perfect amount of color saturation. Accidents are gone, whimsy no longer exists.
The back of each book is a trip down memory lane. Arbus' darkroom technique; the various models of the Polaroid Land Cameras. I hope we can get to a similar point with digital as with film - namely artists taking control of the tools rather than relying on them to produce their images. I am beginning to see this in places like flickr ( I 'heart' flickr!) where amateurs have no trouble doing things wrong in order to produce the right photograph. I hope we can begin to see this among those we call professionals again as photography, for better or worse, firmly becomes a digital medium in the 21st century.