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My Comment that Bounced

December 21, 2009

I love reading blogs. I love commenting on blogs, but due to my being tied up with making magical photograph after magical photograph, I don’t get a lot of time to make comments. So when I do get time, I find it exciting. I wrote this comment earlier today, on another blog, but after I hit submit, the post got rejected for some reason. Well, it wasn’t rejected exactly, the internal machinery wasn’t working, so it never even got sent up the chain of command. But, because I’m so skilled at navigating the digital world, wink, wink, I always save my comments before hitting send. So I figured, at the very least, I could post it here. And, most importantly, I have the time. The blog asked questions about this year, next year and about the “death of film.”

My big news for the year is that it appears that this was the year of “survival is the new success.”

My phone frequently rings in with tales of sorrow from all parts of the world, but at the core of this, I feel, is still a positive spark burning, but burning as a warning for all of us. The question is will we see the warning? Will we take notice? Or will pace once again derail us from seeing the larger picture, no pun intended.

At the heart of all issues photographic is the photographer. We are the solution, and we are the problem.

For 2010 to pull us from the depths of where our industry finds itself, all we need to do is stop, look, listen and slow down.

Unique content is the key, and we’ve gotten away from it. We have filled the world with millions of generic content style images and then wondered why the impact of photography has fallen off the cliff. We wonder why magazines fail. We wonder why no one seems to be interested in great imagery. We wonder why the photographers being regaled are more about technology than they are about imagery. We wonder why adding sound and motion has become so important. We wonder why we think this is going to “save us.”

Unique content.

Speed kills, as they say, and in my mind, it’s been killing our business for at least twelve years. Something happened to all of us the minute we could immediately see our images and the minute we gave ourselves the allusion we were in control of everything. Something happened to us when we began to think we could make perfect things, pictures, people, moments, etc. Something happened when we decided the machines could “make” us photographers.

These things have led us here, and now we need to find the trail out. The road ahead is perilous, and it’s going to take some feeling around the dark to find the trail head. Nothing will be easy. The highway is there, brightly lit, beckoning for us to get in line, but we know where that road leads, it’s what got us to where we are today.

As for the year of the “death of film.” I’ve been hearing that for almost fifteen years, and it makes me laugh every time. The best work being made these days, in my mind, is mostly produced by photographers still using film. In fact, looking back at the books I bought from this past year, and the shows I attended, shows that were good, interesting, and filled with unique content…..all film users. I also acquired several prints, all but one of which were made on film and printed in the traditional darkroom.

So, here’s to a 2010 of kids continuing to buy vinyl, turntables and 1980’s headphones. Here’s to the bicycle. Here’s to face to face instead of the chat room. Here’s to handmade. Here’s to time. Here’s to pen and paper. Here’s to doing things right before you’re on deadline. Here’s to substance over style. Here’s to the unknown photographer. Here’s to not conforming. Here’s to photo editors who actually know something about photography. Here’s to those moments of clarity where we do our best, most creative work. Here’s to photographers learning to think on their own again, and here’s to film surviving yet another year in the death pool. Here’s to design making a comeback. Here’s to the photography book. Here’s to the photography show. Here’s to those that question the higher ups. Here’s to the photographic audience, sorry we forgot about you there for a decade. Here’s to wading through the noise that surrounds the “professional” photography world. Here’s to photographers learning about light instead of keyboard shortcuts. Here’s to personal work. Here’s to creative control. Here’s to saying “No.” Here’s to asking yourself the question, “What is it I truly want to do, and what is it I’m trying to say?” And here’s to finding the answer.

And most importantly, here’s to photography. It’s larger and more powerful than any of us and will survive long after the last pixel or grain of silver has faded to dust.

Costa Mesa, CA
December 2009

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2009 2:42 am

    Dan! Great blog! I love what you have said and I think that you are an old fogey and a visionary at the same time. The truth, the real truth, is unique content. It’s all about the concept, the story, the point. We already have millions of pretty pictures, and they are lovely and we love them. But to see something that hasn’t been done before? That’s what will knock my socks off, make me sit up and pay attention, and get me involved and thinking. Take it to the next level, for every shot that has unique content, what else could be done with it? What variation, what different point of view, what “road less traveled” can that image inspire? Yes, no more whining about the economy, make images that matter.

    Thanks for writing this!

    • December 22, 2009 2:55 am

      Hey Bobbi, what a nice surprise seeing your name here.
      I think you have me pegged, at least the old fogey part. In less than a week I turn 41, which as a stand alone number FEELS so old I can’t even believe it will now be associated with my name. I think what i forgot to put into that post was that, often times, that unique content arrives in the form of personal work. And I think now, more than ever, the key to life as a photographer is turning your personal work into your commercial work, or vice versa, or something along those lines.
      Thanks for reading,


  2. David Wissinger permalink
    December 22, 2009 9:53 pm

    Reads like manifesto, Dan. And it has your trademark determination to honor the best that photography can be, and here’s to that!

    I remain conflicted. While I agree that the tidal wave of digital photography has brought some bad things with it, as you mention, namely the homogenization of images, thanks to the excesses of Photoshop, I believe. But digital is here, man. And when I compare my “workflow” with digital compared to film, I’m compelled by the ease of digital. I’ll be 53 in 2010. I literally grew up shooting film. My closets at home are filled with boxes of film-shot prints and slides: decades of ’em. My first digital camera was a 1 mp Hewlett Packard that I considered little more than a clever gadget. Last week I saw a Nikon F5 for sale on eBay for $299.00. For 25 years I shot with one SLR: a Canon Ftb with a 50mm f1.4 lens. In the last 7 years I’ve bought four new DSLR’s because things are changing so fast. The Ftb still works fine, by the way. Now I’ve used it for 32 years.

    Honestly, I long for the days of film when, for the most part, what you captured when you clicked the shutter was what you got. Yes, there was the darkroom, but compared to Photoshop the darkroom is mere tinkering. And so I want to sign on to your manifesto and revel in film, but digital is here, man. For me, the solution is probably to shoot what feels right at the time, sometimes digital, sometimes film.

    David Plowden mentioned on his website that he’s scanning his negatives and printing them digitally. He didn’t say if he’s shooting digital…I think not or he would have said it. But it makes me wonder what the great film photographers would have done with digital.

    • December 23, 2009 1:19 pm

      I fear my manifesto, which I’ve written many times, in many forms, is far more cutting. But in a good way of course.
      Yes, digital is here, has been for a long while, and will continue to be. And I’m sure it will continue to get “better.”
      In itself, nothing good or bad about it, it’s just another method. But what it has done is another matter. It’s done good, no question, but it has also eroded a few key things in my mind.
      Digital, for the past ten years at least, has been sold as the “only” option. How many times at a industry events have I heard these lines…
      “I could have never done that in the film days.” Or, “There is no reason to ever use film again,” or even better yet when a photographer puts up slide showing negatives or contact sheets and says, “film is dead.”
      It’s tired, it’s lame, and 99% of the time, these photographers having NOTHING to show for their swagger. They are producing overly crafted, overly retouched, overly produced images that are here today, forgotten tomorrow. Again, it ain’t the machinery. It’s what we do with it.
      I remember the day I sold my darkroom equipment. I remember thinking, “Man, I’ll never need this again.” It took me about three years to figure out how wrong I was. And it showed in my images.
      I see photographer after photographer making the same mistake today. It’s not my place to say anything because I see many of these same photographers accepting the new images, their new lifestyle, accepting the “good enough” mentality or the great compromise of “the client isn’t complaining.”
      I personally feel a tremendous relief at this place I find myself at. I bought back my darkroom supplies and film processing equipment, and I’m giddy with anticipation. I know what I can do with this stuff.
      In the end, it’s about imagery, and how and why you make it, that’s up to you. Power on.

  3. Eric Labastida permalink
    December 23, 2009 8:28 pm

    Bravo Dan,

    I just finished another yearbook of photographs of my kids. And I’m reminded every time that film has a look, feel and quality that digital lacks. Actually, lacks is not the word. I’m seeing more and more that comparing film to digital is like comparing oranges and rhinos.
    Good on ya Milnor.

    • December 24, 2009 7:19 pm

      Hey, there are times I shoot digital and it looks great, but I’ve been using it for a long, long time and know when and I how I can make it work. I’m not one of those people that can force it into sidelit late afternoon light and tell myself it looks great. Or, backlit interior images where I’m trying to hold info in the highlights. I doesn’t work, not unless you either make multiple exposures, or multiple conversions to merge in Photoshop, and for me, that just isn’t photography. It’s computer work, nothing more.
      Backlit, controlled, or even light situations, I can make it work. But even then it is a fine tune thing.
      Sometimes knowing these things effects the images I make, because I look at something and say, “Nope, I can’t make that work in that light.” With film I just shoot. It handles every single situation, with the exception of super low light. Digital is really amazing in low light, but I have to say, sometimes it is TOO good, and you have to, once again, compensate in the software.

      • December 27, 2009 1:04 am

        Dan, I love your blog (which I discovered through I get a bit irritated when you say that working in Photoshop “…just isn’t photography. It’s computer work, nothing more.”

        It seems to me that any technological advance that allows photographers to advance their craft and their art is legitimate. Of course, any individual photographer can reject any technological advance he or she wants, and continue to work and be challanged by limits he or she has put on their craft. Such dedication can continue to produce great work and great art.

        However, I am awfully glad that the “naysayers” to technological advances throughout the history of photography weren’t collectively able to stop the technological advances of their times like…dodging and burning, the chemistry of the photographic medium, the innovation in lens and camera making, the computers behind digital photography.

        I respect your art and the tools you use to make it. It really isn’t necessary for you to insult the tools that many of us use to make our art”.

      • December 27, 2009 1:43 am

        Hey David,

        Thanks for writing in, and for reading. If you get to know me you’ll know irritating is just one of my many characteristics. It will only get worse…
        Actually, Photoshop in itself is, as we all know, is just a program. Using Photoshop to tweak files is pretty common, and a lot like dodging and burning. You can take it a lot further than dodging and burning, getting into the pixel level and over controlling the images. I see this a lot. I think we are in a timeframe when we will look back, years from now, and laugh at what we do, how far we take this. I see photojournalism images where faces are emerging from total blackness, and in all directions, impossible things, where light is doing things it could never do in real life. I see retouched wedding couples and children who are so smooth and perfect they don’t even look real anymore.
        But, I also see a fair amount of people who really aren’t making their images in the field, but are instead trying to “make” them after getting back to the computer. If you are a “computer artist” or “software artist,” hey, awesome, more power to you. But if you are trying to “make” real images by crafting them in the computer, that is what drives me crazy.
        I recently heard a photographer say, “Hey, with Photoshop I can make a really average image pretty good.” I’m sorry, I just don’t believe that. If you made an average image in the field, it will forever be an average image.
        What I’ve seen with the introduction of this technology is an acceptance of “good enough” as a philosophy for imagery. In fact, there was recently an article written regarding specifically this topic, the proliferation of “good enough” technology in the creative world, and what it has done to the market.
        All of this technology is here to stay, and I think will continue to move in the same direction.
        I’m done with it. I realize it not only doesn’t help me as a photographer, for me personally, it’s more of a distraction than anything else.
        Light, timing and composition of the real world is for me what great photography is about.
        My goal is not to insult anyone, but I also feel it my duty to call it like I see it. I think a lot of photographers would be far better if they spent less time in front of the computer, and more time in the field.
        Again, thanks for reading.

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