As I review images to add to my available print offerings, I have been examining both film and digital work. I sometimes forget just how big a deal that transition was and what it has meant to me as an artist. My background is in biology and psychology so my thought process is often informed by that study. Film-based and digital-based photography have represented almost equal periods of my career. My vision is still the driving force behind every image, and while lens focal length, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, composition, line, perspective, color, light, and many other variables remain the same across both film and digital platforms, there is a fundamental difference.
That fundamental difference for me is like the difference between a fossil and an organism. With film, light hits the film emulsion with its silver halides and alters them. When the film is developed and washed to become the negative, what remains is a physical impression of light on a mineral surface. The negative represents something that was, an event in time, but which no longer is. It is like a fossil impression of a moment.
That negative can not be altered, nor rearranged or transformed into something else. Those silver halides now are stuck like the minerals that make up a fossil itself. The negative not only represents a moment in time, but that representation itself is “set in stone.”
With digital imagery, especially Raw files, the image still represents a moment in time that can never be repeated, but it is plastic, it is transformable, alterable, mutable and can become whatever the maker wants to have it develop into. It is much more like a living thing in which the DNA can be manipulated to continuously create new organisms. If one wanted to work at the pixel (cell?) level, there really is no limit to what new “creature” may be divined.
While a negative may be interpreted in the printing to be variations of itself (maybe something analogous to a subspecies of the original), the digital image can be altered to become an entirely new organism (genus level or higher). And don’t even get me started on the fact that I can now easily “clone” an image to have multiple exact duplicates of the original image. It was impossible to truly clone an image in film days.
The cool thing is, I can take a film fossil, digitize the image, and create my own Jurassic Park, er, I mean new entity by working backwards and creating DNA from the organism.
It’s a lot of power to wield, working in digital format, but its the making that still matters most. If I am thoughtful, creative, and maybe a bit bold, I may just bring something to life others will feel is worth getting to know.