Thursday, December 22, 2016

Right Back Where We Started ~

Ok, so it's just a few days before Christmas and by rights I should be getting started on my shopping, but no. I figure I still have time, and besides, I've been thinking more about apps recently than presents or even sugar plum fairies, whatever the heck they are. That's just how I roll, particularly since I was introduced to a photo app this week by a like-minded friend. Truth is, of course, I have a ton of photo apps, but this one has me preoccupied...and for all the wrong reasons.

It's a new one called Darkr. And yes, that's how it's spelled. Darkr. Maybe it's just me, and maybe I'm a little skeptical. It's supposed to give the experience of actually using a "real" camera (as opposed to propping up the iPhone in front of your face?) and then spend a little time working with the resulting black & white negative, just like in the darkroom. Only, not.

As you can see, you get to look through the viewfinder of an actual (well, virtual) camera, in this case what looks like a Yashica rangefinder. But you could also choose a medium-format or even the viewscreen of a large format camera, image inverted and all. Plus, you control the exposure with actual shutter speeds and f/stops. Now don't get me wrong, I think this is all very cool and I can't say I'm not enjoying playing with it. But I have to wonder: who is this designed for, and dear god, why?

If it's aimed at us old guys -- you know, like we've been hanging 'round the general store, pining for the fjords -- then they missed the mark by about a mile. We've moved on, and happily so. We have good gear and iPhones, and if the mood strikes we still can haul out the old Deardorff and load up some Tri-X. But frankly, the mood doesn't strike all that often any more (chalk it up to age and statins, and yes, I'm talking about old cameras, not whatever the hell it is that you're thinking about.)

And if it's aimed at a whole new generation unfamiliar with that old stuff, well then, good luck with that. Some analog experiences can't be reproduced in a digital world, but that doesn't mean you can't try. And I'm betting this app was designed by just one of those very people, thus my skoosh of skepticism. We're just not thinking on the same wavelength.

So you know what I'm going to do someday? I'm going to hike up Half Dome, set up a big old Reis tripod, find a good position under the dark cloth, and make my best Ansel Adams landscape -- on an iPad. I think he, of all people, would see the humor in it and frankly, if he were still around, he would have beaten me to it. Old guys.

That's just how we roll.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Future Is Hanging Around Here Someplace ~

Let's establish this right off the bat -- I'm the world's worst prognosticator. Nostradamus I'm not. All the cocky predictions I made in my youth, about anything, have all been wildly off. When I first encountered personal computers, for example, I figured they might be useful in helping me organize my baseball card collection. How could I have seen they'd replace my darkroom, and that I'd be perfectly cool with that? And I'm sure it's not just me: where are the flying cars we were promised? So when I opened my laptop the other day and read the exciting headline The Future Of Photography, well boy howdy, was I curious to find out or what?

Turns out that particular story was actually an ad for iPhone lenses (one of which I already own, it seems) so I was somewhat miffed at not being transported to a new dimension. But it got me interested in stirring the tea leaves, so I poured some more coffee and headed into the unknown: what, dear Google, is the future of photography? I was not disappointed.

Undreamed-of new products and techniques, software and hardware, were on display for me to digest, but I wasn't really interested in all that. What caught my eye were the articles about new ways of seeing, and different ways to reflect upon reality that photography may offer us. These are truly revolutionary ideas. We've gotten into the habit of allowing photographs to mean something real to us when in fact they are contrivances, the artifacts created when we use technology to make an image. As we move into the future (at light speed, by the way) the totality of photography's ever-changing syntax will be overwhelming, but I bet we'll hardly notice. Our acceptance of what is real will adapt right along with it.

James Burke, one of the world's most influential science historians, wrote in his 1978 book Connections that not only do we not know the future, we can't know the future. The progression of time is non-linear: things that happen now effect the things that will happen later, and the process is utterly random. But I take heart in this. Nothing is pre-ordained; no outcome is inevitable. That's exciting stuff, even -- especially -- for a photographer in the digital age. One of those articles suggested we'll make up new rules as we go along, but I say, Rules? We don't need no stinkin' rules. Do we?

So what the heck, here's my stab at it: with every new piece of software, every new app, every new device (my iPhone and I are staring at each other across the room) we'll take image-making across uncharted borders, and define reality anew at every step. The "camera" will become as quaint as the "telephone."  Everyone will be able to create an image and then adjust it to conform to their own very individual way of seeing the world. Most will be mundane, but some will blow our socks off. That's largely how it is even right now, so that's really not that daring of a prediction, I guess. But however photography morphs, it will always be startling and unexpected, challenging, troubling, eternally engaging. Its unfamiliarity will be warmly welcoming.

Oh, and robots. Robots will do our dishes.