I’ve meant to note for future reference a wonderful guest posting on 2blowhards a while ago by Toby Thain regarding the difference between digital and chemical photography. This reminds me so much of the debate between vinyl and CDs (now I’m really dating myself). Toby was placed in the position of defending the true statement that digital approaches analog asymptotically in quality. Digital is always an approximation of our wonderfully analog world. The debate regarding the relative function of words and images can also be cast in this light—words are by nature digitally discrete units (in the literal sense of the term) while images have been traditionally resistant to such narrow classification. Images are always analog, or a digital approximation of an analog phenomenon. To suggest otherwise is so much hype.
Toby speaks to a different sort of hype in a follow-up response in a comment:
It’s particularly irritating to see professional photographers taken in by the hype — buying studios on hire purchase and then forced to sell digital images, regardless of whether, after finally plumbing the possibilities, they believe in them. This may turn out to be commercial good sense (digital is cheaper to shoot) but can also mean artistic death.
My last paragraph expresses the fear that marketing will win. There is historical precedent for this, although the losers can be remarkably tenacious: vinyl records, sailboats, petrol driven cars (just kiddin’), horsemanship, valve amplifiers, steam trains, etc. They tend to move from industrial best practice to mere recreational anachronisms for Romantics such as myself.
Critics of Toby’s accurate appraisal accused him of missing real importance of the ascendancy of digital photography as a medium facilitating expression. To borrow Kress’s terms, it is really a matter of “gains and losses.” What is lost in digital photography is the incredible depth and nuance, the texture of chemical photography. This was equally true of the move from large format to 35mm. As is commonplace with technology, we gain in speed only with a loss in depth. Texture (the most subtle form of depth) can be reclaimed, but only through manipulation—as is the case with Bobbi’s work turning the multiple world of digital imagery into a singular world of one of a kind, textured, works. But for every really creative use of digital sourcing and manipulation, there are thousands of grainy cell-phone images that have no thought, and even less feel.
It isn’t about the megapixels, it’s about the touch.
Somehow, sensuality more often gets replaced by bombast and colors, with Photoshopped in textures, because the medium itself is sorely lacking in any sort of human materiality.
And yes, I’ll confess to listening to tube (valve) audio equipment, owning thousands of vinyl LP records, cherishing letterpress books, and longing for the day that I can use my old photographic equipment again. Digital photography is filled with uses, but whether all of them constitute gains is not a matter of speculation. There are losses too.