That’s enough on libertarianism … now for something completely different.
I’ve taken up photography quite seriously over the past three years or so: a welcome distraction from other aspects of life, a source of great satisfaction when I get something right, and the occasion of new friendships (both off and on line). In one sense, photography in the digital age is easy, and it wasn’t hard for me to get to a level where I was producing pictures that I was very pleased with. But it some ways it is too easy, because you skip a proper understanding of why things are the way they are, because each additional picture is costless you can just shoot away and not worry as much as you should about technique and composition. So I’ve been shooting film more and more, and thereby discovering some things about the art and about myself.
Such as what? you might ask. Well here’s one trivial example: ISO. In the digital age ISO is something that you rack up to get a sufficiently fast shutter speed at the aperture you want, subject to the constraint that you don’t want the image too noisy. So faced with a dark interior: no problem, just make the sensor more sensitive. With a roll of film things are quite different. Your ISO is fixed for the next 12 or 36 exposures and it may significantly constrain your choices. So, shooting in the sunshine with an old camera (fastest shutter speed 1/300) and 400 ISO film, I realised that there was exactly one aperture I could choose. (And old cameras are lovely and fascinating, btw.) More significant, perhaps, is the way that film trains your head and where the sheer flexibility of digital gets in the way to learning to see things in the right way. If I load a film camera with Velvia, I quickly become aware of vivid colours and blocks of colour. If I’ve got a roll of black and white film, then I quickly become more attuned to line, light and shadow.
Using an old technology also makes you very sharply aware of how digital is changing society. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction? Don’t make me laugh. Even in that age, there were craft skills to learn, significant entry costs, and money to be made. The world where every amateur with a DSLR can produce images good enough for print and can license them for sale to Getty Images on Flickr is not a world where many people can earn their living from taking pictures. You have to be very special, very well networked or in some real niche market for that.