Taking a Step Backward in Order to Move Forward

5 04 2011

Something occurred to me whilst writing an article earlier in the year which has been steadily creating an uneasy feeling about digital capture. The paragraph I wrote was “it is a disturbing thought that with each advance in digital technology, we may be erasing our steps, effectively removing our entries in the history books of the future”.

Before I continue, I should stress that I’m in no way anti-digital. I am completely pro-photography, in every single one of its forms. Digital photography has undoubtedly revolutionised the industry. It is convenient, accessible and rapid. It is also fragile. Regardless of how carefully you back up your files, how many discs or prints you make, they all rely on the technology used to create them. Technology is advancing at such a rate, that the risk of those backups being useless in fifty years is significant. Will you make new backups every time a format changes? New prints every time the inks start to fade?

My fear is of leaving nothing of myself behind. That the things that have been important enough to me throughout my lifetime that I have felt the need to capture them as photographs will be lost, forgotten, erased. In 100 years, if somebody were to find an old computer, or hard drive, or pile of discs, stored somewhere in an attic, what would they do with them? Sure, they might take the time to see what was on them, but in all likelihood, they’d just discard them as outdated rubbish. That’s if, in 100 years, computers still have the capability to read DVDs, or connect to external drives via USB. Let’s face it, if you found a pile of old floppy discs in an attic room, would you take the time and energy to go searching for a computer old enough to read them?

On the other hand, what would you do if you found a 100 year old folder of negatives or slides in that attic? The likelihood of someone at least taking the time to hold them up to the light, view them, is far greater than the computer files scenario. A file full of negavives might be cumbersome and costly, but it will stand the test of time. That is proven. Film needs no specialist equipment to exist. It is it’s own backup. A negative or slide can be viewed simply be holding it up to a light source. It can easily be digitised, and if those digital files are lost, it can simply be rescanned.

This is the primary reason for my decision to give up digital, at least for the time being. I’ll be selling my DSLR, and shooting solely film from here on in.

I do have secondary reasons, and these have been the contributing factors in deciding to sell, rather than store. One is financial. Like most people, I have a little personal debt. Far less than the majority of my age bracket, but I’d like it gone as quickly as possible. Selling non-essentials is a step in the right direction in this respect. I’ve calculated that I can be clear of debt as soon as next summer. I’ll be 30 years old, and I think that being free of financial responsibility by the age of 30 is pretty good going, really.

Following the accomplishment of that goal, should I find myself missing the convenience of a DSLR, I’ll be in a comfortable position to quickly save up enough to purchase a mid-range model.

The other secondary reason is that over the last year and a half of getting back into shooting film, I’ve realised how much my knowledge and technical skills have improved. The fact is, for me and for many people, digital makes us lazy. Two years ago, whilst I was perfectly aware of the relationship between aperture and shutter speed, I couldn’t have begun to guess the correct exposure for the light levels in any given situation. Right now, I can give a pretty close estimate, usually to within a couple of stops, and I’m getting better all the time. What I’m hoping is that the next year or so accelerates this learning process, and makes me a far better photographer.

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