On The Future of Photography

This was a letter written to a friend of mine who almost exclusively uses slide film, despite the seemingly unstoppable rise of digital. Recently (as you can see on my blog), I have started again myself, though for reasons of convenience have not completely ‘gone back to film’. Being able to compare has already convinced me that there despite all the advances of digital so far, there are ways in which film is a much better medium for the creative photographer. In this, even some of its limitations (such as rolls of 24-36 exposures) can be an advantage, as it’s unpredictability. Yet there is another area of contention, surrounding which is actually technically superior. The marketers will quickly say digital, but then again they have hardly any film cameras left to sell… though meanwhile film use has recently surged up again, despite digital making it’s usual constant progress. In fact I think film and especially slide film does have certain advantages, though there are ways I can see digital evolving to overcome these.

I suppose my position here is that whilst digital has so many advantages to film you need to be a bit of a nonconformist to stay with film, film still has some very significant advantages to commonplace digital now. Especially when we are comparing cropped digital with 35mm (or even larger) slide film. For digital to truly displace film in terms of all qualities, if indeed it ever does, it will need to morph into something quite different to what we have now, necessitating a lot more data and processing to have a full, rich photo rather than the shallow approximations we are making do with today. Which isn’t to say at all that great photos aren’t being created. Just that there is far further to go on this route than most merchandising would have you believe.

As I write this note, I note with some regret that certain Fuji films have just been taken out of production (including the intriguing Provia 400X chrome film) and Kodak has stopped their acetate base production, the plastic layer which is treated to then be used for film. Now I am still a fan of film and, more so, of what people can and do produce with film, but these timely reminders go to show that the writing on the wall is probably speaking of something all the more imminent. As photographers, whether enthusiasts or pros, we really should articulate what it is we want digital to be and not simply passively accept mass-market developments such as increased mega-pixels or be seduced by incremental improvements. Digital should strive to achieve what analogue so long ago attained to- warmth, naturalness and intimacy. As you’ll see below, the answer to my mind is partly increased data capture, but also processing methods that abolish brick wall limits. We need a digital SACD (Super Audio CD) that can at least feel limitless simply because the data is so freely optimised to the reality.

So here it is- a letter to a film user, on where photography will head from here…

The Beauty of Slides

To the extent I understand the factors involved, not having used film (or any cameras for that matter) nearly as long as you, I really know what you mean regarding film cameras and positive film. Seeing slide film again was a revelation and one which digital has never given me. I do get the sense that, despite it’s limitations in dynamic range and relative inflexibility, with a slide I am getting a snapshot of the reality itself. Not a processed and digitally estimated version, nor the relatively inconsequential feeling I get from my negative film, though they also seem to have much more depth than digital has (so far, at least). There is a satisfaction in using it.

The colours feel real, the contrast much like I see things, or at least how I ‘feelingly see things’, as a human interpreting the importance of things around me. So, despite the price and unless I find a negative film that can substitute, (Kodak’s recent Ektar 100 is supposed to be a candidate for this, but many say it still isn’t the same), it is worth shooting some slides, just to have a convincing record of what I saw.

It’s not just the specifications, or utility of a camera. It is the sense I get from it as being a copy of the reality I experience. The sense I get from the medium of slide film is of something complete, more or less finished, which is very satisfying. I know what you mean regarding the endless possibilities of digital making the photo itself hard to estimate and of course, this could well extend to a film scan if you let it., but probably not a scanned slide so much I generally keep my editing to a minimum for that reason, depending on the occasion (sharing on the internet vs. printing large).  In some ways, with digital you make many decisions after taking the photos, like editing a film, whereas with film, it all takes place before you shoot.

So with digital, you can take as many photos as you like, but it’s hard to know which is the definitive one. The flexibility of digital is here in some ways it’s downfall. It is easy to sloppily take photos and know you can touch them up later. This sense can also intrudes on the excitement of a trip, I feel. I sense a magic in exposing slides, of truly capturing the moment, a moment that will never, ever, so far as we know, return. I always felt that with slide film and the very act of using it makes my travels feel more magical, too. Sure, some of this is psychological, but isn’t everything? Whereas with digital, the amount of significant moment stretches out into ‘possible opportunities’ and the temptation is to try to capture everything and then choose later.

Also, I’d agree that slides are tangible in a way digital just isn’t. Just like a final print, the slide is a hard copy. Now this is partly a cultural thing, in which data, or anything with a virtual, or computer-based existence is increasingly significant culturally, economically, socially, but it’s only recently that this ‘digital layer’ has gotten so prominent. For a lot of kids, playing on iPads instead of with toys, it is already second-nature. Even if we don’t feel that mere data is tangible, yet it is increasingly omnipresent, from the terabytes flowing around the Internet, to the very sequencing of the human genome. Reducing, or should we say expressing things through a data substrate is spreading everywhere as the digital world grows. What we seem to lack are the tools to access it, to feel it as part of our daily world. In the world of computing, it seems touch-screens and gesture commands are a step forwards. It all still remains to be humanised.

I am pretty sure that with metadata and histories kept of file changes, people will sense the same ‘tangible existence’ with a digital file, even if it is the existence of something still malleable. Though I have to admit that for me too, it is hard with digital to distinguish whether I am dealing with clay or the final sculpture. Much as I love and cherish this malleability (which is wonderful for saving images exposed badly, or taken in difficult circumstances), it is hard to find a closure to the image-making process. With a slide- there it is, success or failure.

(more…)

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Progress so Far

I think it is high time for an update on how far we have progressed towards the initial vision of this website, that is towards an epoch-marking fusion of advanced technology and human communication that would make a new internationalism possible at last. The vision was of a society, around the year 2025, that had achieved an enlightened world peace, in which cultures and regions had become more important than countries and advanced technology, though still amazing, had become utterly commonplace. Wrist-watch computers that can project holographic presentations of any knowledge shared by mankind, vehicles that move silently, causing no pollution, shared virtual reality experiences as an entertaining fusion of films, theatre and reality TV are all just over the horizon. We can’t quite envision them clearly as of yet, but suggestive echoes of such a possible future are already reaching us now.

I feel that it may be easier to evaluate the ‘small picture’, my on experience of life on Earth right now, than the ‘big picture’ of life as a whole, as it is so hard to obtain clear and unbiased information, even on a supposedly free internet. From what I can make out, it is a situation of progress interrupted. Whilst a truly millennial culture is encompassing the globe as never before, helped by new sharing and communicative technologies to do so, national identities that will need to greatly soften to facilitate a truly international phase have tended to harden. War and revolution have scoured the near East, the sheer horror of which gripping headlines and news media generally, making it hard to effectively see if this is a process of freeing these essential areas from generations of shackles, or just chaotic turbulence with no real direction. The middle and near East being an essential area of prophecy, it remains to be seen if the much-vaunted ‘Arab Spring’ will bring the rational organisation of such lands that they so sorely need. Viewed faithfully, though, peace, freedom and an authentic integration with the rest of the world can be the only ultimate results of this progressive process, whatever conflicts emerge in the shorter term.

Meanwhile, technology has spread across the world like wildfire and the so-called ‘Web 2’ of personal interaction, the interaction that this site holds to be indicative of true and lasting freedom from centralised and impersonal authority, seems to have taken hold across societies and across national boundaries like never before. Thanks not only to email, but now to social networking sites like Facebook and Mixy, amongst others, instant and shared interaction is possible at any time. The onus of such communication being formalised has been overcome through microblogging sites such as Twitter, which allow for frank and personal exchanges without the delay of formulating an in-depth response. That is, they facilitate nearly direct communication, a true extension of one’s social sphere into virtual space, space that is very quickly being discovered, though is wrongly thought of as being created. Such space has its own boundaries and continents, not only in the technologies facilitating it.

One of the greatest movements of our time and one that will make certain advances feasible, even inevitable, is the rise and spread of visual sharing. Digital cameras (or scanned analogue images, to be complete) and the internet to spread them on allow for the sharing of experiences in a way harder to accomplish with words. A picture in a sense really does contain a thousand words, though of course these are all words to apply to it, but it brings the scene directly to the viewer. As higher bandwidth has become possible, a more visual internet has come too, with ever-increasing resolution, which despite the marketing fluff associated with this, means for a more lifelike presentation and so a more satisfying one. Photos are not the end of this, as high-definition video and beyond makes its appearance, something that previously was only possible with expensive cameras, can now be accomplished with smart-phones, which have become media-creation devices as much as ones to experience the internet on.

The next phase, though, will presumably take many generations of technology to accomplish. It will involve entering the internet, perhaps in the guise of an avatar, to interact personally with other people from around the world, almost as if you were really with them, not only in real-world environments, but in ultra-realistic simulations created by the finest artists. You will scuba^dive in seas filled with imaginary fish, walk in gardens filled with trees that cycle through their seasons whilst you watch, travel together with others virtually, yet with all the smells, sounds and sensations of the places, almost like magic. Almost, as it will be a flowering of technology that facilitates it, not an active imagination alone, something which has restricted such experiences to the few all through history.

Just to give some pointers as to what technologies may help bring this about over the next few years or even decades, we have the move to ever-greater resolutions in video, from HD to full HD, then to the data-intensive 4k and 8k varieties, along with ever-advancing screens on which to view them. This, along with glasses-free 3D, will make for a more lifelike and immersive experience. New generations of camera will capture full 3D representations of things, allowing not just for a visual stereo playback, but truly holographic presentations. Ultra high-bandwidth internet will be able to support various people entering such simulations in a kind of lifelike video conference together. It will indeed be something like the Star Trek Holodeck or ‘virtual reality’, yet without the big drama associated with those presentations. In fact, it will be an everyday thing, like meeting a friend for a coffee after work.It won’t even be radically different in any essential way. But it will be the way society of the future interacts, spending its vastly increased free time and economic resources. It may not really be different, but it will be more enlightened, overcoming the differences that separate people in the most time-tested way of all, through natural, warm and unforced communication.

YouTube – ‪iPhone as DSLR‬‏

However ridiculously ungainly this may look now, here we have the future of digital photography. You know, think about it. A super-slim smart phone, like a credit card that you slot into the back, becoming (maybe through blu-tooth) the camera’s touch-screen LCD. Editing, uploading, managing the photos from it without needing a computer, at least for most usage. You have a highly portable and connected imaging device, realising the potential of digital far more than ever before.

Why is the iPhone 4 the most used and uploaded photo-taking device in the world now? Because it’s so convenient to take the photo and even edit it beyond all recognition. Secondly, it’s always connected, with various apps making it even easier to post and annotate the image to whatever site you desire. Built for communication and sharing, whereas, despite all their advances in technical image quality, even compact cameras are reliant on a computer to do most of their editing and to upload. I know, there are some exotic solutions like the Eye-Fi card, but they are far cruder than the iPhone and rely on more expensive purchases, which equals a lack of a purchase for most. So merging the two devices in some way could well be the next step forward, not just for compacts, but for higher end digital cameras.

Journalists can get their shots up faster as much as bloggers and they can be high quality ones shot with extreme lenses, rather than just the iPhone camera. I really see potential for this kind of convergence. Forget about the iPhone, say hello to the Eye-Phone!

Straight, No Chaser.

A Traditional Photography Blog - dehk © 2016

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