I struggle with the transition to digital photography at times: I scan film, download memory cards, and it all just goes into this box underneath my desk. I feel like I am straddling two worlds – shooting film then digitizing it and filing it away … for what? Future posterity? Something for my child to find and wonder about? I’d like to say that film is better as we’re given a print to save and keep, but then I wouldn’t be able to open up Adobe Bridge, wondering what to post today, and find an old photo that I felt the punctum in again.
While toying with the thought of buying a new digital camera that I just can’t afford, I’ve been pulling out the unused film cameras that offered me so much joy in the past – from a medium format beast to a simple point and shoot. Part of photography for me is the technology – the weight of the camera around my neck, the view through a rangefinder, and above all, the unknown quality of film. After a shoot with my digital, when I pick up a film camera, I find myself looking at the back after I shoot. Usually, I see what kind of film I’m using. I guess that’s the biggest difference between film and digital for me – the participation. It’s been said that a photographer is mediating his experience with the world by putting a camera between himself and what’s on the other side, and I feel that a digital camera can do that even more by adding a self-editing step into the process. Instead of shoot shoot shoot, it’s shoot, look, shoot, look, etc.
All this is fine – mediating my experience, objectifying the world around me, separating myself in order to document it. Because I’ve found that despite all that, being a photographer can actually bring you closer to the world around you – more observant, more in tune with what’s happening than you might have been. I remember a morning at Crater Lake in Oregon – I had just driven from Sacramento the night before (delivering an eagle of all things for the Cascades Raptor Center) and got up early to catch some morning light. I chose my vantage point, set up my tripod and waited. In the time I was there, several cars drove up, got out, took a few shots, wandered around, then left. I was able to watch the sun rise over the rim, saw a kestrel hunting for breakfast, and got some great shots to boot. I just haven’t scanned them yet.