By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE CHIEF ADVANCE IN THE PROCESS OF MODERN PHOTOGRAPHY, a kind of hitchhiker on the back of the digital revolution, has been the unprecedented scope of choice conferred on the shooter. Much is written about how great pictures are selective extractions from the endless flow of time…how random and important seconds are snatched from that flood tide and “captured”. However, the emphasis, for most of the history of the medium has been on many of us getting that one fortunate moment, with few options for re-takes or even a variety of attempts from which to select our final winners.
If this seems to be an arbitrary distinction between amateurs and pros, well, it sorta is, and that’s because of how the technology and the economics of photography work on each other. Before roll film, even a professional had difficulty in taking multiple frames of the same subject in search of a keeper. The media were unwieldy and expensive. Soon, the consumer-based photo market, created by the first simple mass-produced cameras paired with film, allowed for slightly more breathing room for the average snapper to take more than one crack at his/her quarry…to say, try several different angles on a subject rather than one, but, again, the cost of purchasing and processing film tended to divide the photographic world into amateur and professional ranks. Quite simply, a professional, out of necessity or opportunity or both, could afford an investment in enough film to create choices, or multiple ways of seeing the same thing, whereas the amateur has to budget his shots and invest less money in the pursuit overall.
Digital democratized that entire process, effectively shrinking the photographer’s budget to the purchase of the camera and an occasional memory card (which itself could be wiped and re-used). We immediately shifted from a plan-as-you-go mentality to an all-you-can-eat, shooting-for-free model, which, in turn, changed the results of our picture making. Now newbies can stand in the batter’s box and swing away endlessly in pursuit of their final result, just as the pros always could. Any subject can be given the treatment of an essay, and we have the luxury of going back for seconds, thirds, or whatever is required to develop and eventually deliver on an idea. The image seen above, had I taken it in the age of film, would have been the product of a few snaps, not, as happened digitally, the work of over an hour of walking, planning, experimenting. In the old days, only a pro would have been free to shoot several rolls in search of an iconic image. Now anyone can do it, simply and cheaply.
Photographers who experience this miracle of immersion as everyday reality are freer than shooters in any previous age. We can whittle away years of the ponderous failures that used to take years to accumulate in a matter of weeks or even days. Mistakes are still necessary for the training of the eye, but being able to speed up the process of stylistic evolution is a true liberation. The science and the economics of photography are finally aligned with each other, and although it took some time, time is, finally, on our side, whenever we endeavor to photograph anything.