I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it...Picasso

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Picture Thang

I have always loved the world through a lens.  Under different circumstances I may have taken my interest in photography a little further.  I did, however, take it far enough to accumulate a very good 35mm camera and a decent assortment of lenses.  Travel always meant a carry-on camera bag and several of those film cases to keep the X-rays out of my film.  I was never a crack photographer but I had a working knowledge of film speeds, shutter speeds and f-stops and always enjoyed the special eye of the camera.

Along came digital photography.  Let me first say, that film, as a medium, will always hold a special place in my artist's heart.  The soft, sumptuous warmth of film photography strikes a chord in my brain that not even the great masters of painting can.  And then there's black and white!  Is there anything more striking, more evocative, more illusive than good black and white photography?  Think of the films that were shot in black and white and the emotional tone they set simply by being about shadows - light and dark.  The metaphors abound!  What would Raging Bull be in color?  Could Woody Allen's Manhattan have sung more gloriously to New Yorkers had it been in color?  I think not.  New York is a black and white city.  Paris is a city in color but New York is definitively black and white.

So rhapsodically I carry on about film only to be faced with the digital image.  Okay,  it is a cool thing - in concept.  Certainly, on a practical level, being able to shoot with abandon and not have to think about how much every click of the shutter is costing, is a luxury.  But what does it do for photography?  When every image was bought before it was exposed and paid for in order to view whether or not it was a success, there was more care and discretion exercised before plunging the shutter.  Composition counted and cropping was something that required several more steps after developing in order to have a final image.  With digital, we can shoot with abandon, crop before we print and even tweak the light and exposure, something that before had to be done in a lab.  Very convenient and excessive. 

Alright, I've made my point.  I love film.

I acquired my first digital camera before I went to Paris on a personal, significant birthday, "vision quest".  I went to take a look at my life, have some time alone and bathe myself in the city of light.  I had a basic  knowledge of how the camera worked and looked forward to the freedom of taking as many shots as I wanted.  (I still took my SLR, loaded with B&W film just because I wanted to shoot Notre Dame in light and shadows.)  I must say, I was able to capture somethings with the digital that I never would have with my film camera equipment such as back lit, medieval stained glass and ancient Roman Baths deep underground.  I slowly gave up the film cameras and reluctantly joined the digital age of photography.

So back to Etsy, shall we?  "Upload first image".  My first challenge, which to this day is a little like always reviewing right hand/left hand, is upload and download.  I get stuck on those words all the time and my mind wanders off to endless schematics I have created in my head to map my way through the maze of computer concepts I barely understand.  I wish there were a GPS we could plug into our brains to do the destination calculations for us.  I would be much less tired at the end of the day.

A friend had told me about Picassa, a file sharing program like Flicker (I say that like I know.  It is an assumption I am making so if I am wrong just remember I am still a third grader.)  Before I could "upload my first image" I had to backtrack to Picassa, upoad the images from my camera, import them to my hard disk then go back to Etsy, find my listing in storage and take my first shot at uploading onto my Etsy site.  Like all things computer, it took me several passes but when the deed was done, I was ecstatic.  I felt like I had climbed Mt. Fuji in my sneakers.  It was really cool!  Until I saw the quality of the picture.  It was all yellowish and flat looking.  WTF?  And the focus was mooshy and lacked detail.

After doing some research I realized two things.  First, my little point and shoot was not going to do the trick for these kinds of "commercial" purposes.  Second, the table top I had set up in my studio with clip lights and incandescent bulbs was not the approach to take with the digital.  There I was, all set up with my little photo studio fit for an amature in the 1980's trying to light the medium of the 21st century.  Who knew there was such a chasm between 20 and 21?  All I wanted to do was open a little shop on Etsy to pedal my wares and now I had come up against yet another hitch in the road that required me to give myself another crash course in another high concept operation.  What to do?  Quit?  Not on your life!  I'd made it this far I wasn't going to let a camera stop me now. 

I spent two days on the Internet researching cameras.  Let me explain that for me to even say, let alone do, research on the Internet is totally out of character and yet another indication of how I am changing.  For me, the solution is to go to the store where they sell these things and talk to the people that tell you what you need.  Except, I couldn't think of one single camera shop withing 35 square miles of where I live.  Until about 5 years ago, there was a little camera shop in our town but the last time I saw him he was selling out and going into insurance or something.  The big box stores have people that take out packaging and read it to you, as if  they're reading it to you will have more significance.  I can read, thank you very much.  So onto the Internet I went and found this amazing site where the guy does video demos of the cameras and in that moment I thought the Internet was the most amazing thing ever!  I was talking to the guy in the camera store at my own kitchen table.  I didn't even have to put on shoes or one schmere of lipstick to find out exactly what camera was going to best suit my needs.  Now I could go into Best Buy and tell the person, who knew as much about digital cameras as I did, exactly what I was going to buy.  Success.

This whole camera thing was a turning point for me.  I think because the learning experience was a case of transposition.  With the cameras, I had to take a skill I already had and translate what I already knew into a new language.  I wasn't starting from scratch.  I already had concepts to use as a jumping off point. Going from film to digital was like copying music into another key.  It's still the same music but with a different configuration of notes.  With the computer, I have had to enter a foreign country, learn a completely new language - which sounds like the language I have been using all of my life but is deceptively different.  I have had to take physical skills like typing and use them in an expanded way on a piece of hardware that has a totally different feel and purpose than what I learned on in business school. I have had to revise my concepts of social interaction and adapt to having types of relationships that didn't exist when I was born and growing up.  Perhaps, most significantly, I have had to give up the tactile process of moving information around.  I am the generation of paper.  If it wasn't on paper, it didn't really exist or more importantly, it didn't matter.  Put it on paper.  Sign this paper, Send me the paper copy.  File this paper.  Fax me the paper.  Organize your papers.  The paper made it real.  It, whatever it was, existed because it was on paper. 

Cyberspace challenges us to operate in a world of visualization and though we still live in a tactile world of three dimensional things that we hold, touch and interact with we have to reconceptualize what that means so that everything can be fluidly transposed between the concept and the concrete.  From where I stand, this leaves us with two choices as we move forward in our lives.  We can plant ourselves firmly in the righteousness of our solid, feet planted firmly on the ground, if I can touch it it is real way of living.  Or.  We can encourage ourselves to explore this dual universe and see where it takes us.  We can strengthen our minds by allowing ourselves to step out of the comfy place and see what it's like to slip in and out of either world.  We can, by making the choice, have a relationship with the conceptual on our screens.  It may not be the same relationship we have with something we hold in our hands or someone we kiss on the cheek but it is, in fact, a real relationship.  It's just different.  And by expansion of our beliefs, we can explore what my generation always thought would be actual outer space, right here where we sit, on these screens in our own little comfy spot.

1 comment:

  1. My dear, as I told you once before, we are cut from the same cloth as regards the "new age" of computers and the like. Very well stated; reflects many of the same thoughts I have as I struggle to understand and execute the many moves necessary to accomplish anything with the computer. Love, Dad