9.19.2013

How did one get "hooked" on photography, circa 1978?


I think the big difference between photography now and photography in the "good old days" of film and printing paper can be found in the sheer investment and risk of the former. While in the days of magical cellphones and instant uploads to sharing sites we have almost zero investment in creating images the days of yore demanded a whole different level of attention and intention on the part of the artist.

This print, above, is from my earliest days as an amateur photographer with a light. I had one flash and a umbrella of some sort. There were no screens to tell you if you got stuff right or if you totally fucked up everything from exposure to flash sync to focus. If you were a poor student with a very small budget you probably developed your own film, which was also fraught with peril. Did you get the temperatures of the chemicals right? Did you agitate the developing tank correctly? Did you dip your film in Photo Flo and distilled water in just the right way to keep the negatives from streaking? Did you dry your film in some area that was relatively dust free? There were never any guarantees in the process and if you did mess up you'd only find out about your mis-steps days or even weeks later. Long after the statute of re-shootablity had expired....

And none of this takes into consideration that learning to print well continues to be a multi-year experience. I got lucky with the print above. I got it with a relatively small investment of test prints and test strips. But to get to this one image there was, for me, a profound investment in time, money and learning curve. There was required investment to even get something so simple and singular. Maybe that's why the end results were so precious to use back then. In a sense we were creating a permanent artifact of our memory and our way of seeing. Not a consumable meant as Facebook candy.

Maybe that is why so many older and more experience photographers have such a hard time letting go of an idea of photography.  We hold onto the idea of enduring artifacts that had intrinsic value based on our investments of time and skill. Now, for the most part, we're engaged in a process that's not much different than creating a beautiful and tasty main course for a fine dinner. We might fuss a bit and throw in some lighting and post production but in the end we know that the product is more transient. More....consumable. And we get the sense that we need to increase the output to feed that gaping maw of social sharing. If we want to somehow remain relevant.  It's a whole different medium by dint of its use.

The moment that hooked most of us back in 1978 was the moment that your first decent print started forming in a tray of developer under the soft, dim glow of the red safe lights with a little transistor radio humming away in the background. When Belinda's eyes started to come up in the print. That's the moment I decided that I was "all  in."

Hmmm.



14 comments:

Dave Jenkins said...

Man. . .

1978 was the year I went full-time in photography for good, after ten years of alternating full and part-time work.

A photograph meant more back then, and photography was just more. . .fun.

I greatly miss those days, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to live them.

Dave Jenkins said...

Lovely, lovely portrait of Belinda, by the way.

Michael Matthews said...

Those eyes would do it, alright.

I don't mean to suggest that you hit your peak in 1978, but of all the portraits shown on this blog over the years this is the one which stands out as simply stunning.

Claire said...

My uncle was relatively well off and owned a small darkroom. I watched my cousins process some prints as a young kid, so somehow I feel I do bear some of that genteel heritage although I fully embraced photography thanks to the instant gratification and feedback of digital. To me 2001 and instant review were the point when sustained interest in photography turned into passionate fascination.
Belinda portraits always have an extra edge over any other work you've shared. Those and Ben's. Which confirms my strong conviction that we shoot with our emotions as much (if not more) as with our gear.

John Krumm said...

I think you are right, that it's really a different medium, though with many parallels. I always wanted a serious camera (slr) in my younger days, but not enough to buy one , so I snapped away with my pocket camera. For so many of us affordable digital photography makes semi-serious exploration of the art possible, even though we have no professional ambition. It brings a lot of pleasure to our lives. But I could see an old grump like you having problems with that ( totally kidding here).

It will be interesting to see what young people now miss about photography in another 35 years.

Paul Glover said...

Having the benefit of hobbyist's folly, I've gone the other direction. Built a darkroom, started editing with brutal candor and instead of scanning, making a nice file and uploading an average of a photo every day or two, I'm aiming for a dozen or two REALLY good final prints in a given *year*.

Those prints I've made so far feel a whole lot more real than a few MB of 1's and 0's on a hard drive ever did.

Speaking of prints, that's a lovely one in your post.

Anonymous said...

I love this portrait of your wife, in fact all the portraits of your wife, she has a calm beauty and intelligence that just shines from her.

Have to post as anonymous as I can't master Google

Brad Calkins said...

I wish I could see it in person! I don't find it easy to see great photographs up close, living in a smaller town as I do. Local photographers produce some fine images, but few seem to actually be involved in the print itself...including me. I'd love to spend some time with someone that was knowledgable on printing who could point out some of the finer details (so to speak) and get me hooked on prints more than I am now.

jrapdx said...

A wonderful portrait indeed. While it's a whole other subject, producing so early on such beautifully inspired work reveals a strange irony: after years of toil to become a "better" artist, in the end all we may prove is that our own astonishing achievement is the toughest act to follow.

For me the "discovery" of photography happened about 20 years before 1978, and I have been at it, in fits and starts, ever since. The thrill, the very magic, the sense of achievement intermingled with those first attempts lingers for a lifetime among the smitten.

Haven't touch film for 15 years or so, but there are times I sorely miss "the old days". Seems hardly talked about: all the hassles that digital photography drags along with it. Can't do anything or go anywhere without extra batteries, chargers, cables, and maybe a computer of some kind to view, process, store images.

All that just to take a few pictures? Even the most basic digital setup is an awful lot to organize. By comparison, film was delightfully simple, wasn't it?

JRA

Andrea said...

I printed my first b/w shot in the summer of 1986, while I was attending a study course on shooting and developing at my local high school. I had to wait another two years before being able to afford my first camera (a second-hand Praktica B200). I have missed the emotion since then.

theaterculture said...

It's the difference between sensuous experience and information processing. Between things and ideas.

We now live in a world that (over?-)values information relative to objects, and thought relative to physical sensation. This division has long existed in Western culture, but there used to be a kind of balancing effect caused by the fact that the information side of the argument (Platonic idealism, Modernist reduction of all arts to analytical literature) could be imagined as a kind of transcendent counter-balance to physical objects which were too easily commercialized and reduced to widgets up for sale. To care about the information/idea side of things made you an intellectual, and then you could take that caring into the physical world and make things out of it in a different way, and that was Art.

Now that information is commoditized and ideas are saleable as apps, downloads, patents on principles, and Facebook candy, the distinction is unclear and may even be in the process of reversing. Today's avant-garde (or at least the hipsters who hope to be mistaken for it) declare themselves by siding with the thing, cobbling together a film MF camera system or knitting their way to an organically grown locally sourced deconstructed sweater-vest.

Anonymous said...

You seem to be going through an on-going artistic existentialist conundrum of late. The old, the new, what to accept, and what to fight, where have you been and where you are you going to go… You’ve written about the encroachment of video was a demand in your business and “gasp”, the lowering of standards. All of it is true. It would seem to be an affliction of people in their fifties (I am in my fifties too). I have only figured out that if you live long enough, the world grows more alien in comparison to your starting point… ditto of careers and technology, especially technology…

In the end, the only thing we can hang on to is our vision, and that can never be static either. At least, however, it is the one thing we do have some control over, even if that particular wrangling drives us crazy.

There may be a reason the view of artists as tortured is cliché…

I can only wish you luck, and say thank you for sharing your experience here with the rest of us. Here’s to another 35 years of wrangling! And in response to the other article about your street photography, don't worry about it, no one ever busted Karsh's chops for not taking more landscapes

Anonymous said...

Beautiful portrait Kirk, as always when it comes to your pictures of your wife.
On the existential issue, may I suggest having a look at the short video of Paul Caponigro over at Mike Johnston's TOP recently. I don't care much for slow speed TARP (trees-and-rocks-photography) but his philosophy of image making could be a welcome antidote to photographic existential angst, and a perspective correction on the assault from trivial digital photography (the latter in which I do NOT include your own imaging).
Best/Mattias

Claire said...

On another note that has to be my favorite portrait of Bellinda. The kindness and intelligence that radiate from her are just heart warming.