I did the image above many years ago for a very good art director. It was the middle of the 1990's and the trend of the moment then was the same droll, pursuit of imaging perfection that seems to come in waves. The client came to me to talk about shooting ideas, and shooting them in a way that took the "preciousness of perfection" out of them.
We started by identifying the parameters of the project. We needed to shoot facing pages for essays about finance. We looked at different things I'd shot over the years, in different styles. I showed the AD some images shot on 4x5 sheet film and she liked the format but thought a conventional treatment would be too clinical. Too artificial.
Then we looked at some work we'd done using Polaroid Type 55 instant film. The Type 55 film was shot in our 4x5 inch Linhof TechniKarden camera and we generally tossed the resulting print away but coveted the resulting negatives instead. The tonality, the grain and the general rendering we got from those negatives was so different from the conventional black and white films of the day. You would shoot the Polaroid film at $5 a throw, and when you found an image you liked it was important to do one version with about a 2/3 stop overexposure in order to create a negative thick enough to print well, with detail in the shadows.
We'd take the negatives and print 16x20 inch prints that showed all the handling and emulsion flaws of the negative because they gave such unique results. The client and I wanted to go further so I took the images from these negatives that had been printed on Kodak's double weight, Ektalure G surface paper, and I used Marshalls Transparent Oil Paints to color tone the images by hand. The resulting prints were rich with grain, detail and subtle color. It's hard to present that in 2100 pixels on the web but I can't help you there.
After we figured out how we'd shoot the project we started assembling props and putting together constructions in the studio. We spent a day shooting, a day making contact sheets for final selection and a day printing our black and white prints. The painting on the prints took another two days. Of course, if we'd have been happy just pursuing technical perfection we might have been able to wrap the whole project up in only one day by shooting color transparency film and having it scanned.
But both the client and I understood that we'd just be part of the ongoing homogenization of commercial vision if we only reached for sharp, in focus, and color correct imaging. We wanted to create artwork that pushed a little harder and transmitted a different feeling out to the viewers. We need to work the ideas into pictures the way potters work clay. And we wanted the little flaws, and odd grain structure, and suggestions of color, to help create a completely different creative palette.
There is some zany, adolescent idea that somehow each previous generation of cameras and lenses somehow hampered our "artistic" and "creative" visions and kept us from doing the work we really wanted to do. That the state of the art in photography gear two years, or five years, or ten years ago, worked as a tragic impediment to some amazing potential vision that could only be realized by the most current "breakthroughs" in the most recent equipment catalogs.
Of course, that's nonsense. The tools have nearly always been available if someone really had a vision to fulfill. But the pursuit of perfection in most art is a red herring, a detour down a rabbit hole by people who are insecure about the quality of their creativity. They look for material talismans of power as a substitute for real vision. And they'll always be looking for the next iteration of magic bullets with the rationale that only, finally, when the perfect camera and lens come along will they be able to translate their creative vision from the ephemeral reaches of their brilliant minds into a physical manifestation that finally has value.
If quality was really the foremost consideration, instead of convenience and the sybaritic pleasure of researching and purchasing new, expensive gear, then many of the reformed I.T. gearheads who have reconstituted themselves as photographic experts would gird their loins and be out shooting with the 4x5 and 8x10 inch technical cameras we grew up with. They may choose to be shooting with big film or they may be shooting with digital backs but, of course, from a technical point of view, anything less than an 8x10 on a solid tripod is a self-deluding compromise in itself.
Here's an idea: Next time you convince yourself that only X miracle lens will do the job, and only when grafted onto whatever the 24 by 36 mm format camera du jour might be, stop in your tracks and go buy an 8x10 view camera and a box of ISO 50 transparency film. Learn to load the film holder and learn to figure out bellows factor and overall exposure and then shoot with real technical perfection instead of convincing yourself that your Nikon, Canon or Sony actually represents the actual state of art in imaging.
If technical perfection is at the heart of your pursuit and most of your images are of things that don't move, you're just cheating yourself by not going all the way in. That Nikon D810 or Sony A7r2 is real nice but it sure ain't the real state of the art. There's so much more to it than just a high resolution sensor in a miniature camera...
What am I thankful for today? Understanding that creative thought matters.
Just found this and I like it: http://photothunk.blogspot.ch/2015/01/on-taste.html