Monday, September 11, 2006
"Hard way to make a living."
This picture is from Shiraz, Iran, in 1970. I was a college student on a traveling scholarship. Recently I scanned the negative to try a digital print from it. I'm used to seeing this picture with the soft gloss surface of fiber-base silver paper and I miss that in the digital print on matte paper. But in most other ways I've got to admit the new print is an improvement. There's far more nuance and detail in both the highlights and the shadows. The smoothness of tonal transition from darkest to brightest is also better. It's a valid new interpretation of the picture.
This makes me think of an incident a couple weeks before I made the picture. The 35 students and faculty of the International Honors Program were bouncing along in the rattling second class carriage of a train bound from New Delhi to Agra where we would visit the Taj Mahal. Someone pointed to the Leica that IHPers sometimes called Carl's Necklace, and asked how long I thought still photography would last before being overwhelmed by movies and television. My off-the-cuff response was that I expected the technology to change completely in less than twenty years, maybe to something electronic, but that the still photograph—the print you can hold in your hand, frame on the wall, or reproduce in a magazine or book—that was here to stay.
Maybe I was reading too much science fiction because my guess at how fast technology would change was wildly optimistic. It took most of those twenty years before digital imaging took over the reproduction of photographs in books and magazines. It's taken most of another twenty years for digital printing and digital capture to take over a significant "market share" of still photography by professionals and amateurs. But I was right about the second part. That print you can hold in your hand, frame on the wall, reproduce in a magazine or book—and now on the web—that's still going strong and will be with us for a long time to come.
The post title quotes what the wonderful photographer David Vestal said when I showed him this picture.