When people discuss digital vs film, it often comes down to tech-talk semantics. People say film has a certain quality, or that digital is easier to control, or that one or the other is capable of finer resolution or capture or whatever, all of which seem rather boring questions to consider. At this point any effect can be digitally emulated. Worrying about which characteristics are specific to a digital or film image seems futile.
To me the more interesting question is, how do the tactile aspects of a camera effect the pictures you make with it? For me that is the big hump with digital. I hate the chintzy plastic feel of new cameras. They don't engage me. I'd rather look through a viewfinder than at an LCD screen. I enjoy dealing with film, unwrapping it like a present, spooling it, and winding the advance with my thumb. Like records and bicycles, film cameras may be old fashioned yet they feel real and unmediated and good. The result of all this, for me at least, is that I make different photos with a film camera than I do with a digital one.
I thought of this today reading a recent interview with Stephen Shore, and remembering another one he'd done a few years ago. Comparing the two interviews highlights the shifting effect of digital cameras on Shore's photography.
Stephen Shore Then: "8×10 color is very expensive. Back in the 70s it cost $15-20 a shot for the film, the processing, and the contact sheet, now it’s twice that. And to do good work, you can’t just take pictures that you know are going to be good, cause then you’re never going to learn anything or experiment. So the economy came in that I didn’t take two of anything. And so I realized I’m going to have to decide what it is I want. Standing in front of a building, where do I want to stand? Where in this intersection do I want to be — and not take five of them and try and figure it out later?
What I found happen was, after years of doing it, it forced me into a kind of sense of certainty. I figured out what it is I want, and so there was no reason to take more than one. And now when I take pictures with any camera, I still shoot the same way. When I look at students’ contact sheets and I see a picture of a lampost and there are five pictures of a lamppost from the same place - it drives me crazy. Why would the second picture be any different from the first picture?
...There a number of photographers who are fabulous photographers and they switch to digital and they produce a lot of crap. Somehow it affects their discrimination. Somehow this knowledge that it’s immaterial, that it’s free, is sort of the opposite of the $15 a shot discipline. It somehow affects how some people use it. I don’t think it’s inherent in the medium that it affects people that way, but what I’m saying is, there’s no reason a photographer can’t make every picture count.”
Stephen Shore Now:"I’m using digital more and more. I recently got a Nikon D3x. After using an 8x10 for almost 30 years, I find I think in 8x10 terms. I take only one picture of a subject, even with a digital camera, unless I’m photographing something that is in motion or changing. Still, looking through the viewfinder is not the same as looking through an 8x10 ground glass and working on a tripod. But I’m getting better at it, and much of my new digital work seems as focused as my view-camera work. Also I get to have the pleasure of making many more images in a day."