Life rarely provides one perfect solution to a problem, but success often means choosing the best of many paths toward reaching your final goal. Until his latest Sanctuary project, master fine-art photographer Gregory Crewdson’s laborious process involved taking many, many exposures at different focal lengths and then sandwiching digital scans of each exposure together to achieve extended sharpness throughout the depth of field. The last series he shot took him seven years to complete, while Sanctuary, his latest series, was shot digitally more or less over a six-week period. Granted, it’s a much more minimalist project when compared to the full-scale productions of his previous work, but Crewdson claims that after working with digital, he can’t see himself returning to film.
Myth: Film Is Dead
“Digital was very freeing in that I took hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pictures,” he says, “so it was a much more organic, more experimental process… We did all of these tests before we leapt, shooting with an 8×10 and a digital camera side by side, so we could compare how better it was in a variety of ways—simple things like depth of field, for instance, which was obvious. It’s harder to tell in the book, but when you see the actual prints, everything is in hyper-hyperfocus—each blade of grass! I haven’t quite figured out what my next body of work is going to be, but it would be almost impossible for me to go back to celluloid at this point.”
Digital Photo Pro has been around for many years now, and we’d like to think that, as digital photography has matured, we’ve been instrumental in pointing out its many advantages over film. That’s not to say we’ve been exclusionary, but our name is, after all, Digital Photo Pro. We’ve found that many devoted film photographers have slowly but surely migrated to digital, until even highly regarded film acolytes like Crewdson have embraced the medium. That being said, while working on our continuing Emerging Pro features, a variety of promising, up-and-coming photographers have expressed how happy they’d be to work with us—as long as it’s okay to feature a film shooter (which, of course, it is). And we’re not talking about the ironic hipster popularity of Polaroids or Holgas with their light-leak aesthetics; we’re speaking about true-blue photographers who are in love with the organic texture and visceral impact of film photography, and choose it as a primary medium or often work in it on the side.
In Los Angeles, there’s a popular bumper sticker among the analog set that says “Drum Machines Have No Soul.” As an electronic music aficio-nado, I beg to differ. Whether elec-tronic or acoustic or drumsticks on a plastic bucket, what matters most is the person wielding the instrument. Many of these young photographers have grown up shooting entirely in the age of digital, but many art schools still train young artists in the ways of the darkroom. While this may seem archaic, that couldn’t be further from the truth. By showing young photographers how to accomplish something without the attitude of “fixing it in post,” you can teach them how to make an image as close to perfect as possible before it ever hits the computer. This teaches the same basic principles and mechanics that apply to both film and digital: composition, exposure, proper lighting, etc. Really, though, there doesn’t need to be a debate between film and digital. They’re two very different mediums, and not necessarily mutually exclusive. Whether film or a digital file, the initial capture is only one small part of an image equation, and film can be as big a part of digital workflows as any RAW file. Each medium might be right for specific projects, and film might not be the sole domain of the purist, but rather an exciting option to explore—or even revisit!