DPP Home Profiles Jay Maisel - Going With The Flow

Friday, June 8, 2007

Jay Maisel - Going With The Flow

The master of color and self-diagnosed nontechie talks about keeping your artistic priorities in the JPEG-versus-RAW world

Going With The Flow The first time I held a digital camera, it was forced into my hands by Sam Garcia, a Nikon tech rep and a very good friend. “Look,” he said, “I know you love your F5 and would never switch, but just try this.” That was in January of 2001, and I haven't shot film since then, give or take five or six rolls.

You must understand that I hate new things, loathe improvements, detest technology and cannot bear to read an instruction manual. There were a number of things that contributed to my loving digital. A pivotal happening was a specific problem assignment soon after I got my first D1.

I called and asked Seth Resnick how I could solve my technical problem. “I've got to catch someone jumping rope and the rope has to be precisely overhead, underfoot, and at perfectly right angles front and back. How do I do it, Seth?” A moment's hesitation, then he said, “I'll call you right back. I'm in the middle of a shoot right now.”

About an hour later, he called back to say, “Listen, I made my client wait; I figured out how. First, you get a laser…,” and he went into a complicated thing about triggers, pulse interruption and other stuff. I said to him, “But can I be sure I got it?” He said, “Ninety-nine percent.”

So I told him what I had done was to shoot it digitally and it worked 100 percent. There was a moment of silence and then he exploded, “This was just a test? You knew all along and I blew off my job to help you?” Thank God, he was laughing when he hung up.

The major point of this story is that digital was the only certain solution. Polaroid wouldn't matter because, as we all know, the problem with Polaroid is that the best moments are on the Polaroid and not on the film. Overshooting with film might have worked, but it's unlikely. The beauty of digital is that you know, you absolutely, 100 percent know if you got it or not.

In shooting film, your client may have no idea what you're doing. This kind of situation, plus the impossibility of verbal communication, can obviously lead to misunderstanding. Sometimes, I've turned in film and the art director or client says, “Wonderful! I was standing watching you and I never saw what you saw.” Or, God forbid, I've gotten, “Well, you know, it's not exactly what I had in mind.” Shooting digital helps me to develop a contemporaneous relationship rather than an adversarial one.

Another urgent reason I switched to digital was 40 or so years of fighting with X-ray screeners at airports, trying to carry 600 rolls of film on a flight, getting told not to put it in luggage and then fighting not to have it X-rayed as hand luggage. I just got fed up with the fight. I also was delighted not to have to keep all my bulky film in insulated bags to keep it out of heat, rain and whatever else might ruin it.

Going digital isn't all good. There are problems. In fact, the whole thing is a series of pros and cons. Harry Truman, who was extraordinarily pragmatic, said when he became President, “I'm going to hire a one-armed economist.” When asked why, he said that he was fed up with hearing, “On the one hand, you could do this, but on the other hand….” This is precisely the story on digital. On the one hand, you can fit 16 CompactFlash cards in the space of one box of 35mm film....


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