Photographic Memory Loss
Ignorance Is Not Bliss
I was in Mike’s Camera, a Mill Valley, California emporium that caters as much to people who appreciate shooting film as to digital enthusiasts. A young woman, about college age, came in with a disposable film camera for processing. At the counter she was asked if she wanted her film scanned, to have images emailed directly from the lab. It’s an optional service, sort of a twenty-first century contact sheet to augment the real deal. “Of course,” she said; but she said it like, What the hell else would I want? When advised that it was routine for customers to have customers’ film ready for pick-up on a specified date she looked blankly at the salesman. “What do you mean?”, she said, just short of suggesting he was an idiot.
When she was informed that the film and — perhaps more to the point — the prints derived therefrom were the end products for which her disposable camera and the film inside of it were designed to produce, she indicated with a perfunctory backhand that it wasn’t worth her time to pick them up, or to possess — eewwww! — prints. Her disdain implied that she wouldn’t know what do with them. Heaven forbid, she should have been asked about getting her negatives!
Let’s get something straight. The upshot of making a photograph per se is a tangible print. A photograph is a tangible print. It is derived directly from a film negative or transparency, as the case may be. Otherwise, the result is a virtual image created with the use of photographic technology. It’s not a matter of splitting hairs to make this rhetorical distinction. Indeed, one can also make a print from a digitally captured image. However, if only viewed on a screen, it’s still just a virtual, digital image, a simulacrum of a photograph, on a screen.
One has to wonder, what was the novelty? What exactly was the appeal to this young woman of a point-and-shoot disposable film camera in the first place? Should one suppose that the experience of capturing an image on film is fundamentally different than capturing an image digitally? I don’t think so. That’s not the point I wish to make. The point I do wish to make is that, if one never intends to make prints from film, and the only images one will ever see are on a screen, something is missing. And it’s more than missing an intellectual distinction. The experience of viewing a print versus viewing an image, even if the image is captured with photographic technology, is a different one. For example, imagine only ever hearing music reproduced through your earbuds without ever having experienced a live performance by your favorite band; or, for that matter, a one-hundred-piece symphony orchestra in person. Those two experiences will be markedly different.
It’s an encouraging sign, though I suppose, that highschool and community college students still buy mechanical Minoltas on eBay, and that a plethora of videos are available on YouTube that explain how to use grandpa’s Pentax, Canon AE-1, or Nikon F. Such “vintage” cameras can also be found in the used-equipment vitrine at any camera store. But do I need to write any further about the importance of broadening the public’s understanding about the inherent values of analog photography; not the least of which is its tangibility, of creating one-of-a-kind objets d’art and preserving them for oneself, for one’s audience, and for posterity? The film was THERE at the instant of creation, physically touched by the artist and, perhaps, in the presence of a living subject too. What a remarkable provenance for an historical record! It adds significance to the concept of possessing something original, of owning the moment; if not for the photographer then for the recipient of a tangible print.
A small envelope containing six strips of 35mm black-and-white negatives, thirty-six little frames of celluloid, will apparently languish in the ready-for-pickup bin at Mike’s Camera for months or years to come. I admit I’ve belittled Ms. X for her lack of knowledge and imagination. But I do so to illustrate a lamentable, deliberately-imposed ignorance about technologies that have been displaced by a careless society; displaced not by something better; just different. If existing technologies are forgotten, suggesting they’re of lesser importance than anything and everything newer that comes along, we diminish our intellectual capacity as a society to enjoy art.
This episide has, since, repeated itself. Only this time, the bewildered photographer brought in a “real” cameras — not a disposable camera, and didn’t even know how to take the film out of the camera. 😁 Why?