Pursuing the tangible

Untitled-3I had to dismantle a darkroom recently. It was one that had been sitting unused for many years, a victim of the transition we had made in my office from film to digital. It has since primarily been used as the area where coffee was made.

It has been converted into an office. Another casualty to digital.

It was just a few days prior that I had picked up a print of the photo of my wife that is at the beginning of this post. I held it and observed it for a while, just soaking in the range of grays that can’t be seen online. The shades of grays go from millions to few, with very steep steps between fewer shades.

But, being able to hold the print in my hands and soak it in, I was able to take in the subtle variations, the changes in tones, the detail, the depth.

It felt right. It was something tangible that I could hold in my hands that had value. It was truly a moment captured with light playing on silver salts.

The funny thing about it came when I posted a photo to Instagram when I was printing it. Another photographer friend responded “Saw this and instantly remembered all the smells.”

To me, digital photography has never seemed real. It consists of zeros and ones that are just “out there”. There’s nothing tangible to a photo that goes directly from your phone onto the social medium du jour, at least when you compare it to the feel of wet film getting its first preview by the photographer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking digital photography. It’s what I use to make my living. But, sometimes I long for something more tangible.

The desire has spilled over into other areas of my life. I’ve met a lot of people via social media, many of whom I’ve never had the pleasure of sharing a cup of coffee. They truly are people I would enjoy spending some time with, and yet our relationships are driven via an ethernet connection.

I need to change that.

In my work, I’ve felt the pull for quite some time. I recently had some clients ordering portraits from a senior session. It was a blended family that were quite amicable to each other, and it was revealing to see them in the ordering process.

They discussed who wanted which enlargement, and what to order for grandparents. And then, they were careful to decide which print for the grandparents to receive since they would inherit those portraits upon the elders’ deaths.

They were treating these as heirlooms. I was honored.

That’s the way I would like my work remembered. A portrait displayed that captures a moment in time, captured for posterity and encased in photographing amber. A memorable occasion, a moment in their life, something to be cherished, not relegated to a disc of digital files that gets lost in a drawer somewhere.

My hope for the new year is to look for that sort of depth in my work and my life. A deepening of relations, a meaning to my work, a life characterized not by pithy status updates but marked by caring and depth.

This year, I want to jump in with both feet.

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3 thoughts on “Pursuing the tangible

  1. I truly miss the days when I used to develop my own negatives, setup my prints, and develop my own prints. Digital photography does have its advantages, but I still miss the old ways of being creative in photography.

    1. Being someone who works with wood, I’m sure you can appreciate holding something in your hands that has more meaning than just the production of a tool or utensil, but rather something that is an expression of yourself. I would love to set up a personal darkroom and continue to do some film-based personal work.

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