Sunday, November 28, 2010


It's been funny to watch the child learn how to use a camera phone. Taking pictures, for her, will be second nature - like eating or breathing. She's on her second decommissioned iPhone and has no problem turning it on and going to the camera app. I'll hear the click of the "mirror" and the whine of the "motor drive" and then she'll announce the subject of the picture: "Papa" or "Sadie's foot!" She's currently working on a couple of "series" – the ceiling fan in her room (whilst having her diaper changed) and an abstract, Rothko-esque series of black and orange (her finger over the lens.) I think to myself that if she sticks with it over the next 15 or 20 years she'll turn out to be a much more accomplished photographer than her father, who waited into his thirties before taking up a camera with any real seriousness.

But I also realize how different taking a picture is now compared to when I was teaching myself photography. There is an immediacy to taking snaps with a phone that is at once literal and at the same time virtual - looking at a tiny screen to frame the shot. It is akin to all the other screens we stare at every day of our lives (computers, televisions, DVD players) – life-like but not completely real. And disposable. The image itself (if you can actually call it that) is what? Is where? Bits of electronic information? A series of ones and zeroes? Even as a professional photographer, you simply trust that digital images are there... somewhere.

Shooting film was an altogether more precious affair. It wasn't just the care and precautions you took in handling such light sensitive material but the care and caution you took to make sure each frame was exposed properly – or at the very least, adequately. You had to know or be reasonably sure because there was no little picture on the back of the camera. And for anyone who processed and printed their own black and white film, taking a picture became an exercise in thinking in negative. "Expose for the shadows - develop for the highlights" was the mantra you lived by. Holding up a freshly developed roll of film to the light, you knew if you had succeeded or failed. Were the highlights so dense and black that you'd never be able to see any detail in them? Was there absolutely nothing in the shadow areas? Would making a decent print prove to be impossible? And every image was precious because of the time or effort or expense involved. But at the end of the day it was something you held in your hand or hung on the wall.

Perhaps I'll set up the darkroom some day and stand in the strange, warm orange light and watch my daughter's wonder as images appear from nothing in the developing tray, as if by magic.


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