Richard Renaldi is a photographer who is currently working on a project in New York called “Touching Strangers”. He sets up his massive large format camera on a street in the city and plucks two or three complete strangers out of the crowd. But the final photographs don’t portray strangers. Renaldi is able to craft an image that looks as if the people in the photo have known each other for years. Renaldi’s goal is to get people to drop their barriers, at least for a few moments.
In the art world photography doesn’t hold the same respect as painting or sculpture. I’ve had professors who’ve made this opinion obvious. People who pride themselves on having extensive knowledge of art history and the skills involved with “real” art completely disregard photography. But we don’t talk about all mediums in the same way, there are different skills, and elements, and styles. So why can’t photography be added to the conversation? A phrase you often hear is a person has “a good eye”. It could be an eye for painting, or drawing, or film making, or photography. Because everyone sees the world differently, especially artists and this is expressed in their art. Photography isn’t just snap shots, there’s thinking and planning and effort. The subject matter and materials are taken into consideration to achieve the desired effect. It isn’t the same as more widely accepted arts it just requires a different eye and thorough knowledge of the medium.
Many photo 1 classes don’t actually teach you the right way to work with 35mm black and white film. They show you the very basics then make it more of an art critique class, where the focus is on themes and content. By the end you’ll have a better understanding of composition but you’ll actually have low-quality photographs. You have to take a more advance photo class to learn how to do it properly and effectively. The chemicals used require an exact process in order to develop the best negatives. Intro classes don’t go into depth because people who aren’t invested won’t be interested in all the test that have to be done before you can take good photographs. Not all cameras are the same and not all film is the same. Multiple tests need to be done to determine what conditions should be used for each camera and sets of film. Not teaching this right off the bat means you have to relearn everything in an upper level class. It’s a disservice to the serious photographers that want to learn and adds to the misconception that all photography requires is pushing a button.
The realm of digital has quickly made traditional media outdated. There is a group of people that have slowly been bringing back vintage ideas, fashion, and now photography. These wonderful people have been affectionately denoted as Hipsters. Thanks to them there has been an increased interest in traditional film, particularly Polaroid. This allowed for a group known as The Impossible Project to flourish. In 2008 Florian ‘Doc’ Kaps and André Bosman bought the last Polaroid instant film factory. Together with ten top-notch former Polaroid employees they reinvented instant film and brought Polaroid back to life. Though currently the film is bit expensive, especially for students, it is still great to see people striving to save film. Cleverly they have been able to develop their own products that combine new technology with old school film. A lot of the Instagram filters that IPhone and Android customers love can be achieved with Polaroid film. That faded antique look is not original to computer programs it started out in the 1800s with buckets of toxic chemicals. Digital has made the process much safer but now people can’t die for their art.
Recently I was interning for a company called Pblcty. They would send me out to specific events and I would take pictures of the “important” people. It was a good experience in the sense that I learned I never want to do anything like this ever again. The second thing I learned is that the entertainment and promotional business is insane. It’s no wonder that people like Alec Baldwin end up trying to punch out “photographers”.
I was always the youngest, the shortest, and the one with the least sophisticated equipment. Being the new kid on the block I basically tried to get the shots I needed without getting in the way of the professionals. Everyone else ran around, clicking like mad, and constantly yelling at the subject to “look right”, “look left”, “give us an over the shoulder”. Mean while the person is trying to keep from going blind for the rest of the night from the slew of flashes hitting them from every possible direction. The photographers are doing this for a living and they need to get a good picture but to literally be on top of each other to fire off shot after shot of a person that we already have a million pictures of is a bit excessive. There isn’t much art in a job like this. Everyone is holding down the shutter button hoping a shot or two comes out decent.
The last event I did was a nightclub opening downtown. It was a bit more complicated because the venue was literally still under construction. There were guys running in and out with masks and dust bellowing out of the sub-level entrance. They managed to wrap up only an hour behind schedule. The next four hours consisted of a severe amount of standing and waiting. Being one of the first people there I earned myself a spot in the front. I found out later in the evening that the older professional behind me wasn’t too happy about this. In between celebrities arrivals she took it upon herself to inform me that I should 1) get more expensive equipment 2) be careful because “other photographers” might get mad that an intern has a spot in the front. Nonplussed, did it look like I was going to give up my spot? Did she really think I couldn’t tell the difference between my equipment and hers? So my assignment wasn’t as important as her? Really? It was during this baffling encounter I realized that what I was doing symbolized everything I hate about digital photography. So the next day I quit.
Being in a darkroom is like entering a unique domain. There’s a specific system. Time moves significantly slower so that when you get back to the outside world you’ve easily lost hours. The smell is a mix of the chemicals required to make your images appear, developer, stop bath, and fixer. Considering the toxicity it’s not something one should get too used to but for me it’s become a comforting aroma. The light is a low amber color because of the light sensitivity of the photographic paper. The need for near darkness adds to the calming affects of the process. It’s not a difficult procedure to learn however the cost of the materials makes you vary weary of mistakes. After you’ve exposed your paper to the desired image and placed it in the first tray of chemicals, you watch as the picture slowly reveals itself. It’s interesting to watch beginners do this for the first time the look on their face is usually one of awe. Digital provides instant gratification but film makes you wait to see if you’ve obtained the desired results. When you have to spend more time and effort adjusting the many components there’s a greater sense of satisfaction when it finally turns out perfect.