Statments & Essays

Old School’s Contmept

(Circa 2002)
The other day I was ease dropping. A well established artist was talking to an up and comer who was getting ready to enlarge some photos. She was thinking of enlarging them digitally. He was advising her not to. “Stick with tradition. It’s more cutting edge to avoid using new technology in your art because more and more people are starting to do it” he said.

Another artist I spoke with once said she could never work digitally because the craft and texture of producing art with chemicals and enlargers and light tables was more “honest.”

Both statements irritated me. They both had underlying tones of a desperate ludite or original saboteur.

Dark room photographers have a short memory, or perhaps a selective memory. Many of the old bastions of art academia still to this day barely recognize photography as a legitimate form of art. For over a century, photographers have fought hard to convince the art world that the technology they have mastered is not “instant” or “easy” or “soulless” or even mechanical.

But like the old tradesmen reeling at the industrial revolution, the arguments aren’t based on a “better” way, but “their” way. The arguments are based on self preservation and personal motives. Everyone needs to feel like what they are doing is important. This triply applies to artists. A neurotic endeavor by it’s very nature. The painter argues that photography takes no skill. The photographer argues the mechanical process of the dark room has enough hands on process to redeem the medium.

The up and coming artist mentioned above wasn’t planning on entering the dark room herself. She was planning to send the enlargements off to a lab. The plea made by the old timer was to send them to a dark room lab and not to a digital one. It was a plea to help keep the dying process alive.

But the results would have been identical. For all of the yelping and screaming artists make about process, in the end, the end results are all that matter.

If a painter goes out and finds his/her pigments, grinds them up, mixes them, weaves his/her canvas, plucks hair from a horses tail and then binds the brushes, and proceeds to create a lousy painting, is the image some how redeemed? Inversely, if a painter pops down to the arts store, buys a pre-stretched pre-gessoed canvas and a shopping cart full of paints and brushes and proceeds to paint a masterpiece, is the image some how diminished by the short cuts made in his process? Of course not.

Process is the vehicle used to reach a result. I am only concerned with results. Advances in materials and process, whether it be new pigments or higher resolution digital cameras, render the question “how?” irrelevant in my mind. It’s the questions “what?” and “why?” that concern me. Technological advances don’t diminish the meaning of the image, they intensify the focus on meaning. Reaching your goal faster ups the ante.

After having wiped out nearly all non-digital aspects to my work, I have fallen in tune with the speed of the machine. I try to translate my work from thought to image with as little in-between as possible. The results have been nearly infinite translation of my ideas into an external world. The shackles of manual process, the handicap of direct physical form are lost and I create at an artistic level far, far, beyond my manual abilities.

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