On Longing for the Good Ole Days of Photography

10.23.09 Cajun Boy


Earlier in the week I ran across a quote attributed to legendary photographer Sam Haskins. It goes: “A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’ He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: ‘That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove.'” This quote got me to thinking a bunch about modern photography, more specifically on how it seems, at least to me, that the proliferation of digital cameras is killing it.

Now, let me stop right here before I go any further and issue this disclaimer: I’m not a photographer or any sort of photography connoisseur. No, but what I am is someone who enjoys capturing moments in photographs and who has a deep appreciation for photographic talent. I find it awe-inspiring, in fact. To get a glimpse of an image that, for one reason or another, speaks to me can leave me filled with an odd combination of admiration and envy.

So, with all of that said, let me try to explain why I personally think that advances in digital photography technology is killing photography, an assertion I’m sure many would argue with seeing that digital technology opens up the field to more people than ever before. And that’s, I think, part of the problem.

You see, I just think that there are too many damn people taking pictures these days, and the ineptitude of these people dilutes the amazing work by the true talents. On top of that, modern photo retouching software can make even the most inept photographer look like Stephen Klein or AnnieLeibovitz . It’s just kind of sad to me. The true artists in this field are being kicked into the ditch by technology, something I think the quote I cited above gets right to the heart of.

But what saddens me the most about the proliferation of digital photography technology has less to do with professional photography than it does with personal photography, something that I think it’s taken a lot of the fun out of, for me and many others. You see, I, like everyone else these days, own a digital camera. A nice, fancy one at that. The one I purchased last year, just like the one prior to it, was one that I researched heavily and put a lot of thought into purchasing and spent, what was for me at the time, a lot of money on it. It was in no way a whimsical purchase. Now here’s the problem…I rarely use it.

Why that is is something that’s had perplexed me for some time. “Why aren’t I using this camera to take pictures as frequently as I used to?” is something that I’ve often found myself wondering. And then, recently, it hit me…taking pictures digitally just isn’t as fun as taking pictures with film. The immediacy of digital photography, being able to turn a camera over and examine the photo on the display screen, has just destroyed it for me. There is little mystery involved in taking pictures any longer. The anticipation of dropping off a roll of film to be developed to see what potential treasures are hidden inside of a tiny canister is long gone, sadly, and that’s arguably what was most fun about taking personal photos with film…standing in the store, looking through the pictures after paying the clerk with a big, goofy grin plastered across your face, thinking “Oh my God I can’t wait to show this to so and so.” That’s all gone now.

As I write this I’m sitting at a desk in my bedroom typing on a laptop computer. Just off to the right of my laptop is my digital camera. Looking at it now, I can see traces of dust strewn across its back screen, damning evidence of my rarely using it. Still, I often find myself thinking, “I really need to start taking pictures again,” but I rarely do. That was never the case with film cameras. I always had a camera on me, no matter where I went, even if it was a disposable model. Digital technology has done to photography what internet porn has done to seeing a spectacular set of titties in the flesh. Ho-hum. Big deal.

At the risk of sounding a bit too much like Andy Rooney, I really wish we could just go back to the old days of doing some things, and photography is certainly one of them.

(The photo above was taken by an amazing photographer based in Austin, Texas that I admire greatly…her name is Amy V. Cooper, and this photo of the interior of New Orleans musician Clint Maedgen‘s apartment just after Hurricane Katrina passed through town is one of my favorites of all-time.)

Email Cajun Boy at cajun@animalnewyork.com