Monthly Archives: June 2015

A Grumpy Film Addict Writes….


Spot the difference, film or digital?

I have a regular page in Farm and Plant Buyers Guide, a magazine that is a thoroughly up to date operation  and thrives despite being one of those sooo old fashioned printed (ugh!) media thingies. For the latest issue I used the above image, it’s one I took about ten years ago in the UK and although it’s a reasonable portrayal of the subject I never thought of it as being anything special, that is until I saw it in print.

As a photo it’s still not earth shattering but when printed and displayed on paper, as it was meant to be, it took on a life of its own. It was a picture that spoke to the viewer rather than just being an abstract representation of a solid object, the sum was greater than its parts, and the reason why? It was taken on film. Maybe you are thinking this is a foolish romance, an aching for a genteel past and denial of the present, but I think not. Over the last couple of weeks I have been working on history of tractors and one of my source books is printed entirely in black and white with copious photos, it was published in 2001 so we can be fairly sure that even the most recent pictures in it were also taken on film while older ones had to be which allows us to trace the development of photography over the last century through the photos shown as well as appreciate just how much more informative and interesting older B&W photos can be.

Why this should be so is a puzzle that has in fact been bugging me for a while. Despite all the talk about desaturated digital images being as good or as convincing as film based B&W I have never been persuaded. Film relies on a random assortment of pigments and crystals to record how reflected light has passed through a lens while digital is a rigid array of light receptive cells that accurately measure the energy they receive. The physics involved in describing the difference is beyond me but a difference there certainly is.

The same does not apply to colour photos to quite the same degree and this, I believe, is due the extra information that they supply. Black and white shows the structure and texture of things, colour just adds another layer of information and in photography this extra data swamps the finesse and critical detail of seeing subjects purely in terms of how much light they reflect (or emit) and demands that we also consider the wavelength of that light. We cannot cope with all this extra  information and so we lose the purity of perceiving the fabric and are detracted instead by its gaudiness. It’s worth noting that there are 20 times more Rod cells in our retina than there are cones. Rods are more sensitive to light levels but cannot detect colour, that is the job of the cones and despite their greatly inferior numbers they are responsible for about half the visual information our brain receives.

Colour simply blots out the finer qualities of B&W and digital cameras aid and abet this process to a quite incredible degree so if colour is of paramount importance in a photo then digital is the method of choice. Simply removing the colour information from a digital photograph does not put it on a par with film, for the balance of the light’s quality has been upset by the colour filter that is part of every digital sensor.

So is it safe to conclude that the glorious days of film have been destroyed for ever by the advent of digital? Well no, for another very noticeable factor is that the best B&W photos were taken during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s when film still relied on silver salts rather than organic pigments, there was a punch and impact about them that was lost long before digital took over. Yet, despite this, a B&W photo captured on film and printed on paper is still a thing of beauty that exceeds a desaturated array of digital pixels transmitted by radiant screen, often by a good margin. Will I be switching back to film for B&W? Of course, I’ll start again tomorrow, something I have been saying for nearly a decade now!

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The Communications Conundrum.

IMGP5676698pxwbThe objective may be clear but the path is often lost.

Do people actually talk to each other anymore?  I only ask because it is getting ever more difficult to actually engage with folk unless you have them in a headlock with their mobile or some other device nailed firmly to the bottom of the waste bin by an oak stake driven through it on the night of the last full moon!

OK, I might exaggerate slightly here but there is no doubt that gaining a response from those you approach is becoming ever more a hit and miss affair, and I am not just talking about trying to flog double glazing over the phone but actually getting through to marketing and sales people in a bid to help them with their job. This was recently brought home to me when I was asked to put together a series of car reviews for a magazine. No problem I thought, I’ll email a few companies and see if I can get some info. Ha! Silly me, it appears that emails are either not bothered with because they are soooo yesterday or that by answering people might commit themselves to a conservation that could result in them having to do something outside of their immediate comfort zone.   Now I appreciate that others have lives and jobs of their own and I often find myself in ongoing email conversations where the exchanges are infrequent but still meaningful, I have no problem with that, it’s this apparent disinterest in communicating at all that irritates more than anything else.

There is of course a third possibility and that is that there so many channels of communication available that we are losing the ability to respond in an appropriate manner. Emails are like those old fashioned letter thingies, they are a form of words that approximate to the meaning which we would like to convey, likewise telephone conversations, we can answer them using well established protocols of courtesy and attention, but hardly the same can be said  of texts or tweets for instance. These are new territory, conversation compressed and foreshortened to such a degree that they no longer become a plausible foundation for decision making, the same might have been said of telegrams but because of the expense involved in sending them they were much more considered  affairs rather than flighty thoughts of a two second attention span.

This great move to digital forms of forwarding and disseminating information  has, I believe, damaged rather than enhanced communication. Mobiles, tablets, laptops etc,  and all the programmes and apps that go with them have actually built a wall between people that can be used to shield the the individual who is paid to perform a function from the need to react. It’s not a wall of bricks though, think of a stack of drain pipes piled high with the open ends in front of you. You can easily get a clear, if somewhat limited, view of the world though any one pipe by getting up close and peering down it, but stand back from that pile and you tend to see a heap of pipes rather than the information they are meant to be carrying and that, I fear, is the tragedy of far too many marketing efforts. We are given a thousand and one ways by which information may be disseminated over the web, but not one is as effective as somebody picking up the phone and asking how they may help.

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