Either/Or

During the “British Invasion” of the 1960s a common topic in the music press and fanzines of the time was “Beatles or Rolling Stones”, or more accurately, “Beatles versus Rolling Stones, which band do you prefer?”. It was a manufactured question, and quite senseless. But journalists have to make a living, and one way to do that is to gain attention by creating a controversy where one doesn’t exist. Controversy sells magazines. Controversy creates interest.

Since digital cameras became generally available to the general population more than a decade ago, a manufactured  controversy of a similar type, “Film versus Digital”, has been popular with the photographic press. It is just as senseless, just as much of a non-issue as the Beatles versus Rolling Stones issue of five decades ago. It doesn’t matter.  As Paul Kantner once said of a statement made by Tricia Nixon, “It doesn’t mean shit to a tree”.

But the controversy, having been relentlessly promoted by various public media, has percolated thoroughly through the general population. It has been hammered by unceasing repetition into the public consciousness. It has lodged like a popcorn kernel between  the public tooth and gum. Unfortunately.

Three days ago, I rode to the Costco Photo Center to pick up my test roll of film for my recently acquired Yashica rangefinder camera. The photo clerk pulled my film envelope from the stack of finished jobs, pulled the negatives from the envelope, and held them up so I could see them. “They didn’t come out”, he said.

I looked at the negs. “Well, good.” I said. “Then the test was successful.”

“What do you mean?”

“I just bought a rangefinder. Now I know that there is something wrong with the camera. Probably the shutter. I’ll have to send it out for repair.”

“Do you want the negatives? I can just toss them.”

I studied the negatives for a moment. There was a faint splash of image every four frames or so. The light seals around the camera back were probably deteriorating, in addition to the shutter problem. “No. I don’t want them.” I said. “Just throw them away.”

“Alright.” He turned to fling the negs toward a trash container, then turned back to me. “Why don’t you just shoot digital?

I thought about his question for a moment. It seemed the equivalent to asking why I wanted pizza rather than a hamburger. ” I do shoot digital, but I prefer shooting film.”

“Why?”

“Well, it is an entirely different animal. When I shoot film, I enjoy the process more, and I take more time with each frame. I’m very deliberate. And I get more keeper frames.”

I know there are people who shoot only digital and others who shoot only film. I like the freedom to use either process, either approach to producing a still image. My choice of process on any given day depends on the target output, what I intend to use the image for, and a certain amount of whimsy.

During the 60s, I liked listening to both Beatles and Rolling Stones recordings. I also liked listening to the Yardbirds, Buffalo Springfield, Byrds, Cream, Dylan, Donovan, Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, and etc., etc. The list is too long to continue, and no one else cares, because it is my personal list. When I think about it that way, it seems that our mainstream photographic process choices are rather limited. The list only has two items on it…

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