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The child and the dinosaur14/10/2009 - 2:04 PM
“What’s that?” he asked, pointing to a roll of recently developed 35mm film hanging in the shower, where it had dried over night. To his six year old eyes, it was quite a sight. A grey celluloid strip of negative pictures suspended by a hook at one end and held straight by a weight on the other.
My son is a curious young lad, and loves knowing how things work. I seized the moment and explained to him how film is sensitive to light. I then showed him how the negative image was formed on the film, and how it was loaded, in total darkness, into a tank where using special chemicals it was developed. He listened intently to each step, the concentration clearly visible on his face, and waited until I was finished. He then looked at me, laughed, and said “No it isn’t!” and promptly went off to play with his Lego.
On another occasion, he picked up one of my cameras. The one he chose that day was my very first camera, an “ancient” 35mm SLR. He looked through the viewfinder, and snapped away excitedly. His smile of delight soon changed to disappointment when, on looking at the back of the camera, his picture wasn’t visible to him on a display.
My son is interested in photography. He likes pictures. He doesn’t know an aperture from a shutter speed, or any of the technicalities behind the image. For him, it’s all about pictures. He believes in Santa Clause, but not in film. This is all the more curious, as he loves dinosaurs and fossils and, in his mind, that is probably where analogue photography belongs - firmly in the past.
Today, we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift in photography. The revolution of digital technology which usurped the century and a half’s reign of film is almost complete. While I knew digital would win, but I didn’t expect that victory so soon. But more is yet to come. Consider my young son once again. Composing pictures using a digital display is second nature to him. Older, more seasoned photographers often struggle without a viewfinder. A generation of mobile phone obsessed children who prefer the virtual world in preference to the real world have no such qualms. With ever increasing pixel densities on mobile phones, does the humble compact camera even have a chance to survive at all? A new generation whose first camera is a telephone?
There is hope though. The digital watch didn’t kill the analogue watch and, video did not kill the radio star. Black and white film withstood a relentless assault from colour for almost one hundred years, and survived. I believe it will survive the onslaught of digital technology too, and if anything become a rare, more valued proposition because of it. Surviving perhaps, as a more discerning, fine art piece of literature compared to the pulp fiction alternative of ubiquitous digital.
Black and white, ones and zeros, yes or no?