So who won in the last decade? Digital or Analog?
The way the question is worded suggests that perhaps there are antagonistic forces engaged in some kind of battle, sort of like what happens when two hockey teams play the Canadian national sport, in any arena -or on any patch of frozen lake. This is the kind of question asked the morning after a game by people who feel they have to make light conversation in an elevator to ease the discomfort of forced closeness. The implication is that the subject is somewhat trivial and therefore safe, safer than other subjects such as either politics or sex. But, to artists and photographers, of course, it is not trivial at all.
And, the game is not finished yet. The players are still in the field, the spectators are watching from their seats, the gamblers are placing bets, the promoters and advertisers are pushing their teams, and the commentators are issuing a steady stream of commentary. In this game though we are all players because we all either use film or digital, or like me, use both. In this game we are all spectators as we watch fascinated (or horrified) developments in the new digital technologies. As an aside, I would like to tell you that the other day I was shocked to realize that in my hunger for information on new digital cameras and other digital technologies I found myself reading the kind of photo magazines that I had not read since I was a 15 year old photo amateur. The gamblers and promoters are those who make or loose lots of money from the game, and the commentators make money no matter who wins. Many years ago a game loss by my favourite soccer team would have been a life-shattering event. These days, if the Maple Leafs hockey team looses a game it is no big deal for me, in fact they do that too often! I am absolutely certain that they will live to play another season next year and the year after that, because the point does not appear to be to win or to loose but to sell tickets and broadcast TV rights. I have been watching the game between analog and digital with a similar skeptical eye.
Just because photography seems to be moving from analog (film capture) to digital (silicon capture) this does not automatically guarantee that we have something much better in our hands; what we have is something different. It is certain though that the digital revolution in photography has saved the surviving photographic manufacturing and retail industry from the sleepy state it was in, desperately trying to improve on technologies that were already as good as they were ever going to be. What a mega dose of vitamin they have received! They are now joyfully creating entirely new camera systems, new digital-matched optics, new accessories, etc, in response to the characteristics of digital capture chips, in response to the disappearance of the old dividing lines between film sizes and formats-and also in response to a monster market for new electronic gadgets. The creativity and energy being devoted to producing the best and cheapest digital cameras is unbelievable. One only need think of the fact that billions of trusty and reliable film-eating cameras that patiently wait to be brought out of the closet for birthdays, holidays, vacations, and other special occasions must now be replaced with new shiny and technologically sophisticated digital ones. There is nothing like camera sales to bring new life to the tired old photographic industry. Speaking of new life, what about those originally non-photographic makers of computers, software, hard disks, printers, silicon chips, etc. - that now skate victorious (after loosing a few players) onto the newly polished photographic ice that is no so yellow anymore?
There are those on the photographic arena who would like to cast what has happened in photography in the last ten years as a gradual but never-in-doubt victory of digital over analog, and you probably think by now that I am sharpening my hockey skates to go on the ice and play defense for those who make and sell film and chemicals. However, I have been just as skeptical of their claims over the decades as I am now of the sales pitches of the digital industry. The introduction of every new film or film family is usually accompanied by an advertising campaign that would have us believe that films we have been using up to now are very inadequate and that we should quickly fill our refrigerators with the new film. The race to add questionable features to film-based cameras of every price level has been an amusing spectacle for someone such as me who uses a folding view camera made from wood and brass and a hand-held light meter. Adding insult to injury, from time to time, film and paper manufacturers discontinue perfectly good products in favor of new and improved ones that do not perform as well (as an example, some time ago Kodak discontinued Kodacolor 400, a great film, and replaced it with Vericolor 400, a terrible film). Anyone who tries to convince me that their new product is better than an existing one would be well advised to consult a psychologistand by the way I have relatives here in Mexico who are psychologists and I would be happy to give you their cell phone number. I guess I am skating around a point I would like to make, and that is that I cannot trust manufacturing and retail players alone to tell me who won, because in their mind they have already won the game. So let me ask other players on the photographic ice.
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