It has been just over a year since I picked up my first digital camera. I am now on my third. It is a good moment to take stock. What is different from a year ago?
First, I have become the sort of zealous digital convert that was so noisome to me when I was shooting film. It is not unlike what happened to me when I got my first computer. I can’t imagine shooting professionally in any other format now. Everything I have done on film now feels like my past, like another life. It is the sharpest watershed of my career.
Still, the process annoys me daily. I am handcuffed to computers now for everything that happens subsequent to clicking the shutter. A digital image can’t be processed, seen, altered, printed or stored except as an element of a vast technological grid. By itself it has no existence, no mass, no reality. My creative legacy rests on a tentative trust that this technology will always be there.
My workload is greater. I have absorbed the function of the photo lab, and then some. A day of shooting requires a day of file processing, and that’s just to deliver the work to a client for the initial review. I’ve raised my fees and developed a digital expense structure, but it’s not a profit center. I just recover my added expenses this way, marginally.
My learning curve is steeper. A large chunk of my time is now devoted to paying attention. I read books, computer magazines, product review columns I used to ignore, websites, I look for trainings and workshops. I always feel like I don’t know enough.
My creative process is only that now, a process, not a product or a project. I am not engaged in any long term work, in making a book or documenting something close to my heart. All my creative effort is used up in the process of making images in this new format. The outcome is not the point. I photograph every day, and I post a photo from that day on my photo blog. The rhythm of that is an organizing principle of my life now. It is my daily practice, this creation of images.
This process of making images on a daily basis is changing the work. I did not expect digital to have that impact, and I had always poopoohed the notion that the tool had an overiding effect on the content. But in this case it does, by the nature of how the image comes about. I take so many more photographs than I ever did with film. The feedback loop is so foreshortened that I feel closer to the moment of connection that results in the photograph. Images are no longer this mental abstraction that days later, when I see the film, I respond to with mental, emotional and physical distance from the moment they were made. That has its own rhythm and consequence for the work. The process now is often concluded within the hour, which also has consequences for the work. It is too soon for me to judge whether this is a good or bad thing, whether the work now has less judgement or substance in it. Right now I am engaged with the differentness of it.
I look at my portfolio and my website, and think of it as vaguely fraudulent. It doesn’t represent what I do or who I am now. I don’t have a good substitute, however, as I am so deeply engaged in the image making process that I have no attention to devote to an overview of my work. I trust this is a phase. I hope it is not an inevitable consequence of the digital realm.