30 August 2012
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Damn and Counterblast

Rob Hudson’s previous blog post about large format photography and colour velvia has had a response from me and now a counter response from Rob again. It seems that I misunderstood the original intent of the post which wasn’t really targetted at large format or velvia especially. I’ll try to figure out just what it was about and response.

Well – firstly it turns out it wasn’t really about large format nor really about velvia – these were just chosen because people talk about them as being the acme of photography. Well – I’m not sure this is quite right as most people I talk to seem to think that the IQ180 is the acme and we’ve seen a few British photographers breaking the bank to invest in these beasts.

In addition it’s suggested that the large format photographers are at fault because of their “constant reiteration of superiority”. Well I’m not sure but I hear more people say this about every new digital camera that comes out, especially in the medium format back world – you only have to look at older comparisons on Luminous Landscape to see that digital photography has been considered the Acme by the prominent voices in the industry for some time.

But why is this ‘reiteration of superiority’ such a bad thing? Supposedly because people get caught up in the search for ‘maximum quality’ and ignore more thoughtful approaches.

Well I don’t see what the death of Velvia will do to change things. In many ways Velvia and large format were democratising forces because they were available cheaply with good resale values. So people who were ‘magic bullet chasing’ could easily get there and then discover that it doesn’t change their photography that much and then move onto other things.

With the death of LF/Velvia the acme of superiority is now the IQ180 – which is completely inaccessible to the majority of photographers and as such will act as a dangled carrot, continuously goading photographers with the apparent potential for technological improvement. In other words most people will continue on the upgrade mill thinking each iteration will give them something extra whereas at least with LF/Velvia people could try it out to see what difference it would make.

Rob talks about the “edifice (some of which is economic) around LF in terms of sales, teaching, writing, promotion, books. It becomes a self fulfilling fantasy that is difficult to step away from without alienating fans, galleries, magazines etc.” 

I don’t really understand this as most magazines don’t cover large format velvia, galleries and art community hate velvia with a vengeance and the number of ‘fans’ isn’t connected to it’s use (witness the massive reduction is Joe Cornish’s following since moving to the IQ180 – err, perhaps not).

LF/Velvia isn’t just about ‘magic bullet resolution chasing’ – it’s also about a way of working that is more considered; surely a good thing in many ways. Thought about each shot and why you are taking it is something that all photographers can learn from.

Again though, I don’t know many people who start using LF/Velvia who don’t also carry on experimenting with their digital cameras which makes the reduction in experimentation a falsity.

In summary, I don’t think Rob’s article was about LF/Velvia at all. It seems that it was about the issue with magic bullet chasing and it’s effect on creativity. The problem with magic bullet chasing is that it will always be around regardless of any technology. The best situation is where the acme is easily available so people can get past it – a situation that is supported by LF/Velvia, not damaged. In many ways the digital upgrade cycle is more to blame for this than any film platform. The advantage of a good film set up is that you buy it and then use it – you don’t keep waiting for the next camera or new film because they won’t come. At that point you can concentrate on your photography.

The bottom line of Rob’s article is that people should think about the possibilities beyond trying to create the highest technical quality image. This is regardless of the technology of capture and regardless of approach and something I agree with.


p.s. Rob also says about British photographers use of Velvia “ It does rather make me question if the UK isn’t a bit backward in these things” well I would disagree. US photographers have bee almost as addicted to Velvia although Fuji introduced it later in the US (and US photographers had more of a tendency to use Kodakchrome – same issues though). You have to remember that the US has a LOT more people than UK and that the market for photography is also a lot bigger.

p.p.s. Rob also suggests that mere representation of a subject is shallow and trivial. I would also disagree with this – the act of choosing a subject and composing a view expresses much about a persons connection with the subject. Across multiple pictures this connection becomes more obvious. Just because someone can’t or hasn’t verbalised what that connection is doesn’t mean that they can’t convey it – photography is after all a visual medium.

p.p.p.s Rob’s made a final response and my last comment before beer :-)

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