Apr 29, 2009

Coming soon: D9000 with Auto-Awesome


Okay, so apparently we can shoot video and pluck the best frame out of it for an Esquire cover. Wow!

And by 'Wow!', I mean:

"Wow! I have officially arrived in "Fogieland" - the retirement villa I used to mock when I was young, and equal parts arrogant and ignorant. "

I never wanted to arrive here, because in Fogieland (formerly Fogiewoodland) you spend a lot of your time on a wooden porch, rocking beside other fogies.

While filling your pipe, you tell anyone within Miracle-Earshot that you used to slosh hand-rolled spools of Tri-X in vats of pure cancer D76, and methodically dodge and burn prints with your gnarled hands until you got one snap that approached reasonable. (The equivalent of smashing out a noir thriller from your Underwood while smoking Luckys under a bare bulb, basically.)

There is a place for Fogiedom - once you've put in your time. God knows, I haven't. For instance, Joe McNally isn't old - despite his comedic efforts to indicate otherwise - but his experience gives him carte blanche to wax eloquently about stuff that practically harkens back to a time when reporters stashed a "press" card into their fedoras to gain access to the Joe Louis fight.  

But these days it's possible for even 18 year-olds to feel jaded, when confronted with something as amazing as the Red One. Never mind 40 year-olds like me. In my day, you shot stills - and not many of them. You certainly didn't slam 500 jpegs onto a ten-dollar flash card, autolevel the flagged ones in Lightroom before uploading to Flickr, then Twittering the link. I used to sweat over the same stupid print for 2 hours and hope that the tedium would somehow temper the mediocrity. It never quite did, but when I walked out of the darkroom with that 8x10, I admit that I felt proud. 

Looking back, I feel the pride differently - in a "glad I learned the hard way" kind of way. The way you recall a borderline-psycho hottie you may have dated a couple of times. The old photo can make you slightly nostalgic, but there's a reason you don't miss her.

I always feel like a poseur talking about film, because that is what "purists" do a lot of these days... when they run out of reasons to diss the D3x and Photoshop. Yet most of us over thirty did some time in a darkroom... friends of mine still do, God bless them. Not only did we endure it, but we relished the clandestine and Masonic feel of it. That's what real photographers did. Every furtive session under the red light made you feel you were in a different league than the hack who trotted his Kodak disc-film into Sooters to get two-for-one prints.

A few years ago, some loser robbed my wife's jewelry and my film equipment. Don't tell my wife, but that was one of the best days of my life. With the insurance money, I got a D70s and an SB600. Pow! Born-again  photographer. Never looked back.  

Digital rocks, and Paul Simon is safe - I will never take his Kodachrome away. I'll even sell him a pack. Has it made me a better photographer? Damn right, because now I shoot all the time. [Cue SFX: 1 million monkeys typing.] Granted, no one's putting my stuff in the AGO, but I sure get a lot more complements and sell a lot more prints. I'm also trying crazier stuff. After the novelty of your infinite Polaroid wears off, you're kind of forced to.

But there's something very un-breathtaking to me about the Red camera; and this is where true Fogiedom kicks in: knowing for sure that you've caught the shot, the look, the expression, without even trying. Henri Cartier-Bresson isn't coming back from the grave or anything, but if everybody can screen-capture "the moment" from a five minute video shoot, some (more) magic is gone.

The AutoAwesome direction of photography reminds me, embarrassingly, of those Star Trek replicators. In the 23rd century, you could get everything you ever wanted: Earl Grey, a Rolex, a D5 mounted with a 10-400mm f/0.2 lens. Consumerism stealthily replaced by - if not Marxism, then Lennon-ism. Imagine no possessions... Imagine the same nylon uniform. Imagine never going to the washroom, and always having a crappy spacescape hanging on your wall, right beside the window that looks into space.

In Trekland there was no poverty and no wealth. Life was about self improvement (and remembering to always delete your cookies after you used the Holodeck).

There has never been a substitute for lighting and composition, but I'm guessing that sooner or later your camera will take in all visual information, and let you light, compose, and depth-of-field it after the fact. No artistic vision of your own? There'll be an algorithm for that, depending on who you'd like to emulate. I suspect it'll be as crappy as those "oil paint" actions in Photoshop, but people will use it.

So, if everyone can take a good photo, then who is great? And, does anyone need to be great? Or famous? Yes. But I'd argue that fame is by far the most overrated commodity in the world. One of the worst things to happen to photography is also the best: the instant ability to research the work of others and the accompanying urge to run your own stuff up the flagpole (so that desk-jockeys and pixel-peepers can rip it down).

The point is, we should always push our limits but allow ourselves to be happy with the good stuff we've shot, regardless of the gear, and - most importantly - the opinion of others.