The Immortality of Photons Part II: A Slight Return
I recently wrote a blog about my desire to start taking photographs seriously again, about my philosophy behind why you choose a camera and how you work with it. That decision to move from celluloid to pixels was a difficult one for me, having spent my life working with analogue image making.
But times change and the luddite had to be put to rest. So I’ve been watching lot of camera reviews on Youtube, trying to understand the world of megapixel, full frame and mirrorless options when I finally decided on which camera and system to go with.
And I’ve made that choice. I recently bought a Fuji Film X-Pro2 mirrorless camera and a prime lenses. What drew me to this initially were the ergonomics – the physical dials on the top plate primarily, but also the rangefinder process and the compact size, the way it felt in my hand. Being able to look down at the camera and see my shutter speed, my exposure compensation and my ISO without having to push a button and scroll through a menu – that felt like I was able to connect my old analogue skills to the benefits of digital image making.
I mentioned in the first part of this blog that I was fortunate to learn from two amazing photographers when I was at university studying Photographic Arts for my undergraduate degree. John Blakemore and Thomas Joshua Cooper were two of the leading landscape photographers of the 20th Century and the ability to see their work, understand their processes and get an insight into their creative practice was a huge privilege.
In my second year I entered a competition sponsored by Fuji Film to make a short film and I was fortunate enough to win an award for my camera work on that film. We all went down to the British Academy of Film and Television Arts headquarters at 195 Piccadilly in London for the presentations and had free food and a free bar. As a student it didn’t get any better!
Yes, I'm the only one not wearing s shirt and tie.
20 years later I retuned to BAFTA as a member of the Academy, and it was a rather strange return to the scene of an earlier glory as a young man when I walked into that same room that we had the reception in, now to chat with other members, and to sit in the same auditorium that we’d had the Fuji Film presentations in, now to watch feature films as a voting member on the Academy Awards.
One thing we learnt at university was the Zone System of Ansel Adams, the placing of exposure to get the image you wanted and the previsualisation of the entire capture, process and print workflow to achieve the desired result – seeing the final print when you are stood contemplating the image.
Choosing your film stock, deciding whether to push or pull the film ½ a stop or so and how that would translate into the grain structure and tonality was a significant part of that process. In the digital realm, the ability to capture RAW files, on the surface, felt like it offered all the options the system I’d learnt at university had without any downside – recording a large chunk of image data that could be manipulated in a myriad of ways in post, with huge flexibility and control. That is all true, but when I borrowed a camera from a friend to test what it would be like to shoot digital, something occurred to me that I hadn’t expected.
The knowledge that I would have all that data to manipulate had an impact on the way I thought about the photograph - I didn’t previsualise the end product because I felt like I didn’t need to. Having spent a couple of days shooting I realised that I was being lazy with my image making. Yes I was still framing my subject, thinking about the exposure, the depth of field etc but I felt like I was taking lots of photographs simply because I could and I didn’t need to take that extra time to consider what I was trying to achieve across the whole image making workflow.
I also felt I wasn’t really ‘looking’ at the subject, just seeing what look interesting and capturing the image as I could shoot 6-700 shots without any problem. Now I’m sure this is simply a case of understanding and adjusting to digital as opposed to celluloid photography but for me and it goes back to what I said in the first blog – that whilst many will say that the camera you use is not important, from a creative and personal point of view it really is.
And that brings me back to the camera I chose and another slight return.
In 1986, Fuji Film sent me the 16mm film stock to use in that short film competition. Now 35 years later, I returned to Fuji Film – this time in digital form.
The Fuji Film X-Pro2 seemed to have all the right mix or ergonomics that I was used to from my analogue days combined with the ability to shoot their amazing film simulation JPEGs. Shooting with that camera, and outputting as JPEGs meant I could tap into the creative process of thinking about the film stock I was using and previsualising the final image in the way I was used to.
It’s been a revelation. The anxiety of leaving 40 years of analogue shooting behind and embracing digital has gone and I feel like I’m returning to the craft of photography with a fresh eye and a fresh excitement.
I’ll share the experience of shooting with this amazing camera, along with some images in the next blog but in the meantime, let me know your thoughts or comments.