“Kodachrome… it gives us those nice bright colors
Gives us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away”
Roanoke, July 18th
Once upon a time, my cameras were just toys. Then I got serious and they became tools, also known as expensive toys.
I remember my Kodak Instamatic camera and the plastic body and lens, the film cartridges in the back and the 4 square flash bulbs on top. I remember the sweet crayon smell of the film emulsion and the yellow Kodak box and the foil package inside that held the cartridge.
Color film was reserved for the adults. Kids playing with cameras had to stick to black and white. I got two or three rolls to use during my time at summer camp.
Too many pictures and Dad would complain or simply refuse to take it to the drugstore for processing. In the pictures I’d cut people’s heads off or there wouldn’t be enough light. Sometimes I would open the back of the camera before the roll was done and ruin the film.
When I was a little older I got a rangefinder Yashica and shot higher speed Tri-X Pan and sometimes the indoor shots without flash would still turn out. I wouldn’t know until I finished the roll and could use my allowance to get the pictures developed.
With the money from my first summer job I bought a Canon single lens reflex, at the time an affordable amateur SLR. Then came hours and hours of pouring over photo magazines, reading about great photographers, setting up a darkroom in my basement. I burned lots of time and ruined a lot of pictures. I then bought a Nikon, a professional camera!!!!, and had a series of them. The tech was even more fun than the photos. As a Serious Photographer I was absorbed in f-stops and shutter speeds and film grain and could quote the price and features of every Nikon camera and Nikkor lens. By the way, I’m still not sure what f-stop really means. I know it is a measure of aperture or the amount of the lens opening, but why there is an f and why it has to be stopped is beyond me.
Ultimately, I was the school yearbook photographer and the photographer for the school newspaper. I wasn’t big enough to play football or tall enough to shoot hoops, but I could take pictures. I even won a contest.
Then one day I stopped taking many pictures. My aesthetics had outrun my skills and I had become more interested in writing.
With respect to Paul Simon’s song: Kodachrome’s gone and I don’t like Nikon cameras now that they’ve gone digital. Kodak stopped manufacturing Kodachrome on June 22, 2009 because of the dwindling demand for color slide film in a digital world. My uncle, who used to work for Kodak, told me that Kodachrome was difficult to process because the color was added in the processing, not in the film. It gave the pictures a special color, sharpness and quality that may never be duplicated (except of course with the right Photoshop plug-in, but for the Luddites it still isn’t 100%.)
So many people my age got into photography because it was (along with hi-fi stereo) the cool technology of the time. Now there are a lot of substitute obsessions for geeks. Computers, Gaming, Digital Imaging, and Smart Phones appeal to dweebs like me.
I go to a lot of photography workshops and meet lots of other photographers, some pros and a lot of amateurs. At some point, the discussion turns to gear and the boys have to compare the size of their lenses. Full frame is better than half frame is better than point and shoot. RAW is better than JPEG. The wide open lens gives great bokeh, and other stuff that only a few people care about.
At one workshop, several people were using their iPhone for photography. I couldn’t understand it. I had used the camera on my iPhone and found it quite lacking. One of my fellow participants, Harry Sandler, was using an iPhone on top of his wildly expensive medium format camera and producing images that were quite spectacular. (For a preview of Harry’s newly published Blurb book iPhone Antics click here.) My friend John Paul Caponigro has started blogging for the Huffington Post about the iPhone.
But the iPhone only has 3 megapixels. It doesn’t shoot RAW. It looks like a toy when you use it. How can it be any good?
I found out the difference is in the apps. Harry and John Paul were adept at using apps such as Perfect Photo, Real HDR, Photoforge, Old Booth, iRetouch, Comic Twist, Old Photo, Joiner, Panorama and Brushes. These apps not only gave special features to the camera, they served as an in camera post-processing wonder taking many of the processes of Lightroom, Photoshop and the traditional darkroom and allowing the user to take the picture, post-process it, upload it to Flickr or Facebook or e-mail it within a matter of minutes.
Well, gee whiz, you might say, ain’t that great for you photo geeks? Lots of new toys.
You have a point.
However, recreating the feeling of playing with toys has significantly impacted my creative life. I rediscovered it when using the application Hipstamatic with my iPhone and it has changed the way I see the world.
First and foremost, taking pictures has become fun. Again.
Secondly, no one particularly cares if you take their picture, as they do when you take pictures with a pro-quality DSLR.
Thirdly, the limitations of the frame (it’s square), and the post-processing time (very slow) force you to think about what types of images to shoot. Sometimes, having fewer choices makes you more creative.
Most importantly for serious photographers, it ends the most inane observation ever and that is when someone sees a good image by you and says “You must have a really good camera.” Now they say: “You took this on a phone?“
With Hipstamatic I find it best to shoot images that have simple compositions and will have a classic look to them. In my post entitled “Remembering the Present” I write about how I like to take the present and find classic elements.
The iPhone and Hipstamatic has freed me to look more closely and to sometimes take pictures for their sheer ironic snapshot authenticity. I’m not consciously chasing fine art and all that implies. This makes me giddy sometimes with delight when I see the results.
These photos appeal to me because they make a consistent and visually interesting aesthetic out of snapshots, bringing a look to the images of moments in time in a past that never existed. As is the case with photography in general, these pictures are both memory and creation, a moment captured that is a subjective choice of what the imagist’s eye sees and yet doesn’t. The iPhone captures it in the blink of a digital eye and the Hipstamatic post-process is the coda, a final flourish that elevates the simple snapshot into a mood and moment that expresses an exquisite sensibility.