By Amy Greenwood
Robert Burley knows that it’s only a matter of time before he has to put his analog camera away for good.
Ryerson’s program director for photo preservation predicts that in another five to 10 years, countless digital products will line the shelves, while commercially-made film products will become obsolete.
“Digital technologies are faster, they’re cheaper, they’re easier to use and they offer the user a lot more control,” he says in his office. “[You can] do many more things with digital images that you can’t with object-based negatives or prints.”
The photography industry is already feeling the impact of the transition and Ryerson will eventually feel the effects as well.
“I think photography — at least in terms of the way we’ve practiced it [at Ryerson] for the past 50 years — is coming to an end,” Burley says.
With Polaroid Corporation closing shop at the end of this year after a 70–year reign, the prospect of digital photography dominating the industry is inevitable.
And if that picture hasn’t dawned on you after window-shopping at your neighbourhood Black’s or Henry’s — both retailers almost exclusively digital — then just pop by the image arts building, where construction of the Black Star Gallery came at the expense of student dark rooms.
All this prompts the question, if film photography is disappearing on campus, what is its future in general?
For some photographers the switch from digital to film, has been harder than for others.
“I basically was convinced that digital wasn’t going to be good enough,” says Jay Shuster, a fourth-year photography student.
It wasn’t until he assisted a digital photographer that he changed his mind.
“I immediately saw that the quality of [digital] was as good as what I was getting in film.”
But Shuster, 27, says his confidence in digital stems from shooting film for more than 10 years.
“I treat digital like analog,” he says. “I don’t use the screen on the back to look at my photos … I don’t shoot off 100 pictures of the same thing and then pick the best one. I still take my time and treat it as if it’s a film camera.”
Rick Goedecke, a professional photographer, says he was one of the first to go digital out of his peers.
“I said, ‘I’m going to take the risk, spend the money and see where it goes. It cost me $5000, but I made that back within a year.”
With the ability to turn over images almost instantly, Goedecke had the advantage over his analog counterparts, which was especially lucrative during the holidays.
While film photographers had to start processing their film on Dec. 22, he was able to work right up until Christmas.
Despite the perks of speed and decent quality, digital does have its downsides. The extinction of the dark room is usually cited.
“The dark room is one of the greatest places in the world,” Shuster says during a cigarette break.
He says that he used to spend up to five hours in the dark room manipulating the image until it was just right. Though he misses the time spent in there, Shuster says he loves being able to apply his film knowledge to his digital work.
Erin McInnis, a third year photography student, said he also loves the dark room.
“I like smelling the development on my hands; I like being able to … physically take the dust off the negative and really get into it,” she says.
For Goedecke, however, the biggest downside isn’t the loss of the dark room. It’s the loss of the photographer’s skill. He says that the screen on the back of digital cameras makes photographers lazy.
“You’re cheating yourself,” he says. “I don’t even look at the back of the camera because I don’t need to. I know how it turned out because I pre-visualized.”
Goedecke says this puts many at an advantage, however, as digital weeds out a lot of bad photographers. “Film’s going to be gone, there’s no doubt about it,” Goedecke said. “It’s now a question of skill. “I can buy a hammer and buy the equipment, but can I build a house? People pay dearly for skill.”
So, it’s not a question of what type of camera you use. It’s how well you use it. Burley agrees.
He thinks that there’s still a few years before digital standardizes in the same way as analog did, which gives the photography students a bit more time to play in the dark.
“We’ll continue to do film photography here for as long as we can.”