Two recent encounters have left me pining for the old days when I would spend long hours making prints in the darkroom, watching the images appear under amber light in the developer tray.
During the holidays I watched my uncle, an expert woodturner, as he shaped a spinning block of wood on a lathe into a beautiful child’s top.
And yesterday I photographed Sugar House potter Kevin Winn as he threw a slab of clay on the wheel. Shaped by his wet fingers, that slab of clay turned into a vase.
In both situations I realized just how much I miss working with my hands to create an actual piece of art that I can hold in my hands and admire. There is a soothing feeling when you’re working as a craftsman. It’s a sensation that I’ve realized I’m missing in the world of digital photography.
On the other hand, the computer gives me power over my images that I never had before. I am in complete control over the contrast and tonal range of my images in even the trickiest lighting situations, as this photo of a tree in a snow-covered golf course demonstrates. I’m getting the black and white images that I always wished I could get, without having to be Ansel Adams. And with my digital archive, I can find photos that I took twenty years ago with the push of a button.But I still question whether the benefits of digital make up for the loss of the craftsmanship of the physical creation. Last night I dreamt I was shooting with my Leica, exposing a roll of film. Just like the good old days. Tri-X, ASA 400.
It’s contest entry time. Most of the major contest deadlines hit us in January and February. So at the start of every year, news photographers around the world force themselves to sit at the computer going through their work from the past year. It can be a hellish exercise and in the end, contests are no way to measure how successful your year was.
Every time I took a great photo last year, all the other photographers I’m competing with did as well. So for a photograph to win in a contest, it really has to stand out from the competition. And because of that, contest winning photos are often the oddball shots, the fluke moments, and sometimes the result of luck rather than hard work. Contest wins are no good measure of a photographer’s success. Don’t get me wrong, winning is great and losing sucks. But in the end I’d rather be remembered for being consistently above-average than for being once-in-a-while excellent.
The photo above is a shot I took last January at the 2006 Freestyle FIS World Cup at Deer Valley. It’s a shot I’m entering in the World Press Photo Contest. It’s a different kind of photograph and it will stand out. But mark my words, it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning.