The discussions between analogue and digital photography seem to be a matter of the past – fortunately so. They were ridden by emotions: first on the side of the digital photographers, who in the beginning felt sneezed at by the analogue party, and struggled to be acknowledged as equally fine-art-like as their analogue counterparts. Later, the emotions switched, and the analogue photographers felt threatened up to the very existence of their craft since the victory of digital photography seemed to amount to the elimination of films, chemicals, and papers. Although some anxiety remains on the analogue side, the discussion seems to have settled down somewhat, and the prospective of peaceful coexistence is not so unlikely.
I started with these remarks in order to point out what I don’t want to do: to revive these conflicts. As to myself, I am using both, and I think the best situation is one in which everybody who wants to take a photo can make her or his own choice among a variety of techniques. Yet, since digital and analogue photography both exist, and both do similar things, the invite the comparison – and, indeed, sometimes even a valued comparison. Of course, values are mostly subjective, and although by writing this I hope for an exchange of ideas, I don’t expect others to share my views.
One topic the analogue party tried to invoke to their advantage was the greater objectivity, the smaller range of manipulation, that seems to go along with the analogue techniques. The digital party had an easy job to counter this kind of argument: the history of photography showed that the analogue techniques were as open to subjective interpretation as the digital techniques. The only difference is, the digital way makes the subjective intervention after the photo is taken much more easy, and offers much wider possibilities of manipulation or interpretation.
This is certainly true. Yet, at this point there looms a kind of paradox. If there is more freedom in the digital way, the results should be more creative, and if more creative, so more interesting. However, if I compare the results of "digitally mastered" subjective photography and the results of analogue techniques such a lith printing or elaborate toning techniques, I cannot help but the finding the former boring and the latter exciting. Maybe it's only me who feels this way… yet it keeps me thinking why this should be so. Maybe it's a matter of style. Digital interpretation often results in very smooth and clean pictures (probably the regularity of pixels supports this). Analogue technique always has some "noise", starting from the silver grain. The smoothness and cleanliness is often reinforced in the elaboration in order to create an impression of artificiality. The result is a kind of uniform "digital look" which, for me, is not so interesting (others might find it cool and up-to-date).
Yet, there might be another explanation, too. Subjective interpretation aims for something new, something in which the subject can find its own uniqueness reflected. In short, it aims at creativity. Creativity, however, is not a free-standing feature. It cannot work just starting from a clean table. It needs clues, it needs material on which to work. The digital technique has reached a state where any material limits are removed. In the virtual realm, everything seems possible. Yet, what seems to set creativity completely free might in fact not be good for it. Creativity has to start from somewhere: so it will draw on what is already in the mind, on preexisting pictures, compositions and styles which it tries to emulate. As a result, instead of producing something new, it will only bring to light what is already in the mind. And I hope nobody will feel belittled if I say that what is brought out in this way is rarely interesting and new. Only a few geniuses really were able to create something new within their mind. For all the others, the best source for producing something new is outside themselves. And here is where the analogue technique comes in: it is the technical limitations, the difficulties in handling the material, sometimes its imperfection, or even the unpredictability of the process, which made them more prone to opening a really new view on the world. In analogue photography, it is advisable to put more care in the taking of the photograph itself since you can adjust and change less later on. So you pay more attention to the camera as your tool; tool and photo have to match each other. In order to give the photo a subjective interpretation in the positive process, you have to develop this interpretation alongside with the technique you are employing. You may explore it, try new ways - again, alway working with the materials, not in a virtual space of unlimited possibilities. For these reasons, the interpretation, whatever it might be, will not be detachable from the technique. And last but not least, the result – the photo on the paper – has its own existence. It becomes a thing separate and independent from you, no longer subdued to the complete discretion of a few mouse clicks.
Of course, none of this makes an all-or-nothing difference between analogue and digital photography. Yet, I think it describes different tendencies inherent in both. And I like to think that it is a reason why analogue photography will always be a little bit more interesting than digital photography.