Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Russell Hill, PA 1992

I was reading Alec Soth's blog this morning and there was a discussion about William T. Vollmann -- writer, artist, photographer. How strange the statement by Vollmann — “I dislike digital photography because there is no guarantee of permanence as of yet.” — when, in fact, digital versions of images offer the first true hope of permanence. Measuring image permanence based on metal salts, be they silver or platium, is only looking at their lasting abilities for a little over 170 years. For most, that length of time equals permanent, but the reality is we have watched most of the images based on that technology literally fade away. “Guarantee” of image permanence depends more on conditions of storage than the materials from which it is crafted. I have little doubt that a silver print I made this past week will be little more than a pile of dust in a thousands years from now (oh, that the “photo” Gods decree that I have an image worthy of of such life and meaningfulness). However, digital, for the first time, offers the prospect of true and guaranteed permanence because it only “x’s” and “o’s” and not the results of highly complex chemical reactions. If we keep all those “x’s” and “o’s” properly aligned, we will have the image ten-thousands of years from now……the “if” in this sentence is a tall order, but at the least, it offers the first true hope of guaranteed permanence.


Russell said...

I wonder if Vollman was talking about permanence of the negative of permanence of the print? It seems that would make a big difference.

A permanent negative has some value to the artist. To the buyer/collector it is a threat to the rarity of their purchase.

A permanent print is valued by the buyer, who doesn't want it to wither on their wall, and to the artist it bestows some measure of immortality.

Of course, there is no guarantee of permanence, period. In my analog days I went to great lengths in the name of archival processing and handling. When I moved into a townhouse about a year ago, I chopped up my second-rate silver prints and now store the rest in my garage. (What do people do with years of that stuff, anyway?)

Since I'm not trying to sell prints, I'm not very concerned about the life of the images. Going digital enabled me to continue working when my evolving lifestyle made silver imaging nearly impossible. But most importantly, I like the way it has changed my thinking about photography.

As the years go by, permanence means less to me.

pitchertaker said...

I am somewhat intrigued by your statement: "As the years go by, permanence means less to me." I can understand that you have gotten older and now see everything in life transitory..... meaning that life itself is not permanent. That may be putting words in your mouth and not your meaning at all.

You also stated that digital has changed you way of thinking about photograpy. How so?


Russell said...

Yes, I think permanence has become less important to me only because I'm feeling less permanent myself. It also may be because I've shut down my darkroom and for now, I'm not making prints.

However, if I went back into the darkroom to make good prints, you can bet I'd expend the extra effort to process them properly.

For me, the end result of my photography used to be the print. At this point, I'm just putting images on my website, and making an occasional digital C print for the house. I'm also thinking about images that may find their destiny only in electronic display. This provides a different (and unpredictable) palette, and I'm thinking about both sequencing and un-sequencing-- shuffle.

The iPod's shuffle feature has drawn observations that it's really not random, because it so often comes up with just the "right" sequence of songs for the situation. Experts make the case that it's about as random as a computer can be, but that as creatures with a singular ability to recognize patterns, we will find meaning in randomness.

Could this work with images? Not random, give the chimp a camera, photography. But good photos with narrative qualities. I'm sure I'm not the first to think about the shuffle concept in photography, but I haven't done much research.

To take a stab at your final question about how digital has changed my way of thinking, it may be my adaptation to the loss of a darkroom; the intrusion of color; the ability to see a series of images one after the other, in the same LCD "frame;" the short path, in time and effort, between shooting and displaying large numbers of images; the visual assault to which everyday life has accustomed us; and maybe even a growing interest in cinema and the way it affects us.

Quite a contrast from putting the old Ikeda on top of the Gitzo and shooting just six sheets over a weekend!

pitchertaker said...

I have always maintained there isn't any randomness, period. We are not able to process all the visual input at once in our daily lives, but every so often, we do recognize a particular order. So, it's not chaos out there, but merely an order we don't understand. Because we are adaptable my nature -- some more than others -- we can recognize pattern even when the IPOD's shuffle makes up a totally random sequence. I often load my CD player's carouse with very different music, select random for the sequence, and am surprised at the squence of the selections.

Once again, you surprise -- "intrusion of color" -- seems a strange term. Just how does color as a visual stimulator become instrusive? Is this because or your early experiences in photography were monotoned, and now color is confusing the visual issues?


Russell said...

Since digital, I haven't done much work that I saw as B&W through the viewfinder. I've dropped all the color out of images that were nearly colorless, but I haven't gone out and shot normally colored objects with a plan of converting them to B&W. It's as if I haven't gotten past the color that's staring me in the face as soon as I pull up a new set in Bridge.

As soon as I went digital, I stopped visualizing in B&W. Am I just being lazy? Any idea what may have happened? Hmmm.

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