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Let’s see, this is probably the fourth or fifth start on this post and I don’t know whether to finish my topic with “easier” or “more demanding”.  Digital and the digital age is a mixed blessing as far as I can tell.  Now, if I were to address the whole subject, we might be here for a day or two.  So, I think I will instead address one small part of it and how that has made a difference.

Canyon De Chelly, a place of silence

Anyone who knows me, or has for a long time, knows I don’t like being tied down by devices.  I have never used or had a pager.  Until a few years ago, I never even kept my cell phone on (and rarely gave out the number)–and don’t know why I do now–unless I was expecting a call.  Otherwise, I only turned it on to make a call.  I still don’t use texting.  It totally irks me to sit with someone who has to check every incoming text or has to answer every call (I understand there are occasions when something is happening and one needs to, but then tell me!).  I find it really odd how folks go to lunch, movies or dinner and are still wearing a bluetooth in their ear.  I guess I just end up wondering when, or why, everything got so darned important except what you are actually doing.

But that isn’t what I want to talk about–but glad I got it off my chest!  I just want to talk about digital and the creative process–particularly as it has affected me and my personal photography.

Altho shot all film, Burningman offered no downtime!

About 2 years ago, I started to actually shoot digitally for personal projects on a regular basis.  I still shoot a good deal of film, but have done a few trips now where digital was the primary camera of choice.  I think digital does actually stimulate a different way of working than does film, but then working with large format was always different than with either medium format or 35mm.  What is maybe more directly comparative is the flow of the day, particularly the end of the day.

Now, these comparisons are for trips longer than just a day trip, where the process of one day carries over and can affect the next.  Most all of my photographic adventures have been made solo.

Film (pre-2000): After shooting an entire day, I would come back to my room or set up camp, get or make dinner all the while thinking about the days activities, what I was shooting, and, then, go to bed.  There was time to just let things percolate into my being.  Because I was generally alone, the time was almost retreat-like and often meditative.  I was usually somewhat spent from the days activities and it was good to just chill.  Frequently, bed time would be shortly after the Sun had gone down.  I would then be up again the next day, bright and early, and repeat the process.  On rare occasions, I might have to find some time to download and reload  film holders, but mostly I was able to do that in the heat of the afternoon when I would generally not be out photographing in any case.

Digital: After shooting an entire day, I come back to my room or set up camp, get out the computer and start downloading cards and check e-mail.  I sneak out for dinner or quickly get something made and then open Adobe Bridge to review images.  I also break out the back up drive or drives, and make sure I have multiple copies in case one drive crashes.   Then, maybe I pick out one or two images to test out in the Camera Raw program to see its potential–or process out a few for a blog entry.  I work on the blog entry and then get to bed–usually pretty late and more than exhausted.  I am up early (not as early), finish the blog entry and schedule the post.  If I have internet, I also am checking e-mail.  Then, I am off.

Digital offers certain flexibilities film doesn't

Certainly, there are choices that are being made here with regards to how my time is being spent.  I could probably not download cards every night. I could not review images in Bridge, I could not work on a blog entry or test process any images, but let’s face it, that is the digital culture isn’t it?

So, the big difference to me with this is just that there is rarely the downtime associated when I am just shooting film–when there is no choice to be made but to veg a bit.  That downtime is certainly a valuable time when out and trying to get into that creative zone.  Sort of like a zen thing, where you could let the mind roam and then hone in on what you were doing even if only subconsciously.  When I was just shooting film, I rarely took a computer with me, but now I probably would just so I could stay up with e-mail–what has happened to me!

On the other hand, digital allows you to see what you have been doing, which is also of some benefit.  You can see trends, get sparks and ideas as you see things that aren’t fully realized in the days work and/or just look to refine things as you move along.

But the issue with the whole digital thing, as I have found for myself comparing my working methods, is that maybe we have lost the luxury of personal quiet time.  The downtime to just let things settle, knowing there is nothing else going to happen, that let’s our mind let go and explore something more ethereal.

Claude Debussy once said that “music is the silence between the notes” .  With all of our connectivity and the expectations that brings, it just makes me wonder how much “music” is really being heard these days.

all rights reserved © 2010 John Acurso