Perhaps the most existential question regarding the Web’s future is what could turn the tide against online toxicity? The rise of horrific speech, terrorism recruitment, cyberbullying and all other manner of toxicity has undermined the initial advances the Web made in granting a voice to the formerly voiceless. Much has been made of the Web’s ability to transform Dr. Jekylls into Mr. Hydes, bringing out the worst in ordinarily level-headed individuals and turning even teachers and professors into raving founts of hate. The Web’s anonymity has frequently been cited as a root cause of this transformation from in-person congeniality to online hate monger, raising the question of whether replacing the digital world’s anonymity with real-world personas would restore digital civility or make things worse?
Twitter has in many ways become the public face of online toxicity. While there are many reasons for this such as its broadcast nature, one driving factor is its reliance on anonymous user accounts in which hateful individuals can hide behind the protective cloak of an anonymous username.
In contrast, LinkedIn, with its focus on accounts that directly tie users back to their real-world identities, including schools, employers and professional connections, is far less associated with toxic discourse.
Twitter’s anonymity is equivalent to a protest march in which participants are wearing masks to shield their identities. LinkedIn is the equivalent of everyone wearing name badges and the logos of their employers and schools on an identifying vest.
This connection between online persona and real-life identity mirrors the mediating influence connectedness once had through the geographic ties of community. In the physical world that predated the Web, community reigned supreme, whether on the scale of a small town, an urban neighborhood or a professional society. Members knew each other and had deep ties established through friendship, family, schools, workplaces, social organizations and other connections. This meant that even when community members disagreed, there were costs to deviating from civil discourse. Two neighbors might vehemently disagree about politics, but their physical proximity and need for mutual cooperation typically overruled emotional irrational impulses.
My initial plan was to photograph the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel, using a long exposure to create exciting light trails of the vehicles entering and exiting the tunnel. The heavily congested area with a spectacular nighttime view of the New York City cityscape is called “The Lincoln Tunnel Helix”.
I wanted to capture something visually exciting for this weeks challenge. But the logistics of that plan overwhelmed me. Light trails are the best capture after dark, and we are in early summer in New Jersey, which means the sun goes down much later in the day. A late night trip to that part of Weehawken would be challenging given that street parking is minimal and the entrance to the “Helix” can only be seen from one corner at the end of the block on one street in this residential neighbourhood. I set the Lincoln Tunnel project aside for another time.
My backup plan was to find and shoot a scene along one of the historic roads in the area. But as I drove around this morning working through my mental list of interesting roads, I realised that this wasn’t going to work either. All of the roads in this area are narrow one-lane county roads with ditches on either side and no shoulder to pull over, and this being New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the USA, even at 7 AM on a Saturday there is traffic on these narrow small town country roads.
I sat at the computer, feeling disappointed, and looking through my Adobe Lightroom Catalogue, hoping to spark more ideas. None came. I consoled myself with pulling a few images from the catalogue.
This capture of the tree-lined Blue Spring Road was taken in the fall of 2018 a few weeks after the leaves of the trees were starting to change colour. I was out for a walk and noticed the light coming over the hill was hitting the tops of the trees. The trees looked like they were on fire. The only camera I had on me was my iPhone.
The second image below was captured a year later, almost to the day, on my Fujifilm X-T2.
I don’t know how it’s happened but this morning after reading a post on Japan Camera Hunter, I found myself perusing film-centric websites such as the Analogue Wonderland, filtr, 595 and clicking around the vintage lens sections of eBay.
Last weekend I mailed off a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 to Boutique Film Lab in New York City for processing and prints. It was a roll of film I shot a year ago with my college Pentax P3. Until that roll of film, I had not used film since 1999. That’s when I switched to digital, which in modern times is more flexible, more capable and has better image quality in the sensors and lenses.
The other day I was walking around a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition, and if there was one thing I was struck by in the 6×9 prints hanging on the walls, it was their resolution.Said no one, ever
The lab did their best with the roll I provided, but I was not happy with the results. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Pentax P3 has some light leakage, which is apparent from the scans I received. I inspected my camera and discovered that the back door of the camera has an ever so slight opening. The film had been badly exposed. This is not a problem unique to film cameras; however, because I was not able to immediately see the results of photographic efforts, I wasted film, development, scan, and shipping costs. With a digital camera, I would have discovered the light leakage right away. This lack of immediate feedback is one reason I abandoned film back in 1999.
Now, some photographers will put on airs about film photography. They will speak and write as though the deprecated medium has some magical quality lacking in modern digital photography. A few will admit it’s a matter of preference, but many others create a false narrative about the film. They will write as though their opinions are a matter of fact as though the qualities they are discussing are inherent to the technology, not personal preference.
They will argue that they just like the look of the film. I sometimes like the look of some film stock. But I can buy dozens of excellent film simulation presets online that reproduce the look1 of photographic films from the last three decades. Heck, Fujifilm, the makers of much of the classic Velvia and Provia film that these film adherents use, makes a line of digital cameras with film simulation presets that can produce film-like images in-camera of the same films. The use of film is just one way to get that “look”, whether that look is Kodak Ektar 100, Fujifilm Velvia 50, Ilford HP5+ or something completely new.
The aesthetic – and not the process – is the thing that is appreciated by the end observer of the image, and a very large percentage of the time, the end observer should know and care little or nothing about how or even why that aesthetic was achieved, but instead what that aesthetic evokes in them.Hamish Gill
Some film photographers will claim that, because they can only shoot 24 or 36 frames per roll, using film slows them down, forces them to consider every click of the shutter button. I don’t disagree that all photographers can benefit from taking some time to put thought into their photography. But this discipline is not an essential feature of using film. It’s a necessary behaviour born out of the limitation of the medium. I would argue that some film photographers lack discipline when shooting with a digital camera. Some digital photographers lack this discipline, as well. But this is a limitation of the photographer, not the technology.
The film folks will argue that their film camera doesn’t need batteries but ignore the fact that most popular film photography cameras of their time either have built-in light meters or required the use of a hand-held external light meter for proper exposure. Light-meters use batteries.
When I was looking to set up my Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II film camera2, I discovered that the batteries for the light-meter were difficult to source because the chemical used in the batteries was banned; they are environmentally unsafe. I call bullshit on any film photographer who tells me they can look at a scene and go “This should be shot at 1/250 sec and f/5.6 on this ISO 400 film I am using”.
The film photographers bigots will make statements like “There is some special about the Asahi SMC Takumar 50mm f/2 that is lacking in modern lenses“. Ok. Maybe. I’ll just use this adapter to attach that lens to my modern digital camera. I should get the same results.
When (or if) I shoot a roll of film, I will be doing it with a roll of Ilford HP5+ or Kodak Ektar 1003 or Fujifilm Velvia 50 in my Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II. When I load the film, operate the knobs, press the shutter, wind the film, etc. I will spark fond memories of the adventures I had with my brothers, my mom and my dad. I will be doing it, not because the film has some magical property that is not present in digital photography, but because I get to time travel.
We’re not talking about morality here. We’re just talking about the properties of photographs. No property automatically makes a photograph better. No property automatically disqualifies a photograph from being good. Being bigoted just closes us off to a greater range of possibility in our own work, and to a greater and more subtle range of possibility in the accomplishments of others.Image Virtues by Mike Johnston in The Online Photographer
- Of course, the so-called look of the film is dependent on the development process used and whether that film was pushed/pulled or under/overexposed at capture. ↩
- My father died earlier this year. I inherited his un-repairable Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II, and I was feeling nostalgic for my dad, so I bought a used one on eBay. ↩
- Because Kodakchrome is no longer available. ↩