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Some Thoughts on Photography

Ellen Levitt

Posted on June 8, 2021 02:31

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Some thoughts on film and print photography, compared to digital photography.

So many people engage in digital photography today, mostly using cameras in their cell phones, as well as actual digital cameras. It's common, ever present, and now the primary mode of photography. But not many years ago, most people used film cameras. Now those seem quaint, historic.

When was the last time you used a film camera? Does anyone remember 126 cameras? 35 millimeter film cameras? Those are much rarer now. Among the advantages of digital cameras are the ability to delete unwanted pictures easily, and not having to spend money on film. It's easier to edit digital photos, too.

But at least a few times each week, I miss using film to take photographs. I received my first camera as a birthday gift at age nine, and I took photography classes while a student at Edward R. Murrow High School. In fact, they were my favorite classes. In addition, I taught darkroom photography at two Manhattan schools, and I loved doing so. 

It's almost magical to work in the darkroom, watching as your photographic images emerge on photo paper, while immersed in the first of the chemical baths used, called developer. 

I thought about this even more because this past weekend we went to a photo and video exhibition on its opening day, featuring the work of Alex Harsley. He is an 80+ year old photographer who lives in New York; he's has been taking and making prints since the 1950s, documenting life throughout the City and elsewhere. He founded the 4th Street Photo Gallery, a cozy space on East 4th Street in the East Village. He has informally taught many photographers, including me, through his portfolio reviews. He has also worked in digital photography and video.

Alex's latest show is at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, an exhibition he developed with his daughter Kendra. It showcases how his work has changed over time. And as much as I enjoyed the digital work and the experimental video, my favorite pieces of his are the traditional black-and-white prints. He is showing vintage prints of average people and celebrities, including jazz musician John Coltrane and legendary boxer Muhammed Ali. 

We spoke with Alex and Kendra, and were proud to join them on opening day. But the exhibition made me wistful for the older types of film printing. Digital photography has an immediacy that you don't have with film and print developing. But digital photography is also "demystified" photography. 

The history of photography is fascinating, and each step in its modernization has made it quicker, easier, less cumbersome. Think of Matthew Brady, lugging heavy, sensitive equipment to Civil War battlefields. Years later in 1900, Kodak introduced the relatively easy to use Brownie camera, allowing non-professionals to snap pictures. Then in 1990 digital cameras were first introduced to the public. Now just about anyone can snap away on her or his cell phone camera.

Photography is now very democratic. But some of us are still fond of the older methods.

Ellen Levitt

Posted on June 8, 2021 02:31

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Source: CNN

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