The first snapshot section of The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia will start with some of the tramway photos. These will build around this one in the previous post, and they will be based on some more of the pictures made in the Kew Depot.
The above picture is inside the operational office. This is where you waited until the tram you were working on stopped outside and walked to it to start your shift.
I was based at the Kew Depot when I worked on the tramways. It was all shift work. I worked the early morning (5am start) and the evening (5pm start) shift on alternate weeks rather the broken shifts at the commuter peak in the morning and evenings. I usually walked to work from Fitzroy in the morning.
This kind of shift made me quite tired. I did it so that I could attend the part time courses at the Photography Studies College and take photos during the day for the courses.
Gery , why do do you think there is much seek of nostalgia in photographs. Photographers make look today’s images look like old photos (with use of digital filters) AND/OR they shoot on film in digital era. Why do you think this is happening?
Thanks Pavel. Appreciated. These portraits are from my early days as a photographer.
Pavel, I understand the nostalgia for film in a digital world as a reaction against the look of digital–its often very clean, sharp and bland. Often everything looks the same. One reaction to this is to oversaturate using HDR; another reaction is to create a filmic look.
So, what you say it is a reaction against digital. Dissatisfaction. Sure it is valid,but isn’t it a trap? Digital photo with film look looks like made years ago, so it looses the information about time period. It may have pleasing aesthetics, but the documentary value is lost. Digital (un-processed) image is realistic and reality might be boring to show on pictures. So many photographers would spice is up with film look (or HDR or other filters) to avoid realistic look. I am aware of it, but trying to make my stance to it.
I found some interesting thoughts in your text about digital imagig…http://thoughtfactory.com.au/the-digital-image-a-note/2/
at Kew Depot – The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia
[…] mentioned in the previous post I was stationed at the Kew Depot when I was working on the trams and studying at Photography […]
These are really beautiful photos, Gary, very sensitively observed. Thanks so much for sharing.
If I may be permitted to break into the conversation between Pavel and yourself, it sounds as though Pavel is saying that a digital photographer ought to use the plain, unvarnished affordances of his equipment the same way an analogue photographer is forced to do. Taking a digital shot without ‘prettying it up’ with filters, etc., either in-camera or after the fact, is as ‘documentary’ a way of taking pictures as your analogue photos above.
And it sounds to me as though you are saying, in reply to Pavel, that sure, digital photographers ‘ought’ to use their equipment and medium as honestly as an analogue photographer is forced to do, to take a plain, honest, unvarnished picture of life, but there’s something fundamentally ‘dissatisfying’ about the antiseptic cleanliness and sharpness of digital which the human being reacts negatively to despite himself.
There seems to be a paradox at play: For while the digital image seems to be ‘super-real’ in its sharpness and cleanliness, somehow it seems less real to our human eyes than the grainy, rheumy vision of film. A super-sharp image isn’t how we remember things when we see them before our mind’s eye;— hence the nostalgia you speak of.
But more than this, I would say that the comparison in affordances between the two media isn’t really equivalent. Sure, a skilled analogue photographer can push against the limits of his equipment to an extraordinary artistic degree with all kind of ‘trickery’, though, as Hitchcock says, it would be nicer to call this ‘technique’. I would submit that there is no ‘technique’ as such in digital photography: the equipment comes with a range of additional features which are clearly intended as trickery, as easy means to distort the too-clean, too-antiseptic ‘super-reality’ of the image.
You have to wonder why the makers of these cameras include these tricks and gimmicks in their design. I don’t think it’s simply because they can. I think, at some unconscious psychological level, there’s the admission that we don’t and can’t find such super-sharp, super-clean, realer-than-real images æsthetically pleasing. When they get realer than the eye can behold, we have to distort them, we have to get them back to that level of ‘truth’ which shines out of your photos above.
Somehow the ‘documentary image’ of the digital camera, which is surrounded by a whole ecology of technical deception (even if the photographer nobly restrains himself and never uses it), can never strike us with the same unvarnished ‘documentary truth’ as a photograph taken on film.
Excuse this long ‘butting in’! I merely meant to say that these are beautiful photographs, and thank you for sharing.
Thanks Dean for the kind comments about the Melbourne tramways photos. It encourages me to continue working with the 3 sections of the Bowden Archives project.
Of course you can pick up the conversation about the differences between analogue and digital photography from where it was left off. You are not butting in as the conversation had died anyway.
I think that we need to think historically about film and digital.The b+w photos For the Bowden Archives project belong to a certain period—that prior to the use colour film buy art photographers and then the emergence of digital technology.It was a time when film was cheap, and people processed their negatives and printed their negatives in their darkrooms. The aesthetic was one you describe well—plain, honest, unvarnished pictures—a snapshot aesthetic using small handheld cameras (such as Leica rangefinders, SLRs, or Rolleiflex TLRs) bounded by the limitations of film.
The emergence of digital technology since 2000 has meant that period is now a historical one. Photography is now digital for better or worse–smartphones, social media, internet and high end digital cameras. Its a technology that has allowed us to move beyond the limitations of film. For instance, I can now make handheld photographs in very low light—eg., around 45 minutes before sunrise whilst I am on the early morning poodlewalks. Then there is stacking (which I don’t use) which is combining several photos on top of each other to get something that couldn’t be captured in one shot.
So my Leica + film has been replaced by a digital camera as my walk around camera because the latter is much more versatile. The output is a photo but one that could not be produced by a film camera. I think that we are trying to do with this ever more sophisticated digital technology is to find an appropriate aesthetic. It is not easy, given the initial result–what you aptly describe as super-sharp, super-clean, realer-than-real. The antiseptic cleanliness and sharpness of digital within the limitations of the current sensors is not that attractive or appealing.
In trying to find a way around this I–and others—use the film aesthetic as a guide, but we do so without the rhetoric of unvarnished ‘documentary truth’ because we are acutely aware of how the image is culturally constructed. I tend to use my digital camera if it were a Leica—-it’s switched to manual and I never look at the result until the files are uploaded to the computer. I am probably in a minority on this (I continue to use film cameras [with colour film] as well). Most people would find the sophisticated technological features on their DSLR’s very useful.
Smart phone technology is driving the photographic industry towards computational photography and the response of some artistic photographers to machine learning is to return to an artisan approach of yesteryear–both film and wet plate technology.
Love your blog by the way and your post on two visions of Melbourne.