It is one thing to write about a photographer you like and another to be able to meet the photographer you admire in person. One of the highlights in March was getting to meet Mary Ellen Mark in person and to ask her a question that many have asked and continued to question her for. The question of whether digital or analogue is better.
Mark is one photographer who chose to stay with analogue even though she is working in the age of digital. Over the last couple of months, I have delved deeper into her works. From my research, Mark typically shoots with medium to large format for portraiture and 35mm for her street and documentary work. She shoots in both colour and black and white but her black and white work is definitely more prominent. Mark herself admits that ‘color is more difficult and less forgiving… I just see in black and white. It’s a real personal thing.’
I remembered that when I first started shooting back in 2000, it was all film. I lugged my Nikon SLR to Annapurna basecamp alongside 30 rolls of film. I fell in love with the analogue process. Being able to develop my own black and white images in the dark room was magical. I came to own my first digital camera in 2004 – an Olympus Camedia C-740 zoom with 3.2 megapixels and 10x optical zoom. Following that, I bought my very first Nikon D90 DSLR. It was never the same. Perhaps it is the nostalgia I feel towards the analogue process. This year, I managed to go back to my analogue film processes and recalled the days of being in the darkroom. I like how it slowed me down and put more consideration into each shot. Nothing like the modern day trigger on the DSLR hoping to find the moment in one of those shots.
There is also the association of truth to photography with analogue processes. When photography was first invented in 1839, it was to produce accurate drawings and representation. Now with the introduction of digital, Batchen wrote that ‘Digitization abandons even the rhetoric of truth that has been such an important part of photography’s cultural success.’(Batchen, 1999) In one of the interviews of Mary Ellen Mark, she mentioned this.
When I started out, it was considered very wrong to change an image. …When I look at magazines and see a portrait, I assume it’s been digitally altered. I’m not putting down Photoshop. When it’s used like that, it’s just not a photograph, but an illustration. (Mark to Row, 2010)
Documentary photography is a genre of photography, which is associated with authentic and accurate recording of the world and with this alteration of ‘truth’ associated with digitalisation, it might be a reason as to why Mark decides to stick to analogue photography.
The Damm family in their car by Mary Ellen Mark
What are your thoughts on analogue or digital photography?