Does photographic style really differ from analog to digital? I know that as a digital native (for the most part), it'd be an act of treason to say yes. But if you ask painters about Photoshop, or sculptors about 3D renderings, they'd tell you that there's a lot to be said for the act of creation without the aid of a computer. A few years ago, I decided to take a look at what I had come to know as the photographic process, and distance it entirely from my collective digital knowledge.
Photo: Dentelle et Mousse, from Sans Souris. Gelatin silver print, 8.5in x 12 in. 2005.
I started with photography in 5th grade, back when (for me) the process of creating photos had absolutely nothing to do with computers. Loading film onto reels in a light-proof bag and learning how to work an enlarger were as far removed from the digital world as fish are to the desert (...yeah, I don't know where that analogy came from either). It wasn't to say that I couldn't imagine a computer doing all that I was doing by hand, but rather that to forge something in the darkroom was something more intrinsically artistic than to do so digitally.
Later, as the tools for the digital process grew exponentially ("What? You can print on luster paper at home?") and edits in Photoshop both saved time and fostered new creativity, many artists realized that maybe the digital darkroom and the wet lab were actually quite similar after all. Cameras became more powerful, paper and ink choices grew, and more and more hobbyists became pros in the new age. In turn, the analog era faded as several photo companies (Kodak and Ilford included) decided to discontinue many of their products and services. I'm still mourning the loss of TechPan. And I wonder about the reception that Jerry Uelsmann received for his work back when Photoshop was yet to be born. A good friend of mine (and a fellow artist) was studying my work, and we laughed at how so many balk about spending time figuring out how a piece works. Isn't that the best part of discovering art? My goal was to create photos that people would need to take time with.
Sans Souris was my attempt at separating myself from the computer to work with seemingly digital manipulations in an analog environment. The photo merges that resulted were created with multiple exposures at the enlarger or by sandwiching negatives. In the exhibit, I've featured thumbnails of the original photos that make the composite piece. At first I thought that this was helping the user cheat, but I've since changed my mind - 1.) because at some point, it's lovely to see the origins of an object and 2.) because you get an idea of how far apart (geographically) many of the photos were taken. In this digital world, it's no myth that we have the ability to bring seemingly disparate elements together, but with a little patience, it can also be done in an analog setting as well.