The Digital Dilemma, Part 37

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Judging from the letters we receive and the action on our Forums (at www.shutterbug.com) the debate between digital and film photographers is ongoing, and shows no signs of abating. Some photographers have manned the silver-halide barricades and defy all comers by waving the silver-halide flag, while others scoff at the film fans by terming them reactionaries and "unrealists" who don't recognize a tsunami even when it's hitting the shore. I'm here to say it's time to lighten up and settle back into our respective camps before this becomes a red state/blue state kind of thing. There's enough polarization (and I don't mean the filter) in the air right now and fellow photographers, regardless of their ilk, are not the enemy.

Film photographers are not, however, fantasists about that medium being under "attack," and Satchel Paige's admonishment about not looking back because something may be following you surely applies. The attack, however, is not from fellow photographers but from technological changes and how the industry has turned most of its resources toward digital. We hear every day about camera firms going out of the film camera business; they start as rumors that all too often become reality. We've seen major companies closing film labs and coating alleys, dedicating those resources to digital products and consumables. We, too, wonder about where the new film products might come from, and how, given the market data, the voices in the industry's film wilderness might be heard. In short, the photo industry is what has sent film packing, at least as far as the future is concerned.

But don't think the digital photographer has it easy, and there, too, the industry has made the row even harder to hoe. Constant upgrades, planned obsolescence, the megapixel horserace, and required investments have driven more than one digital-dedicated photographer to distraction. Being a technology in its infancy, there are many dead ends, mismatched products and formats, and a learning curve that gets steeper by the day. But digital photographers are not weak-kneed about all this, as they have pushed ahead determined to mine all the gold they can despite the difficulties. At least they should be given credit for that.

The point is that all photographers are being forced to confront the changes the industry has initiated. On the film side there is tremendous pressure to change, which unfortunately has been transferred, with some intent, from marketing to peer groups. On the digital side there's a constant drumbeat of change that often makes people with one system, in which they might have attained some comfort level, feel as if that if they don't change again they will somehow be left behind.

But let's keep in mind why we're involved with the art and craft of photography. Yes, many of us enjoy the gear and the technology, but ultimately it's about seeing, recording, and sharing the images that reflect our view of the world. Photography is a unique blend of art and science that allows us to hold onto memories, evoke feelings, and, yes, make a living with something we love. And if film photography gets you there, so be it; if digital rings your bell, go for it. But don't let anyone tell you that how you engage in this creative process is wrong, out of date, or foolish. How you get down that road is your personal decision, so make use of your time creating images, whatever the medium, rather than railing against forces over which few of us have any control.

What's your opinion? For feedback I've created a Forum on our website under the General Discussion heading entitled Digital Dilemma. Go onto our website at www.shutterbug.com and let us know what you think.

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