Sharper lenses won't help, realism is unrelated to Reality
June 4, 2006 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Can 1,335 bad lens photographs be wrong? Or 8,516? There are even more if you count Holgas, Dianas, and the like. I'm not sure that digitalsucks, but I applaud the desire to cast off the tyranny of perfection; to expose for the secrets and develop for the surprises with toy cameras, trash cameras and homemade wonders.
posted by cccorlew (45 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Now I can understand people without a computer, complaining about needing one to manipulate photo etc ....but 3 mpix are now between 50-100$ a piece and even less if used. There is no excuse for toycams and disposable.
posted by elpapacito at 4:23 PM on June 4, 2006

I think you've missed the art of the Holga elpapacito. The badness is the point.
posted by 517 at 4:28 PM on June 4, 2006

The essays on are some of the lamest process-wanking I've read in a long time.
Well Grasshopper - here's the deal- when you take a simple scientific process and shroud it in a smokescreen of 1's and 0's something terrible happens - computer geeks get control.
[T]he geeks have turned the photographic process into a video game. The artform is being corrupted and buried under a mountain of technology. And not only the artform is suffering - the art itself is evaporating.
This guy doesn't care about photography -- he cares about the process of developing film. He's the visual equivalent of a vinyl fetishist, or a wax cylinder enthusaist. It can certainly be argued that a lot of stuff can't be done well with affordable digital cams yet, and that it will take time for digital to really be equal to flim for 'art' use as well as 'day-job' use. But this kind of stuff just inspires eye-rolling.

If you're a good photographer, a gifted artist, you can do something great with a digital camera or a film camera. There may be effects you can only really achieve with one or the other, and you'll need to take different approaches to archiving digital. But anyone who stakes out a particular mechanical process and plants the flag of TRUE ART on it, you' need to go get a real job.
posted by verb at 4:44 PM on June 4, 2006

The badness is the point.

Oh that totally escaped me ! Fine is bad , bad is fine , war is peace etc. So I guess I must be wrong !
posted by elpapacito at 4:51 PM on June 4, 2006

I'm about to develop 2 rolls of 35mm I put through my Holga (one roll was taken at the last NYC meetup). I love how cheap and versatile the camera is. The badness is definately the point.

Not thinking about the technicalities of the shot, and concentrating on the composition frees you to be creative. The Holga (properly modified) has one shutter speed, 2 apperatures, and depending on the individual Holga plenty of interesting light leaks and other flaws.

Oh and sucks.

and make your own lensbaby.
posted by splatta at 4:51 PM on June 4, 2006

splatta: Thanks for the way cool make-you-own-own-lensbaby link. I have an old Hasselblad 1000F lens that will now have a new life!

elpapacito: Isn't "bad," or at least technically imperfect sometimes fun? Or at least interesting? From punk to Pollock I know I sometimes enjoy a break from squeaky-clean craftsmanship. Just sayin'. (note clever use of dropped "g" to make point.)
posted by cccorlew at 5:05 PM on June 4, 2006

Black and white film is pretty fun, and a lot different than doing it in the computer.
posted by smackfu at 5:17 PM on June 4, 2006

The thing is of course that many of the people that go on and on about the intrinsic superiority of film cameras (ie the digitalsucks wankers), don't use these cool lofi cameras. What they have are film cameras costing thousands of dollars.
posted by atrazine at 5:20 PM on June 4, 2006

(ie the digitalsucks wankers), don't use these cool lofi cameras

Well, further inspection of the site indicates they do use Holgas.
posted by delmoi at 5:27 PM on June 4, 2006

So surely it should be: ?
posted by atrazine at 5:34 PM on June 4, 2006

I was thinking about this phenomenon just the other day.

Photography has evolved such that just about anyone can take a clear, sharp image. It may not be a good image, or a particularly compelling image, but it's almost always in focus and properly exposed.

So the out of focus and blurred image, the flawed image has become attractive thanks to its relative rarity. We've grown so accustomed to photographs that faithfully reproduce the real (there are lots of people who'd argue with that, but whatever) that the imprecise and impressionistic representation afforded by toy cameras has become beautiful.

Throw in the web and sites like Flickr and you have a proper artistic movement on your hands; albeit a movement driven, for the most part, by amateurs and dilettantes.

For the record: I'm just such a dilettante, but am very happy with my old box cameras and my DSLR.
posted by aladfar at 5:51 PM on June 4, 2006

Also: Speaking of homemade cameras and flawed lenses, MeFi readers may find the underground work of Miroslav Tichy compelling. Via BoingBoing and the Michael Hoppen gallery.
posted by aladfar at 6:03 PM on June 4, 2006


I'm partial to polaroids.
posted by shoepal at 6:07 PM on June 4, 2006

If you shove a needle into your eye you can see shit like that all the time.
posted by HTuttle at 6:33 PM on June 4, 2006

jesus f-ing christ. stop it with the lens babies. a gimmick does not make good photography.
posted by photoslob at 6:33 PM on June 4, 2006

I don't think digital sucks, but when I think of all the amazing photos that are burned into my memory forever, none of them are digital. Are there any that I'm missing?
posted by gum at 6:48 PM on June 4, 2006

Great FPP, I love this stuff.
posted by sidereal at 6:54 PM on June 4, 2006

Lomo + Infrared film... a match made in heaven.
posted by goisher at 7:05 PM on June 4, 2006

What do you mean "bad lens"? Any large aperture will result in a small Depth Of Focus. Anyone who uses a standard 50/1.8 lens already knows this. This is not a new thing.

On another note, I'm tired of this "bad is good" stuff. Good photographs are ones which are either beautiful (Ansel Adams), or tell a story (Cartier-Bresson), or both. A "bad" photograph can be a good photograph, but only if it has something worthwhile to offer. It's not good simply because it's "bad".
posted by splitpeasoup at 7:06 PM on June 4, 2006

Are there any that I'm missing?

Possibly more recent ones.
posted by sidereal at 7:08 PM on June 4, 2006

My friend does all sorts of experiments with old/homemade/pinhole cameras folded out of photosensitive paper (on the inside). She has her own darkroom, in which she does secret and arcane things.
Oh, geeze. I knew heyoka way way back on SnowMOO and other digital hangouts when she was trying to organize global stencil-fests and stuff. Thanks for the utterly random reconnection!
posted by verb at 7:11 PM on June 4, 2006

Are there any that I'm missing?

Wait 30 years. Then, all the amazing photos that are burned into people's memory forever will be digital.
posted by dmd at 7:17 PM on June 4, 2006

I am not a fan of digital perfection, and this means a lot to me in different art forms. You have the right to your own opinion.

However, it might not be bad to step back a thousand years or so to see how the Japanese view perfection. Here is the Wiki explanation.

I vote for fortuitous beauty, serendipitous moments, and stochastic art.

Plus, my life is too full of art and family and work to learn all the new software that's always coming out. Even if I could afford to buy any of it.
posted by kozad at 9:34 PM on June 4, 2006

I sometimes found myself looking down at the ground the six years I traveled Brazil.

In a crowded market in Rio, a chugging jungle boat, a native hut, or a rum stand in Sao Paulo, I would find negatives trampled by a thousand flip-flopped feet.

I started collecting these--family shots, smiling faces of somebody’s baby, a lost lover, an unexplained occasion, or scruffy family dog. Images, strange and scratched, damaged beyond repair, I would always bend to pick them up.

I wanted to make massive enlargements to please the bad lens folk. I think I know what it is that pleases them about such images. I think I get the badness of it.

Now I can't find most of those negatives. I tossed them in nightstand drawers of cheap hotels, or left them in a pile of coins, someplace. They might be in pockets of cotton shirts forgotten in some Brazilian laundry. These homeless negatives must be in moldy backpacks or junk drawers of my past. I must have lost them again along my hungry path.

Oh well.

If you should find them, print them large on silver, and enjoy.

My treat.
posted by BillyElmore at 9:49 PM on June 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

I thought this post was about Canon finally taking the 70-300 IS vertical shooting issues seriously.

Anyways, one of my favorite -- but one of the most non-film -- elements of digital photography is the noise. The fact that at 1600, my camera produces noise and not grain. There's no grain. There's just little noise and big noise. Noise can be cleaned. I can take a shot at 1600 on my digital SLR, run it through a noise tool that uses a profile of the camera, and I get as a result a shot as clean as a 100 shot and with little lost detail.

I have a digital lab. I recently calibrated my laptop, and now that lab travels with me. I've spent dozens if not hundreds of hours learning digital tools and techniques, experiementing with and reading about color spaces, color correction, digital asset management and sharpening. I never had patience for the lab -- the chemicals and tools were too inpercise (well, I was also too inpersice, technically), and I was far more concerned about the photo itself -- I find little art in chemistry. Digital photography has made my photo dreams a reality.
posted by VulcanMike at 10:40 PM on June 4, 2006

If it wasnt for digital cameras, I couldnt afford to take pictures. I'm still in the "Take enough pictures, some will turn out good" school.
posted by mrbill at 11:07 PM on June 4, 2006

I don't miss the smelly chemicals. And now I can take colour, and do my own cropping and adjusting.
posted by jb at 2:06 AM on June 5, 2006

well its all much of a muchness isnt it ?
As for storage - negs are EXTREMELY fragile - one scratch , one thumbprint , a wee hair - and the photos dead , so i really don't buy the storage argument at all - developing film can be a complete nightmare.
Robert Capa for instance , lands on the beach during d-day - takes loads of photographs while the bullets are flying and the shells are landing -

and his assistant ruins the negative.

Who's to say we havent actually LOST great photos because they were shot on film ?

I'm studying photography just now - a lot of the tutors here are a bit flummoxed because theres less people in the darkroom , the colour machines being taken away and replaced with a bank of computers - its a confusing time for them.

I'm too clumsy to develop/print film - so i generally use digital or scan negatives - you get pretty nervous having to explain to some old school guy that you took a picture with a mobile phone camera and you're not in the gang unless you took a 5x4 up the khyber pass.

I think a lot of this is more to do with middle class snobbery than anything else - we can't have poor people with bad accents taking photos - what would the world end up looking like ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:12 AM on June 5, 2006

I thought this post was about Canon finally taking the 70-300 IS vertical shooting issues seriously.


But seriously, the print v digital debate is akin to telling a painter he's not a serious painter because he didn't make his own paints, grow his own trees and cattle to make his own brushes, etc., etc. If you can do all that, great. It doesn't change the finished result one whiff, unless you go around telling everyone how extremely difficult it was to make your art because you did it the "right" way.

There are about a million ways to make your life more difficult for yourself. Developing your own film is one of those ways. After nearly passing out while leaning over a fixing bath one day, I decided pretty early on that I wanted my "photography experience" free of noxious chemicals--so I had the lab to it for me until digital got good enough to use.

What I primarily respect with the Holga is the idea that you can create beauty and it doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. Just a lot of patience, discipline, and (with the Holga) fortuitous luck. Much like anything else.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:13 AM on June 5, 2006

Lomo + Infrared film... a match made in heaven.

Damn right!

I love my Lomos, but hate that 'lomography' scene - I use them and other crap cameras over digital for the simple reason that every photo I've taken with a digital camera looks completely shit unless it was taken outside on a sunny day, but a high percentage of my toy camera and Polaroid snaps have turned out okay. (I suppose I could learn to use digital cameras properly, but if I can't use a bit of technology within seconds, I give up!)
posted by jack_mo at 5:47 AM on June 5, 2006

Digital Sucks is NSFW, BTW.

And instead of "Bad is good." could we say "Certain effects which result in a degradation of image precision can sometimes have aesthetically pleasing results."? We have myriad words for a reason...

I think a lot of this is more to do with middle class snobbery than anything else - we can't have poor people with bad accents taking photos - what would the world end up looking like ?

Do any of these sights mention class, race or nationality as deciding factors in the judgement of the photographs? That seems like a pretty large and unjustified supposition.
posted by nTeleKy at 7:34 AM on June 5, 2006

Who's to say we havent actually LOST great photos because they were shot on film ?

Is it possible to get image files off a corrupted CompactFlash card?

Digital isn't some panacea.
posted by smackfu at 7:57 AM on June 5, 2006

No, smackfu, it's not. On the other hand, I've ruined more rolls of film by messing up the insertion/removal process than I've ever lost due to corrupted image files. Tradeoffs abound.

I have an old Canon A1 that I absolutely treasure for film work. It's a tank. But I love my 10D, too, and I use it a heck of a lot more. Zero-ongoing-costs is pretty compelling.
posted by verb at 8:59 AM on June 5, 2006

Great post.

I use digital because I have a medical condition which prevents me from experiencing the joy of a darkroom - my brains are far too sensitive to chemicals for that shit, I could hardly stand painting with odorless mineral spirits, I know I would pass out near photo chemicals.

I have a couple close friends who use digital SLRs and then use toy cameras for film photos - I think it's a pretty neat balance.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:09 AM on June 5, 2006

I have a Holga in the post on the way to me as we speak - and I've only ever shot on digital. I love digital; it is cheaper, better quality, easier to use and so much quicker.

It's my experiences with digital that have driven me to spend money (albeit just £20) on a worthless piece of crap from Hong Kong. There is such a thing as too perfect, and when the focus rests on the technical quality of the photo instead of the content, we lose our way.

Digital is easy: anybody can take a technically perfect photo every time. But I have found that I fake things to degrade the quality. I don't know why... maybe it's the feel of it, the imperfection... it has more personality.

I guess what I am saying is that the rampaging leaps in quality photography has experienced recently have disillusioned me with the almost obsessive perfection. I need to try something a little more... unpredictable.
posted by Acey at 10:09 AM on June 5, 2006

Absolute gimmickry.

Photographers are much more interesting than their equipment.
posted by butterstick at 1:27 PM on June 5, 2006

Not when they're talking about their equipment.
posted by xod at 2:40 PM on June 5, 2006

Do any of these sights mention class, race or nationality as deciding factors in the judgement of the photographs? That seems like a pretty large and unjustified supposition.

Then why on earth are so many photographers upset ?

We are talking about a change in technology which has made photography more accessible by the way - and i was talking about class , not race or nationality , please don't misquote me.

One can only conclude that they didnt want it to be so accessible - that means a bias.

By the way , shooting on a holga is extremely expensive - this whole 'cheapness' thing doesnt actually stand up -youre talking 20 quid (40 dollars) per 12 shots if you're shooting on slide film and if you're going for that distinctive colour , it's all done on slide film.

That renders it inaccessible to some people.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:24 PM on June 5, 2006

this whole 'cheapness' thing doesnt actually stand up

Totally. I pretty much gave up taking photos for a couple of years because I just couldn't afford the processing and printing (or the Polaroid film). Started again recently, and you have to add the cost of a scanner, and the cost of the time spent learning a bit of Photoshopping to get the scanned images looking like the prints. But as I said above, every photo I've taken with a digital camera was shit, so spending the cash is worth it, because there's nowt like the feeling of a good photo, even if it's only good in the photographer's eyes!

*lovingly polishes neglected Contax G2*
posted by jack_mo at 4:57 PM on June 5, 2006

posted by verb at 12:30 PM on June 6, 2006

Meh. Your favorite method of caputuring light and storing it semi-permanently sucks.

Different cameras do different things, and to claim that any method is superior to another rests on your assumptions about what a goood result is. This is not said to declare that there's no such thing as a bad photograph -- lord knows I've sufered enough of them -- but no camera technology will prevent either bad photos or wankery.

There's always wankers, and there's always people who can do good work. Different types of cameras have a vibe and feel to them that contributes to the way the image comes out. What makes you a good photographer is being able to make the image you want. The camera is just one of the tools you use to make that happen.

And on the accessibility tip: Yeah, the only cheap part about the Holga/Diana is the camera itself. Medium format is expensive and certainly not for the budget photographer. If expense is your primary factor, digital is certainly the least expensive, assuming you have computer access.
posted by illovich at 1:28 PM on June 6, 2006

bah - i give in , i'm going to buy a 5x4.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:21 PM on June 6, 2006

Cameras went wrong when they introduced the lens. If they were really serious, they'd use a pinhole.
posted by jb at 2:09 AM on June 7, 2006

More pinhole.
posted by jb at 2:12 AM on June 7, 2006

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