Jim Colburn - Don't Ask

Losing the Magic

Photography has a new hero, and his name is Seymour Parrish.

Seymour, or Sy as he is known, is the role played by Robin Williams in the new film "One Hour Photo." He's exactly what you need in a lab tech and printer. Sy is a perfectionist about his work. He calibrates his machines on a regular basis. He gets into an argument with a service rep about a small Cyan shift that he knows is important (Sy: "It's out by 0.3!, Tech: "0.3? Don't f**king bother me unless it's in the double digits!") He makes sure that every print is the best that can be made. He keeps his lab so clean that you could eat off of the floor. Of course he's got a small problem with obsession and likes to stalk people but doesn't everybody?

The film makes it clear why many newspapers and magazines have gone digital. It isn't to save money on film. Or paper. Or chemicals. Going digital looks like it's the only way to get rid of those pasty-faced, this-skin-hasn't-seen-the-sun-in-years guys that have been toiling away in the nation's photo labs for decades.
Like photographic Gollums they live in the dark and invoke unknown spirits on a daily basis. They take a small metal canister of film into their cave (oft referred to as a "darkroom") and come out an hour or so later with a beautiful little work of art.

This obvious act of magic bothers people, particularly those in management. They know that they're paying these guys and they know that they're producing the images that they need to sell their newspapers but they don't understand what goes on and that leads to fear. A fear of the unknown. A fear of the printer and his dark arts.

With a switch to digital everything is done in the light. The little card comes out of the camera, in the light. The images on the little card are sucked into the computer, in the light. And the cropping, color correction and manipulation are done on a 21 inch computer monitor that four people can see at the same time, in the light.

It's a shame really. The magic is fast disappearing from photography. Slipping an exposed piece of black and white enlarging paper into a tray of developer and seeing the image slowly appear made everyone that did it feel a little more magical and a little more powerful. The art of producing a good negative and making a fine print is being bled out of photography. At least until the current generation of 16-year-olds starts a "retro" craze in about 15 years and re-discovers the photographic print along with DOS 3.0 and the single-sided 5 1/4 inch floppy disk...

Jim Colburn
Contributing Writer

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