Since we seem to be exporting jobs of all sorts ("Hello. Can I help you with your reservation?") to the Indian sub-continent and they seem to be avidly accepting certain facets of American culture ("Do you want that Coke super-sized?"into their own it only seems appropriate that America adopt certain things from India. Curry? Excellent. Bollywood films? Very Interesting and quite addictive. The caste system? Hold on a minute...
The Indian sub-continent used to have a caste system. At the top were the priests, then came (in order) the warriors, the merchants, the artisans and the untouchables. Fair? Unfair? I suppose it depends on your point of view, and whether or not you were on top of the food chain or at the bottom.
Photojournalism has lately developed its own version of the caste system and, amazingly, it seems to be based on film.
If you're at the bottom of the ladder, and that would appear to be you Mr. or Ms. Wire Stringer. You get to shoot digital. All of the time. You HAVE to shoot digital because nobody wants to pay for you film, your developing and all those nasty FedEx invoices. You have to supply your own cameras so what you wind up buying is a low-end professional digital camera or two and the laptop needed to process and transmit the photos. Oh yes, you also have to pay the monthly fee for the DSL or high-speed cable access to the Internet.
You. Over there. The "merchant." You have to shoot digital most of the time and you might even have one or two high-end, big-file-size cameras to play with. You might get to use one of your old 35mm film bodies once in a while. Maybe you've managed to convince an editor that shooting black and white film will actually give a different "look" than Image>Mode>Greyscale. Maybe it was worth keeping that Leica for that one assignment that needs a little subtlety and a real quiet camera. All your photographic buddies look at you with jealousy as you drive off with nothing more than a body and three lenses in your bag.... And ten rolls of Tri-X in your pocket.
Congratulations. You're a "warrior." You can shoot film whenever you like. You like the convenience of digital and those large files are looking pretty good but you have this feeling that they're not quite good enough. Anyway. Shooting film puts YOU in charge of the creative process because nobody remembers how to develop film or make a good scan from a negative. Want to shoot with a Hassleblad? A 4x5? A panoramic camera? Go RIGHT ahead!
Then there are the Brahmin. The Priests. The people at the top of the hill. You can do whatever you like. Cover that seven day swing through four states with the candidate armed with nothing more than a Holga? Fine. Think a 110 Instamatic will give you all the quality you need for the portrait of Gwyneth Paltrow? Excellent. Two packs of SX-70 film and a butterknife for the cover shot? Go right ahead. Tape a single-use plastic camera to your forehead and release the shutter with a piece of string you can pull with a wiggle of your right ear? By all means. hell. You could probably submit a crayon drawing on a sheet of fixed, washed and dried glossy paper and they'd print it. But enjoy it while it lasts because it ain't gonna last long....
To sum it up.
Bottom. Digital. Middle. Digital AND Film. Top. Film.
Pretty funny, isn't it?
© James Colburn
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