Bill Pierce
Nuts & Bolts

No Revolutions Here

Dirck has asked all of us, over the next few months, to address the issue of the digital revolution in photojournalism. I think there has been a digital revolution, several of them, but none in photojournalism.

Admittedly, current usage has downgraded the term "revolution." If you are willing to accept the introduction of technology that has not significantly changed the end result of photojournalism - then there has been a digital revolution. There has also been a Speed Graphic revolution, a photo offset revolution, a Rolleiflex revolution, a Fairchild Scanagraver revolution, an autofocus revolution, e.t.c., e.t.c..

When computers evolve from a building filled with binary off/on switches to a laptop with significantly more computing power, that's a digital revolution.

In other fields of communication there have been digital revolutions.

The internet and email that threatens the postoffice, those are revolutions.

The music CD is the digital end product of a number of digital processes in addition to the analog ones like playing a musical note on a conventional instrument. The difference between Muddy Waters and Madonna is the difference between analog and digital.

The DVD of a feature film is another digital end to an increasingly digital process. Think of an early Godzilla movie; then go see Spielbergs's A.I..

Far more important to me is the commercial release of a digitally photographed feature film like "The Anniversary Party." Without the economies of shooting digitally, it might not have been made. It is hardly the first digital "movie." But it's one of the most significant.

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming wrote, produced, directed and starred in a movie that doesn't have a happy ending. The writing, producing and directing of folks known primarily as actors must have scared the hell out of some potential backers . But it was shot in nineteen days by DP John Bailey (an old hand at film, but a newcomer to digital). There is a significant drop in production and some post production costs. I suspect the cast (50% stars and 50% actors' actors) kept the upfront money in check.

By keeping the production cost far below that of a "Hollywood movie," a film that might never have been made, or made so cheaply that it couldn't support the production values necessary for broad commercial release, showed up at my neighborhood movie house.

A degree of independence from a killer budget allowed the making of a movie whose characters, action and outcome is about as far as possible from this weekend's killer, blockbuster, big hit release. Thank god. No monsters (at least not of the non human kind). No talking bunnies. No exploding planets. Just that old fashioned, not hip spectacle of human beings unraveling. Watch the family dog; he's the only one with moral fibre.

Digital technology is also being used in journalism. In some production aspects it has been used for twenty years. And it saves money in journalism, just as it does in film production. So does paying photographers less money for more rights. So does avoiding issues that might offend and lose readers or advertisers. When the economies of the digital world are used to produce well and fully reported stories, perhaps on unpopular topics, in independent publications - that will be a revolution.

Bill Pierce
Contributing Writer

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