Friday, September 26, 2014

Tangible Artifacts of the Photographic Process

Vietnam Memorial
Leica M4-2, Leica Summicron 35mm f2 v.3 Lens
Kodak TMax 400 Black and White Negative Film
One item of some debate at the Magnum workshop was whether or not an image really exists before it is printed on real paper. Magnum legend Costa Manos maintains that the print is a necessary component, that you really don't have an image until you have a print. And his prints are spectacularly made, with such care that you can identify with his point.
Not everyone agrees, but no one argues that a fine physical print is a worthy object; it's just a question of whether it's always necessary.
Having shot only digital for a full week, I find myself wondering whether one could make the same argument about the negative (or transparency) being a necessary artifact. In fact, this did come up during one of the public talks, where there was some disagreement about whether you'd grab your hard drive on the way out in the event of your house catching fire, as people have done with their family pictures and negatives for many years. I think I would. Or, to argue against the need for a physical negative, perhaps having all of my images backed up to the cloud obviates the need to grab anything on the way out.
A final thought is that I have actually lost images in a most unfortunate simultaneous crash of two hard disks (copies of each other). But, I suppose I have also lost most of my earliest negatives, which were shot before I got smart and developed an organized filing system. Those negatives were really lost in the carelessness of youth, not as a result of the medium on which they were stored.
So, what do you think? Must it exist in physical form to be a real photograph?