Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 6, 2007
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Robert J. Lewis
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Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
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Dan Stefik
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Lydia Schrufer
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Les Cosgrove
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Marc Fortier
Bernard Dubé
Remigio Valdes de Hoyos
Mylène Gervais
Christina Coleman
Laura Hollick
Louise Jalbert
Rosemary Scanlon
Manitoba Art
The Gambaroffs
Francine Hébert
Marcel Dubois
Ruben Cukier
Raka B. Saha
Purivs Young
William Kinnis & Dominique Tremblay
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Get modern or get fucked.
In 1979, the Modernettes, my favourite Vancouver punk band, had that as their motto. They spray painted our back alleys with it. I think of it every morning when I wake up to face the uncertainty of being a photographer in our 21st century world where photographs are no longer taken but captured. It is a world with cameras that have something called face recognition technology.

We no longer have Oldsmobiles. Who drives Buicks and Plymouths? My photo world is changing as rapidly. There are no more Minolta SLR cameras, Agfa is gone, and the great yellow box’s (Kodak) presence is so diminished that Ektachrome might soon be a fading memory. Photo labs in Vancouver are dropping like bodies in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The uncertainty in my world of the freelancer is compounded by the rise of micro stock agencies that sell photographers' images for cents. And there is confusion, too. Consider the logic of manufacturing state-of-the-art digital cameras while calling yourself the Fuji Film Company.

This change goes deeper, paradoxically, as more images end up on computer monitors. Nobody would deny that a monitor image has only two dimensions. The so called “rules” of composition in photography were created to compensate for the loss of that third dimension: depth. Diagonal lines in photos create a sense of movement. But for me, while an image on a monitor has those obvious two dimensions, a hard copy photograph (silver gelatin print, inkjet, light jet print, giclée, etc) has a third: thickness, which provides for heft and feel. Photographs have two sides. If a particular photo happens to be an expensive vintage print, it will be signed and dated by the photographer on the back.

Rising in popularity are frames that are able to display digital images as well as scroll from one image to another. Will there soon emerge a generation of photographers who will have lost the ability to discern subtleties like shadow detail in the blacks? This comes from looking at an image for more than a few seconds. They now want images that are not static, with colours that are unreal or sharply contrasted -- code for zip and punch. Technicolor is back.

In the web-medium of Arts & Opinion, I cannot show examples of the wonders of light jet prints (digital files on laser heads are projected on to photographic paper) or the look of a well printed giclée (artspeak for a high end commercial inkjet print on art paper). These prints can show a delicate transition of colour that is lost on a monitor.

I have had senseless arguments about film versus digital with photographers on on-line photo forums. They are no different from religious or political ones. None of the participants will give ground as debate invariably degenerates into shouting and insults. But recently I saw the light. One photographer on the digital end of one day’s argument noted that the scans of my original transparencies (large slides) were poor imitations of the real thing.

I thought about the “real thing.” I got back to him saying that in reference to my slides I could burn them, twist them, project them, print them and even ignore them in a shoe box. And if I wanted to I could even chew on them. I then asked him, “Where is your original? Is it a series of 1s and 0s inside a memory card? Can you touch and chew those 1s and 0s?”

But my victory, when he could not get back at me, seemed hollow. If I have not adopted the digital camera, it partly due to the expense of the transfer. To switch from my medium format camera to digital I would have to buy a digital scanning back. Which means I would have to invest around $50,000 in order to retain the quality of detail I now enjoy.

Photography is in a hard-to-predict transition. Those who shoot digital are out to prove their digital cameras can mimic film. They print large images and ask you to guess if they are digital or photographic prints. This is senseless. What would you think of a person driving a horseless carriage that could deposit stuff on the street every few blocks that looked like horse droppings? But it’s wrong to think that digital photographers must look forward, toward the future, for an indication of where they are going, while leaving us, who shoot film, in our past.

©Alex Waterhouse-HaywardThe word ‘tool’ is used a lot in these arguments. You placate your opponent by saying that a camera is a tool and you use whatever tools fits or suits your needs. Which is why a hammer suggests hammering nails or removing them. Or if you wrap a hammer with cloth you can bang a loose chair joint. A screwdriver, besides its conventional uses, could be used for digging seed holes in the ground. It is the very nature of the tool that suggests the end use.

And it was via this hammer and screwdriver comparison that I discovered my personal solution for photography in today’s transition. It consists in remembering that film occupies physical space. But I also remember that film can be digitized and that this process brings into the mix the best of both those worlds. I would hope that those shooting digital will remember photography’s roots when they are in search of a creative solution.

To share a telling example with you, a year ago I was assigned to photograph Canadian baritone Brett Polegato. He was in Vancouver to sing the Vancouver Opera’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I wanted to tell the story of how this womanizer ends burning in hell. My solution was to take nine pictures using a ring flash. I then picked one of the negatives and lit it with a match. It cracked beautifully! I then scanned the negative for the end result. I am not sure that I would have come across this elegant solution had I been thinking digitally. On another job, I had to illustrate a cast of actors who were in a play about oriental heritage called The Banana Boys. I photographed them, again with my ring flash. I scanned a banana on my flatbed and added it as a frame.

©Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Thinking digital, I have come to love the look of the lowly Polaroid. It is beautiful when scanned. I scan b+w Polaroids as colour so my scanner injects a pleasant cool blue tone. Here you see Canadian modern dancer and choreographer, Noam Gagnon, who is one half of the famous Holy Body Tattoo. I sometimes scan the Polaroid peels, particularly the colour ones.

©Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Here is an example of Canadian violinist Corey Cerovsek.

©Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

I haven’t abandoned completely printing my own conventional b+w prints. Here you see one of fencing Master Bac Tau and his pupil scanned and modified. With a scanner and Photoshop I am able to find colours that exceed the possibilities of conventional photo toners.

©Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

As a magazine photographer, I have discovered that some of the better magazines in Canada use digital offset printing. This method opens all kinds of possibilities for detail and sharpness that at one time was impossible. Here is a recent cover made from my b+w negative of Canadian actress Molly Parker. The negative was drum scanned. I would have been hard pressed to get as good a print in my darkroom.

©Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

And for my personal stuff I like to work with this hybrid system of film/digital. "Yuliya Tied Up" is a scanned Polaroid.

©Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

"Tarren’s Bum" is the result of treating a b+w negative as a colour negative. I can get realistic skin tones or loud fiery ones.

©Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

“What kind of photographer are you?” I am often asked. Of late I like to reply, “I’m like a Toyota Prius.”

For more of Alex's photography, visit his website at:

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