Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Black and White

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I love my black and white photography and I recently indulged in looking at a number of photo exhibitions. Doing that made me realise a number of things.

To begin with it is really hard to judge the role of the technical effort that has gone into making a photo. While technical perfection isn’t crucial for making a good photo – strangely the majority of great photos are exposed just right. Probably because it just looks better and because the excitement of ‘look ma, blown highlights!’ wears of fairly quickly. When looking at old photos it’s also hard to appreciate the effort that making them was. Equipment was much less convenient in those days.

Playing in this technical field as well are issues like focusing or even the film’s grain. While they do affect the image quite significantly, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many of the photos I saw weren’t perfectly focused. And grain was quite visible on small images and rather prominent on the large prints. Strangely, even with the information in the image being distorted by that in a technical sense, the images still remained reasonably clear and possibly even natural. (I am sure this has been ‘discussed’ over and over again but the power of grain shouldn’t be underestimated)

Also: Size does matter! Pretty much any photo will just look more spectacular at a huge size. And obviously the larger size will draw greater attention towards a photo. It’s hard to say which size should be the ‘best’.

Finally, let me mention that I was quite annoyed by the way many of the photos were exhibited: framed and behind glass. While I don’t mind a nice frame (except those which are so thick that they cast shadows on a part of the photo, like they had on some of the Brassaï photos), putting glass on top of the photo is either downright stupid or a sign that in all the places where I saw this done they are really bad with their lighting. Glass on top of the photo invariably meant that I could see myself and others – or possibly some windows and other parts of the room – superimposed on the photo. Which I didn’t really appreciate. This is supposed to be the 21st century. We didn’t get flying cars, but perhaps we’ll manage to exhibit photos in a non-distracting way. Pretty please?

Of course there may be some conservation aspects in this as well – but it’s certainly not good for my viewing pleasure. I wonder whether it’d still be possible to reproduce those old prints properly. On silver gelatine, say, which does look remarkably good. No idea whether those materials can still be produced to day at a reasonable cost.

May 23, 2007, 0:39

Tagged as photos.

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