|February 1, 2004|
Of Old Dogs and New Tricks
When I was young, I looked with bemused tolerance on older people who resisted new technologies and weren't interested in keeping up with current developments. And yet many of the great enthusiasms of my youth are either dying, now, or transmogrifying horrifyingly before my very eyes:
One thing that troubles me about hi-fi is that decadence I mentioned. Granted, the centrality and cultural vitality embodied in early rock-and-roll was generational, and we're all getting older now. We have more money (some of us). We're more sedentary, more settled. Audio equipment has evolved, and so have our stereos. But music is ageless and will never die, and there were hi-fi fanatics before Elvis ever gyrated his pelvis; and, although maybe it's in retrenchment mode, the sprawling recording industry in its kaleidoscopic disarray still has pockets of vibrancy here and there.
So why is it decadent? I thinik the decadence takes two forms. First, stereos are now all about status. In the newest issue of The Absolute Sound, the "Golden Ear Awards" feature $20,000 preamps and $50,000 speakers. Silly. Second, when I was a kid, a good stereo meant more people, not fewer. A stereo meant music, and music meant rock, and rock meant a party, and a party meant friends — friends drifting through the house, the dorm room, or the apartment, friends coming and going, friends dancing, drinking beer, talking, passing a joint, getting off on the jams. And friends included females. That's why you wanted a cool stereo: to impress your friends, to provide a soundtrack for when you got lucky, and to better serve up tunes to the gatherings of your tribe(s). Somehow, none of that is what a cool stereo means any more. You can see it in the listening-room diagrams that sometimes grace the pages of the audio magazines: there in the plans is the object of all the attention, drawn plain to see: a single figure, assumed to be male, alone in a room, with his ass planted in a chair.
So how exactly did that happen?
Roll over, Beethoven
Aging acolyte that I am, I continue to support the local resistance. I drive a sporty car with a stick-shift (middle-aged dinosaur!), ferret through the foreign and classic sections at the local Blockbuster where nobody else is standing, even have a darkroom in my basement (well, okay, and one on my desktop, too, to make inkjet prints of the digicam pictures). I still buy vinyl records, if that doesn't just put me beyond the pale.
The funny thing is, photography is actually different. It's not like MP3, which I hate, or passenger vehicle bodies bolted to truck chasses, which I loathe, detest and despise, or commercial Hollywood drek, which I don't exactly hate because it just makes me so very sad that I avoid it like BLACK DEATH. I don't hate digital. I really like digital.
Digital makes all kinds of sense. It's more fun that film. It's easier than film. It's more controllable than film. It's more ecologically sound than film. It might require more money, but it requires a lot less space than a darkroom does, and, let's face it, for some people space is more precious than money. With digital it might even be easier to make better pictures — the advantages of instant feedback are that significant.
So why, then, do I keep resisting it? I've had a few different digicams in and out of the house, but I've resisted getting a DSLR. Actually purchasing a DSLR seems like it will be an admission that it's what I'm going to be using for serious work. There's nothing wrong with that, nothing threatening. It might even be something I would really enjoy. But even so, I find myself prowling eBay looking at Minolta X cameras and old Rolleis. It's like a voice from above is commanding, "roll over, boy!" and I'm thinking, "huh? Roll over? We never did that when I was a puppy!"
For every man, in every age, the days of his youth were better because...well, because he was younger then. Things seemed clearer because they were new to us and we embraced them with open hearts. We look back now, and we idealize — flatulently, shamelessly, with sentiment dripping all over everywhere like maple syrup over pancakes. PMA, the Photo Marketing Association show in Las Vegas, is coming up on the 12th of this month. PMA has become an important venue for the North American introduction of new photo products. We expect a new Canon for photojournalists and a new Nikon to compete with the Digital Rebel, which was the hot seller this past Christmas. I have a feeling I'm going to have to look very hard at the new digital camera introductions that come along at PMA. Maybe I need a D70. Maybe I need to stop haunting eBay so much. Maybe I just need to learn a new trick once in a while.
After all, rolling over can't be that hard, can it?
— Mike Johnston
He was East Coast Editor of Camera & Darkroom magazine from 1988 to 1994 and Editor-in-Chief of PHOTO Techniques magazine from 1994-2000, where his editorial column "The 37th Frame" was a popular feature and where he presented, among other things, a set of three articles on "bokeh" by John Kennerdell, Oren Grad, and Harold Merklinger that were subsequently widely discussed among photographers.
His critical and technical writings have appeared in various publications
and newsletters such as The Washington Review and D-Max. A number of his
articles written under the pseudonym "L. T. Gray" (el Tigre) appeared in the
English magazine Darkroom User.
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