Lately, I’ve been really thinking about alternative processes, and what their place may be in my work going forward. One thing that plagues alternative process photography, at least in my view, is that it can come across as a little “gimmicky.” It is my belief that whatever “look” your work takes on, it needs to function in tandem with what you’re trying to accomplish artistically. In other words, shooting wet plate collodion doesn’t really mean anything except that you used a 150-year-old process. Or does it mean something more?
I’m sorry to go back to Sally Mann again (my classmates shake their heads), but if her “Immediate Family” series was shot with a Micro Four Thirds digital camera, it wouldn’t function in nearly the same manner as it does…but why not? A little quality Photoshop work and she can achieve very nearly the same “look.” She can interpolate the file up easily and print just as large. On the surface at least, I’d argue that because the viewer knows it’s large format, see’s the huge hand made print, the viewer has a different relationship to the work…much different than they would if it was a small sensor digital capture.
That makes perfect sense to me! If it were a digital series I’d be thinking Instagram, or that Hipstamatic app. But if that argument truly holds water, than the artist has turned around and said absolutely the tools matter! In fact, it isn’t simply a tool, it truly matters what format you are using to make art. But nobody asked Picasso what brush he used, and nobody asked Tennyson what brand of ink he purchased. Maybe they should have? It seems to matter in photography.
I admit, I may be getting bogged down in details that aren’t germane, but these questions really do eat away at me. I’d love to shoot wet plate photography, but I can achieve a very similar “look” digitally without the mess, the gear, the cost, etc., and this gets me back to my earlier points. Whatever your work is saying, whatever it means, it needs to be complimented by the process and the aesthetic. That is the best answer I have to that age-old question: “What camera should I buy?”
P.S. For those really interested in alternative processes, Bostick and Sullivan is the only place to go!