Born Somewhere Else

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the [person] who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that was devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last—the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion.

E.B. White, Here is New York, 1949 seen in Tenements, Towers & Trash by Julia Wertz

This view of New York City makes me think of the current state of film photography. As someone new (or returning) to film photography, it’s easy to get caught up in some after-the-fact nostalgia for the way things were when film was plentiful and a Fotomat was a staple of any moderate sized city. Things were different then but not better. When the way things are is the only way, it’s not romantic, it’s just the way it is. I once had a motorcycle as my only form of transportation. It wasn’t romantic or fun—it was inconvenient. Have you ever tried to bring all your groceries home strapped to the gas tank of a motorcycle? As soon as digital photography became commonplace and inexpensive, I was all about it. Who wants to deal with the costs and uncertainties of film?

People coming to film now are using a hybrid approach that didn’t used to exist. Film photography is better and more exciting than it’s ever been–because it’s a choice. This world of high quality scans and sharing online (or even printing digitally scanned files) is new and better. Having a choice of the more difficult and romantic way of doing things is far better—a car and a motorcycle. Film and digital.

Of course, it’s still possible to use a totally analog workflow. But even so, the option exists to add a digital component to the work after the fact. Inexpensive flatbed scanners didn’t exist for the majority of the history of film photography. Or relatively inexpensive photo printers. Or did any kind of computer for that matter.

All of this could easily apply to vinyl records. The fact that you can buy a record now and included with your purchase is a digital copy that you can start listening to immediately makes all the difference. Digital lives harmoniously with analog.

Personally, I like to embrace what analog I can for a number of reasons. Primarily:

  1. Analog will outlive digital in a lot of cases. Hard drives crash. Files get accidentally deleted. Barring disaster or theft, vinyl records and binders of negatives will be around for generations.
  2. The process of making a fully-manual film camera take photos that are worth looking at is incredibly rewarding in itself. The tactile nature of using film makes photography feel more like using hardware than software.

So don’t be nostalgic for the days of (only) analog photography—now is the best we’ve ever had it!

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