Monday, January 24, 2011

Photography and Time

Almost a year ago, I took a class from Brenda Miller, my current boss and the Editor-in-Chief of our esteemed journal, on Autobiography and Photography. It was a class on memoir, more than anything, and on nonfiction generally, but photography took up a not-insignificant portion of class time. Each of us had to do a presentation on a photographer—I chose Robert Mapplethorpe, whose work has resonated with me for years, for its queerness, certainly, and for the still quality so many of his images have, but also for the way his photos are composed and for more esoteric reasons—and as a result I was introduced to many photographers whose work I had never heard of.

The exposure to new artists was nice, but what I really got out of the class was a renewed interest in photography as an art that *I* could practice. I bought a film camera (cheap, used, on eBay), I bought some film, and I started taking pictures. To be sure, when I started I was terrible. I hadn't taken film pictures in over a decade and I marvelled at the cost of printing these photos only to discover that most of them weren't fit even for display on my (then bare) walls.

I mention this because only twenty years ago there was very little going on with digital photography. People used film, had to deal with film, and accepted as part and parcel of remembering family times and special places the cost of printing pictures out. I bring this up because of a post on bark I read the other day. For those who don't want to click through, the post discusses the discontinuation of Kodachrome film by Kodak and the closing of the last Kodachrome processing lab, which means this form of art (slide photography) is one step closer to extinction. This saddens me a little, but it does raise some questions for me as well, particularly about whether I should even be sad at all.

Digital photography—especially for those things everyday, but also for professional/artistic work—is frankly speaking a better way of doing things than its film counterpart. There's instant access to the art you've created. If you need a better shot, you know right away that you need a better shot; you know if the shot came out blurry; you know if the lighting was bad for the shot. And of course there are people who still process their own film who can still make the art that way if they're driven to do so.

This seems to me to be an analogous situation to what is currently happening in publishing. The AWP conference is in a couple of weeks and the Bellingham Review will be in attendance. We'll hand out fliers telling people about general and contest submissions, and this year we'll have copies of BR to sell and bookmarks to give out as well. It's going to be a good time. But I expect to see a lot more online journals there than in years past. We'll be directing people to the blog this year, and to our online short forms submissions period. Are we looking toward a day when journals will move more and more online? Printing costs can be crushing for a small journal, as well as shipping. With an online journal, web-hosting is the main fiscal concern, and since almost all journals have a web presence, they could easily move to online only. And this idea makes me sad, too, because I so much love looking at my name in print, at seeing my name in journals and in other peoples' hands. But am I being anachronistic? Am I about to become the literary equivalent of a vinyl/8-track enthusiast?

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