I’m Back, Sort of….

Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of “being back.” Am I going to start cranking out thrice-weekly thousand word posts about what Aristotle would have thought about photography? Probably not, although it’s an interesting question and I think it would have fascinated Aristotle (384-322 BCE), given all its implications for the form/matter conundrum that animated Greek philosophy from Plato onward i.e. what is real – the individual thing or the ‘form’ it embodies? Does something have to be ‘actual’ to be ‘real’? Frankly, I think photography would have blown Aristotle’s mind.

So, a short diversion: According to Aristotle, no maker of anything starts completely from scratch. He/she always starts with material from which he produces something else. The maker’s materials are shapeless in a relative sense. The maker then ‘informs’ his materials i.e. forms or shapes them in a certain way to create something of a higher order. For example, the poet forms a poem from words and the poem is of a higher order than the words themselves. The material has the potential to be shaped into a higher order thing of human construction, and the process of doing so is a process of realization wherein material moves from a state of potential to a state of actuality. The maker “brings out” the material’s potential and transforms it into something with a higher reality.

The question that photography poses for Aristotle is simple: What’s the material the photographer (the maker) is shaping when he/she photographs? The thing photographed or the underlying physical substrate that creates the physical thing called a photo? If it’s the thing photographed, does the photograph possess a higher being than its subject? And what of a digital photo on a hard drive? Does it exist in actuality or does it just have the potential to exist?

One thing Aristotle would agree with: the movement of becoming a better photographer – a better maker of photographs – is also the movement to a higher level of being. The photographer realizes himself in the process turning potential into actuality. The good photographer possesses a design for the photograph he attempts to make, an abstraction that he/she makes visible to himself and others via its making. The photo he constructs is the realization of a potential. Potential of what? Aristotle would say it is the actualization of the photographer’s potential and thus a movement to a greater level of being for the photographer.

This is why you love photography: because your photography reflects the greater being you achieve via it, and love and being always increase together.

*************

So, I’m not going to be publishing as frequently as I’ve done before, at least not for the time being because, frankly, I’ve not given much thought to my photography in the last year or so. I’ve had other things on my mind. And I’ve pretty much tapped out my thoughts on the subject, until of course Thorsten Overgaard does something stupid, at which time I will mock him mercilessly. But, just when I think I’ve said everything I want to say about photography, I think of something else, so I’m fairly sure I’ll be posting more. Whether it’s worth reading is a different story.

And I’m going to sell my film cameras, as I never use them anymore. [Wanna buy a nice film camera? Contact me. Just don’t be the guy who haggles over everything and assumes the worst of the seller, because I won’t sell to you at any price.] It is what it is. I’ve got a freezer full of expired film – easily over a 1000 ft of various B&W stock [wanna buy some film?], and it just sits there while I snap away with my Leica M and MM. Which brings me full-circle: in 2013 I started the blog as a peon to film photography and its continued relevance (with a full dose of contempt for the crummy digital cameras Leica was then producing). Now I rarely shot film and I love my M and my MM. I’ve given up fighting the good fight, because it’s not the good fight anymore. Things move on, although Thorsten Overgaard will remain a really funny guy.

28 thoughts on “I’m Back, Sort of….

  1. Shuya

    Tim!!
    I have been checking your site almost everyday, hoping for a new post, eager for some good news about hire you’re doing and feeling. I was so happy to read your word on Aristotle and photography – indeed what an interesting thought experiment – what would Aristotle have thought of photography, and in turn, how would it have changed his thoughts? But mostly I am so happy to know that you are feeling at least a little better, enough to add a new post. I missed you.

  2. eric de montigny

    So glad to hear you’re back, even kind of…
    Seems you’re not having pleasure with the film process anymore… it’s not the end of the world.
    You will still produce images but with a different medium. Ok I won’t debate this one with you…
    I think you will streamline your process with minimal post processing and go on with your vision.
    With Erwin puts gone you site is the last one worth following for me.
    I wish you the best meanwhile.

  3. Bob Palmieri

    I’m going through a somewhat similar stage, in which I broke down my last big solo show into a number of elements and decided that I hated 90% of them, the B&W film-made-into-prints-matted-framed-and-hung-on-gallery-walls business being a large part of this.

    Now having serious trouble selling my film cameras because they’re such beautiful machines.

    “Help me if you can I’m feeling down..”

    Bob Palmieri

  4. Leicaphila Post author

    “Now having serious trouble selling my film cameras because they’re such beautiful machines.”

    Yeah, that’s my problem too. I rarely use them anymore, but having them gives me a certain pleasure I don’t get from my digital cameras, and this pleasure makes me want to use them, which I do, and then I wonder why I’m going through this laborous film process when I can simply click away with my MM, which starts the whole cycle again.

  5. Mark Whitney

    When you ask, “What’s the material the photographer (the maker) is shaping when he/she photographs?”. You give two options, the thing photographed or the physical substrate. I’ll offer a third option – the photographer’s thoughts. As Ansel Adams said: “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

    Over the years what has allowed my photography to shift from mere documentation to ‘art’ (at least I like to think so) is the realization that I should not be taking photos of things but instead I should be trying to create a physical representation of my thoughts. Machines can take really good photos of things but only humans can use a camera to create art.

  6. Andreas

    Glad to see you back Tim! Missed your thought-stimulating posts. I think you are spot on with your analysis on the motivation to photograph, at least for me. However, the process as such is still an important factor for me. While taking images, it does not matter, if I use my M240, the MM, the M6 or my Mamiya Universal. The distinction comes in the creation of the physical print. I was in the darkroom yesterday and the prints I produced rewarded me with a degree of satisfaction that I never achieve when working digitally. Why it is like that for me, I do not know. It is surely not the quality, because the digitally produced prints often surpass the darkroom ones. So, it is likely the process and the craft involved that make the difference. Or is it just the ability to honor the history of this great medium by the darkroom work?

  7. Dan Newell

    You’re still vertical! Cool…..

    Why go with Aristotle when you can ask TvO about it all-

    “Your style is not recognized by what is in the photographs, but how they are taken. It’s the way you talk that is your style.”

    Showing, once again, that some individuals are just walking around trying to save burial costs.

  8. Rob Campbell

    I think that one should perhaps forget making comparisons between film and digital photography: they are very different things and only superficially similar.

    After my initial seduction into photography due much to the design of Leicas of the 50s, I discovered the magic of the darkroom, and that was the terminal hook! I thought I was good in the darkroom until I joined the professional photo unit within the engineering company where I’d started my working life in engineering, and I realised just how much I had to learn. It took me about five to six years to get to the stage where I stopped thinking consciously about grades of paper, dodging and burning etc. and just printed more or less on technical auto. That gave me a great advantage when I went solo, and I had no need to use professional labs except for colour, because colour processing was never going to make sense for me on my modest colour throughput. I had done a lot of colour in that photo unit, and it always depressed me when I did have to sub out prints to colour labs: they never went that final test that would have made their printing good. I could see it, but the old monster of commercially acceptable raised its head every time I felt driven to complain.

    So, which do I find the more rewarding? I still have a pristine Nikon F3 that has not been used in years. My digital cameras – only one still functions – now lie pretty idle too. I have simply run out of steam, enthusiasm, subjects – call it what you will – but the desire to shoot has almost disappeared out of, I think, frustration with what’s available to me. I guess I realised that shooting out of habit is as dumb as writing to newspapers or to some of the photographic sites with which I once spent hours communicating. It serves little purpose but uses a lot of resources. Maybe I just accepted that I got old.

    Emotional attachment to particular cameras at the time of exchanging them? Oddly enough, mainly in retrospect only. At the time, I was always certain that I was doing the right thing, right until the moment I realised I’d made some terrible, expensive mistakes. Think two Hassy 500 Series bodies that were sacrificed for a 6×7 system that was never much good.

    Were Aristotle a photographer, I think he’d have run with film: a sensible cat, at least he’d have known that at the end of the day he would have had something concrete to show for all the hard work, something with a better shot at eternal life.

    1. Dan Newell

      What?? He’s down with digital.
      He’d be shooting an Athens Model M205CF, the one with the carbon fibre chassis, twin-in body strobes, 250 mega’s and it’s waterproof to 600 feet. Don’t get me started on the lenses….
      Printing would be done on his Minotaur 4000 of course. That’s 16 Greys and 9 Blacks with it’s own silver dispenser and quick dry gelatin hyper-sonic spray heads with InstaDry.

      And no you can’t afford that kit, I can’t either because we’re not Rooty Toot Philosopher Dudes!
      Damn shame though.

  9. Andras Ikladi

    Best news of the day, Leicaphilia showing up in my news feed again.
    Welcome back, I was worried! Hope the worst of it is behind.

  10. Daniel Castelli

    Tim,
    I’m glad you’re back. You’ve traveled a tough road, full of loose stone, sharp rocks and mosquitos chewing you up.
    Now it’s time for a sandy beach, no mosquitos in sight and a cool, iced drink of your choice. Take out your .22 pistol and shoot at some rusty cans.
    Digital? Film? Tow may toe? Tow mah toe? Both involve emotion/eye, both involve process. Both involve critical self-reflection. At the end of the day, you get your fingers wet with chemicals or carpal tunnel from the keys.
    I wish you a continued good recovery. I hope you get good photos. I hope your family can now exhale.
    -Dan

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Thanks Dan. And everyone else who’s wished me good health. I had my first full body scan since my surgery and am cancer free. I’m incredibly grateful for all of the positive vibes that came my way. Thank you.

      The wife and will be traveling a bit to celebrate. Among other places, we’ll be in Dubrovnik, Rome and Paris for a few days. Hopefully we can navigate the COVID thing without too much hassle. We are both vaccinated (no anti-vax insanity for us – science actually works, believe it or not).

      1. Rob Campbell

        Before you go to Rome, see two movies: Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and the later version – sort of – called La Grande Bellezza, from Paulo Sorrentino.

        Beautiful imagery; you might even discover a liking for moody colour in the latter. Either way, from my own too brief Roman experiences, there’s nothing like standing on the Vittoriano steps as the Sun goes low. Just like in the 60s, there was that feeling that you could do anything you wanted to do. I’ve often wished that I could have settled in Rome, but the timing sucked. As so often. Guess it tells you why my website has its name.

        Go, enjoy the city.

      2. stefano

        First of all, great to hear the news about your recovery, that is certainly worth celebrating in style! I am currently spending time in Europe too; C-19 restrictions change frequently in every Country here as numbers go up and down (they have their share of idiots too who decide that vaccination is not necessary), but once you are vaccinated yourself things get easier. Right now in France access to bars, restaurants, clubs etc. is limited to those who carry the vaccination green pass (or a recent negative test), and apparently Italy is close to doing the same. On the other hand, they are trying hard to entice tourism to come back, so you should be fine to travel with your certificate.

  11. JamesP

    “…until of course Thorsten Overgaard does something stupid, at which time I will mock him mercilessly.”

    Dear Herre “von” Overgaard: Please do something stupid.

  12. Bob

    Thanks for sharing the news about the scan, and your plans to do what you’re gonna do.

    We will still, of course, be interested in what you’ll be taking to shoot stuff with…

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Bob:

      I’m taking the Monochrom with a 35mm f2.5, the M with a 50mm, and the trusty Ricoh GXR with M Mount and 21mm VC for the ‘street photography.’

  13. George Feucht

    I read this “done with film” thing today literally 12 hours after opening my box from Leica Store Manchester containing my new MP. It was a splurge but work has been good and I just wanted to buy a new film Leica once in my life. Its funny because your side-by-side comparison of MM to Tri-X from a few years back is what only solidified my own preference for film (the comparisons with the model). If I ever go the same route as you and declare that I’m finished with film, I’m not too worried… I bought the MP a year ago (yes it was backordered for that long) when the Pound Sterling was down and I could sell it right now for about 50% more than what I paid.

    I’m not thrilled that Tri-X is now over $8 per roll, so there’s that too.

    The problem is that film photography doesn’t live in either end of the spectrum of photography. For a while, pros still shot medium format because digital wasn’t good enough. Now, if you have a pro shoot, you WILL be shooting digital unless you have some legendary name/reputation and you can call the shots. The other end is point-and-shoot consumers: It is all iPhone now. Film is now a niche.

    Regardless, so happy to hear that you are cancer free! That is spectacular news. Enjoy your digital Ms (hey I have an M too) and looking forward to your thoughtful critiques of our favorite Scientologist elephant skin bag maker.

  14. Nick Davis

    Good to read that your health is on the mend from a fellow cancer sufferer who has also been fixed, in this case by our great British NHS! Enjoy your break, you deserve it.
    Nick D

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