I sit here in my studio surrounded by machines. They attract a lot of dust so I’m constantly vacuuming around here. Clients and students are forever dropping by so I need to at least present the illusion of neatness. Never mind that there are stacks of useless paperwork and unread magazines in the corners. I pretend they aren’t there and so they’re not. Denial is my friend.
The machines make noise and glow in the dark. They require regular feeding, especially the huge Epson printer. The 44-inch printer reminds me of a small submarine. I sometimes catch myself in a South Pacific fantasy with my one-man submarine. I digress.
The machines have long ago replaced my ancient, chemical darkroom. When I was a kid, the darkroom was my haven, a place where I could work in blackness and pretty much be left alone. My bedroom was my darkroom for years and I cringe at the thought of breathing in those acrid stop-bath fumes while sleeping. I could only work at night and, inevitably, would fall asleep somewhere in the middle of some photo project. I’d wake up to a haze of chemical smog. Lovely.
Today, the glowing machines make my photo life much easier. I work whenever I want, stop and start at my pleasure. I have unreal control over my images. My prints look better than ever. However, last night I caught myself in an ever-present ritual. I spent another four hours learning to use some newly-released software. Forget the fact that I know plenty about software and have probably forgotten about 80% of all my new-software training. I keep doing it. I figure I’ll reach some state of bliss where all will be known and people will visit from around the world for sage advice. I will have the answer to all Photoshop questions in my head and visitors will marvel at the discovery of the perfect digital workflow.
This, of course, is folly. I should be out with my camera, not sitting here learning something that I’ll forget within the week. But, I keep at it. Digital imaging seems endlessly complex, endlessly alluring, forever compelling. I do love it. But, like any great love, I need some boundaries.
If it weren’t for digital imaging I would not have returned to photography after a very long hiatus. I could no longer handle the chemicals and the five-hour marathons in the darkroom. The good old days were often not so good. Today I love my machines and all their idiosyncrasies. The printer does get cranky every so often, asking for extravagantly-expensive ink or a good head cleaning. I do my best to keep it content. Every time a machine wheezes, sputters, and breathes its last breathe, it makes me sad. A new machine can never really replace the spirit of the old. But, soon, the newcomer finds its place in the family and the lights and fans and glowing diodes all sing together. I am the ringmaster of my digital circus and all is well.
Today, I post an image that I took last year at a shoreline park in Berkeley. The image has been sitting in my computer and needed some fresh air. So, on a whim, I’m attaching it to the blog. Presto! Now it’s out in the world. My chemical darkroom, for all its magic, could never have done this. Maybe all those software lessons are paying off.