Digital vs film photography: the point of view of two UNM professors

Just as a painter has to think about what paints he needs to execute his latest idea, a photographer has to think about what medium he will choose to bring his photograph to life. Generally, it boils down to two options: digital or film?

According to a CBS article which traces the history of the digital camera. It wasn’t until the development of DSLR cameras and the invention of mobile phone photography that digital became the primary photographic medium.

Film photography, however, has seen a recent resurgence. Sales of 35mm cameras have increased since 2015, according to the New York Timeswho attribute the film’s resurgence to a similar nostalgia brought on by other vintage trends like the return of vinyl records.

Patrick Manning, an associate professor in the Department of Art at the University of New Mexico, said he sees digital as the creation of an image and film as a reflection of reality.

“Analog tends to lend itself to a belief in mirroring reality…I kind of have a strain of work that’s very highly fabricated; it’s overtly fabricated – that it couldn’t be of real footage. And I tend to use…digital for that,” Manning said.

Jim Stone, a distinguished professor in the art department, acknowledged that the technology is different to some extent, but largely considers the two mediums to be one and the same.

“Basically, you’re using some sort of device to record how light is reflected from the real world, so at its core level, it’s the same thing,” Stone said.

Stone explained that “your ideas should guide your process” and that the medium chosen, whether digital or film, should be dictated by the image you are trying to capture.

“As an artist, your ideas should drive your process, not the other way around,” Stone said. “So I’m a bit reluctant for someone to say, ‘I’m a film photographer,’ or ‘I’m a stainless steel sculptor,’ because that’s kind of a limiting statement.”

Film photography requires the photos to be chemically developed, either by the photographer or by a photo lab. Manning pointed out the difference in the processes that go into creating images on film or digitally after the image has been taken and said film is a more enjoyable experience for him.

“I find working in analogue, the actual working process of analogue, to be more enjoyable than the working process of digital. Even though it can be just as tedious… Sitting at a computer is less enjoyable, for me, than manual stuff,” Manning said.

Stone, however, said he embraces the ease of the digital process and how technology can help create a more seamless artistic process.

“As an artist, I spent 30 years or more in darkrooms. I won’t be going back,” Stone said. “I think, for the type of work I do, the digital system is much better. It’s more controllable – it does things that the movie didn’t easily do at all, so I really prefer it.

Color film lends itself to having richer, more saturated colors, according to Manning, something he said digital has yet to recreate.

“For the general public, for people who are still using film, a lot of it is when they’re working on color… They’re getting better in some of these film simulations, but it’s still not there to some ways… Some of the way the film distorts is not captured by the current simulations of those distortions that we have,” Manning said.

Stone cited the “magic” of the film’s development process as part of the reason people started coming back to film photography.

“You would put a piece of white paper in a liquid and very quickly an image appears. And that’s pretty exciting,” Stone said.

John Scott is the editor of the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @JScott050901

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