Photographers are seekers. The images they make are a juxtaposition of a moment, a place, imagination and light – framed-up and sealed in the exposure. Regardless of pre- or post-visualization, the stage must be set, found, or assembled. The photographer makes a record of the reflections of light waves; what the darkened silver crystals or the lit-up pixels describe feeds into the minds of the author and viewer, filtered by culture and personal history. What difference does it make then, if the exposure is made to film or CCD plate?
When the concept for the image occurs, whether it is a moment of recognition or a matter of long and arduous reflection, the tool that is used to execute the concept plays an important role. The digital camera suffers few restrictions to the quantity of images that it can hold. With enough batteries and gigabytes of memory, the quantity of images made, for all meaningful purposes, is infinite. And there is no additional cost for accumulating a host of images, either in film or processing, so a photographer is freed conceptually from conventional photography’s severe economic and space restrictions. There is no longer the need, then, to examine carefully a scene and analyze it for the best angle. There is no need to seek the right moment in time; one is free to record all moments and make a choice during post processing. And if a tableau is being created, any variation of lighting, angle, and focus, and expression are all available to record without any cost but the time taken.
This characteristic of digital photography shifts the emphasis of image-making to post processing. Without consciously attempting to do so, a photographer armed with a digital camera and computer will find themselves in a very different situation than that of reviewing contact sheets to select THE final image. Rather than reviewing a dozen shots, they find themselves reviewing dozens, perhaps hundreds, of images all with subtle shifts as the camera and subject move through space and modulations of light. The discipline of focusing on the moment of exposure shifts to concentrating on editing in the studio. The abundance of recorded possibilities takes the photographer away from the moment; the reality of the moment – the smells, sounds, the air, and the emotion – is separated from the moment of editing.
While it is true that with silver-based photography the photographer habitually made multiple images, whether shooting hundreds of feet of film in a commercial shoot or a few dozen of a landscape, and therefore went through an editing process far away from the environment where the exposure was made, still, the cost and burdensome roll changing and accumulation of film forced the photographer to make choices while immersed in everything that made up the ambiance at the time of creation. It was necessary to make some aesthetic choices during the act, and these choices were informed by the immersion of the artist in the environment – in the happening of the moment. The digital photographer on the other hand, liberated from the necessity of making choices, may edit freely, precisely, and with ample time for observation of the still image, but without the sense of the moment present. Certainly, the digital photographer has the freedom to choose discipline over abundance, to force a choice. But doesn’t the possibility of endless accumulation of images provide a tempting solution to self-doubt? (Will I make the right choice today?) How many photographers in the past have made exposures only to regret, as they reviewed their slides in the lab, that they did not take just one more photograph? Why take the risk of missing the perfect confluence of light and moment, when the alternative is so easily obtainable?
The magical act of conceiving the image has been joined equally with the act of making a selection from a wealth of images; analysis trumps the passion of the moment – there is no need for the photographer to take a risk and commit to closure on the image until they’ve thoughtfully considered the many alternatives.