The rediscovery of analog photography in the last few years is surely not an answer to the rise of artificial artworks by generative AI, but this rise might make working with analog materials more relevant. The rediscovery of analog processes is more likely an answer to the ubiquity of digital images. With the rise of very capable and affordable SLRs ten years ago and later pushing those qualities to the smartphone, the digital image became a truly global mass product—hence the new terminology “content” for what we used to call photography as an applied art. Going back to analog, not for the quality of an image (which is rationally seen worse) nor the sake of being conservative (“that’s how we always did it”), but for the slow and more deliberate nature of taking an image and the added surprise of how the final image will look—which inevitably comes with the chemical process—may gain another argument: The paper trail. For sure, there will be a discussion in the future of this journal about what role trust plays in art, but having a clear chemical paper trail to ones images might be a boon for artists like me in the long run.
Photography lives in two different worlds. One is the world of fine arts, where photography took place around 100 years ago, with renowned artists, exhibitions and sky-high prices on the art market. The other is the world of applied arts, where reportage meets portraiture meets commercial photography. But where is the line between the two? Is photography general art with an applied side, or is it applied art that occasionally veers into the fine arts? Looking at the numbers of photographers working on the commercial side, the latter seems to be the case. I would offer a third option: Abandon the tag of “applied arts” altogether. It does not help the disciplines it spans: Architecture, design, typography, photography and others are their own distinct fields. Using “Something-art” as a way of trying to be more artsy, valuable or relevant does not bring the glory we hope it does. It’s in the words: “Something-art” will always be more something than art. To fully understand Photography or any other creative field, we need to accept the full breath of the different dimensions they may have—be they artistic, social or commercial.