Furka Ishchuk-PaltsevaHen Party (2009)

If you’ve followed this project for a while, you’ll be well versed in my own personal bias against digital in favor of good, old-fashioned film.

I’m not a Luddite–hell, my day job is as Systems Admin. It’s not that I’m incapable of working digitally–I have digital gear and I possess a general mastery of working with it.

Why do I prefer analog? Well, there’s the obvious reasons: film’s vastly superior resolution coupled with the feel that an organic grain structure contributes the image. It is those things but it’s also about process.

One of the first things you learn when you begin to study cinematography is that not all light is created equal. By ‘equal’, I mean that the temperature at which a source of illumination burns determines the color of the light.

For example: although we think of the sun as yellow, we think of sunlight as white when, in fact, daylight is blue in color and burn at approximately 5600K. (Interesting note: daylight is bluer in winter, more yellow in summer.) A standard incandescent bulb–not these new-fangled CFL bulbs which you can buy in any number of color temperatures but always seem to make everything look like a pile of shit under restaurant heating lamps–or tungsten illumination burns at about 3200K.

Thus when you are shooting something you have to consider in advance what your light sources will be. Are you shooting in Midtown Manhattan at high noon? Well, then you’re probably going to want Daylight balanced stock. Shooting a family dinner scene that happens at night? Tungsten balanced stock is probably gonna be the way to fly. (Of course, you can shoot whatever stock and either adjust your lighting to match it or slap a filter on the lens to correct. The last time I shot 16mm stock, I shot everything on daylight balanced stock and made sure to shoot color bars at the head of each reel and then had the lab color correct the telecine.)

From a process standpoint, I prefer having the decision about color balance made in advance. It’s one less thing to measure. (And really that’s probably the thing I hate most about digital. The workflow is fussier to me than analog where I find my frame and the camera becomes a reference instead of a distraction. With digital, I have to white balance. I have to judge exposure using the histogram. (Honestly, fuck histograms. Give me a Sekonic L-398A any day of the week and twice on Sunday. That way I’m interacting with the scene instead of evaluating it on some shitty, small ass LED camera back or worse a $10K HDMI monitor.)

With digital, I am intensely suspicious of the instant gratification. You snap a shot, you record the scene and you can playback everything immediately. It foments this WYSIWYG approach to art-making that strikes me as repugnant.

It’s like the Stanford marshmallow experiment, wherein researchers offered children one marshmallow now or two later on. There’s no way around it, digital is the child who insists on instant gratification.

That’s what I love about this image. Fuji Pro 400H is a daylight balanced color negative stock. But the primary source of illumination comes from Tungsten bulbs in the overhead fixtures. This pushes the daylight on the ceiling and wall blue-green, while tinging the young woman’s skin orange.

In fact, it’s the color that ‘sells’ this image. The composition is interesting but not really inspired. The languid lazy dancing would seem contrived if not for the way the color functions to separate the body from the background.

Ultimately, that’s what I appreciate most about this image. Triggering the shutter on a scene like this is always a risk–no matter your degree of expertise. You can only intuit that it’ll turn out readable.

Yes, the more you do it the better your instincts become… but there’s always an leap of faith required on the part of the camera operator. You can’t just check the LED screen to make sure you’ve got it.

And that’s what I love this so much because I know what it’s like to re-experience the wonder that drove you to memorialize the image in the first place–without knowing whether or not it would turn out. And the extreme wonder when it does and the moment you see on the film is like a glinting spark in amber, that when it hits the light just right, puts you nearly out-of-body back into the feeling you wanted to hold onto so you clicked the shutter and prayed it would work out.

That ability is the reason I bother with this photography thing.

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