On Going Analogue and What We Value


K Madhavan Pillai

The allure of analogue is not all that strange, or is it? Fujifilm was selling a million units of Instax products in a month, worldwide, from reports early this year. That is double the number from two years before. Just a few days ago, a photographer who was featured in Better Photography earlier, got herself a very beautiful looking Canon IVsb rangefinder, a pioneering camera manufactured in 1952, and is planning on putting a few rolls of film through it. Another friend got herself a tattoo, copied rather realistically from a photo. Online, I came across several websites through which realist painters offer services to copy portraits using oils, from a digital image, onto canvas, by hand. And in this issue, we feature Anna Atkins, a botanist, whose stunning cyanotypes with beautifully handwritten text became the first ever book of photographs, published in 1843. Many significant artists today continue using the cyanotype process to create single edition prints.

One of the reasons for photography becoming popular was the permanence of the image. There were other practical reasons, including the immediacy of capture. But the very idea of having a record, evidentiary or as a fragment of reality, or as a memory preserved, that lasted decades or a lifetime, was a hugely important step in humanity’s progress. And so, it went on… technologies of printing that outlasted one, two and then three generations. And then digital photography and ‘storage’, which redefined both immediacy and permanence. And there it was. The per unit cost of capturing a moment reduced. The more you capture, the cheaper it got. And nothing need ever be lost to the ravages of time, not even to cataclysmic disasters now (the last I heard).

Unfortunately, there is this condition of permanent impermanence, as far as humans and their memories go, where out of sight is, quite literally, out of mind. If you can’t remember when and what you photographed, and then where it all is, and in what form, it hardly makes much difference, does it? So how does all of it matter, in the first place?

Yet, some things, like some memories, are so indescribably valuable, that they simply need to be remembered. And that value needs to exist only for us, and with us, until it is time to move on. This is perhaps ingrained into our genetic code, where humans eventually need to let go of baggage (in order make room for more?). Impermanent permanence, so to speak, where we know that some things, very personal things, must inevitably be lost for good, for it to have value. Of course, when it comes to analogue photography, there is also a certain relaxing, self-actualising joy in the process of it, in producing something, in the craft of the art, in performing the craft well. We appreciate beautiful art born of extraordinary craft, and that has a lot of value to others as well, especially in these times of permanent impermanence, and vice versa.