Changing Standards in Midstream
When I started photography — I thoroughly dislike starting a sentence like that; it makes me sound like some old geezer reminiscing about "the good old days," which I'm not . . . reminiscing, that is . . . geezer, well, maybe — the high water mark of ultimate image quality was typically the 8x10 view camera. Nothing compared to an 8x10 contact print for sharpness and smooth, grainless tonalities. Smaller cameras and larger prints were always a matter of defining one's acceptable amount of compromise against this high water mark.
Things are not so easy these days. Smaller cameras can present far more detail than the 8x10 behemoths of my youth — with the use of stitching techniques, of course. With digital sharpening, I'm seeing images that exhibit more acuity than the fuzzy masks of our film-day dreams. Color saturations abound, spotless prints are the new norm, and creative cloning presents us all with the balance of ethics versus aesthetics.
The bottom line for me is that the overall quality of photographs I'm seeing has shot up tremendously. This leaves me with an unexpected dilemma: sometimes when I look at the film work of 30 years ago, I'm disappointed with the images because they don't measure up to today's standards. This is an entirely unfair comparison. The images of 100 years ago don't measure up to those of 30 years ago, but we don't chide them for not doing so. We simply consider them a product of their times and the state of technology when they were made. We've invented the term "alternative process" to differentiate these images so we judge them by a different set of standards. I wish I could do this with more contemporary work. I wish I could do this with my work. I can't help but look at some grainy, slightly soft-focused image of a couple dozen years ago and think it falls short. I should think it is a product of 1980s and be less judgmental. I need to work on that.