The Power of Negative Thinking

Well, I do get to meet some interesting people in this line of work, don’t I?

One of the things that I’ve noticed since opening Clawhammer Press is that there are plenty of people who, like myself, are enamoured with the technology of the past. Not because we are afraid of progress, or technology, but because we see value in the process and results of the old ways. Industry tends towards faster, more efficient, and more precise. So it should be. What we don’t realize is that modern industry and technology churn ahead at breaknecking pace, in its wake is a raft of outdated technology that still has value because of what it gave us in our history, and what it can do that new technology can’t yet (or never will be able to). It takes a keen eye to spot these little gems, and often they are put aside and nearly forgotten about until the artists, philosophical gleaners of the technological era, discover, exploit, and ultimately stabilize these processes.

So yesterday I was minding my own business when a young man ran into the shop, walked right up to me and said “I’m so glad you’re open, do you mind if I take a portrait of you with your gear?”. Contrary to popular belief this doesn’t happen every day. When I seemed agreeable he brought in his camera… a WWII relic with the largest lens I’ve ever seen. Apparently the lens was used for nocturnal aerial recon in the great war, and thus was designed to accept all kinds of light.

With a few minutes of setup and fiddling with dials and knobs, my new friend Ryan of photography popped a large slab of film in the back of the camera, stepped away from it and said “I’m gonna count to 3…”. After a soft shutter he pulled the film out of the back, shook it for a few seconds, and then peeled back the cover exposing a 4″ x 5″ negative and a complete 4 x 5″ print.

According to Ryan, the resolution of the negative is the equivalent of a 243 Megapixel digital camera (they haven’t invented one of those yet, have they?). Not only that, but it develops itself, stops the process, and left me with a lovely print, and the cameraman with a negative for future prints.

With the big lens, the depth of field he was able to achieve was quite astonishing. Objects 2 feet from me were completely blurred (take that, photoshop) straight out of the camera. As you can see in the photos he took, the overall effect was classy, classic, and dramatic in a very nostalgic way.

It was only after taking the photo on the left of me sitting at the desk that we noticed the similarities between it and the photo of my Great Grandfather that I have hung on the wall. It shows him sitting at his carving bench, circa WWII, carving away to natural light. The positioning of our bodies, the lighting, and the “ethos” of the shots was pretty astonishing.

I didn’t get to meet my Great-Grandfather, since he died before I was born, but somehow I think we would have agreed; newer and faster is not always better.

Special thanks to Ryan and Beth for dropping by and leaving me with this great reminder that there are others out there who want to touch something real.

4 thoughts on “The Power of Negative Thinking

  1. Pops says:

    I didn’t know him well, Mike, as he died when I was 10, but I think you are right. He was a craftsman also, a man with an appreciation for the beauty in nature, and the interesting objects he could create with chizel, and later in life, with paintbrush.

    Thanks for this… I loved reading it.

  2. Michael Foster says:

    Love your quote “Not because we are afraid of progress, or technology, but because we see value in the process and results of the old ways”. That’s exactly how I feel when I shoot film. Great post!

    1. Clawdaddy says:

      Michael, Thanks for your comment. Yes, I’m not interested in holding on to the process of printing simply for nostalgia’s sake. What it comes down to is that it still offers something that offset or digital printing cannot, in the same way that film in cameras does for photography. As artists we can live with one foot in the past and with the other take a stride forward to apply these old process in new ways, integrating new ideas and technology into them, and in that way infuse the old with new vitality and energy.

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