A few years (another lifetime?) ago, I wrote a couple of books and was lucky enough to get them published (Allotted Time, 2006 and The Incomplete Angler, 2008). For reasons which are too complicated/personal/tedious to go into now, the writing subsequently dried up (briefly, both books detailed my utter lack of competence at two different activities – vegetable gardening and fishing – and there’s only so much of my own ineptitude I can write about, let alone foist on the general book-buying public). A third text has been taunting me since then – I’m pretty sure it’s about photography, but I guess I’m fearful that if I write about something that I actually profess to knowing something about I’ll look like an idiot. Paradoxical huh? Anyway, a couple of years or so ago I plucked up the courage to send off a synopsis to my agent (who, for reasons I won’t go into now, I sacked earlier this year). She responded by saying that it wasn’t for her, and that it sounded more like a proposal for academic study. Which was, I guess, one of the signposts along the road I have travelled to studying for the M.A. Here’s the synopsis. It seems kind of relevant to what I’m thinking about right now. Maybe I’ll write it one day…
Grains of Truth: The Case for Film Photography in Thirty-six Chapters
‘Grains of Truth’ (a reference to the unique veracity of film as a photographic medium) sets out to be, in part, a scholarly and objective view of the ongoing role of film photography as a means of factual documentation and artistic expression, whilst, in another sense, to be a first-hand, subjective narrative of my experience of the seismic changes in photographic technology of the last four decades or so. Through this, I wish to consider the effect that the transition from analogue to digital technology in general (with specific reference to cameras and photography) has had on both myself, through interspersed chapters on each of the twelve cameras I have owned or used since childhood, and on society as a larger whole, through discourses on the way in which we use and consume digital technology and on how film photography, and the sense of agency provided by analogue technology in general, can help make us happier, more patient, more careful and less greedy human beings.
The book is to be composed of thirty six main chapters, as a direct reference to the amount of available frames on a standard 35mm camera film – each chapter being at once a discrete piece of writing on its own, as well as forming an element of a larger, cohesive narrative, in a similar way to that in which a series of distinct images on a roll of film tells a story of the experience of shooting it. Twelve of these chapters will concern the aforementioned cameras and, as such, will form an autobiographical picture of the way in which the technology we use to record, process and disseminate information has transformed over the last forty years, and my relationship with it. The remaining twenty four chapters will deal with the broader impact and implications that photography – film and digital – has had on the psyche of our species, the more alarming directions that digital photography is taking us in and the proposition that film photography – with all its assets and liabilities – still has a relevance, a salience and indeed an imperative in the 21st century.
‘Grains of Truth’ is not intended as a rant against digital photography per se, rather as an examination of the appropriate (or otherwise) use of technology. Through it, I wish to convey the notion that the ever-increasing speed with which we interact with our world is in turn leading to ever-increasing frustration, impatience, impotence (in its broadest connotations), anger, alienation and, ultimately, dissatisfaction.
The cliché has it that a picture is worth a thousand words and, tempting as it might have been to slavishly impose this restriction on each chapter (each frame on a roll of film does, after all, occupy a limited amount of space), this seemed too contrived and restrictive in a book with creative freedom as one of its central themes. However, I also wish to convey a sense of the finiteness that we all must accept (as part of the mortal human condition) as being imposed on us when it comes to expressing ourselves – we all, by definition, leave some things unsaid. I wish to argue that digital photography tricks us into believing that we have almost infinite time and resources with which to live and express ourselves – we do not, and the physical limitation of film serves as a prescient reminder of our own physical and chronological limitations. It is also true that some photographs, as well as some pieces of writing, are more eloquent than others – some use very few elements and say a great deal, some chatter endlessly and say nothing at all.