Betty and I are off venturing in the foothills of Northern California on the beginning of another screening tour. One of the things we like best about traveling like this is how we get to see so much of the US that we might not be able to visit otherwise. We get to meet people we probably would never have met. We get to shoot video and take photographs. We get to SEE.
The last few days we’ve conducted a prolonged and detailed discussion about film and video and photography, something we seem to do a lot. Each of us is toting around multiple cameras and we have been taking in and recording what we have discovered. Beside our screenings, paramount on the agenda have been a couple of days shooting photos in the Mono Lake Basin and Yosemite country. We are old travelers in this part of the world but remain amazed and hypnotized by nature’s variety. Tufa tubes like soft, crumbling teeth, and new aspen leaves the color of Bearss limes, snowy peaks far above the tree line, ice on the high meadow tarns, spots of dirty snow (it’s a dry year here and the portents are for FIRE).
On Wednesday, Mono Lake wore a variety of hues, some like high mountain lakes in Idaho, some reminding me of the Mediterranean off the southwest coast of Majorca in the channel between Isla Dragonera and the fishing village of Sant Elm. Besides dental imagery, the tufa formations reminded me of hoodoos in the south of Utah and as Betty says, the ancient remains of Roman villas on the west coast of Italy.
In Yosemite, the moisture content is dangerously low and the threat of fire will hang over the Sierra until major rain/snow shows up and drops heavy doses of relief. Despite the lack of snow, the meadows are the color of fresh mornings and the waterfalls thunder and thump, throwing echoes into the walls of the canyons.
Some of the conflict between film photography and digital photography just got resolved around our outfit. We used to shoot film. Then we put our old Pentax K1000 film cameras away with all the lenses and the accoutrements of a past artistic age and moved on to digital cameras which we have to upgrade. Upgrade. Upgrade because the ones we own right now just…they just don’t….they just can’t…we don’t like….
We got our K1000s reworked, renewed; bought some film…yes it still exists…and we’ve been taking photos of the country with our new old cameras. Black and white film is our milieu and that means it is about form and shape and shades of gray. It’s also about planning the shot, thinking of aperture and shutter speed and light, things that you think of too with digital, but film is finite in a number of ways—how many shots on a roll, how much they cost—not like digital where you just throw away what you don’t like at no apparent cost, although I suspect that with the act of shooting a photo there is a cost in time and effort and something more that cannot be regained, something about artistic moments lost and never again showing up. Because each moment, each shadow, each glint of light on a distant piece of quartz, the osprey pair on the tufa formations, the coyote at Glacier Point, the mule deer in Yosemite Valley, all these things in composite will not occur again, just the same way, in our short lives. Too, with film there is something very satisfying about the sound of the film advancing and the click the shutter makes when you take that photo. Digital doesn’t do that although they try to make the cameras so that they might sound that way. But it is not the same.
We still shoot digital too, and especially if the scene, like Half Dome over the rush of Merced River rapids, is about the vibrant colors of May in the mountains, yellows and greens and blues, not black and white and gray. We use our cell phones too and shoot both still and video. Hopefully we will look at what we have created as not just shooting photos for the act of shooting photos, but shooting photos for the aesthetic. For what it means, whether black and white or red and blue, or digital or film or….