Has the advent of the digital camera and all the possibilities of post-processing brought about the birth of a new aesthetic? In days of aulde, gritty monochrome prints were ‘de rigeur’ the standard for most street and candid photography. ‘Fast’ 400 ASA Tri-X and Ilford HP4/5 were standard fare for street/candid/photo-journalism photography and for other photographers, e.g. Sam Haskins, who used grain as another possibility on their creative palette. In street/candid/photo-journalism photo, colour was less common. For lesser/finer grain in portraiture/glamour/fashion/scenic etc., the lower ASA films and larger formats were used. Photographers and photo-finishers experimented with all sorts of alchemy to develop different ‘soups’ to increase or decrease the grain. The first step in the changing of the grain aesthetic/concept was the development of the crystal chemistry T-Max and Delta films. Grain began to be much finer. Photographs were much more ‘smoother’ and less gritty.
Then digital photo landed. The first digital photos I saw about 20 years ago were simply horrendous. Of course there was absolutely no grain, it being replaced by huge square, “noisy” pixels. This led to the great Mega-Pixel count-up race, the *noise reducers* (which, I find ironically funny, because of the noise that the number crunchers spew out in their nit-picking.) and the *Holy Grail* of *sharpness*. Along the way the intrinsic beauty of the different types of film grain have been lost. Whether it is a smooth-grained portrait or a very gritty photo-journalistic shot.
On perusing the thousands and tens of thousands photographs online, I’m continually trying to find the ‘real’ gritty image that shows me texture. Skin , materials, matter, nature………….these all have texture in real life, but in the digital, virtual view that is not so. Everything is super smoothed plastic looking just like an airbrushed Playboy Barby. Have we become so attuned to the plasticity and/or synthenticity (hehe, love that) of our lives that our aesthetic values have changed?
Something has been lost along the way. Where photographers would choose the film/chemistry according to the qualities of the grain as an intrinsic element of their aesthetic, today the only thought is the reduction of visual noise and smoothing, thus the synthetic looking, plastic of today because pixellation noise is definitely not the results of a natural chemical reaction, but the result of man-made pixels.
I think the thing that’s really bothering me here, is the apparent lifelessness and *falseness* that I find in the vast majority of photographs I see today. The popping, clear eyes and the cream without peaches complexions don’t do it for me and this has nothing to do with my age, background, colour or creed. It’s simply my aesthetic, what I like.