Rising for Day 2 of the Expo was like having to eat a slice of warm homemade apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream - even with the lack of sleep. Out of my hotel window, a morning view of Times Square , with the pink hues of sunrise muting out the bright lights, was all the inspiration I needed. No cars were present, only a few people scurried to work on foot. I couldn't wait to return to the photo utopia of PhotoPlus.
I was fresh off the previous night's Kodak event at the Hayes Theater where pros talked about their latest projects to a crowd of about 100 feasting on Asian-inspired hors d'oeuvres. (listen to a podcast of the event soon). I stood armed with my podcasting equipment among white table linens covered with square white candles and rolls of film as centerpieces and listened to Steve McCurry, Chris Usher and John Sexton champion the use of film. And I was certain that film was not dead.
But today, I would find out that other greats were perfectly happy to completely transfer to digital and testify that the quality of their work has improved as a result. I admit I was shocked to hear famed-celebrity shooter Greg Gorman talk up digital at the Canon booth. At first, Gorman said, “I don't think that digital makes you a good photographer,” adding that he looks for “cohesiveness” in student's work. However, after he went through dozens of black and whites of the most famous people in the world, taken in a pre-digital age mostly with a Hasselblad, he pulled out the trick. A set of digital photos taken with the Canon M2 and 1DS. The crowd of spectators which overflowed onto the expo floor, listened carefully to his musings. I think many of us began to feel like we were parishioners ready to convert to a new digital religion. Still, Gorman himself wasn't a convert until a few year's ago. It was difficult to imagine that during the onset of digital in 1999, he thought the technology was “a good excuse for poor photography.”
According to Gorman, his sharp, poignant digital portraits with little or no background were able to look like that with little ambient light because of the quality of digital gear today. Reflecting on the first time he used the new Canon on a cloudy New York day, Gorman said, “I could not believe how digital saw light at such a low luminance…Film could never do that. Now I get the spontaneity of digital capture, with the quality of a 35 mm.”
Assignment Photographer Ami Vitale paralleled Gorman's comments as she spoke about her projects around the world in the Nikon booth. She uses the Nikon D200 and D1X for her shots in war-torn countries and remote areas of the world. Vitale talked about the importance of keeping her shots organized when overseas and uses the online archiving software of Photoshelter, which exhibited at the Expo. She explained the benefits of using digital when you're in the middle of India with one bag of gear. She only brings with her two bodies, two lenses and no tripod. At her talk, there was a question by a United Press International guy who had been in the previous day's talk about HP's alliance with the humanitarian organization CARE. Again, he asked the same question. Do villagers and tribal people sign releases or do they get a cut of her profits? Vitale answered, “No, I consider myself a journalist, not a commercial photographer.” The question is an interesting one though.
By the time I left the show floor to return to Washington , I began to feel that digital for professionals is here to stay. It is being used in place of traditional cameras and film by some of the best shooters in the world. But film is not dead either. The theme: we are lucky enough to be alive in a time when the medium and technology is evolving to something new. But just because we rent DVDs, doesn't mean we stop listening to the radio.
As I walked off the floor for the last time and saw a picture-perfect view of the city's skyline turning pink as the sun set, I thought about my first session of the day and how it changed my idea about what pictures could do. The session was “Watching the World Change: The Story of 9/11.” Photographers David Friend, John Labriola, Kelly Price and Jonathan Torgovik showed photos from that harrowing day on a theater-sized screen to a sobbing audience. As tears dripped onto my notepad, I realized I hadn't gotten over the day, and neither had others. The photos taken by these photographers captured the last moments of many people. The speakers explained how photos offered catharsis for many of the victims' family members.
Photographers are a special breed, they wear their hearts on their sleeves, and they enter each day like a sponge - absorbing all, whether good or bad - for the common cause of exposing life. I imagined the courage it took to hold the camera while descending the World Trade Center stairs on the morning of September 11, to photograph colleagues, firemen and employees, yet knowing that for some it would be their last picture. When you consider this, it's not important which is better . . . film or digital. The important thing should always be the subject. (See Web site for the full story soon).