Rituals old and new...

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There are many rituals associated with photography and the act of taking a photograph. Some have survived the test of time, others forgotten as technology removes them from the process.

I was reminded of this the other day when considering the rise in interest in vinyl playback. Some of you reading this may be too young to have embraced what used to be the only way to play and listen to music. The ritual of pulling out the record (still in its sleeve), the process of opening the gatefold album cover, the visual feast of album artwork (some of these album covers deserved to be framed) sliding the inner sleeve from the cover and carefully removing the 12 inch disc from its protective layers. Placing the record onto the turntable platter and then using what can only be described as a velvet block that was meant to remove dust from the playing surface, but in reality simply moved the dust around the record rather than clean it in any way. The tonearm moved carefully into position above the leading edge and then lowering this onto the playing surface with the unavoidable 'thump' as the stylus came into contact with the groove. We were then rewarded with music, the odd crackle and pop and repeating the whole ritualistic process when the playing of that side was finished.

With the advent of MP3, Hi Def audio and other music playing formats, this ritual does not exist or indeed for that matter has existed for many. Yet a growing number of people today are embracing this 'old' technology with an inexhaustible appetite for all things analogue.

Considering the comparisons with photography, we have also in many ways seen the demise of the ritual. Removing film from its box and carton, loading the cartridge into the camera, catching the leading edge of the film with the sprocket holes engaged into the drive (often a frustrating and inconsistent process - especially with medium format film), watching as the film rewind knob started to turn and then seeing a number one appear in the frame counter window. Taking a meter reading, manually focusing, setting our desired aperture with corresponding shutter speed and pressing the shutter. Winding on to the next frame and so on. The whole process somewhat deliberate and considered - very ritualistic.

Fast forward to today and we simply pop in a memory card - takes about 10 seconds, format if required. Check our ISO, aperture, autofocus, fire the shutter and away again.

Some people who were brought up on film, miss the ritual of analogue, others like myself, whilst remembering these days fondly, appreciate the fact that there are less processes getting in the way of doing what photography is all about - actually taking pictures.

Nostalgia has its place. There is something lovely and satisfying about shooting Large Format film, attaching a 4"x5" film back onto something like an Ebony RSW 45 is an experience never forgotten and the whole ritual of using a ground glass screen with inverted and reversed image, to focus and frame is certainly a life changing moment - perhaps in a way that makes you appreciate the ease of framing with our DSLR or CSC cameras.

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Many will argue that images today are cheap and it costs nothing to press a shutter, that we do not consider carefully what we capture and the there is little or no thought for composition - you could say, missing the true soul of photography.

I would challenge that point of view and considering the quality of image submissions we receive from our online photography course students - there are many who shoot in a considered, methodical and creative fashion. It is humbling just how unaware many of these passionate photographers are to their own true potential and ability.

The new ritual of photography is the pleasure of instantly reviewing what we have captured, the moment that brings a smile to our faces, the warm feeling inside that our early rise from our bed to stand in the cold and witness the spectacle of a magical sunrise, captured exactly as we hoped and at times exceeding our expectations. The decisive moment when we congratulated ourselves for deciding to carry our camera when we thought about leaving it in the car and realising we have photographed a moment we would otherwise have missed - that is the new ritual of photography and that is why we should be grateful, embrace the technology and thank every camera manufacturer for making all that possible and accessible.

Can we expect to see a resurgence in film photography as we have seen with black 12" vinyl? I expect not, perhaps the odd trip down memory lane and as they say, nostalgia is not what it used to be......

I am now away to play Miles Davis on 12" vinyl............ :)

Mark Cargill

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