On Film and Digital

This post also appears on my Tumblr.

I’ve been pretty interested in photography for the last seven or so years now. I started shooting on a Canon Digital Rebel (300D) as a senior in high school, then before long I got a Canon AE-1 Program off eBay to experiment with, since then I’ve picked up a variety of film cameras; Argoflex 75 (my grandma’s TLR c. 1950), FED 5B, Polaroid, Hasselblad, and a few others.

I made the “retrograde” transition to film because I had come across a number of photographers online using film and there was something about the quality of photo that I wanted to emulate, and I was kinda a gear junkie at the time so I figured I should get somewhat similar equipment to try to get somewhat similar results. Another factor in the transition is that I’m a very do-it-yourself guy, I enjoy working with my hands and thus I enjoy the hands-on nature of film. Plus I enjoy doing some things as they were done in the past, somewhat “getting back to the roots,” which developing my own film contributes to nicely.

I digress. The reason I’m writing this is to express my frustration for a select group of people and those people would be the individuals that praise the virtues of film and regard digital as being of little worth anytime the subject of “Which one should I use?” comes up. To always say “oh, film is the way to go” each and every time – especially to beginners of photography – is a bit much, and I think harms the photography community at large.

There are benefits to each type of photography; film and digital definitely have their places.

If someone who was just starting to learn about photography came up to me and asked what kind of camera they should use, I would whole-heartedly recommend a digital camera. A lot can be learned from a simple $250 digital point and shoot these days; all sorts of settings can be adjust to teach the basics of what changes in aperture and ISO do and how to compose properly. Trial and error is the name of the game in learning the basics, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Whereas learning on a film camera can get costly. Say you shoot 25 rolls of film on your new-from-ebay $50 35mm film SLR. That’ll cost you $3 per roll of film (conservative), plus $5 to develop per roll (also conservative), for a grand total of $375 for 2700 shots – in just film and processing costs – just to learn the basics and you don’t even get to see how small changes in aperture/ISO/composition affect the final shot right away. Then you need to scan them to get them in the computer, which means extra cost by way of a film scanner or having the lab do it for you. Don’t think otherwise, film photography is not cheap and is not getting any cheaper.

Disregarding the cost of learning, I don’t see a big draw or need to learn photographic skills using film to begin with when digital makes things so easy and cheap. You could equate it to learning to drive an automatic transmission car before taking on the extra challenge of learning to drive a manual. Get the basics down and then go from there. Once you have the basics down and are ready to enter the varied world of film: have a blast fiddling around cause man, there is a lot of fiddling around to be done.

Some things I commonly hear:

“You can make bigger prints from a 35mm negative, than a digital photo.” For the time being, yes, this is technically true, but the gap is getting narrower every day. And really, how many people are actually printing their photos bigger than A4? A very, very small portion, and for those people film might be the only economical option, but in reality what percentage of photographers is this an issue?

“Grain is better than noise.” Sure, grain is preferable to noise. But that’s why you learn to shoot properly to eliminate noise in the first place.

“Film photography is more credible as art.” Now that’s a slippery slope there. Might as well debate “what is art.”

“Digital photography isn’t real photography.” Yes. Yes it is. Is a movie only a movie if it’s recorded on a traditional film camera? No. With digital photography you’re still taking a light-sensitive surface, exposing it, and making an image. That fills the definition. It’s called progress. You wouldn’t say film photography isn’t real photography because it’s isn’t a daguerrotype.

I see people put film up on a pedestal all the time, and usually it’s the people that start using film to be different. The people that think creating art in a more labor intensive way gives more significance to their art. The people you see on Tumblr (in bunches) and Flickr (in hordes) with their double-exposed, cross-processed, holga shots on deadstock taking themselves way too seriously. Film is just a medium in photography, much like pens and pencils are different media in the drawing world. To claim one isn’t legitimate, hell, to even claim one is more artistically more valid is more than naïve.

To the film purists that claim film to be superior to digital in most regards: get a life.

You can take some great photos with digital, and you can take some pretty shitty photos with film and vice versa. It’s all about knowledge and skill. Don’t limit yourself to one media because you’re doing just that, limiting your options. A few classic sage words: Use the right tool for the job.

I’m going to continue to shoot film because I enjoy the process and all the stuff that goes with it. But I will always have my digital camera(s) for when the moment warrants.

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Related future rants: Hipsters and film cameras. “Lomo.”

On Hiatus… Kinda

For the meantime, new posts will be happening on my Tumblr account, which currently resides at blog.alexjacque.com.

Now why the switch from WordPress to Tumblr? Well, here’s a few reasons:

  • Tumblr’s interface get’s out of the way and makes it super-easy to post content
  • I don’t have time to constantly update my plugins, wordpress version, tweak my install, etc
  • The Tumblr platform makes it so easy to get my content in front of other’s eyes
  • It’s just so easy…

One of reasons I’m switching over is that I don’t see myself writing longer articles as I tried to do here in the past. And because of that, I don’t feel the need to have such a big, fleshed-out CMS. I really want the experience of posting content to really fade into the background and get out of my day-to-day experience.

If and when I decide to take back up writing long(er) articles with a real focus, I’ll post them here as well. But for all the other stuff, take a peek at my Tumblr.

The Decade in Review

Leaving out world events, this is the last decade in review for me, complete (mostly) with some photos (a few embarrassing ones too):

2000

I was 14 years old. I “graduated” middle school and started high school. My days consisted of school work, home work, and video games. The only class I can remember taking this year was a double-paced micro/macro-science class. I was not one of the popular kids, but I considered a good deal of my classmates my friends. I had a pretty tight group of friends that would last for the next several years. We mostly got together to play video games like as Super Smash Bros., Starcraft, and Diablo II. LAN parties were de rigueur.

2001

I was 15 years old. I transitioned from my freshmen year to my sophomore year in high school. I got braces. I spent most days in classes. Evenings we’re spent watching movies, playing video games, or dicking around on the computer. In 2001 I got my first Macintosh – a G4 733 MHz Digital Audio Edition. Around this time I received a pirated copy of Photoshop – I’ve bought every other version since – from a friend, which began an interest in the graphic arts that I was to continue with for a long time.

2002

I was 16 years old. I moved on from my sophomore year to my junior year of high school. Not much changed from the previous year. I was still a big nerd; didn’t participate in any sports. My social life wasn’t the greatest, but I had fun. Our LAN parties became bigger and began to focus on newer games, particularly Counter-Strike – Counter-Terrorists and Terrorists were the Cowboys and Indians of our day. I got my drivers license, and lost my braces. I had no foresight into my future, I had no real idea what I wanted to do in college, much less where I even considered going.

2003

I was 17 years old. I finished my junior year and started my senior year of high school. I became more serious about art, but still played video games almost every day. I took my ACT very late in the game and started applying to schools at the trail end of 2003, pretty much last minute.

2004

I was 18 years old. By January I had sent out all my college applications, except for one, the one for the University of Michigan, which I had forgotten to send until a month after it was due, which also happened to be the due date for portfolios for entrance to the School of Art & Design. I decided to attend Michigan State University for Telecommunications, Information Studies, and Media, which was the closest thing to graphic design and multimedia at the time at MSU (their art department was lackluster in my opinion). I became a freshmen all over again that September. I moved into a dorm, Akers Hall, and had 3 roommates; Ben, Kevin, and Scott. I fell in love with film photography and began developing black and white film in the dorm bathroom. In September, my Grandmother died. This year I met “notorious” hacker Kevin Mitnick and Apple co-founder Steve “Woz” Wozniak.

2005

I was 19 years old. I started blogging on my own domain, and I began learning more about web development and coding for the web. I drank alcohol for the first time in last half of my freshmen year. I contemplated transferring schools, to the University of Michigan. I began my sophomore year and moved into another dorm room in the same building on the MSU campus. I had 3 new roommates, Kevin (a different Kevin), Scott (a different Scott), and Travis. In September, my Grandfather died. In October, I officially applied the University of Michigan School of Art & Design.

2006

I was 20 years old. Early in the year I was officially accepted as a transfer student to the University of Michigan. I got dumped for the first time. I started dating a wonderful Indian girl named Shrotriyee, who was every bit the geek that I was (and more). That September I transferred to the University of Michigan, effectively lost a year of college by transferring and became a junior in the university while staying a sophomore within the college. I lived in an apartment in Ann Arbor just off the UM Central Campus with Paul and Tim, two friends that I attended high school with back in the day. This year I met Firefox creator Blake Ross.

2007

I was 21 years old. I was an art school student, I went through the motions and got my classwork out of the way to do the things I wanted to. I focused on my graphic design, photography, and web development in my free time. I had my first graphic design internship with a company called Q Ltd. I lived in the same apartment for another year, Tim moved out and Mario moved in. I started working out three or so times a week. I drove from Ann Arbor to East Lansing many times to be with Shro.

2008

I was 22 years old. I continued with the whole art school thing. I took a bronze casting class, which I absolutely loved. Photography continued to be a big hobby of mine. I started my senior year as an art student which meant taking a year long thesis project class. I started work on the longest and most involved project I have worked on to date, it was a combination of graphic design, programming, and fine art. I moved into a house with Tim, whom I lived with two years previous, and two new roommates Bryan and Chris.

2009

I am 23 years old. My senior project came to an end; it turned out very nicely. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Michigan School of Art & Design. I had an internship with the University of Michigan College of Engineering doing graphic design work. As my internship was ending, I looked for some more permanent work in the area. I applied to two design jobs within the University. I was, to my surprise, ultimately offered the position as senior web designer for the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Urban Planning. I now had a well paying job with benefits, in this recession, in Michigan no less, a state that sports the highest unemployment rate in the country. I moved into a new apartment a mile or so from my job with my girlfriend Shrotriyee, and her golden retriever Bogart.

In the last decade a lot has happened. It’s been quite the decade going from finishing middle school to graduating from a major university and being lucky enough to be employed full-time in my field, amidst a recession. I have certainly changed a lot from that video game obsessed scrawny middle schooler in the last ten years. I wonder where the next ten will take me?

Of Current

This summer, since graduation, I had been worrying about what’s next in my life.  ”Where will I live?”  ”This economy sucks, what will I do for money?” “Oh God, I’m going to have to move back in with my parents.”

Luckily I managed to get an internship with the University of Michigan College of Engineering for the summer.  It was nice to slide back into the intern grind; little responsibility, make a little money, go home and no homework.  I got to tackle some bigger projects with no hard deadline, the kind of work I wish I got paid to do for the rest of my career.  But alas, such jobs are far in-between and often much to fleeting.

With something like a month left in my internship I took to half-assedly searching for some jobs, and sending out resumes.  I wasn’t too worried about finding a steady job, as I had enough savings on hand from the summer to supplement living costs while trying my hand at the freelance design gig.  And with the freedoms of doing the freelance thing I had planned to spend my free time creating the iPhone apps I’ve been trying to find time to code to further supplement my income.

Luckily I got a call one day at my internship to schedule a time for an interview for one of the positions I applied for.  It totally made my day; “Hell yes, my resume was enough not to be thrown in the garbage!”  After buying some interview clothes seeing as all my clothes were already in storage for my move, I was ready to rock my interview that Friday.

At this point I should note that I’ve maybe had two interviews in my life, all for internships and somewhat relaxed and casual.  I had no idea what real interviews were like.

The short and the long of it is that I was somewhat nervous, fumbled with a few HR-esque questions, but in the end I got a second interview, and ultimately, the job.  I beat out a few folks that had much much more coding experience than I, but my design background combined with my coding knowledge is what I think sealed the deal.

Now, my title is now Senior Web Designer and I work for the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.  Coincidentally I now work in the other half of the building I just spent three years getting my BFA in.  I’m back, except now I’m getting paid to spend time and do work here instead of paying tuition to spend time and do work here; a change I can get used to.

Work definitely is keeping me busy; I’ve got tons of little changes to make every day because of the switchover to the new school year, and I’ve got a few big, longer term projects in the pipeline.  As tedious as it can be, it’s still fun and it’s nice to go not have to spend my nights in the studio as well as to go home and not have any homework for a change.

In related musings, the concept of being a local in Ann Arbor, and not a just student anymore is a particularly interesting feeling.

This summer, since graduation, I had been worrying about what’s next in my life.  ”Where will I live?”  ”This economy sucks, what will I do for money?” “Oh God, I’m going to have to move back in with my parents.”
Luckily I managed to get an internship with the University of Michigan College of Engineering for the summer.  It was nice to slide back into the intern grind; little responsibility, make a little money, go home and no homework.  I got to tackle some bigger projects with no hard deadline, the kind of work I wish I got paid to do for the rest of my career.  But alas, such jobs are far in-between and often much to fleeting.
With something like a month left in my internship I took to half-assedly searching for some jobs, and sending out resumes.  I wasn’t too worried about finding a steady job, as I had enough savings on hand from the summer to supplement living costs while trying my hand at the freelance design gig.  And with the freedoms of doing the freelance thing I had planned to spend my free time creating the iPhone apps I’ve been trying to find time to code to further supplement my income.
Luckily I got a call one day at my internship to schedule a time for an interview for one of the positions I applied for.  It totally made my day; “Hell yes, my resume was enough not to be thrown in the garbage!”  After buying some interview clothes seeing as all my clothes were already in storage for my move, I was ready to rock my interview that Friday.
At this point I should note that I’ve maybe had two interviews in my life, all for internships and somewhat relaxed and casual.  I had no idea what real interviews were like.
The short and the long of it is that I was somewhat nervous, fumbled with a few HR-esque questions, but in the end I got a second interview, and ultimately, the job.  I beat out a few folks that had much much more coding experience than I, but my design background combined with my coding knowledge is what I think sealed the deal.
Now, my title is now Senior Web Designer and I work for the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.  Coincidentally I now work in the other half of the building I just spent three years getting my BFA in.  I’m back, except now I’m getting paid to spend time and do work here instead of paying tuition to spend time and do work here; a change I can get used to.
Work definitely is keeping me busy; I’ve got tons of little changes to make every day because of the switchover to the new school year, and I’ve got a few big, longer term projects in the pipeline.  As tedious as it can be, it’s still fun and it’s nice to go not have to spend my nights in the studio as well as to go home and not have any homework for a change.
In related musings, the concept of being a local in Ann Arbor, and not a just student anymore is a particularly interesting feeling.

The future is now.

Here’s a great demo of what combining a few simple things like what the new HTML5 offers, a little jQuery, and bit of Processing can do for you. Totally trippy. Totally awesome.

I’m excited to start seeing more sites (and create a few myself) start to tastefully implement some of these new supported features. And hopefully it won’t be overkill as when jQuery first hit the scene. As a creator of websites and a user of these technologies, it’s always exciting to have more tools available to work with. I’m not the type to use every available tool on a project just because I can, it’s just nice to have a robust toolset from which to utilize the most appropriate tool for the job.

Looking Back

Whomever said high school were the best years of your life was obviously one of the people that peaked in high school and never did anything during rest of their life. High school, to me, was more or less one big blur of 4 years. Nothing really changed much at all those 4 years, I never really matured all that much, mentally or physically. I went to class, and I played a lot of video games, and then I graduated.

I didn’t bother applying to colleges until January of my senior year, about 5 months from graduation. I applied to a few colleges and was accepted into those which I had remembered to send in the applications. In the end, I decided to go to Michigan State University, which I was to attend for 2 years, from September 2004 to May 2006. I wanted to do something with graphic design and the web, and as such I was to major in Telecommunications, Information Studies, and Media in the Digital Media Art & Technology program. One hell of a long department title, we usually just shortened it to Telecom and DMAT respectively.

During my time at MSU I did a lot of walking. I met some great people. I got my first taste of tear gas from a post-basketball loss riot in Cedar Village. I began to find myself, and find out what I really wanted to do for my career and with my life. I started to get bored with classes, I was never learning anything in the classes in my major. And I was not liking the classes I was taking in the Studio Art department, which I was going to declare as a second major.


A younger a more unkempt me.

I decided to transfer. I was going to leave behind (almost) all the things and people I’d come to know and switch to a new school. The new beginning that people commonly write about in tales of journeys or self-discovery.

October 2005 was the month I sent in my application to the University of Michigan. By December I believe, I had been accepted for the Fall 2006 semester. With my transfer I decided to switch majors, mostly because the University of Michigan didn’t have a comparable DMAT program. That semester I became an official student in the School of Art & Design.

Michigan was a great school to attend. The shear amount of resources available to me was just amazing, from studios to libraries to rec facilities. It is a bit sad that I wasn’t able to make use of all those available resources. I found that the professors I had, all the faculty as well, in addition to the staff and studio coordinators were more personable and easy to form relationships with than those I had encountered at MSU. At Michigan I was able to explore other media pretty well, mostly due to their curriculum in which students were more or less forced to experience a wide range of media in their first two years at school.


I found I really liked bronze casting, which I was able to learn to do at the School of Art & Design.

Even though Michigan didn’t have exactly what I was looking for as far as classes went, I still managed to get what I wanted out of my time there. In high school I knew I wasn’t going to learn everything I needed no matter where I went to college, and most of the valuable things I’d learn would be things I did in my own time. I think it’s because of that very reason that I’m in the position I am now, and that I’m as self directed as I am. A nice thing about the School of Art & Design is that I managed to find a core group of students that were really into graphic design and didn’t want to stop learning, even if that meant going outside of normal school hours to learn more about design. It was for that reason that I joined up with the University of Michigan AIGA Student Chapter, which was organized and led by School of Art & Design students. This student organization is one that I would, a year later, become the vice president, and president a year after that. AIGA was a good experience to learn to talk to and lead a group.

There were a few negatives to the School of Art & Design as with any higher learning program in this country. One of those being that while there, I was subjected to some irregularity of the curriculum. Meaning that the curriculum had changed about twice in roughly five years, once while I was a student. The turbulence in the curriculum led to some confusion on the part of the professors on how and what they should be teaching. One of the most unfortunate things about the first curriculum change was that the number of graphic design classes there took a nose dive. The unfortunate thing about the second curriculum change was that it screwed up my requirements for graduation, partly because I was a transfer student, which is not something you want to worry about after 4 years in with 2 semesters till graduation. I believe the curriculum has finally stabilized for the meantime and there probably won’t be too many shakeups for a while.

The biggest of the big A&D follies in my opinion was the lack of graphic design related classes; there were about 3 a semester, 6 a year, and they were the same each year. After those 6 classes, you had taken what all they had to offer. The strange thing about the small amount of design classes is that the demand for these classes was very high, they’d fill up before any other class when scheduling started each semester. The demand was high but the offerings were low, low, low. The few available graphic design professors were stretched thin. Very unfortunate. In fact, the administrative avoidance to anything graphic design was that at one point the word “design” was not allowed in any class title, whatsoever, and this came down from the dean of the School of Art & Design.

Another negative of the school – and most likely true of every school out there – was that pretty much every class was taught to the lowest common denominator, save for one class, a persuasive visual communication class. That class was actually pretty cool in the way it was organized; it was split up into 4 small groups by experience and skill levels, so that each group was almost like it’s own little self-contained class. Otherwise every other class was taught, more or less, with the expectation that most of the students knew nothing about what the professor had to teach. Again, that complaint isn’t so much directed at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design, but more at how education is practiced in our country.

The School of Art & Design was by no means a technical school. They didn’t teach all, most, or really any of the ins and outs of the commonly used creative software, that kinda thing was mostly left up to the student to learn themselves. But they did teach up a healthy amount of creative thinking and problem solving skills. It’s a fair trade. But still, it would have been nice to have some more technical skills taught to level the playing field in some of the classes and bring up the level of expectation in others.

Not to dwell on negatives, the best thing in my opinion about the School of Art & Design was the senior-level capstone course called Integrative Project. The class is a year-long course, one that accounts for half of the credit hours needed to be a full-time student, and most of the hours one would spend a week on school work, it was almost like having a full-time job just in itself. The class affords each student with their own studio space; less than a A&D graduate student would get, but big enough, clocking in at about 8 foot by 8 foot. Over the year, each student is able to work very independently and really spend lots of time on conceptualization, refinement, and production. Time management skill were critical for this class as it was very easy to get behind schedule significantly as a number of students did. This class is where you could tell who is going to be able to hack it in the creative industry. To my knowledge very few undergrad programs in art and design offer anything like this.


My studio – a complete mess – one week before the final show.

To this point college has been the best time of my life. Though, I’d imagine the most current part of my life will always be the best time of my life; things will just keep getting better.

Bronze Work

One of the last things I got into in college, that I wish I still had the ability to do now, was bronze casting. It’s one hell of a long process but it’s so very rewarding in the end. To think, these things I made will invariably last forever, unless they’re melted down on purpose that is. That’s just not something you get with graphic design.

Now, unlike a good student, I didn’t document every step of my last project, but I did take a few photos that someone out there might like to see:

The front and back of original clay sculpture. You can see from these photos that there were quite a few undercuts, which initially drew my concern, but I managed to mold it with only a single shim line around the object.


The finished two-piece mold. Hard plastic shell surrounding a soft rubber. This plastic and rubber mold was very easy to create and is very light in comparison to a plaster mold.

Two waxes awaiting surface finishing and spruing. I had to close the “tip” of each heart where the wax was poured in, filled any air bubbles with disclosing wax, fix any imperfections from the molding process, put a few vents and bridges in, and cut out a window in the side to allow the investment to fill the inside of the mold.

Here’s one finished wax with a spru system. This was the only one to have one heart off of one cup. The other six hearts were sprued in pairs, that is, two hearts per cup. It was a pretty simple spru system, with only two sprus off each heart.

These are the hearts I managed to finish before school ended. I have four more hearts that need to be finished; investment removed, ground, welded, and patinated.

Each heart is actually quite heavy, and they size in at about 7″ from tip-to-tip.

You can see this project in my portfolio.

Greent

Penn Station
Selfie
Stone
Winter Van
Summer Van
Angel