The Role of Uncertainty in the Documentation Process
For the first time in ten years, I decided not to upgrade my iPhone when Apple released their latest upgrade. Moreover, I suspect I won’t be upgrading to the latest iPhone this fall either. Fact is, my iPhone X is already good enough for all my needs. And I really cannot envision why I’d need more out of a smartphone. I don’t use half of my available 128GB of storage. I don’t while my time away with gaming apps, and I don’t really stream movies on it either. For all intent and purpose, my iPhone X is all I need.
The same can be said about my choice of automobile. Most recently, I got myself a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado in Japan. From my perspective, I didn’t feel I needed more car than that. In terms of built quality and creature comfort, I really don’t find this Toyota a downgrade from my 5 Series in Hong Kong or my GL in New York. In fact, I don’t even find it any better or worse than my Cadillac Escalade from years gone by. Fact is, there really isn’t all that much difference anymore between automobile brands.
The world has gotten to a point in time where the accessibility of technology has evened out the playing field. Where in the past, technology could give a competitive advantage to a brand, today technology has become so homogenized that most (if not all) brands are essentially commoditized. I mean, when an American car can lap the Nürburgring without flipping over round the bends, you know the world has flattened out. I mean even Hyundai is giving Munich and Stuttgart a run with their luxury and sports saloons.
I’m bored of technology. This is not to say I’ve forsaken it. But there’s really nothing new under the sun. Fact is, technology has run its course, with each new iteration of improvement becoming increasingly incremental if not marginal in benefit. So as a photo blogger, you could imagine my predicament. Should I continue to focus my efforts on new product releases, or should I write from the heart and inform you what interests me - mainly my explorations and deep dives into the discourse of contemporary photography.
As a blogger, I believe it’s my duty to introduce potentially useful suggestions that could hopefully be relevant to the readers of this blog. I mean, what is the point of writing about incremental and marginal benefits? With every Tom, Dick, and Harriet rushing to get ahead of the news cycle in being the first to break the latest on the newest gear, I find my contribution redundant and completely unnecessary. Frankly, there’s already more than enough coverage on rumors and first impressions from the herd.
The love of photography is so much more than chasing after new technology. And it’s wrong to think that new technology is the route to better photography. But I can understand how so many might fall into that trap. The allure of what new technology promises in making the documentation process more certain makes it much too tempting to ignore. Having said that, having more certainty doesn’t necessarily add to the documentation experience. Sometimes, it can stifle the creative process.
The intent of technology is suppose to be beneficial. After all, it’s intended to be a panacea to compensate for human error. But there are times when the increased possibility of human error has its moments. Not knowing the outcome with certainty forces us to step-up to the moment, and conjure up knowledge and experience to mitigate error. It can be unnerving, compelling us to summon up lost confidence in our own ability, as oppose to mere reliance to technology. However, the rewards make it worth considering.
We think that the certainty afforded by technology can make us better photographers. With no surprises, as a result of electronic viewing before and after the shot, one can tweak the image capture progressively - over and over - until the final capture is deemed perfect. But, who’s to say it’s really perfect? It’s only perfect to the extent the final documentation was tweaked through progressive iterations to reach a predetermined look of perfection. That said, that look might not necessarily be the best.
Technology has a tendency to steer us towards what we perceive is best to achieve in documentation. But often times, bias from what we evaluate with certainty - before and after the shot - limits the scope of what we strive to achieve in the final image capture. In contrast, uncertainty brings serendipity into play. What may not be expected or even considered at the time of documentation can sometimes lead to a better image capture. In other words, the unexpected can sometimes be better than what you originally assumed to be perfect.
It might seem inconceivable how uncertainty can be beneficial to the documentation process. However, in needing to trust one’s own accuracy and intuition in documentation, uncertainty also forces one to be more decisive in the image taking process. Without the crutch of image review, a photographer relies on personal judgment to determine when to take the photo and when to move on to the next. As such, uncertainty relieves the photographer from second guessing if the image capture was properly taken, given a lack of verification.
Shooting with uncertainty means a photographer never really knows what is captured. So it makes no sense to shoot and reshoot and reshoot a photo opportunity, only to tweak the image capture to look just right. In my opinion, that would be a complete waste of time. And if you’re shooting film, that would be an even bigger waste of film. Hence, it’s really not much of a surprise how decisiveness in the face of uncertainty can result in greater economy in the documentation process.
Being decisive is beneficial to the documentation process. It makes the photographer more spontaneous in capturing the moment. As a result, those who are photographed can be more relaxed, let their guard down, and appear more natural in facial expression, body gesture, movement in space, and interaction between others in frame and the setting of the image capture. In my opinion, spontaneity just makes the image capture seem less artificial, more fluid, and visually more appealing.
To be fair to technology, it offers greater certainty in capturing difficult photo opportunities. But on average, how often does one face those difficult photo opportunities when greater certainty is required - like shooting in the dark or focus tracking from afar? For most typical shooting situations, we don’t need technology, much less absolute certainty. Frankly, the need for certainty can become toxic if not kept in check - exhausting the moment without any noticeable or significant improvement to show.
In that way, I find technology to be too distracting at times. It complicates what is essentially a simple photo opportunity with functions and features reserved for more difficult shooting situations - akin to bringing a gun to a knife fight. It’s not subtle - an overkill - really. Of course, one could always practice greater restraint and forgo the creature comfort of technology. But the temptation is always too great, and invariably we all fall back on technology, since it simplifies our documentation process with greater certainty.
But oh how very boring certainty is - which comes as no surprise, given how boring technology has become. For me, uncertainty is the spice in life that makes the image taking process more fun, much more exhilarating, and far more satisfying - especially when serendipity works its magic in capturing your photos unexpectedly better than what you had originally planned. Frankly, I find uncertainty to be habit forming. So, is it any wonder why my full frame mirrorless cameras, being the most technologically updated, are all collecting dust.
Seriously, most of us do not need more than 6 megapixels, ISO 400, and a rear LCD screen for image review. When it comes right down to it, a simple film camera with manual controls is really all anyone needs to take a decent photograph. I mean, that’s what I did on this blog entry. And can you really say I would’ve benefited from more technology? Frankly, the resulting image captures were better than I expected. I suppose the risk of human error forced me to step up my game and be more accurate and decisive in the face of uncertainty.
Images have all been tweaked in Adobe Lightroom. All images have been cropped slightly from the digitizing process. I will not disclose how I digitized these images until a later date. I’m currently working on a blog entry to better demonstrate my exploration in digitizing color reversal film.