From the Archive: Don’s Editorial, Photo Review Issue 2 Dec/Jan 2002.
After a century, the era of the shutter button virtuoso is drawing to close. It’s not quite finished. In fact there may be another four or five years to go. But end it must and end it will. Allow me to expand…
The age of shutter button virtuoso began when film became so light sensitive that photographers could no longer remove and replace a lens cap quickly enough to avoid over exposure. Along with dry plates, the first mechanical shutters appeared in the 1880s. And when they did, the importance of a photographer’s sense of timing became as pivotal as his or her sense of composition.
By the time the greatest of all shutter button virtuosi, Henri Cartier-Bresson coined the term ø¢â‚¬Ëœthe decisive moment’ in the mid 20th century, every photographer knew exactly what he meant. Cartier-Bresson’s supernatural ability allowed him to unerringly choose the precise split-second to press his shutter. As billions of mis-timed snapshots in the world’s kitchen drawers and photo albums attest, it is a capacity not given to many.
But what is shutter button virtuosity if not a kind of editing in the moment? Choosing the instant when composition and movement achieve a visual crescendo is a dazzling skill to be sure. However, in my humble opinion, it is the choice of the moment and its capture that matter.
Imagine if you will two photographers with an equal facility for composition. One has a mechanical Leica camera and the other a digital capture device capable of storing 30 ultra high resolution images per second. They both photograph a pair of dancers. The first clicks her shutter button now and then — but each time at exactly the peak moment. The other frames his image with equal skill, but then simply turns on the camera for as long as the action takes place.
One ends up with a proof sheet of dazzling images. The other sits at a computer and steps through his sequence with a jog shuttle dial until he finds the perfect frame. In the end both have produced a still image of surpassing beauty. What does it matter how they each reached their goal?
True, it is astounding that one was able to anticipate so accurately the position of the dancers. But does that act somehow imbue the final image with a greater force or value? Or is the image itself the purpose and the end — rather than the process by which it was brought into being?
When the great 19th Century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron created her images, she did so with the very crudest tools. There were hundreds of other photographers working at the same time and with the same difficult and demanding processes. Though many of her contemporaries were more accomplished technicians than she, it is Cameron whose images that still speak to us.
And I suspect that whether she was working with a wet plate camera or 30 frame per second, 60 megapixel CCD-equipped digital imaging system, it would be ever thus.
Finally, on a more prosaic note, we’ve enjoyed the positive feedback we’ve received for our first issue. It has to be said that we’re quietly pleased with our second edition too. You’ll find more camera reviews, a round-up of photo quality inkjet printers, news of developments in the world of digital imaging, tips and tricks for the digital darkroom and, in our Inspiration section the work of the great Julia Margaret Cameron and of the superb portrait expert and arts photographer, Sue Adler.
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