In the early days of photography and when it was in its infancy, the subject was terribly removed from the process.
Shen Hao 4×5 Field Camera
Walking into the photographers studio, a subject’s first reaction was the reaction to the smells. A range of foreign odors, foreign and pungent to the uninitiated. Magnesium nitrate, tannic acid, albumen, pyrogallic acid, potassium bromide, ammonium carbonate, or maybe vaporized mercury. Eventually curiosity will overcome the shock and perhaps wonder whether the smell of glycerin is actually safe? And perhaps the ethyl ether is beginning to make you a little light headed.
Then the photographer emerges from behind a curtain. A shadowy curtain of mystery. Mysteriously, there was no light emanating from behind the curtain. To the more creative mind who has just read Bram Stoker’s feature novel, might suspect that this man is a vampire.
The photographer extends a welcoming handshake; but the subject is taken away by the sight of the photographers hand. A hand that has been blackened and deformed by the collodion and ambrotype chemicals. Burns and callouses scar cover most the hands – the spaces left between are left dry and cracking. Every crack and blemish is highlighted by a blackened soot that doesn’t wash off. These are the hands of the photographer.
When led into the photographers studio, the subjects sees a weird array of chrome, steel, brass and other metals. Unusual clamps, stands, chains litter the path to the sitter’s chair. Next to their chair is one particular stand; standing behind the chair. It has an arm that protrudes out and into the chair, right where your neck is suppose to be. The sitter’s eyes widen with a steady mix of caution and curiosity. The photographer tries to give a reassuring smile while motioning the sitter to sit. Once seated, that metal stand behind the chair begins probing your neck. The photographer runs off and disappears behind the camera and the dark cloth. Only the photographer’s legs are visible.
Once the picture is taken, the photographer removes something from the camera, and disappears off into another room.
I find this whole process makes it impossible for the subject to get involved photographic process. It is shrowded in mystery and potential dangers and perhaps some B-rated alien movie. Digital photography has shed a light onto the general public and has made this whole process accessible. Anyone can pick up a camera and take a picture of their friend. There is no mysterious photographer disappearing into and out of darkened rooms; nor anyone hiding behind the camera. Hands are no longer scared by chemicals. And the best thing yet is how the image appears in a few mere moments.
Despite the wonders of modern technology and instantaneous feedback, something is missing. There is still a magic to be held when a physical tangible print is in someone’s hands. There is a moment when the subject sees their own photograph in their hands for the very first time. A surprise? A wonder? Definitely some kind of magic.
2013.02.22 – Kai Leng
The Magic that is shared when they see the physical picture in their hands for the very first time. Sheung Shui
2013.02.22 – Kai Leng
The Magic that is shared when they see the physical picture in their hands for the very first time. This time, I made sure all three opened their pictures at the same time.
These people I met when I was invited to a neighborhood community block party. It was a big meal and there was a lot of people. This community is a huge contrast to the typical non-community driven apartment complexes. I had the honor and pleasure to photograph and share some of my photographs with them. I want to make sure I can always communicate this wonder with my subjects.
Therefore, I am seriously considering adding a mobile printer to my workflow when traveling. Especially when I don’t want to put my Polaroid 110B into harms way. A digital camera. A film camera and a Canon Selphy CP900. hmmm.