Like many industries, photography has been greatly transformed by the march of technology. Nowadays, crisp photos that were previously only possible with the use of large and bulky lenses can be captured on a smartphone, and social media platforms like Instagram have made amateur photography something easily accessible to millions.
World-renowned photographer Bart Kuykens would be first to disagree with the notion that newer is always better. His signature style of black and white analog photography proves that doing things the ‘old fashioned way’ can result in authenticity that digital can’t replicate.
When asked about what shooting film adds to his photography, Bart says that:
“Shooting on film slows my workflow down to the essentials – camera, film, and a spare set of batteries. This simplicity is key for me in order to put all my energy into my work and be as creative as possible. Shooting on film also adds a certain mood which is difficult to reproduce when shooting digital. There are plenty of filters available to make a digital image look like an analog image, but nothing comes close to the real thing, and it feels like wearing a fake Rolex – it’s just not the same.”
While Bart acknowledges that traditional 35mm film photography has been surpassed in terms of technical image quality by digital cameras, he adds that:
“I think medium film still has the edge over digital. But in all honesty, people who discuss megapixels are more concerned about that then they are about the picture itself. I shoot to create a photograph, to capture a certain mood, and that has nothing to do with pixel density. Nothing. Sharpness and pixels are an overrated topic in modern photography, and a marketing tool for brands. Why do you need 100MP if you’re only going to post it on Instagram? How many people really print their photographs on paper? If I print for galleries, I like to print big, like 100cm or 150cm wide. I love the grain film produces and the imperfections therein. But as I have said many times before – to each his own.”
With that said, one should not get the impression Bart is ignorant of the benefits computer editing can have for analog photography. He says:
“Many don’t realise that analog photography still needs a little bit of editing. Only the darkroom is now replaced by software. I use Lightroom to play a little bit with the exposure and shadows, just like you would do in a darkroom.”
While people are taking more photos of each other than ever before, there is still a stark difference between a ‘selfie’ and a truly evocative portrait shot of someone. On this point, Bart explains:
Everybody is used to taking pictures all day every day and posting them on social media. I try to go a step beyond this and capture an emotion, both with my subject and my audience.”
Perhaps the most obvious proof that better technology does not mean better photographs is the simple fact that practitioners like Bart Kuykens deliberately shoot in black and white. Regarding the appeal of black and white photography, Bart comments:
“A black and white picture brings me back to the early days of film photography. It makes me think about great photographers who shaped my passion and dedication for the craft. It’s a personal thing, of course, but colour photography just doesn’t do the trick for me.”
Of course, the appeal of vintage style photography has also be corporatised in its own way by way of modern polaroid cameras targeting a ‘hipster’ market. On this trend, Bart says:
“It is another marketing variant of modern technology – but some artists do great things with those cameras. They are mostly affordable as well, which is a good thing, so everybody can enjoy photography. Personally, I prefer a real vintage camera with good old roll film, and superior lenses.”