A rose by any other name…

Nancy Breslin on alternative photographic methods being called conventional.

My photographic work has been largely “alternative” (particularly if you throw in pinhole) for several years now. Wasn’t I surprised to hear recently that I am actually “conventional”! I received an email from a student in the UK who is writing a thesis about the effect of digital photography on artistic practice, and the questions on his survey were contrasting digital with “conventional” photography. But in the latter category he included things such as pinhole, lomography and the use of expired film. Whoa!

I would guess that few artists would wear “conventional” as a badge of honor. Conventional sounds boring: moving with the crowd. While plastic cameras and Polaroid lifts have become popular, it is nonetheless within a relatively tiny community, far from conventional. I would have defined conventional photography before digital’s arrival as shooting 35 mm film in an SLR, and either printing the b&w stuff at an enlarger or, more often, sending color work off to the lab (or the local drug store). All of the playfulness that our community loves was something else altogether: hand-applied emulsions, cross-processing, lensless photography…

And at the same time, many of us have embraced digital technology as a further enhancement of our work, even if that just means getting it onto the web.

I’m glad I don’t have to make a choice between “conventional” and digital. Call me an “alternative” photographer: it’s a rich, complex and rewarding way of working.


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