A parable about Bible translation

This little parable is a follow up to the previous essay on Bible translation: On literal translation. It’s meaning probably isn’t what you think, but again: He that hath eeris of heerynge, heere he (Wycliffe Bible).

One of my favorite contemporary landscape photographers is Thomas Heaton. He primarily uses a modern Canon 5D mark something as well as a Fuji X-T3, I believe. They are both modern digital cameras.

His work is excellent. He has an incredibly well-developed sense of intuition for light, shape, colour, and composition. Heaton will be remembered as one of the great landscape photographers of my generation. But one thing that he has said on various occasions is that he doesn’t really care about photography gear. That does not mean he doesn’t know and understand the equipment he uses, he does and teaches others how to use it as well.

He uses modern tools to create beautiful, compelling pieces of art. He is an upstart: taking advantage of other people’s scientific research and breakthroughs for converting photons into electrical charge and converting that charge into a range of tones and colors. Heaton’s lenses are made up of machine-shaped glass lenses that a computer calculated the mathematical formulas in order to focus the sharpest image on his camera’s CMOS sensor. He uses every modern tool available to him to create beautiful and compelling pieces of art.

But, Frederick Scott Archer and Gustave Le Gray, they were different. They needed to understand the scientific principles that under-girded photography: how to mix silver nitrate into a light sensitive emulsion which could then be spread over a glass or aluminum plate. They needed to understand how to grind and polish a meniscus lens just right so that it would produce an image. They balance the variables between making it large enough to produce a short enough exposure vs. small enough that the resulting image would be sufficiently sharp.

Archer and Gray are doing everything from scratch because there no tradition to draw from. And they made a lot of mistakes. There was a substantial amount of guessing along the way. But they did not fully understand why what they were doing worked the way it did. They didn’t even realize just how toxic the materials they worked with were.

There are actually more wet plate collodion practitioners alive today than there were a century ago when the medium was dominant. And being such a practitioner requires a different set of skills. Ian Ruhter’s work is high contrast, inscrutable, and beautiful. Ian lives in analog tradition of photography. He mixes his silver nitrate from scratch. He creates his light-sensitive collodion emulsion by hand. He pour it on to his aluminum plates to create singular images that cannot be reproduced. One plate. One image.

The end.

I have an interpretation of this little parable, but it probably is not what you think. I’ll just say this: the digital photographer, Thomas Heaton isn’t the linguistics-oriented approach to translation.

Beyond that I have just a few additional questions+answers for you:

  1. Is one of these bad and the other good? No.
  2. Has photography lost something as the world shifted from one to the other? Yes.
  3. Have photography also gained something as the world shifted from one to the other? Again: Yes.

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