I really don't intend to spend much time on this blog talking about the work of other photographers or the big news in photography but I really believe that the unveiling of the new official portrait of President Elect Obama is one of those pivotal moments in the history of our industry that allows me to make a comment.

 

The appointment of the very talented Pete Souza as the official White House photographer seems to be a very popular one. I've never met the guy but I like his work. The journalistic images that anyone holding the post shoots occupy a unique place in the history of the modern world. The amount of criticism of the official portrait as "boring" or "flat" from all kinds of people is both unjustified and missing the point by a country mile. This picture is the latest in a series going back into history that have to sit alongside one another. Fashions change, techniques change and so do the names on the desk of people in high office - but a set of images like this lives on.

 

The main point that I wanted to make about this picture has nothing to do with US or even world history - it has a lot more to do with our perception of photography and where we are with the transition to digital. This is being billed as the first formal portrait of a US President to be shot digitally. My point here is that the acceptance of the technology for such a key image that will be printed and framed in countless thousands of buildings all over the United States and in US buildings overseas is nothing less than a milestone.

For me, this portrait isn't about composition, lighting, subject matter or expression. It's not even about the Canon EOS5D MkII, which is turning out to be quite an amazing package. For me it represents the moment that digital imaging replaced silver based film as the primary medium for photography. Arguably we have chosen digital for a wide variety of reasons - not the least of which have been speed and convenience - until now. This portrait could have been shot on film, scanned and distributed electronically, but it wasn't. That makes it pivotal. That makes January 2009 the time that digital became not just the norm but the preferred way of doing things.

It's a little over ten years since I became a predominantly digital photographer. I have always maintained that the arrival of the Kodak DCS520 - the first digital SLR with both an LCD screen and interchangeable batteries - was a key moment for news photography. There have been a number of milestones since then but this one, for me, ranks alongside it.

I fully expect to get a couple of emails from theoreticians pointing out the theoretical resolving power of film. I have been sent calculations many times before but there is a gulf between theory and practice and it seems pretty apparent to me that a 24mm x 36mm digital chip gives us better real world quality than a piece of film the same size. It's not an argument that I want to have ever again. I'm sure that film still has it's uses but there is no longer one to be made about large format prints.

Good luck Mr Souza. I'd love to be shooting the first hundred days of what promises to be the most exciting Presidency of my lifetime.

© Neil Turner. January 2009


 
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