Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The hand saw vs. the power saw.

When I was still living at home, my stepfather hired a man to "finish" the basement. The man worked at Ford Motor Company as a pattern maker. That's a step in the process of making a metal casting. First, someone draws a picture of the part and then the pattern maker makes the part out of wood. That wooden one is used to make a mold out of sand into which the molten metal in poured. Making patterns out of wood is an art form, and one of the most precise of the "wood working " arts.

The man, a German immigrant, came to the house with his bag of tools and began to install tongue in groove pine boards to the basement wall. I watched almost all of what he was doing and was amazed at what he could do with the wooden boards. He literally made them bend around corners and fit together without a visible seam. He created doors out of boards and when they where hung, fit perfectly into their openings. He could trim an inch off of a board and when he finished the board was perfectly square. He did all of this with "hand tools", I don't think he even owned a power saw. I never saw him use an electric powered tool. When he was finished the basement had become a perfectly paneled room with all of the walls covered in knotty pine paneling. Every piece of wood fit perfectly with it's neighbor. All the seams where perfectly straight, the doors fit exactly into their opening, the basement had become a work of art.

I'm sure that experience has had a big influence on my work today. It's as if I have been shown what can be done and I'm now supposed to duplicate it in my own way. Because of that experience I have a very clear understanding of what Eugene V. Thaw means when he says that he hopes we never loose the "touch of the great artist".

All of this serves to bring me back to the discussion of digital photography versus silver based photography. To me there is really no difference between the final result produced by either tool, it's simply that the tools are different and I'm enough of a Luddite to long for that time when I watched a man do wonderful things with pieces of wood using nothing more that his skill and simple tools, no electrons involved. I know full well that there is a skill involved in using the computer but I'm not convinced that it rises to the level of the skill involved in using the silver based camera and darkroom. Maybe it's just a matter of practice but maybe there's more to the difference between the two tools than just practice?

I wish I knew.

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