I still own a Nikon FM circa 1975 as on as I can get film. Otherwise I still my Nikon D60 and my two Sony point and shoot. It’s nice to have a choice of tool.
This article titled “The Disappearance of Darkness: Photography at the End of the Analog Era by Robert Burley – review” was written by Sean O’Hagan, for The Observer on Sunday 9th December 2012 00.05 UTC
There have been various valedictory photographic essays about the passing of analogue photography over the past decade, but none quite as extensive as Robert Burley’s 10-year project to chronicle the disappearance of the sites where film was produced and developed. “This book is my own march backwards into the future,” he writes in the introduction. “It tells the story of an industry that was obliterated by the creative destruction of the digital age.”
That industry defined Burley’s creative process throughout most of his life, as it did all the major photographers of the 20th century and the countless amateurs who recorded their lives on film and in home movies. No doubt digital technology will record and define this century just as analogue photography did the last. What will disappear, though, is the physical manifestation of the photographic process, not just the print, but the negative, the contact sheet, and, with it, a certain process of often painstaking creativity and chemical transformation.
The things that for so long defined photography already seem quaint, and the places that produced those things – the factories, the processing labs – are lying empty or have been transformed or demolished. As curator Alison Nordstrom points out in her understated “On Endings”, one of a number of essays accompanying the book, chemical photography ended, in TS Eliot’s words, “not with a bang but a whimper”.
To a degree, Burley’s book reflects this sudden, silent death, but his style forgoes sentimentality or nostalgia in favour of a detached, sometimes clinical, approach to landscape and interior. He photographs things as they are or, to be more precise, as they were. What is striking about his images of the Kodak Canada plant in Toronto, where he lives, for instance, is the futuristic anonymity of the building, both inside and out. In a pristine administrative area, an employee’s fleece hangs on a slim pillar like a flag of defeat, while the absence of human activity is almost palpable. The exception is one large-scale photograph, taken from above, in which he captures a spread of small figures leaving the car park after an employee meeting that took place during the last few days of production.
In Britain, he photographed in and around the Ilford Photo company in Mobberley, Cheshire, which had just celebrated 125 years of producing film when it was declared bankrupt in 2004. A container bearing the faded Ilford logo, which echoed its colour range, already looks incongruous. (Against the odds, Ilford somehow survived with a limited workforce by producing a small supply of black-and-white photographic paper to meet a niche market. Its survival was ensured by Kodak’s announcement that it was to cease producing that same paper.)
Burley also visited, and photographed, the Impossible Project in the headquarters of the rundown Polaroid manufacturing plant in Enschede in the Netherlands, another business that rose from the ashes to serve a small but loyal consumer base that continues to use Polaroid cameras.
The Disappearance of Darkness is a book, then, about materiality and its decline. It is already a kind of elegy. “We can hold this book in our hands and turn the pages for our children,” writes Nordstrom, “and tell them what we remember of a different time from theirs.”
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