It’s 2007, four years after digital photography spiked to prominence, eclipsing the sales of film. I’m working in the West Hollywood studio of one of the world’s most famous photographers and the pioneer of digital photography himself. Today, he’s tasked me with sifting through a towering stack of hundreds of digital prints of a cloaked and shaggy-haired Jesus, his palms outstretched to the heavens, to find the perfect image of his hand. The chosen one would be stitched together by a master digital retoucher—à la Frankenstein—to achieve the perfect man.
Nine years later, much of what was previously a highly technical process of retouching, an art form in itself, has been given to the masses. My parents’ laptops each have Photoshop. (They’re in medicine, and definitely not photographers.) Teenagers’ smartphones are armed with multiple editing apps. (Okay, mine is too.) With a few swipes of the finger, anyone can now more or less accomplish the result of the many nuanced retouching techniques that once turned even the experts cross-eyed.
But while this unlocked accessibility is thrilling in its ability to democratize artmaking, it also represents the current climax of this stage of what was once revolutionary technology. This has sparked a renaissance in analog photography, from fashion photographers embracing their genre’s roots to a new generation of fine art photographers who grew up with digital at their fingertips but are ditching it for a new outlet: film.