You Still Can’t Do This With Digital.
This is one of the things I love most about film photography. With all of the great software and hardware that has been created in the last decade, we still don’t have any equivalent to the light table. Of course we have Aperture and Lightroom, iPhoto and Picassa, and all of the (mostly crappy) others; all of which are attempts at replicating what is one of the essential and fundamental joys of photography: editing. The word editing has even lost a great deal of its original meaning—interpreted now to generally mean “using photoshop to mess with an image”—it used to basically mean: looking at photographs with the intention to choose “selects” and “rejects,” and then deciding what to do with the selects.
Software that tries to replicate the feel of a light table will, in my view, never be able to match the experience of the real thing. The reason is simple: with software-based solutions, the layer of abstraction that exists between the viewer and the photographs is, and will always be, inferior to the directness and tactility of one’s own hands and eyes. The software itself is the layer of abstraction, the barrier to full engagement with a photo or group of photos. We move a simulated pointing device (the mouse arrow) around on a two-dimensional screen; and then use it, along with a variety of keyboard commands, to move, manipulate and interact with two dimensional abstractions of our photographs.
With physical photographs on a light table you simply look, move, behold, engage, sort. It’s effortless. Pick up a group of photographs (with your actual hands)… lay them on the table… view them… turn them around… inspect them… bring them close to your face to look closer… hold a loupe to your eye and examine the extraordinary detail and nuance that each photo inherently possesses. If you have never done this, take my word for it: it is magical. Your photographs are no longer an extension of a spectacularly complex system of abstraction. They are real items that you hold in your hands. They exist in space, have weight, texture, depth, smell, sound, color… meaning. They can’t be duplicated easily. They can’t be manipulated easily. They are delicate, even fragile. And yet the realness they posses is strangely potent and intoxicating.
It makes them feel… yes, special.