“Silver and Photography” par Thierry Maindrault – The Eye of Photography

Thierry’s Monthly Chronicle

Silver, whether it is a precious metal or a symbol of amassing wealth, maintains with photography, in all its aspects, a relationship as inseparable as it is very ambiguous. It looks like a fairy tale with theatrical twists in three acts, until this day.

Once upon a time … takes shape at the beginning of the nineteenth century with a small silver plate covered with Judean bitumen, which allows Sir Nicéphore Niepce to immobilize an image of his garden with a lot of patience. Thus, the silver (metal) had settled in the circuit and, except some anecdotal times, it will be anchored there. For a century and a half, under various make-up and disguises, silver (metal) will be present from different salts – with the help of many chemical solutions – it will also hide with substitutions of multicolored pigments. Of course, from time to time, some pretending lovers intervene cautiously in the amorous duo. They range from royal platinum to agricultural potato starch. Some chemical liquors will also try to disrupt the monopole with the sympathetic family of cyanides or with collodion discovered by Louis Ménard, photographically attributed to Frederick Scott Archer. The scenes go by, the silver (metal) maintains itself firmly wether presented on rigid plates,  laying down on a glass plate, becoming embedded in a gelatin, that it spreads on a film of cellulose. Silver (metal) is truly the star of the scene, and photography  has no complains about it; not at all. This flirt allows photography to gain considerable scope, to infiltrate all categories and all professions of society. Thanks to its duet with silver (metal), photography becomes essential.

The second act of the nursery rhyme, a kind of hinge, is much shorter and sees our two lovebirds getting married, a wedding with a pleasant surprising guest: silver (money). It is still a little early to confirm that the surprise was really good! The thirty glorious years of photography (1970-2000) make the drums beat and trumpets resound. The feats of silver (metal) with subtle films and sumptuous papers, both in monochrome and in color, are at their peak. Silver (money) flows freely for all those who work, or even just have, the slightest connection with the photographic technique. Camera makers, film magicians, lab wizards are finding their profits. The great names, photographers of this time, raked in phenomenal amounts for the slightest shot. Whether he is a reporter photographer, an advertising photographer, a show business photographer, a scientific photographer, a documentary photographer, a paparazzo or among the first contemporary creators to use photographic tools, the photographer – with his silver halo – arouses admiration and he stuffs his pockets. While the verb and the word fade, without affecting quidam, the image invites itself on a daily basis. Times sing: “a picture is worth a thousand words” or “the  weight of words must absolutely rely on the shock of photos”. From postage stamps to huge advertising posters, silver (money) flows freely for photographers. “It comes back to me that a classmate installed at the bottom of the ski slopes, with her Nikon, won, over the short ski season at this time, what she needed to live very comfortably all year round”. It is on this euphoric stage that the curtain of this act two closes.

The curtain will reopen very quickly, without any intermission; because, without warning and against all expectations, the ephemeral digitization will lock us up the silver (metal) like a vulgar lover in the unavoidable closet. In a decade, this technological turnaround has ruined entire industrial sectors, and it has set aside thousands of photographers, by various ricochets, without sparing any. The 0 or 1 of the silver atom (metal) has become an immaterial polarity in its concept. It is technological evolution, and it is as legitimate as it is logical; except that this dematerialization extends like gangrene outside the technical sphere. From the start of scene two of this act of mutations, the cause is lost. Computing and dazzling communication  take possession of our planet. Speediness imposes itself, memorization fades, the immediate dazzles, feeling vanishes. Silver (metal) very rarely escapes through the keyhole of itscupboard; but, only to serve some nostalgic creations or curious minds. On the other hand, silver (money) has invaded the whole scene and is imposing itself there shamelessly in the middle of the soup of bits and bytes which is sweeping the World. Photography does not escape this socio-media tidal wave. The good image, when it  can be seen, becomes the fifth wheel of a wagon which hastens to take refuge in an authentic haven of peace, far from the maelstrom which is sweeping through all the so-called social networks. Everything else is self-interested demagoguery. Silver (metal) is no longer used for photography, but photography generates a lot of silver (money). Our show gets carried away, the scenes follow one another at an infernal pace, and it seems inexhaustible. The fake galleries will suck up the few savings of the creator in a hurry, awaiting recognition of his ego. The book publishers promise sumptuous bookshelves for very limited editions of a first book, and of course at the author’s expense. The organizers of prestigious competitions – for themselves – naturally strive to extract some coins to allow you to add one more additional line, after the twenty or so distinctions that are already on your website. The promoters, public or private, of workshops and other very expensive Masters Classes, will  train you to plagiarize one of your idols, with a small hand shake and a selfie if the master is in a good mood. It should be noted that this is a source of substitute income for photographers deprived of their photographic resources. All these little scenes of psychological and moral scams invade us one after the other! It is proven that as long as there are some “suckers” waiting for the recognition of their ego by an access to their bank accounts, the silver (money) generated from this new photography still has a bright future.

The flip side of the medal, which is no longer silver (metal and money) is in the desolation in which a still significant number of photographers, with real talents, slowly withers away, despoiled and on the side of this new silver (money). Should we wait for some better days? Like any great tragic play worthy of the name, there may still be two important and life-saving acts to perform. Will this new year finally be the intermission before the romantic reunion between Silver and Photography?

Thierry Maindrault

January 14, 2022

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