When you can’t tell the difference

Yesterday, our class was shown a mini demo of Ilford fiber paper vs. regular RC paper (also from Ilford).  Besides learning that Ilford is considered more of a budget brand when it comes to paper, barely good enough to get by it seems, I’m also learning things about myself, maybe differences between my other classmates and me.  Perhaps the difference is between those who major in photography and who are going on to make a living in photography after they graduate versus those who are only there because they like it a lot and are good enough to continue taking classes.

We looked at the different prints (of the same shot) while they were still wet, which could have made a difference I’m told, but whereas everyone in the class was oohing and aahing over the differences, I could barely tell the two apart.  It was a moment that was a bit surreal for me, as in my (music) composition lessons, I’m dealing with themes like individuality, marginalization, and sheep mentality, so here was the perfect opportunity for me to go against the flow and speak my mind, which I did…eventually.  It’s hard sometimes, to set yourself apart from the crowd.

The reactions were about what I expected (one guy jokingly asked me if I needed to get my eyes checked; now that I think about it, it has been a good five years since I last got my prescription changed), but what was somewhat frustrating is that they didn’t really hear what I was saying.  Here’s where the differences were: I was coming from the place where I was saying, Guys, I’ll accept that there’s a huge difference, but I can’t see the huge difference, I can see a marginal difference, and I don’t even know if I have the training or experience to see what the differences are, and certainly couldn’t articulate it.  Their responses all told me that what they heard was What’s the difference, what’s the point?  And at some point, they all expressed amazement and disbelief that I couldn’t tell the difference.  Guys, I can tell the difference: the fiber paper print had a bit more contrast in certain aspects; that’s about as much as I can see or articulate right now.

There’s a pretty wide gulf for me between those two viewpoints, but I have experience in other areas where people do say things like:
-digital is just as good as film
-plugins sound just as good as outboard equipment
-digital recording sounds just as good as tape
Now, perhaps what they’re really saying is that they don’t hear a wide gulf between the two, but the consequent to their points is almost invariably, So why put in the extra effort/money?  Mine, on the other hand, was really a lot closer to, I want to be educated, because I have too much experience with people who accept nothing that their own senses don’t take in; like someone with color blindness, I’m willing to accept the fact that there’s a vast difference that I can’t see.

I hope someday that with further training and experience I will be able to see the difference.  And until then, sure, I’ll still take the plunge to fiber paper.  Not only will it be good for me to gain experience working with it, but it should help take my work to the next level.  And hopefully one day, when I am able to see the difference, I’ll be able to look at my old work and appreciate it in a new way.  Until then, just know that I’m doing it for you.

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5 thoughts on “When you can’t tell the difference

  1. Not even going to talk about if RC or Fiber look better. Fact I know is Fiber has a much longer life than RC paper. Unless the RC paper is toned afterwards. You might also see more of a difference on matte between the two than glossy.

  2. Photography just like everything else is full of people simply regurgitating what other people say without doing it themselves (so called “sheep” as you say), so I’m with you- trust your own eyes and your own experience. I happen to like Ilford and wouldn’t consider it budget (at least not here in Japan where it is pretty expensive), but anyway like with developers or any of the materials involved in photography I think it is more about learning to use what you have well, or in other words predictably to the standard that you like.

    • Eh, I’m not sure if I agree completely, it seems to me that I can always learn more, and I’ve noted before that perhaps I’m lacking in a few areas, like a critical eye. I think being too satisfied can lead to stagnation, I’m trying to avoid that, and this could be one area in which I need to gain more experience.

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