Norman Jean Roy: Digital Killed Fashion Photography

Technology's influence can be seen in nearly every part of image-making, but the lensman is none too happy about its effects on fashion photography

  • Share
  • Read Later
Norman Jean Roy / Vanity Fair
Norman Jean Roy / Vanity Fair

Technology’s influence can be seen in nearly every part of image-making, but lensman Norman Jean Roy is none too happy about its effects on fashion photography.

The photographer, who shoots for Vanity Fair and Vogue, told The Cut: “I think, with the advent of digital photography, the dictatorship aspect of photography became democratized and over time became a group effort, which I think is bulls**t.”

He would never encroach on a hairstylist’s vision, he said, or tell a makeup artist which eyeshadow shade to use. To avoid the photography-only democracy, Jean Roy said he always shoots on film, believing that the medium keeps a photographer focused and in the moment. According to Jean Roy, the final shots are just better on film—imperfect in a way that gives it life without the help of digital retouching. “We’re in such a hurry to make sure we ‘got it’ that in the process I genuinely think the results today are infinitely inferior than where they were ten years ago,” he says.


ALWAYS better with film? I think not. I'll give him that interfering stylist types (and that includes art directors) are enraging and without merit. I've looked at some of my favorite film photographers (David Vestal comes immediately to mind) and lamented their marginalization in the face of new technology. Could they change? Maybe, probably, but they are masters of the field they long pursued and it returned the favor with a certain fame and financial 60, 70, 80... I doubt anyone would suggest a change that would correlate to an internship to a new medium that no one more than they can see the flaws in. OK, there is no denying progress and the innovations it engenders. The same happened (Time take note) the litho plate makers and the hot and photo type founders and purveyors of just a few years ago. So it will be with film. Extinct? No, never, but like LP records, a niche smaller than can support but a few, sadly. Digital photography has come a long way from a fairly embarrassing start. And now I shrug. It always works this way. The first 78rpm records were worse than the latest cylinders that preceded them. The first LPs were worse than the most current 78s. LPs were better than that much-maligned initial release of music on CD. Lest you think music is the only comparitor, no, but why go on? It always seems like A vs B, us, them. Actually the cusp is REALLY great in photography. Scanning an analog image ( an neg, slide, print ) and them treating it via digital technologies works REALLY well. Digital all by itself offers a ready immediacy and a candid advantage that is hard to ignore. That said, the astounding character of concise film reticulation cannot, at this point, be well imitated digitally. Point is, Mr. Roy is one of a long line of those opining the excellence of The Old Ways. And within his narrow spectrum, he is right. Hey, his horizon is not that narrow...he's gaming the system! As long as he can use film, well, go for it, buddy! Lest you think me dismissive, I've searched out ortho black-and-white films (black reds) instead of the more recent and correctly-rendering panchromatic black-and-white films (grey reds) because all of George Hurrell's Hollywood photography was shot with the only available film stock at the time, orthochromatic. Acknowledge the past, learn the present, anticipate the future.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 490 other followers