Digital design and the end of hands-on


“The end of ‘cut ‘n fit’”

That was the declaration attached to the image above, made to announce one of the first computer-based graphic design programs.

The Vancouver graphics company that hired me to make the image occupied a funky space in the Beatty Street heritage block overlooking BC Place Stadium.

The office boasted the latest Apple Macintosh computers, featuring the revolutionary graphical user interface (GUI) we now take for granted.

The tools I brought to the job were decidedly retro, even for 1984.

I chose my circa 1960 Mamiyaflex medium-format camera and high-speed Ilford HP5 film with its discernible grain structure, developed in Rodinal to accentuate that characteristic. This “palette” gave me exactly what I was looking for: a noticeable but finely-distributed  pointillist effect, combined with a luminous quality akin to infrared film. I lit the shot with a single tungsten floodlight (no white-balance adjustment needed) 🙂

Using a twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera for a close-up like this introduced the challenge caused by parallax error — the difference between the image projected on the ground-glass by the viewing lens and the actual image projected onto the film by the shooting lens. Framing, focussing and — crucially — depth-of-field, required compensation.

The client, Rabbits Design, cared nothing for the technical details of the shoot, only the result. Happily, my concept was approved.

Today, “photo shop” no longer stirs visions of nocturnal geeks with brown-stained fingers, debating the virtues of phenidone and bromide developers; “camera-ready art” has no use for the Ex-Acto knife, drafting table, and film … sometimes even cameras.

Though the darkroom evoked the fascination of my childhood “laboratory” in England (housed in a cedar shed, stamped “Made in Canada”) I hold no special nostalgia for the smelly toxins of the wet process, aside from the occasional foray into film development, which I scan and reproduce on my inkjet printer.

Nonetheless, there remains something magical, jewel-like, in a fine silver print (not the illustration discussed here). I was a late adopter of both computer and digital camera, but these days I’m more than happy to sit at my own Mac, applying filters, layers, and adjusting levels on images downloaded in minutes from my digital cameras — all in daylight.

Never has the visual artist had a greater choice of tools and effects, at all levels of production and display, from paper to LCD screen. Can you even imagine a world without Photoshop?

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Raymond Parker Photo
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