photography and photographs understood

The Long and Short of it

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: Jun 2013; revised: Mar 2018; readers past month: 519
Long and Short Coffee

There was a time when comments related to photography and cameras referred only to film cameras and one had to stipulate digital if one was making comments about a digital camera. With the wide acceptance of digital cameras, it’s now become necessary when discussing film cameras to make a distinction for film—and not for digital photography. During the past couple of years the term, analog is being used by many to refer to film cameras. The use of such words and the shifting of a distinction between what is dominant and what is no longer common is interesting. For objects that are integral to the lives of a culture, people tend to use no adjectives for objects that they perceive as the standard and accepted by everyone, but use adjectives of what’s not normal to them in relation to what is normal to them.

A good example of this is coffee. There are a few methods of making coffee. One popular method is to funnel hot water threw a steeper containing coarsely ground coffee beans. By this method, the coffee drips out of the bottom of the steeper into a pot. This coffee is sometimes referred to as drip coffee. Because the water is in the ground coffee beans for a relatively long time, it’s known as a long coffee.

Another popular method of making coffee is to push hot water under pressure threw tightly packed, finely ground coffee beans. Coffee made by this method is sometimes called, espresso. Because the water is in the ground coffee beans for a relatively short time, it’s also known as a short coffee. I believe the terms short coffee and long coffee are in relation to each other.

In the U.S., drip or long coffee has become the norm. So when you want such a coffee you would just ask for a coffee—no adjective is required. If you want a short coffee in the U.S., you will have to ask for an espresso. In Italy, since espresso or short coffee is the norm, you would just say that you want a coffee—no adjective is required. If there’s some confusion as to whether you want it with milk, you might clarify by saying you want a normale—the normal way, the way of the norm.

It would be odd for Americans to ask for long coffee and Italians to ask for short coffee. To each of these cultures, just saying coffee is enough to get what they want. To them, what they perceive as the norm is what everyone drinks, except for those few odd people.

So, to people who has used film cameras all of their lives and for whom photography is an integral part of their lives, it’s awkward and almost self-deprecating to add the adjective film or analog to photography terms. To the masses that have known only digital photography, it’s odd to use film and they feel therefore it requires an adjective to clarify. To them, the word photography without an adjective implies digital photography. I don’t think there will ever be a time when almost everyone will say both analog photography and digital photography, just like most Americans and Italians don’t use adjectives for what they perceive as a normal coffee.