Craft

Analog + AI: Touch Meets Tech in Photography and Fragrance

Looking at analog practices could inspire the fragrance industry, as it revisits the past with a current perspective to ask future questions.

Let’s talk about photography. Back in 2012, when Facebook acquired Instagram for $1B, Kodak was filing for bankruptcy, resulting in their fail to embrace the digital world. As a second chance, in 2017, Kodak was re-editing older films that the second-hand analog market was demanding. This was also the year when I found in a box an analog camera that belonged to my father in law. And suddenly a lost world resurged.

Editor’s note: All photography on this page is original to the author, including the main photo of the camera she discovered belonging to her father in law.

Using an analog camera reconnected me to another photography practice. I rediscovered the basics and started to master all the technical parameters. In my journey, this process allowed me to explore a slower practice with a more introspective and emotional approach. Not being able to take thousands of pictures and see them immediately has forced me to be more intentional. Finally, once I mastered the analog technique, I understood that digital camera does not make me more or less creative, it just provides a new tool as a photography aficionado, I was like many others trapped into the thinking that millions of pixels, the best dynamic range and capture, the finest sharpness of a lens could create the best photos. Indeed, if they could reproduce the reality at its finest level, therefore they could, in theory, tell you a great story. That would be like saying that the best ingredients the world could create the best fragrances. Not necessarily true. Photographers and perfumers are the makers, whereas ingredients and camera are the tools.

Photo by Emma Boulissière

While a digital camera can reproduce the reality at a sanitized perfection, people love the imperfection of analog photos. They love their granular texture.

As an analog photographer, I enjoy the idea that it may lead to surprises or unexpected results. None of us like a photo for its ability to convey 100% reality but rather for the undefined edges that open the doors to mystery. Every photo that transports us, offers at the same time an empty space that we can appropriate for interpretation, projection, and emotions. This space of mystery is sometimes what makes a good fragrance too. Do we want to smell the high definition reality? With an analog lens, or rather, analog nose, we enjoy this “un-je-ne sais- quoi” effect that captures our attention without delivering its secrets.

Photo by Emma Boulissière

Other forms of the rebound of analog photography are Polaroids, second-hand analog cameras, and even digital pinhole photography. Despite their reappearance, these new practices do not limit to only analog. Most photographers include digital practices in their flow: scanning, digital enhancements… resulting in extremely fruitful creativity where past, present, and future synergize.

Surprisingly. this new interest in analog has spread among the digital-native generation that was too young to have known analog practices during childhood. What could be driving interest is the possibility to reappropriate the process for their own purposes—a future that includes process learning from the past.

Serge Tisseron, French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst questioned the commonplace of photography. In his book, Le Mystère de la Chambre Claire (2008), he questioned the evolution of photography. He analyzed the relationship between a man and a picture from a psychological point of view and argues: “The picture isn’t only a nostalgia from the past, a picture is the result of two different moves : stopping time for the representation and following the motion of the world.” Tisseron confirms that photography reunites past, present and future to create a new reality for our eyes.

Through analog practices, I want to tell another story—similar to reality but different: richer, more texture, more emotions, imperfect and beautiful.

Photo by Emma Boulissière

Working together in perfumery, Cristina and I often discuss these topics: the art of the intangible in perfumery or photography and how the past combines with future. We both see commonalities between photography and fragrance. We brought Master Perfumer Honorine Blanc to our conversation in order to share her vision on the future of perfumery, both digital and analog.

What could analog perfumery mean in the time of Artificial Intelligence? Like photography, Honorine Blanc sees these two worlds in perfumery: the AI driven by digital and the world of creativity and emotions rooted in analog. “Newness in perfumery combines time: digital through modelling the past, analog through perfumers’ intuitions and emotions for the fragrances of tomorrow”.

We do believe that these two worlds are complementary, as a normal evolution of the world of perfumery. “Artificial intelligence helps the perfumer to understand the foundational data—what was done in the past. AI is a way to enjoy the comfort of smartly and efficiently using the development parameters with the support of technology (i.e.. for a better understanding of the formula’s structure, optimizing the role of an ingredient in a fragrance), to then invest more time to create new olfactive territories, new textures… pure creativity.”

In summary, while embracing digital tools, we concluded that analog perfumery contributes with the below key points to continue strengthen our craftmanship…

Photo by Emma Boulissière

LOVE THE PERFECTLY IMPERFECT

As mentioned above, we love the imperfection and granular image to be able to recreate our own stories. In photography like in perfumery, perfection is the mirror of imperfection. They work together as “we need the imperfection to see the perfection -and also because imperfection opens new creative paths by challenging the established norms of what is considered to be perfect,” as discussed by Honorine Blanc.

RECONNECT TO OWNERSHIP

Using analog is the promise of a holistic sensorial experience. It reconnects the user to the materiality of the world – not only through what we can see or feel or touch, but also in what we can control. Beyond senses, analog rewards us with a sense of ownership that we lost in our heedlessly rush into the future.

Reclaiming ownership in fragrance enhances the role of the perfumer in the creative process. Leaving a mark, giving the fragrance an imprint requires the creative freedom. The olfactive brief is an interesting starting point to stimulate the creativity – but when it becomes a pressure toward normalcy (or standard), the question of ownership becomes a challenge to avoid sameness. We tend to think that technology unifies creation, like applying the same filter on millions of photos. However, if properly used technology could help us differentiate, rather than normalize. Analog does not oppose technology. They both live together and combine each other. But surely, in the age of algorithms in perfumery through AI, the analog connection will probably save us from sameness, allowing the perfumers to go out their comfort zone, in an unprecedented way.

As shared by Honorine, it is our imagination that will continue to open new doors, “perfumers bring the heartbeat to technology, to help in the exploration of unpaved roads bringing life and excitement to consumers for the future that awaits.”

TO SEE MORE of Emma’s work, please visit her photography blog: The Photos of Escampette