Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Ah film.

For me, film means photography. Film is photography.

Despite the way that sounds, my intent is not to begin a “film vs. digital” debate; what I am trying to say is film is how I learned to work with light and shadow; film is how I learned about exposure, about seeing, about composition; film was the base upon which everything I know about photographic theory was built. There is now a generation of working photographers that have never used film. It is slipping away from school curriculums and truthfully, I’m having a tough time wrapping my mind around that.

If you’ve read any of this blog, and I sure hope that someone is, you know that I work in both mediums in my photography, though I wouldn’t say I do so interchangeably. When I shoot, no matter film or digital, I shoot as if I’m shooting film and I’m the first to admit doing so has caused problems. Just read my blog entry from June 21st.

Regardless, I honestly believe that because I learned photography in an analog world and continued to work with film long after the digital influx, I tend to be more careful when I work. However, as I began to integrate digital photography into my projects, I lowered my guard and grew more ambitious without regard for the art. It has now bitten me in the butt. Again, read yesterday’s entry.

I will point out the problems I experienced during the studio session have nothing to do with whether I was shooting film or digital. I happened to be shooting more digital than film, but in the same circumstances I would have experienced the same issues shooting more film and less digital. The medium is irrelevant.

Needless to say, after looking at dozens of underexposed RAW image files on my first edit, I was eager to develop the rolls of film I shot during those sessions. I’ve always been confident in my lighting abilities, and having sorted out the majority of equipment issues, confidence had once again taken hold - or at least had its foot in the door.

It’s important to understand some of this film was shot with a Holga toy camera. The Holga is an all plastic camera made in China and can be bought for around $35. Commercial photographers hate them; fine art photographers love them. They’re renowned for unpredictability with exposures, soft focus, and light leaks. Knowing this, I’m always braced for what the Holga may or may not give. While it frequently gives nothing, the images it can give are often breathtaking. I’m a huge fan. These two black and white images were made with a Holga.

Still, as much as I love the plastic-fantastic, I’m not brave enough to commit huge portions of studio sessions to it. I also shot with my Yashica MAT 124G twin lens reflex camera, a 35 year old camera I know to be rock solid.

When time came to process the film, I declared the guest bathroom off limits and set up the chemistry, drying racks, etc. I began rolling the film onto the developing reels in a small portable changing bag or “dark bag.” I’m particular about film processing and I usually only do two rolls per tank to maintain consistency. The first reel rolled without a hitch, but the second was difficult.

The actual development steps went smoothly. It was when I pulled the reels from the tank after the final fresh water rinse that I discovered the problem. The first reel I had rolled was well developed with good negative images, but the second reel was not. The crease in the film was still there and caused the film to stick to itself. Only half of the roll was properly developed. Believing the mistake was mine, I continued to develop, but on the next set of rolls, I lost an entire due to what I now knew was a bad reel.

In spite of all of this, and in spite of the fact I’d not had these problems if I had shot digitally, (I could’ve had a different set of problems altogether), I still love film. I love the way it feels, I love the way it sounds in camera, and I love the process of working with it. I even like the smell of the chemistry. (Some of it.) I purchased a new reel and things are fine. The later sets of negatives look good.

Working with film does present its own set of challenges when it comes to printing an actual photograph. While I can easily develop any black and white negative film at home, printing is another matter altogether. A complete working darkroom is needed to make photographs from negatives. The only other solution is a scanner, and a high quality one at that, if you want to print anything larger than 8X10 or so. Presently, I don’t have access to a darkroom where I can print, so my negatives are scanned and printed digitally. (I’m hopeful this will soon change; see my entry for June 17 where I talk at length about PURE.)

There are considerations with film development for scanning where management of negative contrast and density is concerned. The general rule I’ve heard is negatives that will be scanned should be developed with lower overall contrast – less density. I honestly don’t recall where or by whom I was told this. Speaking for myself, I was taught under the adage of “expose for the shadows; develop for the highlights” and it serves me well. I’ve no reason to deviate. So far, I’ve been able to manage my negatives in PhotoShop and print accordingly.

At the darkroom where I did my work in Atlanta, there was an underlying fear that film would quietly slip away; that it would be there one day and gone the next. The use of film has certainly diminished; and the darkroom, much to my dismay, closed its doors 4 years ago.

But film is hardly gone. In celebration of that fact, all of the images with today’s post were recorded on film - with no manipulation in PhotoShop other than cropping, spotting, and a few tonal adjustments - film stuff.

No comments:

Post a Comment