Friday, January 30, 2015

On (film) photography

I've been into photography for many years. My first camera was an Olympus OM10, bought from a local second hand store, with the standard 50mm lens. From those humble beginnings, I embarked on a journey through the remarkable Olympus OM system, into my first job at a photo store which gave me a chance to use pretty much every camera, accessory, and film available at the time. I photographed family, friends, landscapes, objects, random people, taking up the reins of digital when it became feasible on my tiny salary... And that's kinda where things began going a little bit awry, allow me to explain from the perspective of where I am today:

I recently pulled a couple of rolls of Tri-X from some of my film cameras, most had been in there at least 4 years, and developed them. The first roll was a bit of failure, my developer solution was too weak. The second and third rolls much better, if suffering a little from over-agitation. But what really struck me, was how thoroughly enjoyable this process was; I was transported back to the days of buying whatever cheap film I could wrangle through my (now defunct, incidentally) workplace. From the wet tank I pulled images of friends, places, trips I had forgotten I had taken, rendered in the characteristics of the film which I had discovered and fallen in love with 10+ years ago.

Encouraged, I began looking through my transparencies... Colours lept out at me, each as fresh as the 1/500 second the chemical reaction occurred years ago. Not interpreted via a monitor, or software, not tweaked, no agonising over if +12 or +15 "vibrancy" looks best, just the camera, the light, and characteristics of the film... And boy, what characteristics: There was Kodachrome 64, with its smooth grain and National Geographic-esque colours, and Fuji Provia - clean, accurate, realistic, and Kodak Ektachromes - sharp, and wonderfully slightly warm saturated colours without being overdone in any way.

Then it struck me. All these films are dead. We've killed them. Our lust for digital, and the quest to improve generation after generation of digital camera has killed these films, their characteristics, their suitability for different applications... I don't know how I feel about this; sad I guess. Sure, its progress, but we've lost the progress we made in developing these films and all the advances over the years in emulsions, processing, and associated technology. No longer do we need the knowledge that we don't ever use Velvia 50 for portraits, or Agfa CT100 for... well, anything we don't want rendered with a magenta hue really.

Let me give you some insight into what brought all this on. I'm doing Burning Man this year, and its going to be a pretty damn photogenic event. I could take one of my digital SLRs, charge off the RV's 12v outlet... But I don't want to. Out there, in the desert, I want to connect with what drew me to photography; me, the camera, the film. No ability to preview and delete images, no zooming to get the best composition, no ability to shuffle ISO. On frame 34 and miles from the RV? Well, I better make those two shots count and hope that I get that elusive 37th frame.

So then, worn Leica M4, 5 rolls of Provia 100 and 5 of Tri-x? :)


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