I took up photography during the 1970s processing and printing from my own film negatives. Then came along digital technology which I adopted wholeheartedly, investing in a variety of cameras, scanners and printers. For the most part I have been satisfied with the results. However, I miss film photography and feel that we are in danger of losing something of value if we leave film technology behind.
Firstly, film photography brings you into a different kind of relationship to the world. The slow and more deliberate process of film photography with its delayed gratification enables a greater sense of achievement through involvement. Photography becomes more of a craft, accessible only to those who cultivate the virtues of patience and determination.
Secondly, modern digital cameras are computers, subject to the same disadvantages: they quickly become obsolete, which is hugely frustrating and expensive, and it is not easy to understand how they work, which serves to alienate you from them. In a way, they stand in-between the photographer and the subject in a “black-box” type of relationship.
Finally. there is a quality to a film photograph not easily obtained in a digital photograph. There is much argument about this, as it’s hard to pin down precisely, but I hope to explore this theme systematically later in this series.
However, I am not an evangelist for film and in fact there is much to commend digital photography. For me though, photography is a process of relationship to the world based on “seeing” and I believe that the characteristics of film photography help me to see more intently. Film also opens me up to the vagaries of chance in a way that the immediacy and certainty of digital do not. This element of the unexpected is something to cherish in a world where we try to control everything that is other, forcing the world to fit in with our preconceptions.
So I have decided to retread the path of film and in so doing, I will share any successes and my frustrations along the way. I aim to start back right at the very beginning with the “basics”.
I have set out some initial conditions for the journey as follows:
I will standardise on the following technology:
- Hasselblad 503 with Ilford 120 FP4 film and the developers, Perceptol or Rodinal, as circumstances dictate. I love the look of FP4/Perceptol as described by Barry Thornton and used by George Todd.
- Leica MA type 127, with Kodak Tri-X film developed in Kodak Xtol. Tri-X developed in Xtol looks so clean and crisp.
- Sekonic light meter
- Epson v850 scanner.
My guides along the way will be some books which I have long owned and recently retrieved from storage:
- ‘The Film Developing Cookbook’ by Stephen Anchell and Bill Troop, Elsevier 1998.
- ‘The Craft of Photography’ by David Vestal, Harper & Row, 1975
- ‘The Negative’ by Ansel Adams, Little, Brown & Company, 2001
- ‘Creative Elements’ by Eddie Ephraums, Fountain Press, 2000
- ‘Elements’ by Barry Thornton, Creative Monochrome, 1997
- ‘Edge of Darkness’ by Barry Thornton, Argentum, 2000.
- ‘Black and White Photography Workshop’ by John Blakemore
- ‘Image Clarity’ by John B Williams, Focal Press 1990.
Photographers whose work I deeply admire, some now reaching beyond the grave, will also help me on my way. Special mention must go to John Blakemore, Barry Thornton, Fay Godwin, John Davies, Lee Friedlander, Paul Caponigro and Minor White.
My next post will set out on the first step of my journey – calibrating my camera to my choice of film, developer and light meter. However, although much of the content will show how I struggle with the technical aspects of the medium, I also aim to explore what photography means to me….