A quick word on my photographic origins, a hiatus, and creative evolution: I started with film photography in the late-1990’s to early-2000’s, self-teaching the basics of exposure and composition on a Nikon F65 SLR. I shot that camera for a few years, fairly religiously, though not very seriously. Then, for some (no?) reason, perhaps around 2005, I gave up on SLR photography.
Around the same time, I found my way into the dreamy world of 120 format Lomography toy cameras — first with a Holga, and then with a Diana F+; the unpredictable and super-saturated film look was a very different one from what I was accustomed to seeing with my F65, and I thought the uncertainty of result a needed creative shift at that time in my life. I toyed with those little plastic image-makers for a few years, and then mostly stopped with photography altogether in the early 2010’s, once careerism had throttled my attention.
My photography hiatus lasted until September/October of 2018. At that time, I again felt compelled to capture snippets of the world and its moments around me. I had shot my Diana F+ during a trip to Hawaii that September, but realised that I had grown tired of the inconsistencies of toy cameras when many of my printed frames were underwhelming at best.
I decided that I needed a “real” camera again, and opted for the very pocketable Olympus XA rangefinder (the original XA, from 1979), with the intention of shooting street photography throughout my adopted home, the City of Toronto. And shoot that little camera I did, especially feverishly during the first nine months of 2020. But after two-plus years of carrying and shooting my XA nearly every day — and a-thousand-or-so frames of 35mm film later — I yearned for creative change once more. I wanted to slow down the image-making process, make it more deliberate, more thoughtful, and to ultimately find something that would force me to be more intentional in my photography.
Indeed, another creative evolution was underway, this time towards the more ‘serious’ medium format machines. I researched medium format cameras for many hours before becoming intrigued by the strange-looking TLR. I shopped around and was able to find a Rolleicord III (1950-53) in excellent condition — which, in and of itself, is a miracle of sorts, given that the machine is 70+ years old!
Rolleicord III & Fujifilm’s Provia 100F slide film
All of this is a long way of driving down to the point of this article — shooting slide film for the first time. Shooting with Fujifilm’s Provia 100F slide film in my Rolleicord III has re-opened my eyes to the beautiful possibilities of film photography. This roll of Provia 100F was the third roll of film shot in my newly-acquired TLR, and the first time I had ever shot slide film. In fact, I did not even appreciate that I was shooting slide film until well after I had sealed shut the exposed roll and sought to get it processed, only to be told by one of my go-to labs that they didn’t develop E-6.
“What the hell is E-6?”, I thought to myself.
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It was only then that I appreciated the nature of the emulsion that I had just spent the last few days shooting (with the helpful & necessary assistance of the Lux Light Meter app on my iPhone, thank goodness, since my TLR has no internal light metering system — it is completely manual in all regards). Lucky for me, one of the three local labs I regularly use was able to assist, so I turned in my Provia 100F to them for developing and scanning.
To say that I was impressed with the results would be an understatement; I have rarely grinned more widely in receiving the results of my film photography than when I first saw those Provia 100F slides. The images produced were crystal clear with beautiful, and impossibly accurate, colour rendering. Most of the images made on this roll of colour reversal film were shot under grey skies or snowy conditions, which really allowed the bright colours to pop; especially the greens.
The film has an impressive dynamic range, producing a well-balanced range between shadows and highlights — capturing details in the darks without completely blowing-out the lights. And the colours are so vibrant, so brilliant, so enjoyable to look at. I fell in love with the combination of the 70+ year-old glass in my Rollei and the clarity & punch it produced on the Provia 100F. I am waiting on my second roll of this as I write, the successor containing my first practiced attempts at night photography.
Cost inefficiency, mindfulness, intentionality
The only downside to shooting this film is its cost — I bought this roll for $12 (which is actually decently priced for any 120 film, here in Canada, anyway), but then paid another $12 for processing and another $6 for scanning; so, at the end of the day, this roll of slide film cost me $30 — for 11 frames, since the last one failed on me.
But that cost inefficiency is part of what, for me personally, makes shooting this particular film worthwhile — it really forces me to be mindful of what I am shooting, to be intentional about composition / colour / lighting, to slow down the pace of the process and really consider whether what I’ve framed is worthwhile to bring into a photographic existence. And not every image ends up working out, of course, which is okay, because it is the process of film photography that makes this form of art meaningful to me — that is, the process of mindfulness, intentionality, and ascribing value to mundane things that perhaps others would not in moments that might not otherwise seem to matter to most.
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