…or described another way, “There and back again – almost”.
When I started out in photography the closest thing I encountered to digital photography was the Polaroid. This was the time when film and paper ruled as the photographic medium.
I began using Kodak Instamatics and it wasn’t until my late twenties that I started to seriously use photography in my creative life. My journey with film photography was a progression from 35mm to medium format until I settled on the 4×5 format for the next twenty years.
It was here I found a kinship to the way I wanted to photograph – slow and meditative. I use to tell friends that taking photographs with a large format camera required an appointment with the subject. During this time, I was drawn to black & white photography and decided to focus exclusively on this area for all my images.
The lure of the darkroom from loading Ilford HP5+ sheet film, developing negatives in PMK pyro, making unsharp masks or working with potassium ferrocyanide were elements of the photographic craft I was always trying to refine and master.
Along with these things, I was always captivated watching an image appear on the paper as it moved through the series of baths to become a physical print.
Nowadays, convenience, speed and instance gratification are the hallmark of photography from chimping or WiFi uploads. It seems we want it all, now. And, I must confess these digital benefits convinced me to abandon film. I sold all my film cameras, dismantled my darkroom and started focusing exclusively on on digital photography. Over a period of 6 years this was how I rolled. I bought and sold cameras at every and any iteration of an upgrade. I was caught up in new is better and it is going to make me a better photographer.
Then, I had a realization – this has got to stop as I was spending too much worrying about equipment. So, what did I do? I bought another camera of course!
Enter the Leica Monochrom – overpriced, overhyped and frustrating to use at times. Why would anyone purchase such an extravagant piece of gear when there are so many many great cameras at half or quarter of the price. I wouldn’t recommend or try to justify this camera to anyone, but for me, it seemed to work.
Also, this was my gateway camera that started me thinking about using film again.
Well it forced me to slow down, think before pressing the shutter and it got me closer to my subjects. As this was my path to rediscovering film, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. There are easier and less expensive alternatives that are probably better.
I now work with both digital and film cameras and consider myself a figital photographer, since I develop then scan my film. I have not done any silver based printing for some time now. This is an area that I may decide to try again in the future.
Scanning film is art itself and there are many great scanners in the market. Many people will tell you need to drum scan or film scan your negatives which may be true if you are going to make big enlargements. BTW, I use to own a Howtek drum scanner which requires some serious dedication in order to get great scans.
I found the level of commitment required to using such a serious piece of equipment was taking me away from my photography and I now use an Epson V750 scanner which provides adequate results for the size of prints that I typically work on which is 13×19 or smaller paper.
In the past, when using film I was always looking to minimize grain (using pyro as developer), or maximizing sharpness (making unsharp masks) and minimizing enlargements by working with large negatives. Now, I use digital to get these results and work with film when I am looking for a less clinical feel to my images.
I have found that I like the grain, exposure latitude and having to wait until after processing before I could see the results. When out in the field this allows me to focus on the scene in front of me instead of my screen and adds an element of emotional detachment since I can’t see my image instantaneously. I think these delays help me be more selective with my keepers.
My film of choice is Kodak Tri-X 400 although I may go back to Ilford HP5+. I am also experimenting with Impossible 8×10 film and the emulsion lift process. Instant film is fun, but is too expensive to work with everyday. This film requires you to really think hard before pressing the shutter because at twenty dollars for each exposure you can through a lot of your hard earned cash really quickly.
In regards to developers, I haven’t settled on one yet. I have been experimenting with Diafine. PMK Pyro, D76 and Rodinal. PMK Pyro, was my exclusive developer for years, but It may not be the best developer for roll film and small tank processing.
I find I am getting some streaking on my negatives. Diafine is great for convenience, has a long shelf life and provides me an increase in speed when I want to expose Tri-X at ISO 1250. In the end, I think I will settle on Rodinal as my standard developer because it accentuates grain and has a long shelf.
Nowadays, as I walk the streets I am really surprised to meet such a large community of young photographers working with film. Hopefully, these young photographers along with us older users will allow manufacturers to see film as a viable business and continue making film for many years to come.
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