For this next one, I want to experiment with some studio space, and making the portraits on black and white film. To do that, I picked up a Bronica ETRSi from Jon Wilkening – a fantastic kit, full of potential. And it includes a learning curve, which is the part I’m most looking forward to.
(One of the benefits of picking up photography as a hobby is that you get to tinker, and learn new equipment, while you’re making photographs. That puts it in the same realm as classic computers or engine repair as much as art.)
I hope to set up a quick photo studio to practice with the Bronica, including making photos with friends and family, just for fun.
Restrictions are simply creative challenges. Using medium format film for a portrait project is a restriction that, I hope, leads to interesting results and good photographs. It forces me to learn something new, while lending a timeless feel to the whole endeavor. Should be fun.
After thinking about my favorite type of camera – small, single lens, 35-45mm range – I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 400 and hit the streets for a just-starting-to-feel-like-spring afternoon in Ann Arbor.
From loading to dropping film off at the camera store took less than an hour. I had 24-ish chances to capture something walking around an unfamiliar neighborhood. And I had 40mm to express what I saw, with a rangefinder focusing mechanism to express it.
I also had a serious limitation: the bright, sunny afternoon was killer when the Canonet’s highest shutter speed was 1/500. That, combined with a 400 ISO film speed, meant having to pull the ISO down a bit, or else the camera refused to take a photo. Chalk it up to one big learning experience.
The point is, I took the Canonet for a spin, and blew through a 24 exposure roll of film. That old saying about potato chips, that you can’t eat just one? Same rule applied to that roll of Agfa Vista. It was easy to just keep visually snacking.
Think about it: there used to be a photo developing station in every grocery store. You could (and in some cases, still can) pick up film in a gas station. People would print photos and bind them together into books that became family heirlooms. Then it all went away.
But the good news is all on the film side. The other side of the equation – new film cameras – isn’t returning at the same speed as film stock. Why is that?
Leica is doing their thing, but that’s out of the reach of most photographers. Nikon has the F6, still in production, and Lomo does a good business. But from there, medium- and large-format film cameras are the only ones still in production. Where are the new 35mm cameras to meet this growing film demand? Is the demand still not at a level for camera manufacturers to supply new gear?
Not that there’s any reason to worry; there are tons of used film cameras out there waiting to be rediscovered and refurbished (it’s coming up on yard sale season, after all). For the most part, buying a decent film camera is way more affordable than buying a new digital camera.
Maybe that’s when we’ll know film is back in a big way: Pentax, Canon, Fuji, and the rest fire up their film camera production machines again.
In Sound City, Dave Grohl’s love letter to the legendary, hit-making studio in California, he and other musicians gush about the “real” process of getting guys in a studio and recording music live, on two-inch tape: “the human element of creating and recording music.” ProTools has its place, many of the artists say, but there’s nothing like analog.
We’ve heard this before, of course. Everyone from filmmakers to photographers are returning to (or, in the case of movies, never leaving) film.
Lots of words get used to describe this process: magic, alchemy, mystery, human. Digital is too “easy.” You can fix everything with digital. Etc.
For many, it’s a return to what is known. Analog is more familiar to those of a certain age. A lot of what Grohl and Christopher Nolan and other film fans seem to be saying is, “You missed the good stuff, the good old days.”
Those of us who adopted photography as a hobby or profession in the digital age don’t know what a dark room is like because we’ve never used one, and may never step foot in one.
(A side note: my college newspaper had a darkroom attached to it, behind this sweet swiveling circular door, and I did spend some time in there – but never to actually develop or print images. I remember photography students spending a lot of time in that room, and I’d catch glimpses of what they were working on when they brought their prints out into the light.)
We seemed to have this big upswing, in the ’80s (music), ’90s (movies), and 2000s (photography) toward digital art making. In the last decade, that digital tide has swung back, and more and more artists are experimenting with analog again. Call it the Maker Movement, call it hipsterism, call it whatever, but vinyl records and photo film seem to be doing okay again. Not great, but not dead.
So it is with blogging – away from federated, silo’d social media platforms and toward artists and writers owning their material.
Maybe we’re all learning that perfect isn’t the goal. The goal is to make something great, imperfections and all. Something human.
Photographer Jon Wilkening is doing a 365 day project, where he offers up a print each day – and it costs whatever order it’s in. I got day number eight, so I paid $8. Day number 365 will be $365, etc.
Jon’s work is very cool. He does pinhole street photography, with interesting motion and abstract blurs. I waited for the right combination of light and colors for my print, and day eight has this lovely primary color scheme going on.
Because there are fewer and fewer places selling honest to goodness film these days, trying to snag a roll was random and difficult. If I didn’t want Kodak instant cameras or Fuji Superia, I was stuck using Amazon or B&H – especially for my favorites, Agfa Vista and Ilford HP5.
But CameraMall had those and more. Medium format film! Kodak Ektar! Weird Ilford film I had never heard of! My beloved Agfa! It was like a candy store. As a bonus, they also develop 35mm film.
It felt really, really good to plunk down the $10 for two rolls of film, knowing that I had a local place to shop from. They benefit (yay, camera stores!), I benefit, and somewhere down the line the photography industry benefits.
And really, the film costs the same in store as it does online, I get to geek out with the guy behind the counter, and it’s an excuse to get out of the office and go for a walk.
Find your local place, if you have one, and shop from their film selection (or memory cards, or tripods, or whatever). Order some prints. Check out their used gear section. I know ordering online is super handy, but the benefits of shopping local are numerous.
I’ll bet that after you do, like me, you’ll feel better about doing it.