When I first said to some of my friends back in 2016 I’m going to try some film again they thought I was mad. Somewhat comparable to one keeping vinyl records in the age of CD’s (remember them), har har.
SO….. I am an analogue guy in a digital age, or could it just be age, I’m have to face it, I’m old these days, BUT Sarah loves it too and she keeps me young.
Her appetite for shooting film is so refreshing.
I have made no attempt to push her toward it, in-fact it’s been completely the other way, she pushed me, back to my roots.
I had a celluloid hiatus since 2001 when I first dipped my toe into the digital imagery world with a Sony DSC070 3.3 mpix camera I think – what on earth was I thinking! I flogged my Canon Eos equipment, a brace of 5’s and a 10, a bunch of lenses – gee’s back then digital gear was so expensive. The kids today just don’t know they’re born – that darn thing was a hard eared grand at the time.
Fast forward 4-5 years and DSLR’s became finally affordable
and I purchased a Nikon D70 and a couple of lenses, in a bit of a rush, as we were venturing to the Ardennes and I wanted something to give me more image flexibility, interchangeable lenses and more storage. The Sony was limited to 128mb cards ( - yes mb! - your all laughing now right) those were a £ a mb – it killed me at the time and I could get 72 full res images on each one – I think I owned 2 - that made you choose your shots.
Anyway I progressed through the digital world like most of us did, our journey down the mega pixel upgrade path was a long and painful, (reads IS long and painful), not to mention an expensive one, of course the journey of excellence continues but it does not make the camera any different, the work flow, the composition, the exposure, yes then talent – that’s yours and mine! More mega pixels just improves the definition, the final image quality or so where led to believe. I assure you if I put 2 x 10"x8" images side by side on the table one from the D70 and one from a D850.... yup, you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart.
Of course there is far more to camera upgrade’s than mega pixels, there are lots and lots of functions that are added to a more modern camera, viewfinder shutter blind for long exposure, multiple exposure in camera, focus stacking in camera, faster focus speed, faster shutter speed, faster read/write times, better processor, better lens mount – the list is endless, as is the path – it continues to this day.
Sarah and I have just upgraded to the Nikon Z7II, the lens line-up continues to grow, and the image quality speaks for itself. We have our first corporate work gig booked in November in London and I’m really looking forward to using the new gear, because I was aware of the pitfalls of the older gear previously – which, if I have chosen wisely, we will have overcome - the jury is out.
SO ….see how I ramble, digress and am known for being, well tangential.
Back to film – Why film (cont)
I bought an Olympus OM2sp and a couple of Zuikos in 2016 and shot some film, some nice shots around Rochester – I took it to our local Max Speilmann in Strood where the pretty young gal that served me did not know her chemistry, in fact did not know the first thing about photography, but she did know to ask! C-41, I assured her was the chemistry of choice, already in her processing machine, was just fine for the XP2 black and white film that was really a colour film in drag, – anyways she processed it through her fixer encrusted machine and ruined what were a fine set of exposures – I was pissed, threw the camera in the cupboard and shot digital again for an age.
But there was really something missing, I missed the feel of that lever, the wind on, the crank that carries the film to the next frame – stupid isn’t it, but its part of the feel, the journey one takes with a fully manual camera. Remember those vinyl records, it’s the same deal – as you lower the tone arm and the stylus embraces the first groove and caresses the nodules to produce the sweet music – you sit back and smile – its exactly the same!
So I continued to play my vinyl records and I generally buy one or two a month, this month it was Bowie, last month a band I have never heard of who I already cannot remember the name of. But they’re weird and make music in the open Mojave desert – I love the Mojave, so I bought the album for the cover image – you’ve done that right? – please tell me you’ve done that?
Then in 2019 Sarah and I had an epic trip to the (US some images here)
But we returned after having a fortune in gear stolen from our car, I was disheartened and felt like throwing in the towel – I really was deeply upset, the insurance had found 'that line' in the small print they needed to reject the claim, so all the brand new gear I had bought since May was lost – I had to give up or rebuild.
Sarah, being, well, my Sarah, bless her, as she always does in my times of need, kicked me up the arse and said go buy some 120 and take the Bronica out. I had some 120 in the fridge, so I loaded a couple of backs, one round the wrong way (always change that damn empty spool right – those that know, just know – you forget) and hit the road, I took the prism off, used the waist level finder and metered, well with a meter. Every time I pressed the shutter release and heard the barn door slam shut I smiled – God it was good to be exposing film again.
I send the images off for processing, it was a roll of Fuji Provia positive film, only for the processing lab to cross process them in C-41 colour positive developer – all images ruined – some pretty freaky images, one I actually like but most were wrecked - Arrrrrrgggg – God does not want me to shoot film – Our heavenly father, if you believe in such things, is telling me, in fact shouting at me, ‘STOP NOW’!!
Well stop I did not, so by the beginning of November I had bought a Nikon f301 for a tenner off evil Bay and a week later a 501 by the end of November a brace or Nikkormats and then a beautiful example of a Nikon F 3 – My Dad had an F3, this camera was special – it was mint, like 'never used' mint – Dad loved it, I love it – it is rarely used because of it’s condition but it’s a beauty.
The venerable F3, the tool of skilled artists for 20 years in the professional world, a camera you associate with people like Steve McCurry, Bill Cunningham, John Free & Herb Ritts ( bet you’ve not heard of the last two right) – Herb Ritts launched Richard Gere’s career with a Nikon F3 – probably back then the ultimate babe magnet, Ritts photographed Gere beautifully and indeed launched his own career in doing so – tragically Herb died at the age of 50, thus never maturing like a fine Bordeaux of the photography world – his work is so special - he was Hollywoods finest photographer.
Check them out here
So then I began collecting film cameras, what’s this all about, I have a few now, Sarah and I jostle for pole position in the equality of ducks and cameras – it’s become a standing joke in our house that when one eclipses the other, we have to hold fire until, the other gets even – see were just plain daft and stupid, but life’s short, eat the cake, own the duck (or camera).
I started collecting, wondering even... if in the middle of a global pandemic, a world filled with doom and gloom, if even I would ever expose any film with these cameras – we were locked down ( who the hell came up with that phrase – its something straight out of a Stallone prison movie!!) BUT there we were 'Locked down'.
Well, we did, we got out, albeit locally and exposed some film, lots of film – I have actually, as I write to date in 2021 shot more analogue than I have digital. I hope to have honed my skills in camera and also in the darkroom perhaps, I really don’t know, I yearn for events, to shoot people to document life itself and record my images for all time in a tactile form - I need to put it all into practice .
Above all, shooting film has given me something far more, its made me enjoy photography again. Shooting digital is the ready meal, you microwave and your done, film is the gourmet meal, you have to bring all the ingredients and nurture them whilst you cook to get the end result – it’s a challenge, its hard, you loose film, you learn, but above all you have fun.
Some youngsters (that reads a LOT of youngsters) are now finding film their niche, they, unlike me are not returning because they have never experienced it before – I yearned to get back , remember that wind on crank – oh yeah , I’m home.
Remember those vinyl records ….those same youngsters are in search of an age they would have loved perhaps – I am glad about their interest, their desire to learn what went before – its good for them, good for the future and above all it’s making them outstanding photographers.
Film has an ‘Aura’ about it, it makes you want more of it, gives it value, a value that digital can never give you. Digital takes far cleaner, sharper perfect images, that’s undeniable, but it can never replace film.
I shoot professionally in the digital world, but I am beginning once again to offer celluloid wedding work and am looking forward to doing this in our first wedding bookings as we return to normality – Jeepers I am looking forward to bloody getting married myself - #hatecovid.
At the end of the day, it’s life choice, but I urge anyone who is seriously interested in photography to go buy a cheap manual film camera and have some fun – it will teach you more about light, exposure and stops than any other form of photography, make you choose your compositions carefully and immerse you into 'making a photograph' rather than just 'taking a photograph'. You may just enjoy the delayed experience of self gratification as you wait for your results.
I am fortunate these days, having a home darkroom, to experience the first peek as the film comes out the tank, that’s special, Sarah has heard me should down from the darkroom on more than many an occasion, ‘great negs’ as I hang them up to dry.
It embraces our life and betters it in our collective hobby and enjoyment. I am fortunate, indeed blessed, to share my life with another creative, she is far better than me. Sarah's a far better eye and I still smile with enormous enjoyment as I hear her muttering aloud about her emulsion choice for this evening’s shoot in her Nikon 301, and her selective process of primes – this is real photography at it’s best and we love it dearly, together – that’s being blessed.
So if you have gotten this far, well done, go on don’t I, ‘ramblings’ I call them but it’s good to open up, good to talk and better to share.
I love you all.