A while back, I dabbled in black and white film photography. As opposed to digital of course. I rigged up film developing station in the laundry, and routinely processed my own film. The difference between analog and digital is astounding. I cannot begin to tell you how often I looked at the non-existent viewfinder to see the immediate result. The result that wasn’t there, and would not be there until I got home, set up the developing kit, loaded the film in the changing bag and did the deed with the mysterious chemicals.
However, I felt the results showed for themselves. Grain was abundant. Purists might see this as a weak point of film, whereas I saw it as an earthiness. A grittiness that digital doesn’t give me. In addition, a roll of twenty four or thirty six frames gets used up fairly quickly at normal digital shooting speeds, meaning I had to shoot slower and compose and think about what I wanted to achieve with each frame. With digital, a successful day’s shooting will yield about 10% of my frames being what I wanted. With film, I saw this leap up to 60% or more. Two thirds of my shots were close to what I intended, rather than the paltry on tenth! How could I lose?
Well, in the end, I felt I lost in pain and suffering. Now don’t get me wrong. I love film, and have kept my film gear, but sadly, the part of it that requires me to labour over the sink with chemicals nasty and benign are gone. The developing tanks must go, along with the lovely enlarger and paper. They must find a new home. One where they will find a use. Where someone will lovingly slave under a red light to get a result that I just cannot justify. I realise now that I am a product of the instant coffee age. One where instant results are not just a nice-to-have, but essential.
My new gear far surpasses my ability, and with newfound skills in both Lightroom and Photoshop, I find I can get close, if not surpass the feel and vibe I so loved with film.
My film days live on though. They taught me a valuable skill that cannot be learned any other way. Time, patience and an awareness of what both my eye and my camera sees. So I pay homage to George Eastman, founder of Kodak, and the author of so many of our memories.
(please look at my gallery under Black and White Film to see what I learned.)