Yesterday I pulled out my Linhof 4x5 camera to photograph some original artwork for a client and fellow artist. I don't use the camera much these days except for utilitarian jobs like this. This is a shame. The camera is stunningly beautiful in every way; simple, elegant, a distillation of photography into its purist form. Yet, the very stuff the camera needs to stay alive is dying. Film is on the way out and soon it will be barely breathing.
Digital imaging got me back into photography again after years of dormancy so this ode to film will be brief. I love just about everything about digital photography and the dank and stuffy nights in the darkroom won't be missed. Some people adore film and the idea of using it exclusively as their medium of expression. I am not one of these people. I processed more film in tanks and trays than I care to remember. I dipped my hands into slippery developers and nose-clearing stop baths for nights on end, yet, strangely (and happily) lived to write this blog. The romance of film, for me, is limited.
Yet, while I was loading my film into holders yesterday and exposing them one sheet at a time, I was reminded about the things only film can give us. It is a decidedly different act to expose film than to fill a memory card full of digital information. In a moment of nostalgia, I decided to create a list of the unique features of film:
- Every roll of film has an exposure or two at the beginning where one advances the new roll and clicks the shutter to move it along. Those unexpected exposures can sometimes be my favorite images.
- Film, especially sheet film, slows photography down into a more deliberate, meditative process. Each exposure is important, maybe even precious.
- After film is developed there is that moment when you bring it out into the light of day and there it is! In your hands is a strange, negative interpretation of the world you saw and decided to capture. I miss that sublime moment of discovery.
- I love handling negatives, putting them in protective sleeves, filing them away, bringing them back out and holding them up to the light. Every time I touch a negative it renews my love affair with photography.
- Each film has its own personality, a kind of gentle crankiness. It will impart itself into every image. This is so very different than Photoshop effects and filters and tricks and gimmicks. It's a more honest relationship. When one commits to a particular film it is something done with great care and deliberation—a marriage of sorts.
I could go on, I suppose, just about forever with this. I don't want to make this more romantic than it really is. Film has infuriated me as much as it's given me joy. After yesterday's reunion with my view camera I want to use film again but only in limited ways. I think it's important to stay connected to one's roots. We'll see how this evolves.
Today's image is a very recent discovery of one of those starter photos at the beginning of a roll of film. A throw-away. I was scanning some old negatives yesterday and yelped with delight when I found this little gem on the leader of one of the rolls. It's an innocent, seemingly insignificant moment during a vacation in Rome. My sister-in-law in Italy for her very first day, is gripping her camera in anticipation. The image captures, I think, that moment of excitement when we are immersed in an exotic place for the first time. Without film, the moment would be lost to the ages. But, here it is, rediscovered!