A “Cyborg” Work Process

The posts on this blog also get published to my FaceBook page. Shortly after the previous post was published, a guy I went to school with asked a question on FB, “You have your own darkroom?” He had a point. It was unclear what my intentions were regarding the development of film negatives. My answer to his question is below.

No. I don’t have a darkroom. Since I left the printing business in 1994, I haven’t had access to one, but I don’t really need a full darkroom for the way I work. Well over 99% of my photographs are output to digital. When I’m not shooting digital, I have film negatives developed, then scan the negatives to get digital files. It is a “Cyborg” process*. Neither entirely analog or digital. I rarely get prints made, so I don’t need an enlarger (yet…).

My acquisition of a Yashica Mat 124 opened up a series of problems to be solved, however. The nearest pro lab which still develops 120 film is 30 miles away in Orange County. The drive to Orange County is horrible, so the last thing I want to do is drive film there, then have to make a return trip to pick it up, particularly since I only want negatives developed. The alternative to that drive is to ship film to them by mail, then have it mailed back, which would add considerably to my photo expenses. In addition to the previous problems, I’ve never dealt with that particular lab and don’t know the quality of their work, which introduces a control issue.

When I shoot 35mm, I have the negatives developed at Costco, which gives me very consistent quality. At $1.59 per roll the process isn’t very expensive. But I can’t get 120 or 220 film developed there, and they only process color film (C-41). If I shoot 35mm B&W for processing there it has to be chromogenic film such as Kodak BW400CN or Ilford XP2 Super which are developed in C-41 color chemicals. The price of a roll of the Kodak was recently raised to $6.95 and the Ilford is $6.09. Traditional black and white films are considerably less expensive.

My intent is to develop the medium format film negatives in my garage. I may also start using traditional black and white films in 35mm, since I’ll have the equipment and chemicals to develop it.

The only time I need complete darkness to develop film is when I thread the exposed negatives onto a spool that goes in the developing tank. The rest of the process can be performed in the light. I’m just going to find a closet to sit in to spool the negatives, then seal them into the developing tank. I might well eventually construct a small, closet-sized space in the garage to go dark, since it would be easier, but in the meantime, it isn’t entirely necessary.

This way of working with film and scanners is quite common worldwide. A number of bloggers use this analog-to-digital process or something similar. Film hasn’t died, it is just an entirely different animal than digital, a different tool, and thousands of film enthusiasts are adjusting to digital mediums like the internet by causing a deliberate convergence between the analog and digital processes.

* I know that isn’t exactly what the word means, but it makes for a “catchy” title…