When I was a child living in a poor rural area of New York State there was no possibility of personally owning a camera. My mother and aunts had a series of inexpensive Kodak cameras and used them primarily to record family events like holidays and vacations. Most of the photographs they took were made in black and white until the late 1960s because of cost. I was occasionally allowed to take photos, but the occasions were truly rare because of the cost of film and processing.
In 1970 I acquired my first camera, a Canon SLR, at a pawn shop near the small college I was attending. The SLR was for use in a Photography 101 class. We were instructed to shoot black and white only, have our negatives processed locally, then once a week we had the run of the darkrooms at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where we printed from our negatives. I came away from the class with a vague understanding of the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, metering, and film speed, and a positive appreciation of the joys of making photographs and printing in the darkroom. I have to admit though, that I learned as much about my lovely lab partner as I did about photography, something I don’t necessarily regret.
In later years I traded the SLR for a typewriter and bought a Canon AE-1. I shot at a somewhat slow rate and only had about half of the rolls processed, depending on the subject matter and whether I had the extra money for processing (I had a young family and it seemed that there was a near-constant vacuum at work, sucking the money out of my wallet).
Sometime around 1999, the AE-1 was stolen while out on loan (and I want to personally thank the thief for his courtesy, now). I occasionally used my wife Lisa’s point and shoots and 35mm disposable cameras, until a couple years later when she surprised me with a Kodak DC3400, an early digital camera. I loved the way that the Kodak rendered color and took the camera with me on many long motorcycle rides. I still think that camera did a better job with color than the more advanced digitals I later acquired.
In 2006, using my 55th birthday as an excuse, I arranged to ride my motorcycle from Southern California to Long Island where my daughter was attending University, and up to the Finger Lakes area where I grew up, then back to Southern California. Again, just before I left Lisa surprised me with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX01, a point-and-shoot digital that was considerably more advanced than the Kodak and had anti-shake technology that allowed me to shoot “from the saddle” while riding the motorcycle.
The digital cameras allowed me to bring home scenes I captured during my long motorcycle rides, which often lasted several days, scenes that I wanted to show to Lisa, who doesn’t enjoy long motorcycle rides.
Later, wanting more control of my digital photographs, I bought a Nikon D200. The D200 was and still is an excellent camera and it allowed me the additional control over my photos that I was looking for, and not finding with the compact cameras, but there was still an indefinable “something” missing.
After a few months, I realized that I missed the feel of working with an SLR. I missed the process of film photography. I decided that since it wasn’t nearly as expensive as investing in another DSLR, I would pick up a SLR and shoot some film, again. I did a bit of research on the Web then bought a Nikon SLR partially because I had a couple lenses for it. The camera was a Nikon N90s. I was amazed by the $70 price for an excellent condition body. I then bought a few rolls of color film locally (trustworthy film was still available in numerous stores at the time).
When I went out to shoot the camera the first time, it was Nirvana. I absolutely loved it. I had forgotten about the tactile feel of loading a roll of film into a camera, the whir of it moving through the camera body, the pleasing sound of the shutter, and the very familiar feel of operating a manual focus prime lens. I also re-experienced the anticipation of waiting for the film to be developed and the relatively careful approach to shooting that is a side effect of the cost-per-frame of film photography.
I quickly noticed that because I slowed myself down to shoot film, I was getting a much larger number of “keepers” from a 36-frame roll than any sequence of 36 frames I typically shot with a digital camera. And I was enjoying the “analogue” process more than shooting digital. I still shoot digital when the situation is right, but I’m leaning progressively more in the direction of film photography. Film photography is a different animal than digital, a different approach, a different process. It is an excellent situation that we’re in at this time in history, because we have a wider choice of photographic mediums than we had a decade and a half ago. It is always nice to have a choice.
I find it interesting there seems to be a growing resurgence of film photography after the early doldrums of the digital age, despite the overabundance of “Film Is Dead” (FID) articles. The FID articles are the result of lazy writers. Writers who lack original ideas. FID, as is often said, is a load of crap. Film will be with us as long as we keep buying it.
Nowadays when I’m heading out to shoot and considering what camera or cameras to pack into the motorcycle’s saddlebags, I’m nearly always choosing from my small pool of film cameras. Do I want to shoot medium format or 35mm? Yashica TLR, Nikon SLR, or Yashica Rangefinder? Black and white or color or both?
The color 35mm film goes to a reliable local 1-hour processor. The black and white 35mm and 120 film gets developed at home. The color 120 and 220 is processed by a pro lab. All film is scanned at home, since the Web is my target output.
About Being An Artist
I hadn’t given much thought to being an artist until a friend called me that a few months ago. My approach to photography ignored the idea of the artist because it wasn’t relevant to me. I may be an artist, but I put little focus on it. I simply enjoy the process of photography, particularly the film process. Some of my photos are what I consider “good” or “fair”. Others are simply handy “illustrations” to augment something I write. Yet others are “documentary”, such as family photographs.