Returning to the dark-side

Whilst I have been making digital photographs since around 2003 I actually took up photography in the 1970s so I have always kept an interest in the film photography world and have also continued to shoot the occasional roll of film. Thus it was no surprise to me when I found myself shooting film more regularly in early 2019. What had been half a dozen rolls a year became a couple of rolls a month. My year-end tally for 2019 however still showed that around 85% of my photography was still digitally based. 

Another misty morning meandering with the panoramic camera and a roll of film. Horizon Kompakt and Ilford HP5+, home developed in Diafine (3+3) Shot 9th November Processed 11th November Scanned with a Fuji XT-3

This was the situation going in to 2020 and then the World as I knew it went mad.  However, despite the pandemic and despite shielding at home for four months, I still made images. On digital and film. Thus it was that by the end of 2020 the situation had reversed and over 90% of my photography that year was film based; I shot and developed 180 rolls of film, both 35mm and 120, along with around 40 sheets of 5×4 film.

But why? 

Well, initially it was down to Lockdown that affected me from mid-March until early August 2020.  Not being able to go beyond my front gate for over four months I ended up reading more and I also bought a few more rolls of film to amuse myself. Cameras that had been in boxes for years saw the light of day, were cleaned and brought back into use.  A few purchases to replace lost filters or minor accessories such as eye-cups soon became a project to build up a full Bronica ETRS medium format film system; don’t ask me how! By the time I emerged from my isolation in early August 2020 I was shooting film daily and almost exclusively.

Horizon S3 Pro | Kodak Tri-X | D76 (1+1) Shot 8th February 2021 between 8.45 and 9.15am

It wasn’t all film though. My 365 Challenge, which I had started in October 2017 was still going strong and my most-used tool for this job was still the Fuji X100T.  I realised however that I was using it like a film camera, often taking just one or two images with the 365 in mind.  In early August when my consultant gave me the thumbs-up to take short walks I found myself walking to every corner of the small town I live in. Nowhere is more than 20 minutes walk, so forty minutes there and back. This was when my ongoing project, documenting Elland’s urban landscape on black and white film, was born.

This project however hit top gear in October thanks to an impulse buy. I bought a new-to-me camera, the Horizon Kompakt. A Russian-made, swing lens camera for shooting 120 degree panoramas on 35mm film.

Needing to run a few rolls through to test the camera and also get it moving freely again I bought a brick of 35mm film and got out of the armchair and onto my feet. I found that as each completed roll of negatives hit the light pad I was starting to see subtle changes in the way I was using the camera; my eye was becoming attuned to the panoramic format and how to create depth within the image. All the usual photographic skills however, nothing different or new. Simply using light and shade, shapes within the urban landscape and utilising the sound knowledge of exposure acquired through years of using cameras manually and regularly choosing not to use the automatic modes or at least knowing when to override the electronic Brain in the camera. Of course, many of the cameras I’m using these days are purely mechanical with no electronics. The Kompakt for example is clockwork as is the Horizon S3 Pro I bought as a late Christmas present to myself.

Calder & Hebble Navigation 10th February 2021 Horizon S3 Pro | Kodak TriX | Kodak D76 (1+1)

One of the first tangible results of this project was a ‘zine’. An A5 Landscape book/magazine with 50 pages of 170 gsm silk paper with a 350gsm gloss cover. Over 20 double page spreads where incorporated and I was thrilled with the quality. I had twenty copies printed, kept one for myself and sold the rest via Twitter so fellow film photographers in the UK, EU and America; so I covered my costs too which was a welcome bonus.

I will return to the project in a future blog post but in the meantime to celebrate my return to full-time film photography and the start of my urban panoramas project I’ve included a few images in this post come from the first few months of seriously shooting film panoramas.

Flooded woodland – frozen and enchanting. 10th February 2021 Horizon S3 Pro | Kodak TriX | Kodak D76 (1+1)

FOOTNOTE: When I first returned to using film more extensively I initially felt that I had left the warm cozy world of photography magazines, unlimited YouTube videos and countless other online resources relating to digital photography and in to an arid desert. But I was wrong. There is a thriving worldwide online community dedicated to film photography and none more so than on Twitter. Many images get shared but the biggest plus for me is that there is real interaction and it is on the whole done in a fabulously generous and tolerant way.

2 thoughts on “Returning to the dark-side”

  1. Interesting blog post. I once started taking photos on film, then switched to digital (although I always used one or the other film camera), but this intensified a few years ago, when I got a fairly priced Xpan (cheap by todays standards).
    Taking panos was something I had done for a few years with the digital camera (I lived in Iceland at that time) and I loved it. Taking these on film was a completely different endavour (especially in moving scenes). I ended up having more film cameras, undusting my 4×5″ and the old 9×12 and using it again. I am not exposing as much films as you, but definitely more than in the years before. I also like the possibilities to exchange via social media – this opens a lot of possibilities: collaborations, exchange, manufacturing of rare stuff etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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