I don’t often feel compelled to write a blog post but this morning I’m feeling the need to write … something … anything. Usually, if not from the start, as I finish the first sentence I know what my theme is going to be but today I’m not sure where I am headed.
I’ve spent the last five nights away from home. Initially, it was just the two of us but the last three nights have been spent in the company of members of a photographic group on the group’s annual Rally. The days have been spent out with a camera (never just one with me though) and the evenings spent talking “shop” and catching up on the domestic goings on of the other members. We only meet once a year and for the first few years we attended it was pretty much just photo-talk but as the years have gone on we have spent more time catching up on events in each other’s “real” lives. It’s alway a fabulous long weekend, regardless of the weather.
This year we were in Shropshire, an area of the country I’ve only ever driven through prior to this weekend. It’s an area I hope to return to though. Until today the weather has been very kind to us. Today, I loaded the car in the rain and we very quickly decided that the planned walk would leave us uncomfortably wet, especially with a three hour, minimum, drive ahead of us. As “luck” would have it we passed a large garden centre just outside Shrewsbury which is why I’m sat pounding a keyboard – garden centres are the wife’s pleasure and definitely not mine!
But it’s give and take. She spent an hour or more yesterday sat on various rocks whilst I photographed a river, a waterfall and then a reservoir. Today is my turn to sit patiently. At least I haven’t had to scramble over slippery rocks and boulders nor have I slipped and slid down muddy river banks. I haven’t even had to wade across the same stream four times, so I count myself lucky.
My habit at home is to develop films on a daily basis, as I expose them basically. Being away, all that I’ve been able to do over the last few days is carefully stow the exposed film in the bottom of the suitcase ready for our return. I have taken a few images on my phone and also on my Fuji digital camera however so I’ve had something to play with in between the various activities of the day. It gives me something to share on social media and I often come up with something that pleases me aesthetically too.
Which leads me now to the point which, unbeknownst to me, this post has been heading all along. I am the only member of the group, which has around 100 members, who still works primarily with film. Two others use film occasionally but everyone else is fully digital. Most of those at the Rally were very interested in what I was doing. Many were amazed at the variety of formats I work with, pinhole, 35mm, panoramic, medium and large format; my regular reader knows how diverse my work is. A very small handful were frankly scornful. With all the digital delights available why was I messing with glass plates, large format cameras and everything else when “you can create the effect in Photoshop”.
But that’s just the point. Everything that they are creating in Photoshop is derivative of earlier photographic processes. They see no irony in the fact that I was creating with my hands a tangible artefact which they were also striving to create, albeit with software on a computer, to exist as only a string of data on a hard drive. One didn’t even realise that the term “dodge and burn” predates photo imaging software. Couldn’t understand how the basics of contrast, exposure, localised and global adjustments, toning and vignettes and much more all have direct references across to darkroom printing. They left much wiser than they arrived.
My philosophy with regards to photography is to try everything at least once. To gain as wide an appreciation of both the history and application of the subject. I have tried virtually all genres of photography, apart from extreme sports and underwater, some of these I enjoyed and continue to work in today, others weren’t my cup of tea and I moved on from. Currently I work primarily in film, predominantly black and white film which I process myself. I also dabble in glass plates and darkroom printing. A secret pleasure is drone photography, I have a full mirrorless system based on the Fuji X-series and have previously used Nikon and prior to that Canon full-frame DSLRs. I’ve been down the Photoshop rabbit hole, have some embarrassing reminders of the early HDR craze, composited images to create a completely fictional world. In short, I have spent almost fifty years learning and trying all sorts of photographic processes – cyanotypes any one?
So, my message to the two “less educated” individuals was that until they’ve tried something for themselves it might be wise to refrain from spouting “digital is the only and best method”. It has many benefits and even I continue to be amazed at what I can achieve in a few minutes on the computer. My first published piece was for Airfix magazine, over forty years ago, when I wrote an article showing how to create the impression of spaceships in flight with models, wire, fishing line, coloured gels and 40 watt bulbs. All on Kodachrome 64 slide film. So, no margin for error. What took me several days in the late 1970s can be done to a far better standard in minutes these days. But I bet I had more fun in the process!
I doubt if even my most patient and loyal reader has made it this far … but if you have thank you an mind as I pop my soap box away … until the next time!