I’ve recently reread Nick Dvoracek’s book The Pinhole of Nature, and whilst doing so I made a few notes of particular passages that caught my eye.
“… it is rather incongruous to make a negative by the most primitive method possible, and then, use such hightech methods to make the positive”
Nick Dvoracek The Pinhole of Nature
Now, this resonates quite strongly with me. Not least because it links back to some of the conversations I had last weekend. I do find it amusing (do I mean odd?) that I sometimes spend hours creating negatives or glass plates, only to copy them with a digital camera and import them into Photoshop to finish off. I typically only print from the negatives in my makeshift darkroom during the Winter months when shorter days and unpredictable weather are more likely to see me indoors.
I’ve commented before on the irony of going to the expense, and at times the trouble, to create images using so-called traditional methods only to then digitise them in order to share them with others. Modes of communication have changed and you are more likely to share images and even ideas with fellow enthusiasts via social media these days than in person.
Now, I could use an inkjet printer to make prints of these digitally finished images but that would mean buying a printer and I could never get cast-free black and white prints when I did own a printer. Or I could have prints professionally made, something I’ve done from time to time when I’ve wanted something to hang on the wall.
But who would see them? Who for that matter sees my darkroom prints when I do manage to wrestle one out of my study cum darkroom?
I’ve decided , and your mileage may vary, that it doesn’t matter if I’m the only one who sees my prints because I’m the only person for whom I make prints. I’m certainly not yet competent enough to think about actually making darkroom prints for other people. Which segues nicely into another Dvoracek quote:
“I’m not sure if I could have come up with this good a print with traditional darkroom methods, and it would have taken me forever, wouldn’t be easily repeatable, and driven me crazy. I’ve never romanticized darkroom work.”
Nick Dvoracek The Pinhole of Nature
Now, ain’t that the truth!
Dvoracek was talking about using software and a printer to create digital prints of his pinhole images. He makes a great point. So long as the source file isn’t amended then in general the printer can churn out as many identical prints as you need. But, do we need to reproduce exact copies? If we are not selling prints then I’d argue it is not a necessity. And if we are selling prints isn’t the unique selling point of a darkroom print that it is a one-off?
At the end of the day we come back to a question I’ve posed before. Who are you making photographs for? The answer to that is key in determining if any of this actually matters in the final analysis.
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!
Walsden is a large village near to Todmorden on the western fringes of West Yorkshire. Apparently, it has few claims to fame, or few that Wikipedia bother to list, but it does have a sprawling garden centre which is why I was there last week – as chauffeur for my garden-centre-loving wife. The Rochdale Canal also runs through Walsden, hugging quite close to the main road. So, after first consuming my wages of a bacon sandwich and strong black tea, I set off down the road to find the canal whilst the wife went off for her retail therapy. I was light of heart despite knowing I’d be light of wallet later and despite the nagging headache I’d woken up with.
As ever I was travelling very light with just a small shoulder bag. A mini-tripod, a few rolls of film, a couple of filters and an umbrella were the only accompaniments to the Nikon L35AF and Horizon S3 Pro, both loaded with Ilford Delta 100, a film I rarely use but had bought on a whim earlier in the month.
I had no real agenda or project in mind but instead was keeping my mind and my eyes open as I wandered. A few hundred yards along the main road I stopped to look at the textures of an old wooden fence, crudely patched with a wire mesh in places. I heard a bus pulling up fifty yards behind me and almost simultaneously I saw two ladies running towards me gesticulating at the bus. The camera in my hand was the Horizon S3 Pro and I instinctively raised it but then paused, realising that the image would have more impact if I could give the viewer some context. I waited for them to pass and then photographed them running towards the distant bus. It was I knew a good start to my wander.
Moving on down the road I wasn’t sure where I could access the canal but knew it would be on my right. Coming to a large junction I spotted my route and turned right to join the canal at a road bridge. There were five potential routes from this one spot and so I was glad I’d plumped for the right one.
Reaching the canal I turned left and continued walking out of the village. I knew I would have to turn around fairly soon but was keen to explore a little way in both directions.
I got talking to a chap walking his dog and enquired as to whether when I turned to head back I could come off the canal nearer to the garden centre. He explained I could but that it was easy to miss the point of exit as it wasn’t obviously a footpath. Armed with full instructions and a warning that if the garden centre appeared on my right then I’d missed the turning I turned and started walking back in towards Walsden.
I found the exit very easily with the instructions I had been given and I almost certainly wouldn’t have noticed the way out without the clear description from the chap I’d chatted to earlier..
By this time I had wandered for around an hour, using both rolls of Delta and enjoying the opportunity to wander out of doors. I made the last exposures with the S3 Pro just yards from the point at which I would rejoin the main road and decided not to load new rolls but to return to the car. My headache was no more, I had a few new nettle stings and the opportunity for a cool bottle of water was very appealing.
Back at the car I unloaded both cameras, checked Twitter on my phone and caught up with notifications and new posts from overnight and enjoyed a drink of cool water (always park in the shade folks). My wife is known for completely losing track of time at a garden centre, or any shop for that matter, but in the event she was only in there for three hours or so which by her standards is a quick visit. We celebrated this achievement by sitting in the car with an ice cream each before heading for home. Driving back, with some decent latent images (I hoped) on the films nestling in the pocket of my shoulder bag I reflected that it had been a grand day out.
“How do we want to use our artistic voices? Do we want to elicit a favourable response from others by playing to the crowd, or do we want to speak the Truth as we see it with the things that we make, even if the response from people isn’t the one we want?”
Sean Tucker – The Meaning in the Making
These are not my words, they are from photographer Sean Tucker, known to many for his YouTube channel but watched I suspect by many people just to hear his philosophies on life and in particular the art of photography. He articulates better than I’ve ever done a recurring theme in my own personal philosophy towards my photography. I was only truly happy with my work when I stopped playing to the gallery.
This conscious ploughing of my own photographic furrow started a few years back and pre-dates me joining Twitter and engaging with fellow photographers, mostly film photographers, and encountering the #believeinfilm community. I have found that by consistently being true to myself I’ve connected with like-minded souls. Some have similar tastes to mine but many have different tastes and I’ve enjoyed seeing and discussing their work immensely. I have also enjoyed seeing the pleasure others derive from their own work and this encourages me to stay true to myself. Whilst it’s not necessarily influenced changes in my own approach it has definitely led to a greater appreciation of other approaches and been a source of inspiration and motivation. Oft times too it has sparked an idea which I’ve then run with on my own terms as it were.
That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes post a “crowd-pleaser” for the enjoyment of others. I do – but only work that remains true to myself and thus I hope that it is not solely for my own gratification (although we all appreciate an ego stroke occasionally). I’ve also learnt how much pleasure, and at times inspiration, these images give to others. I make that last assertion carefully, it’s not intended as arrogance but in recognition of the mutual support the community gives to each other.
This support ranges from the emotional to the practical and I’ve encountered so much of it in the twelve months I’ve been active on Twitter that it’s changed my own attitudes too. In the last few months I’ve loaned out five different cameras, one of which is doing a UK Tour, gifted many items that I no longer need but others would find useful and provided support in many other ways by sharing my experience and learnings from the last 45 or more years. In return, I’ve had the chance to borrow cameras and even glass plate holders, tap in to a wealth of knowledge, exchange ideas and experiences and learn from so many talented photographers. This corner of social media has for me turned out to be a friendly, supportive one that I look forward to dipping into every day.
Another quote from ST:
“… find joy in the act of photographing alone and not necessarily from the results.”
Sean Tucker – The Meaning in the Making
Again, this captures exactly how I feel. There have been many times when I have been totally underwhelmed by a strip of negatives yet have had so much pleasure in the process, from loading the film through to hanging the negatives to dry that I don’t feel in the slightest bit disheartened. The physical act of creating those negatives in all its tactile glory has often been enough for me. This quote also ties in nicely with my philosophy of creating work that makes you happy and count any positivity from others as a bonus.
I know that this has in some degree trodden old ground for me, but it has hopefully put that into its current context. I shall continue making film photographs until I stop enjoying it or until I’m robbed of the faculty to do so. I hope that I will continue to plough my own furrow, to share and interact with like-minded photographers around the globe and gain enjoyment from the sum of the many parts that form the hobby and not get fixated on simply the outcome – however important it is.
Posted to my blog with thanks to the whole #believeinfilm community on Twitter.
It’s drizzling this morning. That fine, almost unnoticeable kind of rain that leaves you soaked in under ten minutes. The sky is like a huge soft box; white, tending towards grey, unbroken cloud lining the heavens and ensuring that there are no places for shadows to lurk. It’s a lose-lose situation for the photographer. Everything is dull and uninspiring, colours seem to be hiding, shyly withholding their colourful bounty. The contrasts between light and shade, the black and white photographers stock in trade, are barely noticeable. In short, a morning that will be challenging for both colour and black & white practitioners of this dark art we call film photography.
It’s also the first day this week when I’m free to indulge my hobby and get out with a camera and a roll of film. There’s something special in getting out with a camera especially these days when we’ve spent so long confined to our houses. As a result even a wander around my local patch, something I’ve been restricted to in many ways, is still a pleasure. Whilst I was “shielding” I didn’t leave the house except to sit in the garden. Four months, which could have been a nightmare, but were not thanks to my hobby. Since Lockdowns have eased and then subsequently been lifted I’ve made a few trips outside of the area but photography has still been largely confined to a one or two mile radius of my front door.
Returning to my four months confinement. Four months in which I actually bought a new camera kit despite not being able to get out and play with it. I spent the time instead playing with apples and pears, photographing them using window light on my new-to-me Bronica medium format kit and even making the effort to set up the monorail large format Calumet camera. I even made some darkroom prints, something I don’t often do outside of the Winter months. Determined not to be defined by my incarceration I actively looked for things to do to keep me active, to keep me interested and to keep me from getting down in the dumps. I bought some black and white toners and played with those. I decommissioned the darkroom in my cellar and relocated it to my study taking advantage of the growing number of places now willing to deliver almost anything including large sheets of MDF.
Freed from the shackles of confinement I bounded out of the door every morning with a camera and a roll or two of film and became better acquainted with my local patch. With families not allowed to mix and my live-in daughter furloughed my child minding services were not required. For the first time in years I was free to do what I wanted. And I did. I discovered an aptitude for urban photography hitherto hidden from me. The very ordinariness and familiarity of my surroundings made me work harder and with this came the rewards associated with working harder. A few months later I was to discover the world of swing-lens panoramic cameras but that’s well documented already.
But, back to today. It’s an hour later and I’m sat in a local cafe enjoying a Full English with a mug of strong, black tea. It can truly be called builders tea not least because most of the clients this morning are from a couple of local building sites. The light has changed, it’s one EV brighter, but other than that it’s still the same. The drizzle hasn’t abated and the pavements have a dark sheen, damp but not yet wet enough to provide reflections and the opportunity for the canny photographer to make images from these. It’s sat here, that those months of walking the streets around my home looking with fresh eyes at familiar places, starts to repay in spades. I’ve a plan and a pinhole camera, a roll of Fomapan 100 and a mini tripod. All I lack is the cable release that will help keep everything stable with exposures in the minutes.
Breakfast eaten, tea drunk and the bill paid I’m back on the streets again, armed only with a pinhole and a roll of film I’m ready to take on the day!
I have a couple of fully automatic point-and-shoot cameras from the 1980s in my collection, as those who have read some of my recent posts will know. Both are well-respected members of the 1980s P&S community and both have produced some very pleasing results for me. But how do they compare?
I don’t propose providing the full technical specifications of these two cameras, that information is readily available on the internet for those who might be interested. I am going to consider how they have handled for me over a few different scenarios. If you are looking for test charts and graphs then I will save you some time and suggest you stop reading now; this post relates to my real-world usage of both cameras and I definitely did’t get my white lab coat out for this comparison.
SCENARIO ONE: Both cameras loaded with bulk-rolled Fomapan 100 from the same batch. We were indoors with a toddler and a three-year old in a dimly lit room who’s play was mainly running around giggling interspersed with sitting on the floor. Both cameras kept up with what was going on and the leisurely pace suited them both. See also the section on Flash below.
SCENARIO TWO: Outdoors in a back garden, changeable light and four youngsters (aged three to nine) were playing on a makeshift water slide. Both cameras had 400 speed films loaded (one had Fomapan 400 the other Kentmere 400). In the event I mainly used the Yashica, given the overcast light I was forcing fill-flash to try to freeze motion and the fast refresh cycle of the Yashica proved a clear winner.
SCENARIO THREE: Urban wanders in Salford (Nikon) and Elland (both). This is my main photographic activity at the moment. Wandering the urban environment making images of whatever takes my eye has since the pandemic been the mainstay of my photographic output. Both handle very well for this type of photography. The automatic exposure on the Yashica particularly impressed on its first outing whilst the Nikon performed consistently and reliably. The filter thread on the Nikon would make it my preferred choice for B&W work (see below) but that would be my only reason for choosing the one over the other in this scenario.
In terms of handling then there is very little to choose. Both have a decent grip, both feel comfortable in the hand and on both the few controls that they do have all fall easily to an appropriate digit. The speed of the auto-focus was generally OK although pre-focusing and recomposing was a big feature as both use a single, central focus spot. The Nikon didn’t miss a beat focus-wise although the Yashica only missed on a couple of occasions. The shutter release is fairly sensitive on the Yashica whereas the Nikon needs a very definite push downwards. Not a major problem as you know about it so can adapt, however, if using both cameras simultaneously its easy to forget and I’ve several “premature exposures” from the Yashica as a result.
Batteries – being fully automatic cameras both need batteries to enable them to function. No mechanical fall-back either – it’s either working or it isn’t. The Yashica uses the 2CR5 6v battery, not something I tend to keep in the drawer whereas the Nikon uses two AA batteries which I not only keep in the house but are also readily available in all sorts of shops. I use rechargeable AA batteries which helps with cost but all told the Nikon is cheaper to set up; what I don’t know yet is how this works out longer term as I’ve not used other for long enough to judge. The manufacturer claims 1,000 exposures for the Yashica (500 with and 500 without flash). The Nikon manual claims around 100 24 exposure rolls without flash or 10 with constant use of flash. My crude calculation equates this to around 1,320 frames on a 50/50 like for basis compared to the Yashica’s 1,000. Even if they were the same the Nikon with its AA batteries would be more economical to run however.
But there’s another side to the battery equation – flash recycling times. As I mentioned in scenario two above the Yashica’s bigger battery and faster recycling times proved a real winner when the flash was being used for very image. This might be a consideration when deciding which camera to take with me therefore depending on what I think I will be photographing. I think I’d chose the Yashica for a family get-together over the Nikon for example.
Flash – the Yashica tended to bring the flash into play much quicker than the Nikon especially in the indoor scenario one. So, it was helpful that the 6V battery enabled almost instant recycling on most occasions; meaning that I wasn’t waiting for the camera to catch up with me before taking the next image. The same couldn’t be said for the Nikon sadly.
Several times I forced the Nikon to use the flash to give me some comparison images but looking back at the scenario one negatives the Yashica fired the flash on EVERY frame. As was to be expected from small, onboard flashes the results were nothing special although on a couple of occasions the Yashica managed a nicely balance image (bottom left in the grid below). The top two images are from the Nikon, with the lefthand one being flash-free. The bottom two are both Yashica and both used flash. Image-wise there’s little to choose however when using flash indoors although on the whole I don’t really like the results from either camera in this situation!
The little storage area above was very dim, with very little light penetrating the gloom. The Yashica did a sterling job with the help of its flash. This was a “grab and run” as I was leaving the cafe.
In the second scenario I was photographing the kids coming down a water slide in a back garden. I forced the flash to fire during this experiment. The recharging speed of the Yashica meant that I favoured it in this instance – however, when I looked at the negatives the Nikon had captured the kids more sharply, more often relative to the Yashica which surprised me. There was a fair bit of motion blur evident in some of these images.
Now, filters, particularly coloured contrast filters, are primarily of concern I guess to black and white workers but it’s something that I certainly look for. You’d look in vain for one on the Yashica although the proper 46mm filter thread on the front of the Nikon lens will be a delight to those who use contrast filters in particular. For an urban photographer, with a tendency to keep a yellow/green filter in place, this one facto alone makes the Nikon the first choice for urban or even landscape photography.
I have been more than happy with the quality of the negatives from both cameras. The first roll from Yashica for example scanned very easily and responded to a gentle Curves adjustment very nicely too. I’ve not yet printed from any of the negatives in the darkroom as that’s a Winter occupation for me. Negatives have been sharp though showing the quality of both lenses. I’ve used a variety of films both 100 and 400 iso and I’ve developed them in both my go-to Ilford ID11 and Kodak HC-110.
I’ve used both cameras a lot over the last couple of weeks putting a dozen or more films through them during this time. With little to choose between them its fair to say that either camera would be worth looking at in my view.
Well, as ever, it depends. Indoors or at family gatherings the Yashica definitely gets my vote largely due to the speedy flash recycling. This means I’m not left waiting before I take the next frame – important when your subjects are grandchildren! There is a “no flash” option too if needed which is worth knowing given the Yashica’s tendency to pop the flash whenever it fancies (it even did it outdoors yesterday).
For general outdoor use however then the Nikon wins hands down for me simply due to that filter ring. I am a traditional black and white worker and the use of contrast filters is second nature to me. Given that both cameras produce lovely images out of doors then the choice comes down to what some people might consider minor differences but which to me are of some importance.
I hope that my ramblings are useful to someone, somewhere and if even one reader finds them helpful then my job is done. Thanks as ever for reading this far (unless of course you’ve simply skipped to the end – in which case shame on you! 🙂
FOOTNOTE: I used both cameras with home-rolled Fomapan 100 from a bulk roll. I put two rolls of each through each camera and on one occasion the wind-on motor of the Yashica ripped the film straight out of the cassette. It cannot be rewound in that situation and unless you have the means of providing a completely dark space (I use changing bags) it is impossible to rectify without losing the roll. Mind you, if you’re rolling your own you probably have a changing bag at least but I thought it prudent to mention it.
I checked this morning and this is the eighth blog post I’ve managed to squeeze out of a two-day trip to Salford Quays. Not a photographic trip either, some time away with my wife away from domestic and child-minding duties.
One thing I rarely do is make images in indoor situations such as shopping malls. Partly it’s too much hassle and likely to upset security and partly that I rarely see anything that takes my eye. Part of the hassle is getting exposure right and using a light meter in these places isn’t always the easiest thing to do. However, with a fully automatic point-and-shoot in my hand most of these obstacles disappeared. With no need to measure the light and no manual camera controls to fuss over I could do what it says on the tin … point-and-shoot.
So I did.
Oh, and one last thing that I love about the Nikon L35 AF. The auto rewind leaves half an inch of film poking out once it’s finished. A big deal if you home process your films rather than send them away for developing.
I’ve lost count of the number of blog posts that have been spawned by two days and six rolls of film with the Nikon L35 AF camera. But, I’m back with another. This one is mainly pictures though and very little of my wittering you will be pleased to know. Well, that’s the plan anyway.*
As is my normal practice, I’ve “scanned” the negatives with a Fujifilm X-T3 and a Nikon macro lens. One day I will get around to writing about my process for digitising negatives but today isn’t that day. Most of my recent posts have used images that have been processed using the Snapseed app on my iPad or iPhone (other technology providers are available) mainly because I’m too lazy to turn the computer on most of the time.
The two images above were each processed with a simple Curves adjustment – one (A) in Snapseed (which I’m very familiar with) and the other (B) using the Photoshop iPad app (which I downloaded today). One is cleaner straight “out of the box” especially in the sky. There is also a difference in the overall look of the image. Unsurprisingly perhaps, B for me is the nicer looking of the two. After all Snapseed is free whereas Photoshop is part of a paid-for plan. But, Snapseed is easier to use. I know that with practice Photoshop for iPad will become easier to use … but do I have the patience?
But why haven’t I considered this before? Well, this is the first time I’ve ever blogged for an extended time with 35mm negatives as my subjects. There’s also a lot of sky in many of them. The physical size of a 5×4 or even a medium format negative is generally bigger than the digital images I publish. The same cannot be said of standard 35mm negatives. The quality of the conversion is affected by many factors but as a rule of thumb I’d suggest that the bigger the negative the better the end result, all other things being equal.
But, given the perceived (to me) increased quality of the Tablet PS-converted images, the real question is am I going to continue with the easy route or am I going to commit to learning how to use PS on the tablet? As ever, it depends.
As I’ve said, I’m fundamentally opposed to work but, yes, I’m going to make the effort to learn to use the PS app. However, I won’t be giving up Snapseed just yet as there are many occasions when it does just fine. After all it’s powered many a blog post over the last few years.
* It didn’t go to plan did it? In my defence there are seven/eight new images in it.
POSTSCRIPT: The issue doesn’t really arise when writing blog posts on my computer as I convert and process the images in Photoshop or Lightroom.
“Love is the drug …” sang Roxy Music in 1975. Probably whilst I was loading some Tri-X in my Zenith E. But Mr Ferry was wrong. Love isn’t the drug – film is. Let me explain.
I was out and about early yesterday. A list of jobs to do which included taking garden waste to the tip and visiting the Post Office amongst others. Whilst I was out I made an image for my picture-a-day project (1,385 consecutive days and counting) and uploaded that to Flickr whilst sat in the car. Chores completed I returned home for breakfast and a strong black tea.
I’ve been child minding all week and this is my first day off so I have a long list of personal tasks to address. Producing the first draft of the club’s quarterly magazine was high on the list. Reworking my nascent zine, A Sense of Place, is well overdue too. There’s a roll of 35mm film to scan and sleeve, a box of items I’ve decided to sell on a certain auction site, I’ve an idea for a new video; the list is seemingly endless and my list doesn’t include the “little” jobs the wife has lined up for me.
So, which did I do first?
Well, none of them.
No. Breakfast eaten and tea drunk I got up from my armchair, took the Nikkormat FT2 from my shoulder bag, loaded a roll of Orwo UN54 and headed out of the door. What the??
An hour later, having taken 35 photographs (I didn’t load the film as well as usual – don’t judge me) I returned home and immediately got on with tidying the kitchen and loading the dishwasher. Ten minutes later I had a clear kitchen and could get the changing bag etcetera out and set about developing the film. Ulterior motive there clearly.
This isn’t an isolated occurrence however. I’ve done this almost every day for weeks. Even when childminding on my own I still manage a roll of film a day just recently. Almost every day. Today is day 226 of the year and I have exposed 155 rolls of film, dozens of sheets of 5×4 film and getting on for 20 dry glass plates. In January it was one or two rolls a week.
Those who actually know me will know that I haven’t been a member of a traditional camera club since the 1970s. For transparency I will note that I have been a member of a postal photographic club for the past ten-plus years however. I’m not going to discourse here on my reasons for not being a camera club member nor am I going to discuss why I have been a member of a postal one for some years. I may (or may not) do that another day. But what I do want to talk about is in some way linked to a key aspect of both.
When I first joined the postal club the monthly and annual competitions were the main attraction. Pitting my skills against other photographers, seeing my success rate in competition grow and being accepted as a “good” photographer we’re all key drivers. All was good in the world it seemed. But the bubble burst a few years back when I suddenly realised that all I was doing was producing photographs to satisfy the whims and fashions of camera club judges. Monthly, peer-judged competitions started to annoy me because they were microcosms of everything I disliked about club judging.
“Fred” doesn’t like landscapes so never scores them highly, “Jim” doesn’t understand macro photography so always scores 6/10 regardless. If “Tom” sees another ‘tit-on-a-stick’ he will be ill. “Bill” meantime is highly competitive and more than once has been suspected of tactical scoring. Which meant that you start to look for images that will play to the prejudices and whims of your peer group.
So, it’s the worst of both worlds. A lack of constructive commentary and having to make my own artistic preferences subservient to the whims of others. Slowly, it dawned on me that I had stopped growing as an artist and was merely rushing around trying to make images that worked for others in order to gain plaudits that meant nothing at the end of the day. I’ve an impressive list of competition wins and associated silverware but very few of the winning images mean a lot to me.
The thing is I like dark, gritty images. I like to play with chiaroscuro and I’m not bothered if there isn’t “a full range of tones (well done)”. I am also drawn not to the picturesque and colourful but to the reality of urban life, usually in black and white to boot. Remember “Here be Rats”? It doesn’t help that I am mainly a black and white film photographer these days. I once entered a darkroom print in a monthly peer-judged print competition. Eleven digital prints and one silver. The comment that, with hindsight, led to me turning away from club competitions, was:
“nice pic Dave but do think that you could add a gentle S-curve to add some bite to the image and perhaps check the histogram and tidy things up with a Levels adjustment”.
I spent three fruitless hours looking for the S-Curve and Levels sliders on my enlarger – not!
So, although I maintain my postal membership I no longer participate in monthly peer-judged competitions nor do I enter any of the annual club-wide competitions.
What I’ve realised over the last few years is that only one persons opinion matters. Mine. That not being egocentric, I make photographs for my own amusement and enjoyment after all. I am not being paid to follow a brief and if I were I would move heaven and earth to give the client exactly what they want regardless of whether it’s to my taste or not. I once made a reasonable secondary income photographing children, not posed portraits but informal and natural images. This often involved me crawling around the floor or playing games outside but it enabled me to capture the images their parents wanted and were paying me for. A few of these, with appropriate permissions and model releases, won me “Best Image”, Best Portrait” and “Best Monochrome” trophies in annual competitions but by entering these I was only pandering to the judges, deliberately picking images I knew would appeal to them.
I am very aware that given the way my photographic tastes have evolved I am moving ever further away from current club ideals. That’s fine as I get great enjoyment from making them. I’m also very pleased when some of these images strike a chord with the couple of online communities I use. Let’s face it will all like a pat on the back sometimes and I’m no exception. The appreciation of others is a cherished bonus.
So, I guess all of the above could be summarised in just one paragraph. Rather than forcing your photography down a path to create images to please others look first at what pleases you. That is the path to follow, the one that leads to your own artistic expression and the one that will in the longer term give you the most pleasure. Be yourself, don’t try to be something you are not. Of course, if you like winning competitions then you have to follow the fashions and trends; there is nothing wrong with that so long as you are happy doing it. But when the fun of competition starts to pall then it’s time for you to stop, reassess and refocus (pun intended). I did and I’m very glad I did too.