Posts Tagged ‘film photography’

We are at a crossroads, now more than ever.  At first it was just digital technology as a new way to capture light and make a picture. We all embraced it because it was no cost, no worry, shoot shoot shoot and delete later, or don’t. (Because let’s face it, we don’t delete, we just get more hard drives or up our iCloud plan.) There, done!

Then we filled computers with images like there was no tomorrow.  Thousands of photos downloaded from our digital cameras.  DSLRs.  Point and shoots.  All kinds of cameras shooting more and more megapixels.  Win!

More is more.  More is good.

Then phones got really good at shooting and sending a pic, and even if the form factor wasn’t very good, and the photo wasn’t as good as a camera, ah well, so what, it was good enough, and it had the added perk that it fit in our pocket and we could be sent now.  No need to download to our computers. Score!

Sure, the phone manufacturers charged quite a bit for these, not to mention that computer or laptop upgrade, hard drive purchases and Photoshop software licenses, but we still felt like it was free. Yay!

And we became video producers at concerts, shooting and posting whole songs to whole shows so our friends could hear Elton sing, too. Because we can.  And look where we are. Too bad for the people behind us–we’re working here. Impressive!

More is more. More is good.

And then we got computers to compute.  Computational photography, we can make everything work, and everything perfect.  We can fake blur the background in ‘portrait’ mode, no need for a real photographer. It’s not like they do anything more than our phones–good thing Avedon isn’t working today, that chump would be out of a job.  Loser!

We can even fake videos and make it look like people saying things they never said.  We have technology.  We win again!

It used to be the news was a good source if information, but then we got the internet and things got a bit cloudy, lines were blurred.  News outlets and not-so-trustworthy news outlets  We have fake truths, alternative facts.  No one knows what to believe anymore.  Sucks!

So, this crossroads we’re at. Which way do we go, now?  Keep heading down the same road we’ve been on since we stopped shooting film and making actual photographs? You know, those paper representations of the pictures on our phones.

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The ones of grandma and grandpa that don’t need a computer to enjoy? The ones that are authentic, storytelling.  That aren’t digitally altered and perfected, but just…  Real!

We used to have fewer pics and we enjoyed them more.  Now we have more and, oh no…

More isn’t more.  More isn’t better.

We have become inundated with images that they don’t even matter.  They don’t matter! Who cares? It’s not like we look at them for more than a half-second anyway. Instagram double tap–scroll, scroll, scroll, double tap, scroll, scroll.  That’s what photography is now.  Lame!

Phones are note-takers, and notes don’t need to be saved.  Photographs used to be historical family documents, not anymore.  Now, it’s where we ate, where we parked, what we drank and never see them again.  Sucks!

Professionals don’t make our portraits anymore. We shoot everything ourselves, even for our businesses, since we’ve adopted a mentality that good enough is good enough.  Even if it’s not, it is.  Because it doesn’t cost us anything.  Cheap!

What will it take to hire a pro to photograph our family?  Maybe they do have something to offer that we can’t do ourselves.  But the lure of free is so strong.  Why pay for anything? We can put that money into more cloud storage and new phones.  Score!

We’re standing at the crossroads.  Which way we go will very seriously impact what photography is, what value it holds and purpose it serves.  It may be the biggest challenge in its history, what it will be for. Decisions!

I know which way I’m headed–I’m photographing my family and friends on film, printing their photographs and living with them on the shelves of my home.  Call me old school, I know where my photographs are and I get to see them for more than a swipe-second.  Dinorsaur!

Maybe, but maybe it’s the digital photos that that will go extinct.  Gone!

I asked my Father today if he remembered life before television.  He said he did, and it was a world where a lot of people read books and newspapers, played games and got together with friends and a barrel of beer.

The reason I asked is because I realize that since the invention of TV, and people watching hours a day, we’ve now become a society that lives on screens.  I wake up to my iPhone and iPad.  I read the iPad with coffee, then off to a computer where I work editing photographs and marketing photography.

Or I have a photo shoot, and I make the photographs and check them on the camera’s screen.  Finally, import them to the computer for editing tomorrow.

I wrap up the day, and it’s back to the iPad.  Or I write at night, like this post here, on my laptop either at a pub or at home.

I’m not a TV watcher, but if I were, I would probably switch that on when I got done writing, and finish up the day with an iPad in bed.

What happened to us?  We live on screens.

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I think that’s why I’m drawn to film photography–I get to create with a simple ground glass for viewing the image (on a 4×5 or 8×10 view camera, a Rolleiflex or a Leica 35mm).  It has no electronics.  It’s physical, just light being focused onto film.

Same with hand-printing photographs in a darkroom, it’s hands on, and nothing electronic to it.

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I’m betting that’s why some people like gardening (I am not one of those people) but it gives them the chance to work with their hands and dirt to create something beautiful.  Can’t get more “down to earth” than that!

Same thing with nature lovers and landscape photographers (I am not one of those either).  Staring at the sky and trees is a welcome past-time in this digitally screened-in world.

Anyway, I wonder what all these screens, with living in a screen world, is doing to us, how it’s affecting our culture, our friendships, our lives.

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True story happened yesterday.

I met a young couple, mid-20s, and we were talking about film photography. I told them how they could get one roll of black and white film from Mike’s Camera and shoot one photo a month in an old Minolta SLR they had, and after three years they’d have a wonderful surprise waiting for them–all the photographs they forgot but the moments they got to relive.

ml-mom-car1That’s the power of film and removing the immediacy of the results. You have a chance to step away and come back to the moment later, it’s not all complete right now.

(To me, that’s what makes photography special, and why I still shoot film for portraits of family and friends, and what’s missing in today’s phone-snappy world.)

So, they said they wanted to do that, shoot some black and whites and print the photographs.

The couple said they were recently married, and they have exactly three photographs from the wedding, and a hard drive of all the photos, which they said has several hundred pics–too many and that they never look at. They wish they just had a photo album like their parents do.

How many wedding couples want “all the photos”? Why? What are you ever going to do with them? Get some prints, put them in an album, lay it on your coffee table. Done!

More is not better. Printed photographs can be shared without screens, and are more fun as real photographs, just like holding a book still has appeal in the days of e-readers.

Print your memories. Share your stories.

If you need help, have a hard drive of useless images and want some prints, let me know: FamilyPhotoAlbums.net

Here’s what one North Carolina photojournalist created by going back to one roll of black and white film.

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I traveled this month, a road trip from Colorado to California, and if you know me, I pack a variety of cameras.  I don’t go anywhere without at least one Leica.  And I brought a Rolleiflex for some portraits, and at the last minute put a 4×5 camera and some film and a changing bag into the car.

Plus the Nikon DSLR and three lenses, because I knew I would be picking up some freelance shoots in Los Angeles.

So, film, what is it good for?  On this trip, absolutely nothing / listen to me!

Because I was shooting street photos in Vegas and LA, and all along the way through Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Nikon with a 50mm or 20mm is perfect for that.  Quick and nimble.  Grab shots.  Instantly ready and can keep on shooting.

I came back home and put all the film back in the fridge.  Hopefully it enjoyed its trip.  But I thought about why I didn’t shoot any.  And it comes down to purpose.  I shoot film to MAKE photos.  To create a photo story on film or a portrait.  Film is for those family members and stories I want to make that are the most important to me.

For me, digital is best for grabbing shots–not making them, but TAKING them.  They are in front of me as a documentary photographer.  I’m not one to wait at one location for planets to align–elements to form a perfect composition in front of a mural, for example–that’s not my style of street photography.  I don’t stand still at all–I walk and watch and shoot when something grabs my attention.  When I see a story.  Then I grab a shot.

So, I guess you can tell what happened–I didn’t make any photographs.  I took images of the scenes before me.  Good documentary photos, but not made, taken.

That’s what digital excels at.

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A funny photo, a good street photo, but a documentary photograph taken, not made.  I was at the right place at the right time.  And had the reflexes to grab the shot.  But I didn’t create it.  Hence the use of digital medium, not film. (Nikon F610 50mm f1.2)

Film is for, I realize, creating something.  I don’t just pull out the 4×5 and see what catches my fancy.  Not at all.  I have to go out and create something.  That’s what that beautiful large negative is for.  Purposeful photography.  And photographs made on film take planning.  I can’t just show up in a town I don’t know and see something I can make a photograph of.

So, I end up taking photos of the scenes before me.

I’ve been working on some fine art images the last few months, and I realize the difference between a nature photo by an artist Sally Mann and one by a nature photographer John Fielder is that one is made, and one is taken.  To me, there is a world of a difference.

The artist must make something out of the materials at hand.  It’s about vision.  And how they turn their creation into their finished piece.  It may not be literal.  It may not be fully realistic.  Artists are visionaries.  What they show tells us about them.

The nature photographer captures the magic in the natural world, and depicts it in all its full wondrous splendor, colors saturated for maximum impact (and sales).  Technically perfect, bursting with color, nature taking all the credit for the display, the photographer taking all the credit for capturing it.  But it’s not fine art.  It’s commercial art.  What they show is a wonderful display piece in a family room that tells us about nature.

Most people would rather hang a Fielder.  I can appreciate that.  But there’s no denying the mastery of Mann’s artistry.  There’s currently a landscape exhibit at the Denver Art Museum through September 16th featuring a couple of her hand-printed images that are quite beautiful and the exhibit is well worth seeing.

For me, film is Mann.  Digital is Fielder.  One is for making art.  The other for creating a salable product. Mann’s may hang in galleries and museums, and private galleries of those who collect her work, but ultimately, Fielder has the image that most people would like over their mantle in their mountain home.  (If you want one, they’re available at his online gallery.)

It’s just that I don’t have a mountain home.  If I did, and I could afford it, I’d choose Mann’s.  (She’s also made a wonderful body of work photographing her family with a large format camera, and all her work inspires!  I don’t think digital could’ve made those photographs.)

Guess that’s why I bring film with me.  I never know what I may find to make.  And there is an amazing sense of accomplishment when the opportunity arises.   When the picture lends itself to film.  Film photography takes a plan.  I need to make better plans, because next time, I’m sure I will take the film cameras again.

There’s such a joy to making a Rolleiflex portrait.  Or one on 4×5.

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My Father, on film with my Rolleiflex, out to breakfast with me on my last road trip home.

Film, what is it good for, absolutely something–photographs I make!  But I have to have a goal and a plan to make them, otherwise, the film and film cameras are just along for the ride.

Leica M2, 50mm Summarit f1.5, Kodak Tri-X Film

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Ohmigod, is that a Saturn?  And look, remember when you had to pedal your bike!

The year is 2066.

We’re teleporting to different parts of the earth, holding meetings on virtual beaches while sitting at home, and having robots do all the chores.

And we’re using the latest camera technology, which means no camera at all–just look at something and it’s captured.

We’re lamenting not having any photos from the first quarter of the century, since we didn’t bother to print any of our pictures, and they all got lost in dead computers and outdated phones and hard drives that last booted up decades ago.  And some old program, Facehead, or something, that was supposed to save them all.  Yeah right!

Plus, we don’t have any computers that use USB anymore!   How ancient that technology!

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My Leica M2, still going strong in 2066.

As we sit looking out the window, our Leica M2s and M3s and Rolleiflexes still just as functional as they ever were, we load a roll of film and take a walk to go capture some street photos of the day.

The sky is full of PTDs–personal travel devices.  Everywhere, our brains connect with each other through telepathic waves.  Cars have long ago ceased to exist.

And we find ourselves thinking about the good old days.  Like 50 years ago, when things were simpler.  Sure there was that terrible fiasco with President Trump, but thankfully he was quickly arrested and tried for his crimes.  And then President Sanders’ brought all nations together.  War ended and America prospered, which is why we have such a great economy, plentiful jobs and USA-made robots and devices today.

But still, taking photos of present day just doesn’t seem as cool as the old days.  Back then, there were those cool Nissan Rogues, BMW sedans and those crazy Mini Coopers.  God, haven’t seen one of those in years!

What I wouldn’t do to be able to go back in time to 2016 and photograph them.  What a treat that would be.  But that’s crazy talk.

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Look at that old BMW, when they still had wheels!  And drivers!

That’s just what we did in 2016, fifty years ago, when we were enamored by photos of old cars from the 1960s and 1970s.  So busy looking at the old cars, we missed the shots of those cool 2016 cars then.

All I know is I’m glad my Leicas lasted.  And my Rolleiflex.  Because when film made its resurgence in 2022, we were the only ones who knew how to make real photographs.  The rest make memory records, but we make photographs.

Which is why we’re the wealthiest photographers because of our forethought.  Way to go!

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“Ah, look, the good old days.”  (Overheard circa 2016)

Time traveling.  That’s what people will be doing 50 years from today in 2116–looking back on life in 2066 (“Ah, the good old days,” they’ll say.).

That photo of the PTD fuel station that looks like nothing now, just a bunch of hovering vehicles powering up?  Add 50 years.  It needs time to become valuable.  Once time passes, familiar elements fade away.  Buildings change.  The cars, the shops, the cities.  Then the photos take on meaning.

I’m no math whiz, but here’s the equation: [P+T-GP!]   (Photograph + Time = Great Photograph!)  The photo needs to be good, too.  Let’s not forget that.

Ask Stephen Shore.  Or William Eggleston. They both knew the equation.

If I were back in 2016, I’d go out and shoot ordinary things, with an eye to the future.  Because maybe I’m not shooting them for me.  Maybe they’re historical photos for the Shorpy galleries of tomorrow.  (So glad that company is still going strong, with galleries around the world.)

But alas, I can’t time travel.  They say that technology will be ready in another twenty years but they’ve been saying that forever.

I better get shooting!

We don’t shoot photographs.  We preserve history.

I am keenly aware of this as I visit my family and photograph brothers and sisters, parents and children over the holidays.  We really are the family documentary photographers.

georgeAs a photojournalist, capturing the story of a family in the everyday moments, whether shooting a formal dinner, playing in the yard or just watching football on TV, it’s all part of the story of who we are as a family right now.
In 2015.  And as it was in 1999.  And how it will be in 2027.

We are documenting much more than family snapshots, which is why I like to shoot more than just posed photos of people looking at the camera.  I like to capture each of my family members engaged in something they like to do.

kw5-8As important as it is to shoot photographs for publications, there really is no more important work than when we are capturing our family.

We are historians with cameras.  Our work will live on for generations to come.

In fact, some of the viewers of our work haven’t even been born yet.  We are creating future galleries.  And the people we are photographing, that holiday photo we’re taking this year, will be the only way they know their ancestor.   They’re grandpa or uncle.

We are doing amazing work.  Let’s make sure we print our photos, too, so that they will last 100+ years despite technology’s evolution

It is seriously important work!