A discussion began in my classroom yesterday. A young student asked ‘if anyone still used ‘real’ film‘ for photography ‘these days’?
Now, not only did the concept of ‘real’ film generate some fantastic discussion, but the ideas generated a life of their own.
Here’s some of my thoughts…
While technological advancement is generally associated with process improvement, making life simpler and more convenient, I believe that there are some fantastic opportunities to understand the principles of photograph that can be found in those ‘old’ film cameras. A camera consists of three basic elements: an optical element (the lens), a chemical element (the film), and a mechanical element (the camera body). Successful image making is about controlling and calibrating the way these element work together. Exploring the tactile process of developing film, understanding positive and negative imagery and manipulating the ‘rules’ to produce original work is a creative and rewarding experience for many artists.
While many photographers leverage the ‘instant’ quality of digital tools and celebrate the unlimited number of shots they can produce, there are distinct differences in areas like image quality, clarity, dynamic range and colour accuracy between formats.
Digital cameras record colour through the digital camera sensors, processed and combined by the microprocessor. The colour separation is done with tiny filters on the sensor, that can distort the colour ‘data’. Shutter lag, the time it takes for the camera to acquire a subject and lock it into focus, tripping the shutter, can be significant in digital devices. It may take anywhere between one second and a few seconds, making capturing action shots or a natural moment difficult. Film cameras do not have shutter lag, or the a delay between capturing an image and recording it on the storage card.
Although I would love to resurrect the dark room in our school (it’s now a walk-in storage cupboard), I won’t be trading in my digital SLR or my iPhone anytime soon. As they say, the camera you have on you is the best camera to have (or something like that!), and most of my shots are now impromptu, as it happens and on location.
The apps and add-ons I have been using have presented exciting possibilities for my practice and that of my students. In fact, I would even argue that my students have unprecedented access to photographic tools due to the prevalence of smart phones and their connected culture. And that means, lots of opportunities for learning.
In a Digital World Film is Still Relevant
USA TODAY In an age where film photography has given way to digital — leading film presence Eastman Kodak Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday — some photography students are still clinging to those nice bright colors and the greens of summers.
Sarah Mitrani, 21, studies photography at the University of Hartford Art School in a program she said strongly emphasizes film.
“I prefer film… mostly for the quality of the negative versus the quality of an image on a digital sensor,” she said. “As of right now, digital does not even come close. A film negative can pick up more detail and a film negative can be in different formats.”
Mitrani called her school “very traditional,” and said that one digital class in the program teaches Photoshop techniques.
But at other schools, like Emerson College in Boston, the overall trend from film to digital is already being echoed inside the institution’s walls.
“I ran the darkroom at Emerson for two years. They were talking about turning half of that space into a digital lab, I fought against that the whole time,” said recent graduate Dan Muchnik. “If you’re going to take photography seriously enough to be going to school for it, you should really be taking the time to thoroughly understand the process.”
For Muchnik, 21, the process is what photography is all about. It is why he has created his own darkroom in every place he has lived. And it is why — other than freelance skateboard photo shoots in San Francisco — he still prefers to use film whenever possible.
“Dealing with chemicals from scratch…that first smell of mixtures…(it) made me fall in love with it,” he said.
Then there’s the University of Ohio, a school that in the past five years removed a film requirement for commercial photography and photojournalism programs.
Loren Cellentani, 22, is a senior commercial photography major and photo editor for the university’s Backdrop Magazine. Although she loves film photography, she said it is no longer a huge part of her day-to-day routine. Nor does she believe it will be necessary in her future line of work.
“In the advertising industry, you’ll rarely see people shooting film anymore,” she said. “With film you’re not sure if you got (the shot). Or what if the film doesn’t expose? There are all these things that can go wrong.”
However, some students said that film’s wild card nature is exactly what draws them to it.
University of Massachusetts junior Astrid O’Connor, 20, said the cost of film leads her to think critically about each and every frame before she pushes the shutter button. And Michelle McWade, 22, a recent graduate of New England School of Photography, said the nature of film means the photographer is unable to “just throw up Hail Marys” and hope for something great among a mass of photo attempts.
McWade, who shoots freelance work in Salt Lake City, will take on a wedding project next week in Vermont. The couple was specific in their requests: they wanted film and no more than two rolls, and McWade was happy to oblige.
But for some educators, like UMass travel photography professor Richard Newton, the days of film are in the past.
“A $500 DSLR with a large 12-18 megapixel sensor far exceeds the quality of 35mm film and allows for moderate cropping later without serious loss of image detail,” he said.
“There are still film people out there, like there are still vinyl record people, but I’ll just use a ‘Kodachrome’ filter in Photoshop if I ever have a need for that look.”
Read the article on USA Today College from Chris Shores here.
Excerpts from ‘Expired Photo Materials Find New Life in Contemporary Photography’
ARTNews In the digital age, artists are finding new uses for analogue products like expired film and obsolete paper
“I woke up one day and thought, ‘I should have been a conservator,’” says photographer Alison Rossiter. “I thought, ‘Things are disappearing, and I want to know about them.’”
That was in 2003, and the silver gelatin photo materials Rossiter had used since the 1970s were beginning to disappear. Rather than changing careers, Rossiter volunteered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s photo conservation lab, where she learned everything she could about the history and composition of light-sensitive paper and film. In her own work, she began making photograms with old sheet film that she bought on eBay. One order contained a bonus: a box of Eastman Kodak Ektachrome paper that had expired in 1946. Running a few sheets through her darkroom chemistry, Rossiter was astonished to find that the paper, damaged by time and unusable for making regular prints, was instantly compelling when she finished developing it.
“It looked to me like a graphite drawing,” Rossiter says in her Manhattan studio. “A completely finished abstract drawing. I couldn’t believe it. From that moment on, I knew that there was something to go find in old, unused photographic papers.”
Rossiter began hunting for expired paper online, collecting boxes of forgotten brands with exotic names such as Gravalux and Velox. Developing them, she discovered tones ranging from rich coffee to inky black, on paper that was velvety or slick. There were sheets with mirroring around the edges like tarnish, where the silver in the paper had oxidized. On some sheets, she found traces where fingerprints or mold had disturbed the emulsion, and faint marks where light had slowly leaked through the packaging, leaving the paper “roasted by time,” she says.
Rossiter titled each sheet with the brand of the paper as well as the date it expired and the date she developed it, describing a finite span of time that alludes to the looming end-date of the silver gelatin process itself. If the history of photography is a succession of technologies, says Rossiter, “we get to witness the biggest one, where—whhhpp!—the whole light-sensitive thing was thrown out.”
Rossiter is one of a growing number of artists using what’s known as analog photography—photographs made using light-sensitive paper and film—as their subject, rather than as simply the means of reproducing an image.
In part, this interest in the materiality of photography reflects the massive shifts brought on by the digital age, which has made traditional photographic methods increasingly obsolete in everyday life.
In response, artists are looking to the history of pre-digital photographic processes with a fresh interest in experimentation. They are recycling and breaking down analog materials, pushing them in unintended and unexplored directions, and mining old snapshots for new meanings. While this work is unabashedly rooted in the physical, the central question it prompts is often conceptual: what is photography today?
The demise of film is the subject in Brea Souders’s series “Film Electric.” She photographs fragments of her own film and prints she has cut into tiny pieces. Souders began the project while cleaning out her archives in preparation for a move. “I was cutting the pieces up so nobody would take them from the waste bin,” she recalls. Also in the trash was an acetate negative sleeve, a long plastic envelope used to protect film. When she pulled it from the bin, slivers remained attached to the plastic, held by static electricity.
“Some of them fell and others stuck, and I just thought that was really beautiful, the way my memories were clinging together. It was a metaphor for film trying to hold on, literally,” Souders says. She photographs arrangements of these pieces in poetic, airy forms against a pale background. Cut from negatives and contact sheets, each fragment is recognizable, at least to her. Pointing to a shard of film, “This is Belize, I can tell by the shape of those palms,” she says in her sunny studio in her Brooklyn apartment. “I think we all experience memory in a similar way, with little bits and pieces of things colliding in unexpected ways. We all remember things in snippets.”
While Brandt takes his prints out of their water bath before they disintegrate completely, the images in Phil Chang’s series “Cache, Active” disappeared almost as soon as they were shown, destroyed by the light needed to view them. Made on expired silver gelatin paper that has been left unfixed, the portraits, photograms, and landscapes faded to an eerie brown over the course of the opening of the exhibition at Los Angeles in 2012. Rather than referencing historical processes, Chang sees the work as a response to the Internet age. Unlike a digital image that can be sent across space and exist in multiple locations, the prints must be viewed in person, and quickly.
For John Cyr, the disappearing tools of analog photography are his subject.
Since 2010, he has been photographing the developer trays used by black-and-white photographers ranging from Aaron Siskind to Sally Mann to Eddie Adams (a book of the images will be published by powerHouse next month). Some are scrubbed clean while others are stained black with silver salts, reflecting the habits of their users, living and dead. The curved edges of the basins, shot against a black background, give the plastic and metal trays a monumental, funereal air.
Anne Collier also used an image of a developer tray in her 2012 photo installation on the High Line in New York. From a billboard overlooking the elevated park, the artist’s eye stared out from a liquid-filled tray. Tinged with a look of anxiety or sadness, the eye watched over its viewers through a disappearing medium. Where Cyr considers himself a photographer, Collier’s approach takes a wider aim at the art world.
Marco Breuer’s work may have begun as reaction to his strict photographic education rather than to the approach of digital, but, he says, “for me the interesting part is the friction, interacting with a material in an unauthorized fashion.” He became interested in challenging the limits of photo materials after studying photography in his native Germany in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when digital photography was only a rumor, he says. At the time, the technically precise Becher School (“you know, the Ruffs and the Gurskys”—students of Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kunst- akademie Düsseldorf), was the de facto official German school of photography.
“I thought, there has to be another way of working,” Breuer says, and he set out to unlearn the rules he had been taught. What would happen if he pressed photo paper between his teeth, for instance, or exposed it to flame?
“I placed objects on black-and-white paper in the dark room, and then I set them on fire, so the object would illuminate itself,” the artist says from his studio in Hudson, New York. The next logical step was to eliminate the object entirely. “If it’s just me and the paper, how can I extract images out of this material? So I got into sanding and scratching and scraping and heating, and all these other forces.”
Breuer found that by starting from the simplest materials, “you could carve out your own space, and there was still discovery possible.” Since then, he has continued to work with the basic elements of photography, making photograms or disrupting the paper directly to create beautiful, rigorous abstractions, which he shows at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York (where Brandt and Rossiter also show).
Since 1990, Breuer has also collected snapshots, a passion he shares with a number of artists. The ones he likes most are those that have been altered because of some dissatisfaction. “People go in and write on photographs, or they cut a person out,” he says. What interests him is the “liberty taken with this object. Once you start taking the scissors to it, you have to deal with how it curls and how you’re going to paste it down. That’s sort of the material aspect of it.”
For Garrett Pruter, part of the appeal of old photographs is the access they grant to an otherwise private past. For a recent project, he bought a box of slides on eBay that depict the life of family in Indiana. “It’s very strange to have access to these memories,” he says. “It almost feels unnatural, because this is not the way we live anymore.” His show last year at Charles Bank Gallery (now Judith Charles Gallery) in New York incorporated the images in a number of forms. For him, old family photos offer a record that will be lost with the switch to digital. “It’s almost like going through someone’s hard drive,” says Pruter.
Among the works in his show were a series of melancholy monochromatic paintings in muted pinks and earth tones, made from scraped photo emulsions. From the box of 2,000 slides, Pruter selected a few and made around 20,000 drugstore photo lab copies. He collected the emulsion in bowls, making a sort of physical average of each image. “For each image, you basically have a different flat color that emerges. Some paintings are a single image,” he says, while others combine several, treating each photo as a kind of paintbrush. The result “almost becomes a monument that’s composed of all these thousands of images,” says Pruter. “It represents the complete decay of this moment,” from each original Indiana slide, while at the same time “breathing new life into it.”
Read the entire article from Rebecca Robertson, photo editor of ARTnews.
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