As I traverse the globe on this project I will share what I see through the lenses of my camera. However this won’t be immediate as we have come to expect. Although I will also use an uncomplicated digital camera in order to easily convey my experiences online, the authentic photographs will be made on film. I’m confident that I can use my extended stops to process and then share this. If you are, as I hope, interested in why then please keep on reading!
Documenting this journey is key. As a photographer I take real photos; that is to say I have never worked with digital. I realise that this statement may cause annoyance to many photographers out there but this is how I feel, and in a way it’s true. A digital photograph never actually exists as a physical object until of course printed, whereas a photo taken on film can be felt and smelt. Of course digital photography has it’s place in this world but for me it will never be on par with good old analog.
Analog photography is the method of capturing moments of time that I know best. Handling the slim bodied camera of the 70s with it’s simple, metal, mechanical body and solid quality lenses. Keeping it tucked next to my body if it’s sub zero degrees to avoid the shutter freezing; lesson learnt. Popping open the camera back, inserting the film tab into the spool then winding it on by hand until the counter clicks to ‘S’. There’s nothing electronic to go wrong here. Composing the picture and metering the light by ensuring that the needle aligns with the circle in the viewfinder frame, this being the sole task of the battery. Winding the film roll forward one frame before pressing down on the metallic shutter button. And then..wondering. Not looking immediately at a small screen to see the result but rather wondering how that shot will look when finally printed. If it will even develop at all!
That roll of film might sit in a box with a few others for weeks, months or even years before the next stage of it’s life. Practising with an old film strip until I get it right and then, either in complete darkness or a specifically made bag with two arm holes, winding the undeveloped film reel onto a spool and sitting in a light-proof tank. Measuring out the developing fluid and taking it’s temperature. Timing the process from the moment it’s poured in, agitating the tank regularly. Rinsing, fixing, rinsing again and then the magical moment when I see what’s contained in those little plastic frames with their no longer latent images. Hanging them up and hoping the water doesn’t leave small droplet shaped mementos of it’s time there.
And if all of that’s worked out comes the darkroom. The smell of developer mixing with the acrid scent of fixer. The test-stripping, focusing, adjusting and test-stripping again. When I see that picture begin to form as the silver halide turns to metallic silver (in the case of black+white) right in front of my eyes I feel real satisfaction in the knowledge I’ve been part of this picture every step of the way and not touched a computer once. The picture produced will never be the same as one that began in a digital sensor, and although I don’t doubt that manipulating a picture by moving a mouse and clicking buttons can be a fair amount of work and produce stunning results, it will never be or look the same as a final product produced by hand.
There are so many things that can and do go wrong at every stage of the analog film process. Scratched negatives, whole rolls of film that come out blank, the discovery as my friend attempts to rewind the film roll at the end of 36 shots of naked inner city mischief that the film never wound on to begin with. These are but a few examples! But at the end of the day I prefer all of these over a hard drive filled with thousands of photos that I don’t know what to do with.