I’m Not a Photographer; I Just Wish I Were

I’m not sure when I became interested in photography. There was a class I wanted to take in my senior year of high school; I don’t remember specific interest before then.  My family (bless them) pitched in and bought me a Nikkormat 35mm SLR, manual-wind camera (yes, back in the days of film) with a 50mm 1.2 lens. Unfortunately, I was too late signing up for the class and missed out.

I got some use from the camera but didn’t really know what I was doing, and so the beautiful gift mostly languished. Fast forward many years to college, which I didn’t attend until my late 20s for a variety of reasons. I changed my major to Media Arts (mainly film, i.e. movie studies) half way through, and lo and behold, Photography 101 was a required course. Hallelujah! It was still the film age, so I dusted off the Nikkormat, ready to dive in. It was glorious, one of my favorite classes ever. We had to do everything manually: shoot (naturally), develop the film (black bag and film tank: tip and swish), and print, the latter using university facilities, thankfully. My budget wouldn’t have covered an enlarger and darkroom.

It was all black & white (which I quickly loved), using Ilford ISO 400 film, and we were assigned specific subjects with a certain amount of latitude in content. My first efforts weren’t great: I discovered that the camera’s internal light meter was off. Not entirely broken, just not accurate. To compensate (I couldn’t afford a separate meter), I over-exposed each shot and over-developed in the tank to get the contrast needed in the negatives. Fortunately, a relatively set formula worked well. Both taking photos – shifting my perception to see differently – and working in the darkroom with its many wonders made time disappear. I even loved the smell of the camera and the film. Then there was Paul Simon’s old song, Kodachrome: “I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph…” Never mind that we weren’t shooting in color. That one line was enough.

The final class project was our choice, the only requirement being the number of photos submitted. One of the best compliments I ever received was when the instructor asked for copies of a few shots to show the next semester’s class – in a good way. My project was Fences.

Below are a handful of shots, scanned from the submitted prints (altered only to crop away the uneven white borders from the print frame – wide horizontally and thin vertically – and add the ©). I still have the Nikkormat. The light meter doesn’t work at all now. It was/is a great camera.

No titles, just numbers: 1
3: I think this is my favorite
4: Second favorite
8: Splotches due to less-than-archival-quality storage

I haven’t taken another class, and digital has since supplanted film, so I am still/again a beginner. I bought another film camera right when digital was starting to take hold, but it has seen little use. Having to rely on others to develop and print wasn’t nearly as fun, nor did it yield desired results (even at a photographic house). While digital is certainly better for the environment and is wide open to enhancement, working on a computer will never, for me, match the joyful, visceral experience of the darkroom. Digital is far more convenient, just maybe not as much fun. Still, I haven’t let go of the interest, and I fully intend to get back to it sooner rather than later. (I’m adding a photo page with just images from this and future posts.)

Anyone else miss film?

4 thoughts on “I’m Not a Photographer; I Just Wish I Were

  1. bakermac

    Oh, absolutely! I really dislike how digital allows for photoshopping and altering of the picture. It seems so false. That’s not really photography to me.

    I like the way you’ve captured different lights and darks in #7. I took photography too, and loved it just as much, but realized I would be a starving artist if I continued down that path. I enjoyed, but just didn’t have the ‘eye’ for it.


    1. It depends on the purpose, for me. If it’s deceptive, like altering someone’s looks to be “perfect” for a magazine or ad, yeah, that’s no good. But other work is completely artistic, creating new forms from a basic image. Nothing wrong there. Plus, the darkroom has some tools as well — it’s not without its tricks.

      No easy answer to that conflict between the creative impulse and needing to earn, that’s for sure. Fortunately, one can at least create on the side in one form or another. With photography, I worried that trying to earn from it would take away the sheer enjoyment. Personal expression and pleasing others don’t necessarily mesh. Even in writing: there’s so much commentary about writing what you want, what you love, what pleases you. However, if it isn’t what’s hot in the moment, getting seen is even harder than it normally is. It’s a choice what to do about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve snapped shutters for over 64 years (I just turned 71 four days ago on the 18th). I didn’t come to digital until 2009 having shot film with Nikon, Leica and Rolleiflex up to that point. I now shoot with Canon gear but that’s really beside the point. I love the shooting discipline film required but I don’t miss it all. Digital allows me to be in complete creative control, I no longer have to “try” to communicate my wants & desires to some lab-weenie by making notes on a contact print and then “hope” for the best. I travel the world full-time (365 days a year) as a photographer and writer with just my rucksack and Pelican camera case. I hope you pursue your photography, it’s a great creative complement to writing. Steve Dennstedt at http://www.IndochinePhotography.me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Steve, sounds like you’re living an ideal life, traveling, writing, and taking photos. A dream of mine, actually! I agree about the problems of turning over work to someone else to process. Even with my quite limited experience, it was an issue. Working in the darkroom was a main attraction, though, and that’s what makes me sorry to see film go by the wayside. That said, immediately being able to see what you’ve recorded vs. waiting for film development gives digital the edge, no question. Thanks for commenting and for the encouragement. You help show what’s possible. Happy travels!

      Liked by 2 people

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