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.
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?