SUMMERVILLE PHOTOG’S JOURNAL: Let's Talk About Black & White Film, Part 1

Black and white film shooting is a blast! I recently conducted a film shoot and darkroom processing class at Charleston Center for Photography. They liked it. Negatives last forever!

I am a very fortunate man.  Why can’t I remember that?  My wife still likes me, after 18 or so years.  My daughters are great, and our beagle follows me everywhere (except where her nose takes her).  Finally, not only do I take good photography, I get to teach it, too.  As an instructor at the Charleston Center for Photography, I have introduced black and white film photography to select students, and they like it.  Wow, I am fortunate.

Okay.  Digital is everything today, but my students are thrilling at shooting 35mm Kentmere 100, processing it, and making prints a-la-back to the future in the wet sink.  Of course, high school kids all over the Lowcountry are learning the same thing, but there is a disconnect, once they graduate and move into the “real” world.  Most go straight to digital, or leave photography altogether.

Gratifying for me was my students’ discovery of cameras thought long dead.  Ken brought a vintage pro Canon F-1 (solidly built!).  Steven showed us an amazing ‘50s Kodak Retina (when cameras were still made in the USA).  Aspiring professional April rediscovered her Minolta with its 50mm lens. Nope, no zoom attached.

The Canon and the Kodak were made of metal – steel, brass and other stuff like that. The Minolta, being younger, was light and plastic.  I showed my Leica M rangefinder, with 50mm f2.  We were all amazed at the build quality of these cameras, compared to the plastic-covered digital SLRs we buy today.

I introduced to the group the technique of putting film onto the developing reel, and they practiced with eyes closed!  It was a figurative eye-opening experience, before we repeated the procedure in the darkroom, when the chemicals were ready, lights out.  They had previously completed the shooting assignment, then they helped me prep the processing set-up; we processed the film under my guidance, and then thrilled at seeing the negatives.  Wow!  The process was easier than we thought.  At the end of class I asked them if they could tackle the darkroom, again, and process film without me.  “Nope,” was the reply, three people speaking together.

Nonetheless, our darkroom session went without a hitch - efficiently, yet with much joking.  I was pleased that my three participants were so good at getting good exposures, without “chimping!”  They previewed the photos in their minds before shooting, not after tripping the shutter by viewing the LCD, a digital procedure.  They did well, and I am proud.

There is a lesson, here.  April put it best, when she remarked, “I really have a new appreciation for photography after shooting with 35mm film.”  The rest of us had to concur, because film photography is the basis for what we do with digital.  Please keep in mind that I believe silver-based black and white film photography will out-last digital.  I am speaking of negatives and prints; they will last generations.  Digital tech is here to stay - getting better all the time – but where will your digital images be 5, 50, 100, 200 years from now?

I, and my students, have re-discovered the value of film.  You should strongly consider it, too.  My old Nikons and Leica will be reborn.

I invite my readers to email me at douglascarrcunningham@live.com.  Ask questions about photography.  Maybe I will learn something.

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Steven Hewett September 30, 2012 at 09:09 PM
If nothing else, it is fun to see if you got everything right when you took the picture, or if you missed something after you develop the film. Plus, you get to shoot cameras, that in some cases, may be older than you. You get slowed down to think about how you want to compose your photograph, plus you can think about if it is something worthy of a photo or something that can be enjoyed without a photo.


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