Among the wonderful memories of doing daily newspaper photography in the '70s & '80s was the hurried darkroom work. NOT!
You have never lived a full life until you have faced an 80-mile round trip night sports assignment to a barely lit high school football field where you were expected to obtain outstanding action photos in less than 20 minutes so you could meet an early deadline for the regional edition. Shoot your Tri-X at 1600 although the Luna Pro is showing that is almost two stops under, hit the country road and exceed the speed limit while trying to avoid the deer wandering around the route, get to the darkroom to constantly agitate the film for 3–4 minutes, give it a water soak for another few minutes, print it wet in an autofocus Leitz that's constantly shifting focus due to the wet negatives buckling, print a soft and crappy shot with equally crappy print quality on #5 Kodabromide or #6 Brovira (whichever is available) and give it to the sports desk dripping wet to barely make the deadline.
...and then go to your next assignment for the weekend edition society page.
Boy howdy! Those were the Good Ol' Days.
I've long subscribed to Carl Weese's late '90s idea that B&W film photography was already perfect but that digital represented the real coming-of-age of color photography. Now I also like the idea that digital frees film photography...frees it from all its heretofore onerous practical and quotidian duties such as Dogman so vividly describes above. Now we can use B&W film only when we really want to.
It was Ron Wisner who said, also in the '90s, that B&W film photography would eventually join all the other obsoleted methods of graphical reproduction as a much smaller but greatly more prestigious fine-art printmaking medium. Nobody needs stone lithography, or woodcut, or copperplate etching any more for commercial image reproduction, but none of those things has gone away. (Just like view cameras or, say, platinum-palladium printing have not gone away.)
Those media can move over now, and make room; there's a new one about to join their club. Digital does the utility work (and, I'd say, color, too, although some might still argue that) better. Optical/chemical monochrome film photography—highly evolved, completely mature, fully worked out, and beautiful in its own right—might finally get what its proponents have always sought...an elevation in its status as an art medium.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Walter Glover: "My sentiments entirely, as one who uses digital capture for the sake of commercial expediency and B&W sheet film for the soul and contentment of producing fine crafted work."