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Saturday, 21 January 2012


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Great post! “Wet negatives buckling” immediately brought back the years, late ’70s to early ’80s, when I shot theatre and concert for the local newspaper, starting still a schoolboy. After pushing Tri-X and HP-5 to the limit and giving up on Royal-X (a royal pain), I was let in on the dirtiest trade secret of them all: Kodak Recording 2475. Panchromatic with ultra-high sensitivity in the red spectrum, Estar-AH film base, EI 1000-4000 (!). Routinely set at ASA 1600, easily pushed to 5000 (my meter went only to 3200, so deliberately underexposed). Unbelievably grainy, almost reticulate; we used to joke that you couldn’t tell coat buttons from film grains on a 2475 portrait. [Note to CL: try to replicate the effect with DxO FilmPack some day.] It could be cooked in HC-110 at 29°C for all of two minutes when in a hurry (adieu uniformity). The ultra-thin, ultra-clear Estar base (PVDC-coated polyester) was tear-proof, shear-proof, hard to cut, and impossibly curly when dry. Forget contact sheets. Glass plates in the enlarger’s negative holder were a necessity. But my OM-1 with its modest 50mm 1.8 Zuiko felt like a Leica M4 + Noctilux when on theatre or concert assignment. By 2:30 AM the shots were printed and drying, the review was typed, off to the night editor, in time to put it to bed for the paper’s noon edition.

How on earth did we ever manage without a D3S, Eye-Fi, and a MacBook Air?

As an aside, a semantic question.

Why do we "capture images" when using digital, but "take pictures" when using film?

I see this all the time, not just in Walter G's comment.

I agree completely with the conclusion, but deeply regret your quoting Ron Wisner* about it.

* For those unfamiliar with Ron, he was a maker of view cameras that, when shipped at all, were products which frequently needed repair right out of the box to be usable. He left behind a long string of unfulfilled promises and abandoned his customer/business to go sail a boat, reportedly living off an inheritance. Google is your friend -- look it up. :-)

Whenever I get a feeling of misty-eyed nostalgia for Tri-X and D-76 welling up in my brain only two memories are needed to make it go away.

1. I actually hate the user interface of classic film cameras. They are slow and clunky and awful.

2. I hate how fixer smells.

Then I pick up my D700 and get on with my life. And I feel better.

I cannot comment as a working photographer, only as an enthusiastic amateur, since I've never made my living from photography. But I surely do like the choices I have today. Sort of like sitting down to a twelve-course dinner prepared by master chefs, and told to "Enjoy!" Yum!

With best regards, Stephen

I think you just described most of my football season Friday nights, 1969-1974. Occasionally exposed EI 2400, printed direct screen and pasted up still smelling of hypo.

You don't think Dogman's picture would be far more interesting than the DSLR picture? I think it would. I like pictures where it looks like the photographer had to sweat a bit.

As someone who was in a position to buy new technology for the advertising photography department I ran for a major retailer, I was constantly marketed to by salesmen in the early years of digital imaging technology. I've seen some horrible and expensive things that wouldn't hold a candle to the first digital Rebel. I can say with some level of authority, that I don't think the early sellers of this technology ever expected digital to replace film in it's entirety. The golden bullet was to get something that looked good on a computer screen, and looked good when reproduced on an 8.5 X 11 magazine or catalog page with a 150 line screen. Anything looked good with a 60 line screen in a newspaper, and who cares, you wrapped your old fish in it the next day! Ditto for amateur snappers: if it made a decent 4X6 print, that was great.

We've talked about this on TOP before, but the expense model for professional film processing, and other film technology, was being paid for by the volume users, i.e. catalog houses shooting hundreds of sheets of film a week, maybe thousands of rolls of 120 a month. This was also the target market for digital technology, because they were reproducing stuff in catalogs and newspapers.

The day after a few of the local catalog houses adopted digital technology, was the beginning of the end for getting professional film services, at least in rapid turn-around, for the rest of the people in town. Even the busiest advertising professional was shooting about as much in a year as any catalog house was shooting in a couple of weeks or maybe a month.

I'm pretty sure that the early sellers of digital photography didn't expect ad shooters and others to quit shooting film. Based on pricing, no one I knew in town could afford to by a camera for $50,000. that would only be good for about 3-5 years! And I was told by the sellers that people like that would not be their primary market.

I think as digital technology quality accelerated, and pricing dropped, the lack of pro lab services also forced people to make the decision to adopt digital maybe earlier than they would have. I know people that closed studios and took in-house shooter jobs because they could not make the financial investment in digital that their clients were demanding they do; even tho digital at the time was certainly not the prevalent imaging source.

I think going forward, someone will offer decent black & white and color film, and you'll still be able to buy chemistry, just maybe not Kodak chemistry. But you might have to send your film to another city if you want to pay for professional processing services. And were not going to see the 90 minute E-6 turn-around that was just common in the 80's and early 90's. I, for one, can't imagine ever NOT shooting black & white film if I want to do it. My fear is it turning into a niche market that makes a roll of 120 black & white film cost 20 bucks!

Ah, but you see, platinum printing did go away. It all but vanished after Pt prices skyrocketed during WWI. It wasn't until the 1970's that d.i.y. artists began resurrecting it as an art form. It only really took hold in 1981 when R. Bostick and M. Sullivan started their company, backed by solid art and science.

The same could happen to B&W silver gelatin. It is "...highly evolved, completely mature, fully worked out..." today, with today's materials and reservoir of 'old hands'. That situation is changing fast. We (meaning those interested) need to learn broader and deeper than the paint-by-number/"just push the button" mindset thrust on us by (primarily) Kodak. We can all see how that's going to turn out.

We got lucky with Pt/Pd. It's a really simple process and it still had an element of handcraft before it disappeared. Silver gelatin is far more complex and we've allowed ourselves to be infantilized regarding the process. The 'rescue' of the medium really needs to start now.

2 cents worth of silver,

One of my personal rules as a newspaper reporter was to try to avoid riding with a photographer, whenever that was possible. First of all, photographers always tried to get the car as close as possible to whatever disaster we were going to. I preferred to stay a safe distance away and walk in -- but then, I was carrying a notepad, while the photographer was carrying a bag with two Nikon bodies, six lenses, a strobe with a five-pound battery and a head the size of a Big Bertha golf club, and so on. The photographer also wanted to get close because it was faster -- the more time on the scene, the better the chance for a decent shot. A reporter could always reconstruct afterward. That's the reason that the photographer always drove, because he/she knew that if the writer drove, he'd park as far away as possible. (I once worked with a photographer who had contracted MS, and *still* insisted on driving, even though the disease markedly diminished his ability to pick out stop signs, non-moving cars, pedestrians, and so on. He once turned to me and said "God bless autofocus; it gave me another two years on my career." That's when I first realized that autofocus was not an unmitigated benefit.) Then, there was the return trip. The photographer would drive a hundred miles an hour back to the paper, because, despite Dogman's description of the speed with which the development was done, it always took longer to get a photo down to the press than it did to get a story out. (I worked with a photographer who once drove into St. Paul and hit a green light and said, "We're good -- we'll make it all the way back without stopping." He knew that if he hit that particular light early on the green, and then followed a highly complicated route back to the paper, he'd hit every light on green all the way to the garage.) The only good part of this, from the writer's point of view, was that you could sit in the passenger seat and compose your story. If I knew what I was writing, I could do a full column in about 15 minutes, push the button on it, then saunter over to the copy desk, yawn, and say "You got it." The copy desk chief would say, "Great. But where the f**kin' art?" Then he'd get on the phone to the photo lab and yell, "Where the f**kin' art?" Except he wouldn't use asterisks.

One of the great things about newspapers were all the non-publishable stories you got out of them, and photographers were the focus, so to speak, of more than their fair share. But it wasn't all wonderful, either. I was once working a particularly nasty story late at night and called for a photographer, and the paper sent over the only person available, a young female intern still in college. She looked at what I wanted her to shoot, said, "I can't do this," and not only left, but, I was told later, gave up photojournalism.


P.S. A reporter, if he was wise, never introduced the reporter to a story subject by saying, "This is MY photographer." It was always, "This is THE photographer." That whole equality thing, don't you know.

You're seriously making me regret getting rid of my large-format gear. You've got me questioning if I really want to get rid of my darkroom (which has sat un-used for 6 years). I sure don't miss carrying all that gear though!

Absolutely agree in theory, and hope you're right.

Problem is, stone lithography, woodcut and copperplate etching
don't need companies using multi-million dollar machines, and needing to turn a profit at it, to make their raw materials.

I really hope there are enough of us to keep one or two b&w lines running, but I don't think the chances are good.

That was a great story Dogman, loved it.

I suspect that the only remaining market for huge amounts of color film that can support the sort of infrastructure that Kodak provided is the motion picture industry, particularly the market for projection prints, and that's going away astonishingly quickly.

The technology for making silver based photographic materials is somwhere between third world and do it yourself. Black and white has already made the transition from a popular industrial backed medium to a nich art product.

All that said, I can't really see C-prints hanging on as an artist only media. The C-print era is sort of a lost era historically , collectors hate them, and there is hardly anything that the C-print process does better than any other available process except maybe large format contact prints and photograms. (note to self, I need to finish that color photogram project now or never)

If anything, I foresee some of the older color processes making a comeback. Carbo anyone ?

Art photography and art materials in general have always been either industrial by products or cottage industries.

I'm sad to see what has become of Kodak, but in terms of personal impact they stopped selling anything I wanted 20 years ago . Agfa going under hurt me more. If Kodak had been able to figure out how to make a profit with small volume products like pan-x , kodachrome, verichrome pan, azo, velox, old tri-x etc. , there would be a division to split off that could continue to make belived products like ilford did. Somewhere along the line old tri-x became new tri-x and I switched to hp5.

I follow that advice - using film when I want to. But i really wish the cameras I put it in were digital because really, it's not the film that drives my decision to shoot that way.

I did that newspaper night sports thing in the late 1960s—mostly baseball and softball—with Tr-X, a beat up Nikon F, an even more beat up Vivitar zoom, and no meter at all. We had a dryer in the darkroom that was just for news pictures. It was hot as a griddle, and the apron was full of fixer, because we didn't wash the late night stuff very long. (A minute or two.) Printed the negatives wet, too, then threw them back in the wash.

I usually had to leave the game after two or three innings to make deadline. Fun stuff. Makes me glad that photography is just my hobby.

Dogman's comments are a real memory trip for me. I shot for the local biweeklies back in the late 70s and early 80s, mostly on the high school sports chain gang.

A few years back I found my old cheat card where I listed a bunch of the local school gyms with their EV values at various spots. Good times.

Memories, memories: my left arm is longer than the right from all the gear I schlepped around, and my hip hurts from the banging it got with the gear bashing it as I ran. Did a lot of running.

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