Film is Back

In the late summer of 2018 I dipped my toe back into film. Within months I’d fallen in.

Not only was I carrying an old film camera with me at all times, shooting anyone who would let me, but I was picking up old cameras on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Estate Sales, Garage Sales, and from friends who knew I was shooting film again.

I partially blame Vivian Maier. I had seen a documentary about her, “Finding Vivian Maier,” on an airplane, and fell in love with her “work.” If you read about her, you’ll see that it wasn’t work at all, but a passion. She never sold a single picture and died with thousands of rolls of film never developed. She shot what she wanted, when she wanted, and for whatever reasons she had.

Author’s Note: the documentary about her has been proven to be only partially true. I recommend reading “Vivian Maier, A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife” by Pamela Bannos. Fantastic read. 

After watching the documentary at 35,000 feet, I remember being intrigued by film, and momentarily thought of digging out my old Nikkormats, but quickly talked myself out of it. “Film sucks,” may have even been what popped into my head.

Fast forward who knows how many months and I get an email from my friend Moses Rodriguez. His Meetup group is having a photowalk and he wants me to come along. Yeah, I’ll do that. 

Then just days before the event, I thought about a mint condition Nikon FG my dad had dropped off to me, and decided to take it out that Saturday morning, instead of one of my digital cameras. 

In preparation, I ran down to Overland Photo Supply for three rolls of Tri-X and fresh batteries. 

What the hell, right? It won’t kill me to shoot film again.

After getting my film processed at Process One, and seeing the results, I was, well, a bit hooked on it. Some day I’ll write a story about all that film gives me, but for this article, I’ll simply state that there is something very Zen about film. 

As I said before, I started carrying the FG with me everywhere, not knowing when I might get a shot. I wasn’t thrilled with the extreme grain in the Tri-X, so I switched to T-Max, and am pleased with what it gives me.

Somewhere in here I purchased a couple of books showing Maier’s photos. She was so talented. In the selfies you could see her with her Rolleiflex. I wanted one.

We may never know how many rolls of film Maier shot, but there exists an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 negatives. To one who shoots digital, that may not sound like a lot, over the course of a lifetime. For film, however, that sounds like a lot.

I wanted to wrap my head around how she shot, so decided to purchase my first Twin Lens Reflex. Not sure I would like it, I didn’t want to buy a Rolleiflex, just yet, so found a Ricohflex at Mort’s in Weston, MO. It wasn’t mint, but it worked and I was able to get a feel for what Maier was doing when she walked the streets of New York and Chicago, shooting people along the way.

I learned this: It’s HARD! Not only is it a lot or work to shoot (focus, cock, shoot, release button, advance, cock, shoot, release button, advance…) but it’s not easy to reload when done. You have to open the back, pop out the exposed roll, click the strip to seal it, find a pocket, take out the fresh roll, open, peel off the seal, move the spool from the bottom to the top, put the fresh roll in the bottom, feed into the top spool, advance, close the door, advance, and all while holding the large door of the back of the camera open. 

Now I have a fresh new respect for what 150,000 negatives really is.

To be clear, she also shot 35mm, so that speed things up a bit, but to reload her old Leica would have been WORSE.

By now I’m hooked, totally, on what film gives me. I’m learning a lot about exposure, the idiosyncrasies of each camera, different films, how the various light meters behave, etc.

One thing I already had in my brain, is how to go from film to pixels. When I started with Photoshop in the early 90s, there weren’t digital cameras. I became a full-time speaker/trainer in 1997, and one thing I taught the most was how to get the best results scanning film, and what to do post pixel for best production results. I’m digging all of that out of the back of my brain again.

So this website is dedicated to sharing my journey of rediscovering the value of film, the many cameras that bring us the magic of photography, and the bridge between film and pixels.  

Feedback and input is always welcome. 

Thanks for joining me.

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