A review of a newly (re)adopted medium, as part of my Masters Degree at Falmouth University and the Informing Contexts module.
Film as a medium has a striking teenage memory for me, spending Saturday evenings in the almost darkness of the kitchen that had transformed into a sort of pop-up darkroom with a sticker on the doorway saying ‘no entry’. Orange lamps on and anticipating that heady moment when a paper image revealed itself in the bath of developer. A certain aroma would pervade the house.
Mindful of the encouragement to experiment with a range of image making techniques on the masters degree, this was teased out of me again when I met Edgar Martins and gazed at the beautiful print which had taken 45 minutes to expose in a complex chimney location which had created the latest image one can ensure ever seeing. I have written here about the purchase on ebay on my return trip from Paris of a Sinar P1 4×5 camera (figure 2), with lens, black hood and film mounts. Upgrading to a second hand tripod that could take the weight was the next step, alongside a handheld exposure meter and a metaphoric dusting down of the iPhone app Lightmeter. The latter I have become very fond of. I was mindful of those pioneers like Georgia O’Keeffe who trekked across the valleys of New Mexico to capture the nature that inspired her art. Perhaps that is why I felt the need to experiment outdoors in early December, preceded by the purchase of a black cloth changing bag and learning how to recognise the emulsion side of the film sheets via the slots to one corner and then ensuring that the black out slider is swept into place without damaging the film is quite a practiced feat, I say that because I failed the first time.
I warmed up quickly on a clear but very chilly day, set the lens to the highest stop and set the shutter which is mounted within the lens. Setting up using the cloth over my head and working out how to work with an image that is projected onto glass upside down is a test of the eye-brain agility. Inserting the film frame, then removing the dark slide and timing the exposure was all a very careful, methodical, timing process. A very basic but precise motion and undertaking. This is the better version of the two images shot, figure 3.
Notably to make use of the image in a typical digital, domestic set-up, I bought an Epson V850 scanner to scan the developed film sheet and carry out trial prints for framing and editing.
I have joined a community darkroom in Moseley, Birmingham and await a time to visit that with my various formats under my arm.
Deciding that film is a suitable medium to work into my ‘Empty’ series I decided to opt for a less unwieldy kit based on 120 roll fit format. Along came another second hand purchase which involved buying from an enthusiast based in Norwich and another train journey to meet the owner and talk through the kit. This time a Mamiya RZ. This traveled with me to the Elan valley in later December 2016 when the hoar frosts had done their best to turn the landscape into a monochrome delight. The Ilford FP4 film duly processed and printed provided delightful tones and depth to the landscape imagery. This then traveled on a shoot to St Thomas More’s church in March 2017, a building under threat. The judgements made on exposure were particular fraught due to slices of sunlight penetrating the roof and walls of the otherwise darkly lit interior. Initially somewhat disappointed at the generally underexposed negatives, I was amazed at the ability of Adobe Lightroom to retrieve the detail from darker zones of the negative and lift the whole image, figures 4 and 5. Without wishing to become reliant on post-processing to overcome the errors of exposure, it is a somewhat pleasurable experience to be able to synthesise the analogue/digital techniques.
The deepening enjoyment and revival of film led me to find a Yashica FXD with a standard 50mm lens in good condition, mailed to me from Glasgow, for a total of £23, has made for an incredibly handy and compact 35mm camera. Perhaps taking the economy element of it a little far, I have been shooting as a test film bought at Poundland for, yes, just £1 for an Agfa 100 ASA, 24 exp’ colour negative roll. I find that my shooting with this camera tends to be more ‘every day’ and slightly more casual, It is possible the absence of the tripod that leads to a freer flow of image making. Here, figure 6, is a compliation of slightly ‘cheesy’ images made on the 35mm set atop my steering wheel at night on the M5 motorway. One is allowed a little indulgent fun.
Last, but certainly not least, was the most compact 120 roll film camera I could find, bought from a local ex-professional photographer who sold me a Mamiya 645 (figure 7 alongside the RZ) with two lenses, case and two viewfinders. This is truly liberating, using it on a tripod with the waist level viewfinder and squeezing circa 15 shots from each roll of 120. It is light and manoeuvrable. In the image at the top of this post I used Ilford FP4 using thsi set up, figure1. This was taken of a piano in the Birmingham Conservatoire in April 2017. I have been delighted with the depth and smoothness achieved here. In fact a number of us in my cohort at Falmouth University have set up the hashtag #645club to use on Instagram as a means of collaborating.
In summary the preciously, methodical technique required with the larger cameras and the degree of unfamiliarity mixed with the growing discernment centred on my image making draw me to these cameras and film medium because I now take time to compose and expose. It is simply not possible to rush; proficiency will prevail but speed would be the downfall of image making in this way.
Four new cameras in the stable and a retrained brain is a promising re-start to a life of mixed media.
As something of a post-script to this account, I found the price of this Polaroid Land camera irresistible, figure 8. It is in my clutches and I have a pack of Impossible branded film to try out in this kit….