OBSESSION: Film Photography

Back waist-deep in the film game.

I’ve always been a little bit drawn to cameras — there are old photographs, taken by my father, that show a toddler me reaching for a camera on a tripod. I didn’t want to be in front of it so much as I wanted to control it; I was curious as to what the contraption was capable of.

Later on in life, as in 2005 (second semester of my freshman year in high school), I had the opportunity to learn old style black & white film photography, darkroom and all. I had been obsessed with digital cameras for a few years; they seemed like the next vital technology my family should hop on as quickly as possible — you know, somewhere among the DVDs, CD Writers, and Minidiscs, all of which I was quick to hop onto, ignoring that these technologies cost was mostly based on novelty and not advances in media quality. My high school’s Art Photo class forced me to go backward and explore the way photography had been done for a century.

I pulled out my father’s old Canon A-1, one of the most popular film SLRs of its day, and a historical model in its own right due to its inclusion of an automatic exposure metering system. The camera was old but built tank-like and to last decades, much like something made in the 50s rather than the 70s. But the A-1 was likely made in the early 80s, if my father and my research are correct — after my dad had gotten his PhD from Iowa, right before he married my mom. Well, anyways, I’m getting off-topic. I used the camera, I took some cool pictures here and there with it using Kodak T-Max 100 and 400 bulk film, shot some rolls on a Spring Break trip to India, and eventually finished a small portfolio to turn in to my teacher by semester’s end. Then, I put down the A-1, stored it in a closet, and forgot about film.

I watched as the school darkroom, only two years after I finished my class, was disassembled and removed, the enlargers likely sold off and all the trappings of film — the small, light-tight cupboard for loading film into a developing tank; the lightbox and loupes for viewing slides and negatives; the film bulk loaders; the print drying racks; the lines of strings upon which rolls of film could hang to dry — quickly disappeared. Art Photo was suddenly a digital class, and the old film room evolved to become a bank of computers with Photoshop and applications used to assemble each year’s Yearbook.

When it came to choose a Senior Project to undertake before graduation, I settled on digital photography. I bought a modest DSLR (a Canon EOS Rebel XTi) and went around town taking some modest, inexperienced pictures here and there. I walked around NYC for a day, shooting pictures of just about anything. And I formed a small portfolio that I could turn in as my final project completed before graduation. I would continue shooting digital throughout college, starting with the XTi and eventually moving on to a 60D in my junior year. I never thought much about digital anymore; despite the fact that I enjoyed the novelties of the past, I always saw a certain pragmatism in today’s technologies — the quality and convenience was built on necessity and a certain sense of the current world market.

Then, this past Christmas, I asked my mom for a Holga 120N. It’s really cheap — at least for a camera — and I could certainly have just bought it myself. But it’s a silly thing, the type of thing I really only wanted as a gift. I wasn’t about to walk over to Urban Outfitters and get it myself. It’s essentially turned into a wannabe-hipster toy, along with Diana and Lomography cameras. But I wanted to play with film again, and with this $30 toy camera I could do that without too much effort.

But then, once I got the camera and bought some film for it, I felt the urge to try something a little bit more serious with it. It occured to me that I had never even tried color film in my Dad’s old A-1; I had never tried to really explore film photography beyond an assignment. And so, I found myself rummaging through the house to look for the old SLR, eventually finding it in the same bag I had left it in years and years ago. Now likely over thirty years old, the thing is sturdy as ever, and while the shutter is a little loud, still takes great pictures.

I added to my cameras with a Mamiya C330, which is a medium format 6×6 square format camera — I’m just starting to use this, but I love it already. To see some of the film photography I’ve done so far, most of which has been to test out these cameras, check out my Flickr Photostream. And I really don’t have much else to write… I’m going to be taking a lot of pictures on film this spring & summer, as the daylight arrives again and I eventually head for the West.

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