In a rather ironic twist of circumstance, a friend recently forwarded me a photo of his latest camera purchase. I had to look several times to ensure this indeed was what I thought—a real camera. You know, something made from metal and not plastic, same goes for the lenses, and the same kind of device that shot, heaven forbid, some kind of recording media made from cellulose.
The irony rested in the fact that just at the moment I received his e-mail, I was trying to locate E-6 chemical kits for my in-house processor, without success I might add. Next on my agenda was to locate a retail outlet that could process my slide film. I was thinking that since I live in the largest urban centre east of Quebec City, surely there would be a lab in the city still processing E6. My one time favourite dip-and-dunk lab now ships film processing off with an advertised turn-around time of four weeks! The next largest lab also ships the film outside for a two-week turn around. I then went to a couple of labs in New Brunswick—same thing. Goodness, even the largest retail outlet in Toronto ships E6 processing to their subsidiary store in Calgary.
While I subscribe to the notion that we can’t stop progress, I also wish we could embrace the past for just a while longer. There are reasons why we should still be shooting slide film. Please allow me to offer a few.
1. Enjoyment—There is something different about the psyche of the film photographer. Generally we were more slow and methodical in our approach. We studied the viewfinder carefully and only released the shutter when we were quite certain we had the composition that best fit the reason in the first place. Every time we released the shutter, the camera went ka-ching and that was the sound of 50 cents, and that forced the photographer to be aware. That forced awareness made us more in tune with our surroundings and environment, and as a consequence, we enjoyed those surroundings more. From my experience, when cost is not a consideration, I shoot many, many more frames per day than I would with film.
2. Learning Experience—Yes, our modern DSLRs most often have a “M” on the mode dial. However, I wonder how many beginners actually use the manual mode? Those of us from the old school didn’t have a choice, we might have had an exposure indicator in the viewfinder, but for all intents and purposes the camera was shot in manual mode. Somewhere in our photo vest there was probably a spot meter, that necessary pain-in-the-butt device that told us what a proper exposure should be. However, over time, most photographers would be able to discern a proper exposure just with the naked eye. In other words, we taught ourselves how to “see the light.”
3. Taking Command—Once we learned how to see the light, we learned how to take command of the camera. We knew that a correct exposure of f/16 and 1/125 of a second was the same correct exposure as f/8 at 1/500 of a second. Correct exposure was the assurance we would see a proper appearing piece of film once processed; the right exposure was the ability to know the interaction between the shutter and lens iris to create effect. When we bracketed exposure, it was more often for effect than for exposure. Today, I fear, many beginning photographers never give themselves the opportunity to truly understand how the most basic theories of light and camera interaction.
4. Gratification—By being forced to slow down and having learned how to take command of the camera, film photographers probably gravitated to roll film or sheet film. There is something about looking at the mirror image on the ground glass of a view camera. The photographer becomes part of the camera by controlling its movements and “imagining” how that final picture will appear. We are mentally running through a check list to ensure the “right exposure”—after all, we only have one opportunity before we have to remove the film holder and start over. Consequently, when that perfect transparency or negative emerges from the chemical bath, there is a sense of fulfillment that I have yet to experience despite having captured many, many thousands more digital images than I have on film. Perhaps it is the anticipation that comes with having to wait for the results that enhance that sense of gratification?
5. Appreciation—Most importantly, film photography provides a much better appreciation of the advances in technology that brought us matrix metering, autofocus and digital capture. I would never subscribe to the notion that film is better than digital, or vice versa, as that is simply an argument without merit. However, I will also state that, for me, shooting film was far and away more enjoyable than digital capture in the overall process. At the same time, digital capture, I suspect, will allow me to live a longer life to enjoy the pursuit of photography due to the elimination of anxiety attacks that come with waiting for the film to be processed.
With the above in mind, I am hoping someone can write Photo Life and tell us where we might be able to purchase E6 chemistry kits. After all, nostalgia can keep my friend and I doing it, as opposed to telling war stories about the good old days.
Did I ever tell you the time that…?