I’ve Become A Retrogrouch

Retrogrouch is usually a term that is associated with one of my other passions – cycling. According to the Urban Dictionary a retrogrouch is:

1. One who is skeptical of technological developments until their usefulness and reliability have been proven. 
2. One who insists on minimalist equipment that may be user-serviced. 
3. Sagacious but irritable expert. 
4. A person who prefers natural and/or organic materials over metals and synthetics.
5. One who is too stubborn to learn new technology.
Examples of its usage would be:
1. He’s such a retrogrouch; he’s still riding a bike with a Brooks leather saddle and friction gear shifters. 
2. That retrogrouch is still using a film camera. 

As far as cycling goes I’m definitely NOT a retrogrouch. I use gel saddles, Shimano STI, clinchers and aluminium frames. With photography well lets just say I’m going through a phase. Although I have whole heartedly embraced the digital revolution deep down I have a dissatisfaction about it. I’ve come to the conclusion that with digital photography we are now serving it rather than being the master. I seem to spend inordinate hours in front of a computer massaging pixels to within an inch of their lives, correcting white balance and battling noise. I’ve become suckered into an endless upgrade cycle of computers, cameras and software packages. I worry incessantly about not if my hard drive will crash, but rather when it will crash and what will be the consequences. I have to think about bit depth, colour space and compression artefacts. In all I think I’ve stopped being a photographic artist and have become a technician that uses a computer with a lens glued onto the front. It’s all really rather unsettling, even dissatisfying.

Since FotoFreo I’ve been having a spot of quiet contemplation about life, the universe and photography. I’ve got no pressing projects on and so my mind is free to wander and play with ideas and concepts. I was having a sort out in my office and I came upon the box where the obsolete and unloved equipment is stored. Much of it is truly worthless like the old Toshiba laptop that has a 144 Hz processor,  48 Mb of RAM, a 1.5Gb hard drive and runs Windows 95. Along with it was an Olympus ES10 film scanner. I fired them up and did a scan. Amazingly it all worked, but it took the best part of an hour to produce a 24 Mb TIFF of a 35mm slide. Hmm I’ll give up on that idea then. In the deeper recesses of the box were 3 35mm cameras, 2 SLRs and a rangefinder, and an assortment of lenses. The rangefinder was truly dead and gone as it had suffered a terminal fall and the film back was badly cracked. The two SLRs worked. So just for old times sake I put a roll of black and white film through one of them. I found a large Tupperware container of the stuff in the back of the freezer. Well it was really fun to use the Olympus OM40 again, especially with the gorgeous Zuiko 50mm f1.4 lens. I had to use all those long forgotten bits of information about exposure, filters etc. There was no incessant chimping to see if the picture turned out. It was all pre-visualisation and a step of faith. When finished I dropped the film into a local chemist who still runs a mini-lab and an hour later I had my negatives back. On getting home I got my loupe out and looked at the negs and had that familiar feeling of excitement and surprise. Wow! This is what photography is all about. Part art, part craft, part science, and totally a pleasure. Not having access to a darkroom (more’s the pity) I scanned the negs and processed them in Lightroom.

The processing was done as I would have in the darkroom. I had exposed for the shadows so it was a case of processing for the highlights and letting the shadows take care of themselves. I then split toned them. They’re not art, they’re just snap shots done as an experiment, but I enjoyed the whole process and I think I will continue with it. In fact I might dig out the medium format kit that’s been lying around unused and unappreciated. Will film replace digital for work? Well that will depend upon the job, the deadline and the budget. I can certainly see a place for it though with clients who want a something a bit different. Mostly though I’ll use film because I enjoy it.