I’ve been missing in action over the last few weeks. Partly due to health reasons (which I won’t bore you with), partly due to computer meltdown when I upgraded to Mac OSX Catalina (what an unmitigated disaster that was and still isn’t solved) and partly because some chump cut through the telephone line while digging a hole. The whole experience has meant that I’ve been seriously considering going retro i.e. reading books, watching DVDs, listening to CDs and shooting film again. So I’ve ordered some books off of Booktopia, dug out the CD collection and loaded some film into an old camera. I’ve even found myself looking at kits to develop film at home. Scary stuff. Don’t know how far I’ll follow through with idea, and I don’t know if it’s still possible to get my favourite film and developer, but I’m certainly keen to give it a go. So I thought todays pic would be appropriate – a photo of a digital camera taken with a large format film 5×4 camera shooting Fuji Provia.

Moody Monochrome

Much is written about “Tasmanian Gothic” – a dark soberness that has its roots in the landscape and the colonial history. Personally I’m not a fan as I feel it colours much of modern-day Tasmania and restricts progress. But, there is no doubt that the weather and the landscape do particularly suit black and white or monochrome photography.

Wooden tender beached at Pirates Bay, Tasmania. Canon EOS 5D with Canon EF20mm f/2.8 USM lens. Exposure: 1/30 s at f/16.0 ISO 100

When I worked with film I loved the whole process for black and white photography. Picking a film and developer combination, then choosing a paper and then finally whether to tone the image or not. The whole process was magical and working in the darkroom, whether it was a commandeered bathroom or a purpose-built one was like a going back to the womb to create something wonderful. Admittedly an awful lot of the time I seemed to turn out a lot of dross, but it was an enjoyable process. To misquote  Kilgore’s eulogy in the Coppola classic film Apocalypse Now “I love the smell of fixer in the morning,”.

Kite Surfing #3
Kite surfing off Park Beach in Tasmania. Olympus E-M10 and OLYMPUS M.75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II lens. Exposure: 1/1600 s at f/6.3 ISO 200.

I would love to work with black and white film again – but living with a rainwater tank for our supply and with a septic tank for waste water management means that I cannot develop film at home and there are no labs in Tasmania that develop the film. So for now it is the digital option, which is not as magical and mystical as the darkroom, is in its own way just as satisfying. No longer following the Zone System laid down by St Ansel, I now expose to the right (ETTR) to get the maximum amount of tonal information in my RAW file and then process in Lightroom. The final black and white conversion is done in NikSoft’s Silver Efx Pro 2, which is always done the same way and mimics what I used to get with Ilford Delta 400 developed in Rodinol and then printed on Ilford FB Warmtone Multigrade paper. My Canon Pixma Pro9000 does a fantastic job of monochrome printing on Harman Gloss Baryta Warmtone. I’ve done two exhibitions using this combination and been delighted with the results.

Murdunna Moorings
Yachts moored on King George Bay Murdunna, Tasmania. Canon EOS 5D with Canon EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens. Exposure: 1/640 s at f/11.0 ISO 800.

Thankfully working digitally means that we can work in both colour and black and white at once, just making the decision of which way to go at the time of processing. It is a great time to be a photographer.

As always clicking on an image will take you through to my online gallery.

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.