Stills & Cinema

The Guts and the Glory

A blog on the mechanics, philosophy, and art of image making

reflections on film: a story

I know you all have seen this eerie phenomenon. You know… that line of faces staring at their screens all lined up with that blue reflection in their eyes and cheeks.  Just like robots.  Hypnotized. You know it.

| Deep down, you and I both know there is something wrong here. |

We just justify it though. “It’s a digital world”…

Maybe someday we’ll realize what we are really doing to ourselves.

So I was one of those and I guess I still am.

Four and half years ago I started a job doing video post production at a software company.  All of my work revolved around sitting in front of a computer screen.  All day long I color graded films on a big color calibrated monitor and then I came home and edited digital photography on another screen, meanwhile checking my little screen (phone) and then later that evening I would sit down and watch netflix with my wife on a bigger screen (tv).  Screens.  Lots of them.

I know my work revolves around screens and it has for a long time but when I started working particularly in that setting I started becoming more aware of just how much screen time I had.  Most of you that know me also know that I am also an avid outdoorsman and try to get outside everyday, yet still when I worked there I began building walks into my day to break up my screen time to freshen up my eyes, get some fresh air, and reestablish memory colors.  It is so easy to lose your grip on reality when you are arm deep into a hyper-real grade for the client.

| Here is the thing though… I love making images. |

In the work I do, I can’t rid myself of screens.  I wish I could but really it’s impossible.  So how can I make images without a screen?

Enter film.

At the time I started delving into shooting film, I was living with a couple roomates in a house where I had limited space.  Everything had to be small and I had to be able to pack everything away after each use.  It was hard but I had to make it work. I used a small space under some stairs to store some reels, chemicals, and an enlarger. I read some about stand development with Rodinal and an amazing fixer from Photographer’s Formulary called TF-4(5).  Those were the only chems I used in my minimalist set up and really I have not strayed far from that setup even today.

| I still remember developing my first roll of film. |

I am surprised I got anything from it.  I struggled for almost 30 minutes getting the roll onto the reel.  My hands were sweating.  The film was sticking to the reel. I second guessed everything despite my practice with the dummy fuji superia roll I had lying around.  The constant thought I had as I was processing that roll was, “did I get that Ilford hp5 film on all the way?”  (I still 2nd guess myself sometimes)

I did a simple 60 minute stand development with inversions at the beginning and halfway in and fixed and washed.

There is still not much better than the moment when you pull the film out of the reel after the final wash.

| It really is magic. |

So while the negatives I got the first time around may have been abysmal by my standards today, I succeeded in making images without a screen which was the goal all along.

After that, I had to take it to the next step –a negative to a print.  A few days later, 2 8×10 bins, Ilford Multigrade RC paper, and some print developer later, I printed my first prints with the color enlarger I found on craigslist.  Again terrible prints, but I WAS HOLDING A REAL PRINTED IMAGE IN MY HAND!  No screens.

| I mean seriously, who holds actual printed images in their hands in this instagram world anymore? |

Folks, this is the apex of this discipline –holding a real darkroom print you made with your hands.