I’m not a hipster but..

March 28, 2019

I’m not going to start buying all my favourite albums on vinyl or get a fixie bike. But the genuine interest in developing my own photographs has been burning in the back of my mind for years. It seems everyone (but me) had a darkroom at school. Maybe i just didn’t find mine. It was one of those schools where you were guided in a certain academic direction and I may just not have been pointed towards it. I did however, being in my mid forties, use film cameras in my youth. That’s all there was. It tended to be the basic disposable, or black kodak block that most people had. I also had and have still got a special edition (to commemorate the 1980 Moscow Olympics) Zenit EM slr and an older Zenit E. I remember these from my youth. Dabbled, sent the films off, got disappointed and grabbed the Kodak again. I vaguely remember my dad had a basic darkroom setup in the loft but think this was way before i’d even picked up my first camera.  All my films were developed at the usual, snappy print/bonusprint/boots type high street labs who would stick stickers on the print face of your most adventurous experiments or happy accidents. Overexposed/underexposed/out of focus etc. I was never sure why they did that. Were they trying to teach you something or to justify why the print you’d just paid for looked a bit shit. I often peeled the stickers off and preferred these prints anyway. Either way, when you’re just using the same camera that saw you through school trip after school trip fully automated, who were you to question their expertise? There was no reason to persevere with the Zenit if you weren’t really seeing the full process out and learning by your mistakes. I mean why would you want to risk paying a lab to develop a whole film of potential rubbish. Not only that. This was your only way of recording your life, why risk those captured moments with your inadequacies! I simply didn’t have a clue. My first realisation that there was more to it was being around a couple of gents who worked with my dad. Their experience of photography was much more interesting. My dad’s company designed exhibition stands and displays and if it wasn’t company logos being screen printed and cut out of thick bits of polystyrene it was display boards being produced using rub down lettering and enlarged product photos. All compiled by hand, on a lightbox or drawing board. Something that today would take 5 minutes in the Adobe Suite was hours of work. Cut and pasted, one-use rub down letters, enlarged photoprints then the whole panel enlarged and printed as a whole print photographically. It’s insane when you look back at it. So where am I going with this… the experience of their day to day work was backed up by a real enthusiastic interest for the photographic art itself. In the couple of years I worked there it was bound to rub off on me. GAS (Gear Addiction Syndrome) existed back then as much as it does now and they were forever wanting the new Nikon, Leica, or Bronica camera.  Apart from a green screen accounts computer everything else was analogue until I persuaded them it was the way of the future and they invested in their first PC. I was tasked to set it up and produce graphic layouts using scanned in transparencies mainly with the most basic of layout software available which was one of the early corel draw packages, save them to a syquest disk (which was huge!) and motorbike courier them to the printers. Still no digital cameras, no smart phones….. So, indirectly and directly I picked up skills which have been useful throughout my career so far, layout, composition, use of colour and how to apply what, where, and how. All of these now culminating in my brain to be applied professionally. Some of which are applied as second nature, some I need to be reminded of from time to time but every piece of knowledge to be used at some point along the way as a graphic designer. Applying this same skill set to photography generally works in principle but I’ve found the impact of the advance of equipment has hampered this growth somewhat. The progression from analog to digital in my design work progressed at a fairly slow rate along side the progression of the technology and software available but I feel that digital photography was much more instant. I was fairly slow to get on the digital bandwagon and apart from trying some of the first cheaper cameras which produced images similar to early phone quality images, proper digital cameras were financially out of reach. I remember one Kodak camera I tried which was a combined music player, camera and video camera and everything looked like it had been taken on a potato. The cost inhibiting nature of this relatively new consumer technology led me to invest in a film Canon SLR as my first ‘proper’ camera. Finally when digital cameras were within budget the quality was amazing compared to my little kodak gadget but still not great so I continued to shoot film for a couple more years until my camera was stolen. This however much it pissed me off led me to use the insurance money to get a Sony compact camera with full manual capability to start the ball rolling. The revelation of being able to see your photos on the back of the camera completely changed my train of thought. You see up till now my trusty Canon SLR was so clever I had mainly been using the priority modes to get the shot. Now with this little compact I could see before me what every setting did and how to craft the images I wanted rather than what Mr Canon and all the researchers thought I wanted. Life moved on, I set up a design and print company with a good friend and as anyone who has their own company will admit the time for hobbies dwindles into insignificance and photography as a hobby took a backseat. 10 years later that fire has been rekindled and I’ve changed my life for the better. I now have the time back I had lost and the enthusiasm with it. I need to fill in the gaps. I understand now how photography works, the knowledge I should have had from the start, and I love the digital format and what I’ve achieved and will continue to, but… back to basics. Load up a film camera (a wonderful process in itself) and use it as intended delving into the darkest part of my mind to freshen up on the skills I learnt all those years ago working for my Dad, and complete the process by developing the film myself. I’ll still mainly shoot digital, you can’t beat the convenience and certain qualities the format brings. And I’d never shoot a job on film. I couldn’t bear taking that sort of risk! So here it is my first home developed film. There’s issues of course, drying marks on some of them, scratches from loading the film in the developing tank, but stuff to read up on, techniques to explore. An extra dimension to the process and new knowledge to acquire, can’t be bad. Oh… and my long suffering better half who’s going to get fed up with me testing my film on her eventually. Ilford HP5 plus if you wanted to know…

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