Materials that Resonate
I started taking photographs with a film camera since the end of 2006, which means I have been learning to work with film for 12 years. Over that time I would like to think that I have made significant strides as an aspiring photographer, but in 2017 I noticed that I am still in the early stages of experimentation with the film that I use, and in 2018 I have used perhaps more variety than any other:
- Fuji Neopan Across 100
- Fuji Pro 400H
- Fuji Provia 100F
- Fuji Velvia 100
- Ilford Delta 100
- Ilford Delta 3200
- Ilford Delta 400
- Ilford FP4+
- Ilford HP5+
- Kodak 400 TX
- Kodak Portria 160
Among these FP4+ is an extraordinary blank & white film; and a topic I will save for another time. For this discussion I will focus on what I learned about my experiments with color.
Numerous, and perhaps the great majority of great photographers have relied on a single camera and two films for the bulk of their projects. Why have I not achieved the same focus?
There were some reasons to experiment a great deal in 2018. I switched from Canon 35mm EOS cameras to the Mamiya 645 Super/Pro, I started developing my own B&W, color reversal, and color negative film. Instead of shipping film off to a lab I also started scanning frames in my office with a Fujifilm digital camera. For the first time I also push-processing film. This was a productive year for experimentation.
What about previous years?
In any field of study there are a large number of maxims that hold sway. In photography says are repeated without any reference to what the photographer is trying to do. In 2015 I tried Velvia for the first time, and I was very intrigued with the results, but it took three years for me to take Fuji's color reversal this film seriously.
In the Fall of 2018 I took portraits using only Provia 100F. So many times I have read that slide film is not good for people, yet by committing to this medium I achieved exactly the depth and connection I was looking for.
Why did it take me so long to gain the confidence I needed with this medium? While I was impressed with the results of my first attempts using slide film, my impression was that very few professionals use color reversal film for portraits. Why didn't I trust my initial experience?
There is value in knowing what professionals do, but every craftsman has a style—and an internal consistency. Wedding photographers have a seemly universal task, but they are in fact leveraging the strengths of the medium they have chosen to specialize in.
Any skilled craftsman can use a variety of materials, but this is not to say that the distribution of effort is not uniform. In some ways a profession comes into focus when one keeps the options in view while tuning other skills to the point that they become valuable, or even extraordinary. Ken Rocwell lends credibility to the notion that this is true even if one's specialty is not to specialize.
Isn't it important to break out of your comfort zone? For sure, but reaching outward implies a stable set of propositions and principles from which to start from. Stepping outside of the circle of your own experience requires a viewpoint on your own perspective; and this is what we call objectivity.
In some situations a photographer is presented with a set of requirements or an environment which violates every sensibility. In these cases it's helpful to acknowledge what is wrong and to search for a way to make something of it.