Traditional darkroom practise is slowly disappearing. It seems like there are less and less opportunities around Perth to learn about film photography and the making of traditional silver gelatin photographic prints, using a wet darkroom. Someone was telling me that even the local colleges are cutting back on resourcing film based photography for their students. I guess for colleges it is also a numbers game, you can put more bums on seats in a classroom staring at computer monitors than you can fit into a traditional darkroom. In my lifetime film based photography is considered as “old school”.
Well, if film is “old school” I am definitely for it. In my work as a photographer and publisher I get more than enough daily opportunity to work with digital photography and a plethora of programs, which have, in my line of work, brought many benefits and some disadvantages.
But I love the hands on, organic nature of film based photography. You are dealing with a material which has inherent properties and characteristics. With film there is a tactile aspect to the entire process in your photography, from clicking the shutter to making the print, something that the digital world is largely devoid of. OK, sure, you can press a button and watch someone’s inkjet, running someone else’s algorithms convert the zeros and ones stored on your flash card into a print made up of spray droplets onto a substrate. But it’s not quite the same thing as watching your image develop in a tray into a richly toned silver print that you have had physical contact with throughout its making, and that your decisions, skills and craftsmanship are the culmination of the process. It brings the whole process from visualisation of a potential image to its realisation and display full circle, with the photographer right at the centre.
I’m often asked by students about the availability of black and white films. Film is alive and well, with reports from Freestyle Photographics in the US that there has been a resurgence in usage, especially in the larger formats. Jobo, who discontinued their processing line around 2010, have just announced that, due to growing demand, they are launching a brand new Jobo CPP-3 processor later this year at Photokina 2012. I buy my Foma fibre based silver paper from Blanco Negro Supplies in Sydney, and they have a full range of Foma papers, chemistry and film to choose from. If local retailers don’t carry what you want you can always take full advantage of the digital age and source your supplies worldwide. What may be “old school” in Perth may in fact be a thriving, well resourced community elsewhere in the world.
From time to time I run small photographic workshops providing an introduction to film photography and traditional darkroom printing. If you have a film camera, regardless of format, and you would like to know how to load, process and develop your black and white film and how to print from a negative, then you may want to consider attending. My next workshop is the weekend of the 6th and 7th of October. Darkroom participants are limited to two. You can find more details on my web site and you are welcome to contact me should you want further information.