Ending the silver
This post will probably make one of my good friends weep, but here we go.
Before there were digital cameras, photography was done by exposing silver halide emulsions to light, developing them in chemicals, then projecting light through the resulting negative onto similarly treated paper, then developing the paper in chemicals and drying the resulting print. It was back then – up until about 15 years ago – that I was professionally involved in traditional photography. I did camera repair, and did industrial and archival photography on the side.
What a lot of people who had a photo course in high school or college don’t realize is just how technical this craft could become. Behind the Ansel Adams print they admire, for example, is a lot of science, and many of his books are masterpieces of technical writing as well as of art and even English prose. To control the process you have to do controlled experiments and I did – calibrating the combinations of film, light, developing, enlarger, paper, and chemicals to get the result that I wanted. By the time I sold any prints from a given brand of film or paper, I’d already explored how it behaved with shadows and highlights, at what contrast, and with what chemicals, and recorded the findings in my notebooks for future reference.
Well the camera repair business tanked when cameras became too sophisticated to repair in a small shop, and I wasn’t making enough in photography to pay the bills. So I dove into computers and started studying at a furious rate. It’s resulted in a string of jobs that have worked out well for me.
|From my photo album; On Digital Photography|
But my darkroom sat, for fifteen years. Gradually I got rid of most of the heavy equipment – cameras and enlargers and print washers and dryers. I still have some enlarging easels and beautiful Honeywell/Nikor film developing reels, and no idea what to do with them. But I am cleaning out that room. I don’t want to leave it for my kids to deal with.
And my “paper safe” – a specially constructed cabinet designed to keep out light and to be self-closing, was full of fine photographic paper: Mitsubishi Gekko, Agfa, Ilford, Arista, Kodak, even some East German Orwo.
This is expensive stuff and as you can see from the picture, there was a lot of it. Last night I opened the paper safe – with the lights on – , and methodically emptied the boxes into a single large box for the next county toxic-waste pickup. The empty boxes, I threw away.
It was a strange feeling, and commemorates the end, I suppose, of my involvement with traditional photography a decade and a half ago. I’ve been through quite a few digital cameras, and they’re just now beginning to catch up to film quality at a price point that I (no longer making a living with my camera) can afford. I’ll soon purchase a Sony NEX-5 to compliment my Canon G11, and be approximately back where I was when I had Yashica medium format and Olympus OM-1’s and OM-2’s.
And I do mean; “approximately” because damn, those Olympus SLR’s were awesome cameras. The Olympus slogan was; “Match your skills to ours” and they were an absolute joy to use.
- It is true that some of the photo paper, still sealed, might still have been usable. But professional-quality printing requires careful standardization, and 15-year-old paper would require a whole new set of tests to establish performance.
- I wondered if the Barry Lategan image on one of the Ilford boxes would constitute child porn today. We live in different times…
- If you have never read a book by Ansel Adams, start with his autobiography; it is non-technical and a quite wonderful view into an amazing artistic and scientific life, and into the development of photography as a recognized art form. (Also his description of Ronald Reagan was quite a hoot.) Then read The Making of 40 Photographs and if you’re still going, read his classic trilogy;The Camera, The Negative,and The Print.
- Check out this image of The first digital camera