Back to the Basics
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Watch the video above to see the winners from last weeks self portrait article! We got so many entries, it was so hard to chose!
1st place and a Phlearn PRO of their choice goes to Asier Aristregui!
2nd place and a Phlearn PRO of their choice goes to Johanna Maja!
3rd place and Phlearn PRO their choice goes to Adam Raasalhague!
Congratulations guys! To receive your Phlearn Pro’s please fill out a contact form! Or else, email us at [email protected]
Thanks again everyone and we hope to see just as many entries this week for our next contest. The next contest is described at the end of this article! Good luck!
Back to the Basics
By: Kate Rockhold
Two years ago I was nervously walking to class sign ups, my bag filled with registration papers, and a list of classes that I wanted to take. Since I was entering my freshman year at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), the majority of my classes were already assigned to me. As I was looking at my schedule, I saw that I was enrolled in “Black and White Film and Print” with professor Al Winn. Since I had only dabbled in film my freshman year of high school, I was pretty nervous. I was positive that I would make an utter fool of myself.
Boy was I right.
Professor Winn turned out to be an older professor, who lacked patience and basic manners. The class was every Friday morning, at 9am sharp. Every week we would print with a different developer or a different type of paper to see how it would change our image. I remember taking my first full-sized print to him. It was dripping wet, too light, and had too much contrast. He looked down at my print, looked up at me and said, “Are you fucking joking?” That pretty much set the tone for the semester: although the class was scheduled for three hours, I routinely stayed late, always the last to leave. Professor Winn wouldn’t let me leave until I had made a print that was halfway decent…and that took a while.
Despite (or perhaps because of) these difficulties, I learned more in my first semester at CalArts than I had my whole high school career. Professor Winn gave me hours of work in the darkroom, and my other classes gave me hours of work in the library. I was researching artists, most of whom I had never heard of, writing papers on art movements that I wasn’t familiar with, and making photographs that I had never dreamed I’d take. My taste and style dramatically changed. I went from over-edited digital photos to film. Over the course of my first year, I started to shoot film more and more. Now, after my second year at CalArts, I almost exclusively shoot film. I retreat to the darkroom at least once a week, and spend hours at a time perfecting one print. Film is more costly, more time consuming, and more frustrating. So why do I do it?
It’s a question that people ask me a lot. I’m not even sure that I have a complete answer. There’s a magic, a beauty, to film that is almost impossible to achieve in digital. In digital, you can keep snapping away until you’ve got your shot. That’s not practical in film. Since you are limited in the number of shots you can take per roll (in my case, I have 12 photos per roll of film, at $5 a roll, that’s 42¢ for every photo I take), it’s important that you think ahead and properly compose your shots. Currently I shoot with a 1937 Voigtländer Brillant, which is an early version of a TLR (twin lens reflex) 6×6 medium format camera. This Austrian camera has it quirks – it is impossible to focus, has light leaks, and it’s film advancer can stick – but it gives my photos character, and makes them unique. I can’t imagine shooting with anything else
After shooting a roll of film (if you’re shooting 120 film with 6×6 negatives, this means you’ll have only 12 photos per roll of film), you get to develop. While you can send your film out, I generally develop my black and white film myself. Not only is it cheaper to do this, but I also can “push” or “pull” my film. When you push film, you lengthen the time in developer, when you pull, you shorten.
This effects the thickness of the film, and the contrast. After developing your first couple rolls of film, you get the hang of it, and can soon develop multiple rolls of film a day. Looking at film you’ve shot is one of the best feelings in the world; you are filled with anticipation. Sometimes I leave exposed film in my fridge, and develop them months after I’ve shot them. It’s a fun surprise to see photos that I had taken months ago, and fall in love with them all over again.
Finally, there’s the darkroom. While I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that rotten-egg smell, I love it all the same. It’s so nice to spend the day in the cool darkness, printing again and again until you get it perfect, until the image on paper matches the image in your mind. Printing is just as much of an art as taking the photograph. It can take hours before you get a print right. Photographer Richard Avedon was famous for his printing ability. It’s slowly becoming a lost art – a lot of photographers who shoot film have assistants print their work.
Artist Jerry Uelsmann does unbelievable work in the darkroom, he has Photoshop-like skills. While altering images in the darkroom is not unheard of (the most common ways to “edit” your photo is to burn, dodge, and do multiple exposures), Uelsmann takes it to a whole new level. While what he creates can be created easily in Photoshop, Uelsmann produces his work only in the darkroom, by hand. He uses up to eight different enlargers, and complex methods of burning and dodging, he is able to create surreal masterpieces.
A lot of people wonder why Uelsmann doesn’t just convert to digital and photoshop — his images look as though they were photoshopped, and using digital would save hours of his time. Uelsmann simply answers, “…I’m still analog. I still enjoy the process of creating the mountain I’m climbing.” He couldn’t have phrased it better. Printing in the darkroom is a long and tedious process. One has to print on light sensitive paper, and then spend about 10 or so minutes developing the paper with a number of different chemicals. When you finally come out into the light, you can see what needs to be changed before trudging back into the darkness to do it all over again.
Some of the greatest photographers and artists shot only film. William Eggleston is one of my favorite photographers. He was one of the first great photographers to use color film. Back in the day, color film was considered consumer grade, and only black and white photography could be considered fine art. He changed the photography world by shooting color, and calling it fine art. He has this amazing ability to photograph mundane American objects – from everyday people, to cans, to street signs – and make them unbelievably beautiful. There are a number of reasons why film helped make his images stand out, the main reason being his printing process in the darkroom. Eggleston printed his photos using the dye-transfer process. Dye transfer prints are arguably the best way to print color – they allow for the most color possibilities. However, it is an expensive and tedious process. As a result, there are only a few photographers and printing companies today that use the process.
For me, there’s a greater emotional attachment to my image when I shoot film. From loading the film, to printing from negatives, there is a physical connection with film that you don’t get with digital. The headache you get from the smells of the chemicals, the soreness in your feet from standing all day in the darkroom. Shooting digital would be easier – there’s just something about challenging yourself that keeps me coming back. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve messed up a negative, or a print. I’ve exposed a whole box of paper (costing me $50…yikes!). The process from shooting to the final product is a journey, and when you reach the end of that process, the result is so much sweeter. I encourage you to give film a shot, and see where it takes you and your photography.
For this weeks challenge, the interns had to either shoot a roll of film, or take photos that were inspired by film. No editing allowed!
My four photos are from a roll of film I shot while at an antique store. I thought taking photos of antiques would be fitting, since my camera is almost 80 years old itself. The store was filled with shadowy lighting, and since I was shooting with ISO 400 film, I had to have long exposures. The long exposures gave my images a soft motion blur, one that I’m rather fond of. Also, I left this roll of film out in the sunlight for a day or two, which is why there are white streaks along the sides of the photos.
I feel like this challenge would have been different if I used one of my film cameras for it but unfortunately, I don’t have the means to do that right now. But if I did, I would have 36 chances to get a picture right with one roll of film. With film, I don’t know what the exact outcome of the photos is going to be and that’s the wonderful thrill that comes with it. When I shoot with film, I don’t have the filter on my brain wondering what I could do to this image in Photoshop, I take the image to simply capture that moment in time.
Here are some examples of film images that I took during freshman year of college. My concepts were simple, my eyes were seeking anything that looked interesting, and I focused a lot on how people interacted with the environments they were in.
After having a few years of photography education under my belt, I’ve expanded my horizons but at the same time, I’ve also started to view photography differently. My intentions were to have the same mind-set I did when I first started photography and yesterday during a photo shoot with Aaron, Angela, Kate, and a lovely model named Nina, I focused on just that.
I went into the photo shoot with no solid concept but with ideas that I wanted to experiment with. The shoot was intended to be a learning process and that’s exactly what it was. Throughout the entire shoot, I was ignoring trying to find a way to take conceptual images and how to manipulate them on Photoshop, instead I focused on what I thought was beautiful. Here is my favorite image from the shoot that I took through a window placed on a tree. Shooting through the glass gave the image a soft and dreamy look that I love:
A challenge inspired by film? This challenge almost sounded foreign to me.
In my program at ACAD (Alberta College of Art & Design) they just recently brought back teaching darkroom in the curriculum. Unfortunately for me I have hundreds and hundreds of allergies, some which include the chemicals used in developing- so when I need to develop film I need to prep myself by looking like I’m about to walk into a tunnel full of nuclear waste.
On a more serious note, I’ve used film cameras before. Pretty much all of them, as my class required me to do so. I loved taking photos with them, I loved the result, but what I didn’t like was the process, and that was simply because of my allergies and my asthma. So doing a challenge inspired by film, rather than a challenge done with film was actually quite nice. It was fun to bring my photos into Photoshop and do nothing but crop, and burn and dodge.
My professor Cathy last year showed our class an interesting method for burning and dodging, which I find works quite well. I’ll tell you how to do it! In Photoshop create a new layer on your file, but don’t click the new layer button on the bottom menu. Do it from the top. From the top click Layer, then New, then Layer. Once the dialog box pops up change the mode to soft light, and make sure to click the box that says “fill with soft-light-neutral color (50% gray).” Then you can burn and dodge from that particular layer. Use black and white brushes to determine what areas of the image you want darker or lighter, and I find this works the best when you have the opacity and fill set to very low. Mine was set to opacity 10%, fill 30%, but this is of course just a preference. This is how I edited my self-portraits. These self-portraits are very experimental, and really don’t have a large concept behind them other than to be inspired by film. I also shot with a very high ISO (of 5000 to be exact) to get a very grainy photo. Hope you guys like them, let me know what you think!
Alright phamily, it’s time for this week’s challenge! This week’s article is on film, but you are not required to submit a film photo for the challenge (though it’d be awesome if you did!). Rather, you need to submit a photo that is black and white, and relatively unedited. You are only allowed to edit photos in ways you can edit them in the darkroom, meaning you can: crop, convert it to black and white, adjust contrast and brightness, burn and dodge.
What you’re not allowed to do: add textures, airbrush, add noise, and any other thing that you can’t do in a darkroom.
Submit your black and white film inspired photo by Tuesday the 10th, noon CST if you’d like to be eligible to win a free PRO tutorial! Good luck!