Photography and the art of compromise.

August 26, 2007 at 8:23 pm | Posted in photography | 5 Comments
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Photography is an enormous part of my life and has been for years. I know you can’t tell by looking at the photos on this blog (taken with my digital point-and-shoot), but it’s one of my main driving forces. I still use film — I shoot with a Bronica ETRS-i, a medium-format single lens reflex camera that I got a few years ago. The camera is awesome, but man, it is heavy. Built like a tank, that thing is.

I started doing photography in 7th grade, in the mid-90s when digital was barely a gleam in Canon’s eye.  I used a 35mm manual camera for years (what’s up, Pentax K1000!), and my Bronica is largely manual, as well.  The great thing about using cameras like this is that you learn a lot about light.  You learn a lot about many things, actually, cause there are no illusions about who’s doing the work.

I used to get lost in a darkroom for hours, lulled by the rhythm of printing. It became a dance, agitating three trays simultaneously while keeping an eye on that print you’re exposing. When the darkroom was crowded and the music blasting — and I am super picky about the kind of music I will print to: there had better be no top 40 or gangsta rap cause really, what is creative about that? — and you had to jump over and around other people to get to your enlarger…well, that kind of energy, that creative force that is both communal and completely solitary, got me going.

When I was in undergrad I spent hours in the darkroom. In high school I took my camera everywhere with me. Now, I do neither. My camera is so heavy that I have to carry it around in a dedicated backpack and while spontaneous photo field trips are totally doable, lugging it around every day is not. My lifestyle has changed, too. I work a 9-5 job now, and the last thing I want to after a day in the office is stand around a hot, stinky darkroom and make a few prints. (You’d think that since I don’t have homework to do any longer, I’d actually have more time for darkroom adventures, but you’d be wrong, as I did a negligible amount of homework.)

I have resisted going digital for so long. I still believe that film trumps digital and, if it made sense for me right now, I wouldn’t have even considered it. (Not to mention that digital is the biggest pissing contest…trying to follow and give a shit about a debate over photo editing software or Nikon vs. Canon is about as stimulating as trying to follow and give a shit about two dudes arguing about carburetors or the age-old Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones question. Here’s a clue, guys (and it’s always men debating these fine points): the number of megapixels your digital camera has is NOT equivalent to your penis length, in inches. But I digress.) However, I don’t want to lose photography. So, I considered investing in a digital SLR system. I read tons of websites and product reviews and looked at image comparisons. I had a few systems picked out that I was seriously considering.

In the end, I couldn’t do it. Part of it was the expense — even if you get a good deal on a d-SLR kit, the lens you get is usually pretty crappy, and man, lenses are expensive. Most of it, though, was knowing how much I’ve already invested in film photography. Not the money so much as the time and energy. Honestly, too, I just do not believe that digital equals higher quality than film, and what about obsolescence? Most of the pictures I take with my point-and-shoot remain on my computer, and some of them I upload to Facebook or Flickr, but I don’t have hard copies of them. With film, even if all you have are negatives, you will always be able to see the images.

So, I split the difference. I didn’t abandon my negatives and I didn’t commit myself to a lifetime of darkrooms. I bought a very nice, quality, consumer-priced flatbed photo scanner. It comes with film holders in different sizes and is designed to scan negatives or slides by virtue of the fact that it has two light sources, one under the glass screen, and one in the top, which is the one used for scanning negatives.

It’s going to be weird, developing film and then scanning it to my computer and editing it there. I’m certainly a little hesitant about the whole thing. I played with the scanner a little bit today (I won’t start seriously using it until I get an external hard drive) and here’s a picture from a negative that I scanned for the web. It was taken at the Don Valley Brick Works in the winter.


This is it, without any manipulations except for a bit of cropping. Not bad for a straight-from-the-scanner image, huh? Waaaay better than the very first print in the darkroom, for sure. God. Did I just say that? Am I a convert already?


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